Matanzas Inlet: History, Adventure, and Great Food

    Janet Jones

    Matanzas Inlet may just be one of the most picturesque coastlines in Florida.

    The inlet, between historic St. Augustine and charming Flagler Beach, is where the lively Atlantic meets the Matanzas Estuary, one of the state’s purest.

    Its Atlantic shoreline is a favorite with kiteboarders; the Intracoastal side is a paddle boarding and boating paradise. And all around the inlet, you’ll find history, adventure, and great dining.

    The monument

    The Fort Matanzas National Monument, for which the inlet is named, is a reminder of the early Spanish empire in the New World. It was originally a Spanish outpost built in 1740-1742 to guard the inlet and to warn St. Augustine of British or other enemies approaching from the south.

    The fort and its wild plant barrier are well-preserved and you can enjoy a short – and free – boat ride across the water to tour it in person.

    The National Park Service has acquired land around the monument, preserving the surrounding barrier island, and thus, an entire ecosystem full of a variety of native plants and wildlife. Visitors can enjoy the gorgeous shoreline, picnic areas, and hiking trails through the maritime hammock.

    The park is extremely popular with boaters and beachgoers, paddle boarders and kayakers throughout the summer. It’s also known for its nesting bird population and is popular seasonally with photographers.

    Matanzas Inlet may just be one of the most picturesque coastlines in Florida.

    Matanzas Inlet may just be one of the most picturesque coastlines in Florida.

    - Janet Jones for VISIT FLORIDA

    Scenic Byway

    This stretch of coastline is right in the middle of the 72-mile long A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway – an officially designated American Byway. From the northern boundary of St. Johns County, the Byway bisects Ponte Vedra Beach, weaves through St. Augustine and ends in Flagler County at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area.

    This particular part of the byway is an especially interesting stretch for both nature and history lovers because it includes historical sites dating from the Spanish conquest in the 1400s to the Civil Rights era.

    It’s also an active sea-turtle nesting locale and its offshore waters are a seasonal home to the migrating right whale.

    Activities

    Matanzas Inlet has plenty of offerings to make for a perfect day on the Florida coast – beautiful beaches, water sports, historic sites, nearby shopping, and great restaurants.

    Ocean Extreme Sports, based in St. Augustine Beach, offers SUP lessons in Matanzas Inlet.

    Ripple Effect EcoTours, located in Marineland, is a great way to experience the beautiful estuary waters brimming with wildlife.

    Marineland Dolphin Adventure offers guests the history of the area and an experience with playful dolphins.

    St. Augustine

    The historic city of St. Augustine lies less than 15 miles to the north. A day in St Augustine is best spent touring, boutique shopping, enjoying craft cocktails and even sailing.

    Quirky Flagler Beach, just 20 miles south of the inlet, is known for great surfing, camping, outdoor sports and funky seafood joints with local flavor.

    In just a half day’s drive, you can enjoy another national monument: Castillo De San Marcos, the extremely picturesque, oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

    Plus, the area boasts two of Florida’s beautiful coastal state parks. Anastasia State Park is popular for year-round camping, has miles of quiet, protected beaches and is next door to the St. Augustine Amphitheater, a popular outdoor music venue. Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area has gorgeous RV sites directly overlooking the ocean, plus peaceful kayaking on the Intracoastal side.

    Dining

    There’s a wealth of great restaurants in this area to suit your tastes and schedule.

    Just 2.6 miles north of the inlet is Commander’s Shellfish Camp, where fresh seafood is the star -- from local oysters and shrimp to steamed clams and blackened fish. This is a fresh, casual experience with indoor and outdoor seating.

    The South Beach Grill is a mainstay in Crescent Beach, four miles north of Matanzas. We love their chowders, fish tacos, and jambalaya. The restaurant sits dune-side with access down to the ocean and a sandy area for kids to play.

    Captain’s BBQ in Palm Coast is a casual waterfront roadside pit stop. Its meats and side dishes, slow-cooked in a wood-burning smoker, are heavenly and satisfying after a day on the water.

    386 | A Fusion of Fine Eating is just off A1A in the Hammock area of Flagler County, about eight miles south of Fort Matanzas. This American-fusion restaurant offers an upscale, but still Florida-casual, dining experience with specialties like sea scallops, rack of lamb, and flash-fried Apalachicola oysters.

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