Florida Trifecta: Why St. Augustine, Tallahassee and Pensacola Should Be On Your Radar

North Florida

The colourful beach houses of the historic town square in downtown St Augustine, Fla. Photo: ampueroleonardo/Getty Images

In the mood for interactive history, immersive culture, breathtaking nature and flavourful fare? These three north-Florida gems offer cobblestoned streets, captivating museums, pristine beaches and incredible cuisine.


St. Augustine


St. Augustine’s charm leaves an indelible mark. Meandering along its narrow, cobbled alleyways is always encouraged, but the most efficient way to explore this historic slice of heaven is by way of the all-encompassing 21-stop hop-on hop-off Old Town Trolley Tours. Disembark at the formidable Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S., and the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon’s Florida original landing site. Enjoy interactive exhibits, view a reconstructed Timucuan Indigenous village and drink from Ponce de Leon’s Spring of Eternal Hope, which people have been sipping since the 17th century. 

Across the bay, the 219-step St. Augustine Light Station (lighthouse), built around 1874, is the crown jewel of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, which offers everything from hands-on activities and archeological displays to panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

The St. Augustine Light Station, which remains a working lighthouse, is the star of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Photo: The Rodriguez Group/Visit Florida; Inset: St. Augustine Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, Florida. Photo: Cycle Here/Visit Florida


In town, the majestic Lightner Museum, once home to the Gilded-Age Hotel Alcazar resort, commissioned by railroad magnate Henry Flagler, dominates the eye line. Book a tour at nearby Flagler College – once Flagler’s opulent, grand Gilded-Age Ponce de Leon Hotel-turned-university – and learn more about this National Historic landmark. Shop and stroll along pedestrian-friendly St. George Street, and pop into the Columbia Restaurant for its famous 1805 Salad and Cuban sandwich. For a more immersive foodie experience, The Tasting Tours offers multi-generational food experiences featuring the city’s most unique culinary hotspots including Ancient City Brunch’s empanadas, and Chocolattes’s pecan-caramel-cheesecake. 

Get a good nights’ rest at the St. Francis Inn, a B&B permeating in old-world charm and modern comfort. While it’s walking distance to major attractions, thanks to its four-season walled courtyard garden, gourmet breakfasts, heated pool and breathtaking rooms, it feels like a serene world away. Nightly social hours come with complimentary beer, wine and light snacks, and, upon request, guests can gather at the onsite fire pit for s’mores after dark. 




Located across the Panhandle, Pensacola’s serenading Gulf breezes, turquoise waters and flour-sifted sands are complimented with a rich culture and burgeoning culinary scene. On the beach, stroll the 1,471-foot (448-metre) pier, pose with the city’s iconic beachball-coloured water tower and head to the boardwalk on Santa Maria Sound for shopping and sipping. Pop into Flounder’s Chowder House for their “perfect-for-sharing” seafood nachos and stop at nearby Sandshaker Lounge for a Bushwacker — a British Virgin Island-inspired turned Pensacola signature frozen drink made with kahlua, rum, crème de cacao and cream of coconut.

Marvel at the 1834 pentagonal designed and broad walled Fort Pickens, go birding, boating and hiking at both Perdido Key State Park and Big Lagoon State Park. Meanwhile, you’ll be saying “y’all” in no time at the Flora-Bama Yacht Club, a regional institution home to fresh seafood and coastal views, unforgettable daily live music and line dancing with a few thousand of your newest, festive friends and “Bamily”.  


Pensacola Florida
Historic Fort Pickens was built in 1834 and remained active for the U.S. military until 1947. Pensacola, Fla. Photo: Visit Pensacola


Time your visit and experience the Navy Blue Angels air show, and Pensacola’s family-friendly Mardi Gras celebrations, easily the party of the year since the 19th century, with several parades spanning days. Embark along the 20-stop First Settlement Trail throughout Pensacola’s Historic District, and explore a variety of museums and festivals, including the Foo Foo Festival — a celebration of art, culture, music, and food. Pack on the calories in and around Palafox Street, the city’s main drag for patio drinks and tasty eats, including Angelina’s, helmed by two-time Chopped winner, Chef James Briscione. 

In the city’s East Hill neighbourhood, Lily Hall is an historic church-turned-whimsical-boutique-hotel that features 19 lovely suites, Brother Fox — the hotel’s signature restaurant led by another Chopped champ, chef Darian Hernandez — and Sister Hen, the city’s first ever speakeasy.


The interior parlour of Lily Hall, Pensacola. Inset: Charbroiled oysters at Lily Hall’s in-house restaurant, Brother Fox. Photos: Steven Gray on behalf of Lily Hall





Between St. Augustine and Pensacola sits Tallahassee, Florida’s underrated capital city. Load up at The Hawthorne Bistro & Bakery for a taste of southern flavours, or Catalina Café for robust coffee prepared by all-star baristas before heading downtown for a tour of the Capitol Building, Museum of Florida History, and The Grove — home to the Call-Collins House, one of the best preserved antebellum residences in the state. Mission San Luis is an outdoor museum with educational hands-on exhibits, recreations of period buildings, archeological excavations, and the only reconstructed Spanish mission in Florida, while Railroad Square, a warehouse park that’s now an arts district, features more than 50 studios, galleries, shops and murals with fun and themed events uniting people of all ages. 

South of the city, swim in the cool waters of the Wakulla River or stay dry and take the Wakulla Springs River Boat Tour, an hour-long excursion on ancient cypress swamps, peppered with birdlife, crocodiles and manatees above the world’s largest spring. Native Americans called this spot home for thousands of years and, in modern times, Hollywood directors believed it was a perfect location to film vintage classics, including Tarzan’s Secret Treasure and Creature from the Black Lagoon. 


An example of a Tallahassee cypress swamp, where Hollywood films like Tarzan’s Secret Treasure and Creature from the Black Lagoon were filmed. Photo: Mike Wëwerka/Getty Images


For lunch or dinner, head to Madison Social at the edge of the Florida State University campus for classic pub fare with a southern twist; The Edison, a local favourite with delicious delights in the historic electric building; or Backwoods Crossing, run by brothers Jess and Tyler and dedicated to farm-to-fork cuisine. 

Tired and full? Retreat and refresh at the Hyatt House, a centrally-located hotel within walking distance of the nearby nature trails of Cascades Park, home to an interactive waterfall choreographed to coloured lights and sound. 


A recipe for Grits à Ya Ya, courtesy of Pensacola’s The Fish House

Photo: Visit Pensacola


Ingredients for Smoked Gouda Cheese Grits:

1 quart chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound Dixie Lily grits
1/4 pound butter
1 pound shredded smoked Gouda cheese

Ingredients for “The Ya Ya”

8 strips applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallots
3 tablespoons butter
White wine
1 pound peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp
1 portobello mushroom cap, sliced
1/4 cup diced scallions
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups smoked Gouda cheese grits



  1. First, make your grits. Run the chicken stock into a thick-bottomed saucepan and turn on high till it boils. Mix in the grits and stir like crazy. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cream if you need more liquid. Then tumble in the butter, drizzle in the rest of the cream and stir till it’s all in the family. Then shake in the shredded cheese and stir very well till it’s all nice and smooth.
  2. While your grits cook, bring a large saucepan to medium heat. Add bacon and cook for about 3 minutes, then add garlic and shallots. Sauté and then add butter and a splash of white wine. When the butter is half melted, add the shrimp. When the downsides of the shrimp become white, flip them and add mushrooms, scallions and spinach. Sauté for 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp. Pour in heavy cream and let simmer while stirring. When reduced by one third, add salt, pepper and hot sauce. Return shrimp to the sauce and combine. Spoon the sauce and shrimp onto heaping mounds of cheese grits.