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Reader Requested Short Review of St. Augustine, Florida
On the northeastern shore of Florida, between the Intracoastal Waterway and Matanzas Bay, St. Augustine (population 14,000) is a charming 453-year-old town steeped in Old World character, romance and history. It was founded by the Spanish in 1565, 42 years before Jamestown, Virginia was settled, and it is the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States.
The city's history is a tumultuous one, with the Spanish, the British, the Confederate States and the United States all laying claim to it at one time or another. Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon visited it while he searched for the "Fountain of Youth." English sea captain Sir Francis Drake attacked it. Prates plundered it. Union soldiers invaded it. Finally, in the late 19th-century, things started to quiet down a bit, and the town became a winter haven for wealthy families.
Today, St. Augustine is a lively tourist destination and popular with retirees. In fact, 45% of the population is age 45 or better. The cost of living is 10% above the national average, and the median home price is $250,000. Most residents lean to the right politically, and the city has some racial diversity.
This is a place where the past never seems far away. Remnants of the First Spanish Colonial Period are visible in the four square mile Historic District where narrow streets are lined with beautifully restored (and reconstructed) balconied homes, clapboard homes and homes built with coquina (crushed shells).
The imposing landmark Castillo de San Marcos is a Spanish fort built in 1672 as a defense against the British who occupied nearby Charles Town (Charleston, South Carolina) and is a constant reminder of St. Augustine's colorful heritage. Nineteenth-century industrialist Henry Flagler's elegant hotels conjure up the Victorian era. And in quieter moments, cobblestone streets almost echo with the clip clop of horse hooves from days gone by.
Outside of the historic district, neighborhoods range from older and a little bedraggled to new and well-tended. Home styles include ranch ramblers, Mediterraneans, Cape Cods, Victorians and more. Condos and town houses are in decent supply, too. Waterfront homes along the Intracoastal Waterway or on Anastasia Island are large, beautiful and expensive. Many are in gated communities and have a boat dock.
With its inviting cityscape, seven named beaches and scenic waterfront, St. Augustine is a tourist magnet. In fact, two million people come to visit each year, and there is plenty to keep them (and locals) busy. Downtown's pedestrian-friendly St. George Street has a wonderful array of boutiques, restaurants, galleries, pubs, bookstores, small hotels and a few haunted buildings. First Friday Art Walks and historical reenactments attract sizeable crowds.
San Sebastian Winery has free wine tastings. Ripley's Believe It or Not showcases the strange and bizarre. Several living history museums, including Old St. Augustine Village, Spanish Quarter Village and Old Florida Museum, showcase early Florida life. The St. Augustine Community Orchestra mounts a full schedule. And, of course, visiting Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and tasting its magical waters is a must.
Anastasia Island, accessible via downtown's Bridge of Lions, is popular for swimming, kayaking and sunbathing. Anastasia State Recreation Area has wildlife, beaches and nature trails.
St. John's Council on Aging is a non-profit organization that provides services such as prescription drug assistance and legal aid to people age 60 or better. It also operates the Coastal Community Center where congregate noon meals are served Monday through Friday. The local RSVP (Retired and Seniors Volunteer Program) is a way of staying involved and giving back to the community and has 750 volunteers. Flagler College, a four-year liberal arts college, has adult education classes for those who enjoy higher learning. It is housed in the Ponce de Leon Hall, an 1888 luxury hotel considered a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance Revival architecture.
The Sunshine Bus Company provides public van transportation throughout town Monday through Saturday. A door-to-door para-transit service is also available to people age 60 or better.
Flagler Hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission and is recognized for its clinical excellence, patient safety, emergency medicine and more. Medicare patients are accepted. For military retirees, St. Augustine has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Gainesville, 65 miles away.
Summer temperatures are in the 80s and 90s, and winter temperatures are in the 40s, 50s and 60s. On average, the area receives 48 inches of rain per year.
Retirement in St. Augustine does have some drawbacks. The two million tourists each year clog restaurants, shops and everything else. The crime rate is above the national average. Some of this is due to the large tourist population but not all. The city is prone to flooding, even during sunny days, and both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017 caused significant flooding. The city is planning for rising seas, though, and has started installing valves to keep seawater from flowing up into storm water drains. It is also studying a plan to dredge the city's Maria Sanchez Lake and install a pump station to help prevent future flooding.
Recommended as a Retirement Spot? Yes, but... | Is Florida Tax-Friendly for Retirement? Yes
St. Augustine is a charming history city, but its higher than average crime rate, sunny day flooding problems and tourists hoardes should be considered if considering retirement here.
Named Pascua Florida by Juan Ponce De Leon, the Sunshine State did not enter the Union until March 3, 1845. Balmy mild winters began attracting snowbirds to the state in the late 19th century. Retirees continue to flock to the state. It's not hard to see why tourism has become the leading industry.
International trade and citrus are also major contributors to the state's economy. Eighty percent of the nation's oranges and grapefruits are grown here, and 40 percent of all U.S. exports to Latin America flow through Florida.
Florida's landscape includes uplands and coastal plains. It contains more than 11,000 miles of waterways and about 4,500 islands spread across 10 acres.
The state has 1,250 golf courses, more than any other state in the Union. The 47 mile Pinellas Trail is the longest urban trail on the east coast. Orlando theme parks attract more visitors than any other theme parks in the U.S. The only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist is in National Everglades Park.
Florida, particularly the Keys and the Gulf Coast, were struck by Category 4 Hurricane Irma in early September, 2017. Towns will rebuild, perhaps this time with climate change in mind, making them safer and better equipped to handle major hurricanes going forward.
Population - 20,612,439
Persons 65 years old and over - 20%
High school graduates, persons age 25+ - 87%
Bachelor's degree or higher, persons age 25+ - 27%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin - 24%
White persons, not Hispanic - 58%
Median household income - $47,525
Median home value - $159,900
Social Security taxed? No
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
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