The better part of your day can easily be spent at Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve between the Nassau and St. Johns Rivers. This unique national park was established to protect one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast and is a series of federal state and city parks that tell the story of early Florida history.
Begin with a visit to Fort Caroline National Memorial 12713 Fort Caroline Rd. between Jacksonville and Atlantic Beach. This fort is actually a replica of the 16th-Century fort now serving as the park's headquarters. Nearby is a fabulous lookout point over the St. Johns River. Call (904) 641-7155.
Included in the Preserve is the Kingsley Plantation across the river from Fort Caroline. Architecturally and historically this plantation is a cultural gem. Kingsley has 25 original slave "tabby" huts in various stages of ruin. Built from oyster shells and sand these huts are some of the best examples of antebellum life for slaves as well as a significant site in African-American history. Call (904) 251-3537.
Head north to Fort Clinch State Park 2601 Atlantic Ave. on Amelia Island; the northernmost barrier island in the state. Fort Clinch was originally built to guard ports on the Atlantic and protect shipping on the St. Marys River. Today the Fort is a living history museum complete with rangers and volunteers in period dress providing daily living history of life in the 1864 fort. Call (904) 277-7274. Treat yourself with a stay at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. Call (904) 261-6161 for reservations.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd. is a lovely network of gardens designed in the 1930s and 40s for a private home. It features roses citrus camellias azaleas and other ornamentals. Call (386) 446-6780.
While in the area take a step back in time by hiking through the Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park three miles west of Flagler Beach on C.R. 2001 south of S.R. 100. The sugar mill ruins are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. You can either drive the loop or walk the nature trail that passes through a stand of "catfaced" pines that were worked for turpentine before World War II. Call (386) 517-2084.
Just a few miles south of Jacksonville on the Atlantic coast is the ancient city of St. Augustine offering culture everywhere you turn. The oldest masonry fort in the United States the Castillo de San Marcos has served as defender of St. Augustine since the beginning of the 18th century and ranks among the best preserved examples of colonial fortification in the New World. Call (904) 829-6506.
Also notable is the majestic red-tiled roof of the former Ponce de Leon Hotel 74 King St. now part of Flagler College. This landmark building was the cornerstone of Florida developer Henry Flagler's plan to transform the city into a winter resort destination. Call (904) 829-6481. Across the street from the Ponce de Leon Hotel is the Lightner Museum 75 King St. featuring a collection of paintings and more by artists who came to St. Augustine at Flagler's request. Call (904) 824-2874.
For culture of a different kind head north to the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum located at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine. The World Golf Hall of Fame is a collaboration of 26 national and international golf organizations and is the premier attraction devoted to the sport. While at the Village be sure to eat in the golf-themed Murray Bros. Caddyshack a fun dining restaurant and lounge created by golfer/comedian Bill Murray and his five brothers. Call (904) 940-4123 for the Hall of Fame.