A Bookworm's Travel Guide to St. Augustine
Florida has an incredibly rich literary heritage that not too many people know about. It was a paradise to prolific writers like Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jack Kerouac. It was a winter getaway for people like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Robert Frost. And folks like Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings called St. Augustine 'home.'
If you’re like me and you love a good book, you’ll find St. Augustine to be a fascinating vacation for bibliophiles. There are lots of sites associated with writers and their works, bookish restaurants and shops, and cozy corners to snuggle up with a book and read (after all, vacation is supposed to be for catching up on your reading, right?).
This itinerary is for you bookworms who love a page-turner, and no town keeps you turning pages like ours.
A Brief History of St. Augustine’s Literary Scene
An important aspect of our local history involves the Florida Federal Writers’ Project. The Federal Writers’ Project was a federal government project which provided jobs for unemployed writers during the Great Depression. It was responsible for bringing together famous authors in Florida like Stetson Kennedy and Zora Neale Hurston.
What started as a way to compile various travel guides and itineraries (much like the one you’re reading right now) became a compilation of American folklore and histories, including the definitive Slave Narratives. Northeast Florida was a base for many of the FWP writers based in the state.
Check out these famous literary heritage sites and the well-known books connected with their writers.
This area of Cross Creek is just 70 miles from St. Augustine, Florida and takes about 1 hour 30 minutes to get to. The park is the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a Pulitzer prize-winning author who was known for classic works like The Yearling and Cross Creek. She was married to a hotelier and spent a part of her life living at the hotel which currently houses the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum.
Her home at Cross Creek was gifted for preservation after her death in 1997. The integrity of the building is as it was when she owned it. You can see the front porch where she would sit and type some of her classic stories, and an exhibit case shows off her publications, including foreign translations.
Stetson Kennedy was an award-winning writer and activist who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and gave the world the compelling account called The Klan Unmasked. Like Rawlings, he also spent a great deal of his life in Northeast Florida, including his last years at his home called Beluthahatchee. Woody Guthrie also got a lot of inspiration for his work at this sight, and as a result, you can find two literary plaques here from Friends of Libraries.
Today, the park where his house in the woods sits is a location for scheduled cultural events. You can even book a private tour of the house as long as you give some notice by calling ahead at the number on their profile page.
Zora Neale Hurston Park and Residence & Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston’s conversations with former African Slaves inspired her work Their Eyes Were Watching God, which has won numerous awards and been included in several “Best” lists, including the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. A park dedicated to Zora sits at the corner of King Street and Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The park is small and there isn’t too much to see, but if you’re a fan of her work, then a photo by the park sign is certainly worth the walk over.
And if you keep heading along into West King, you’ll find a plaque in front of the place she lodged while staying in the area. Other sights over in West King for chillaxing with a book include Bog Brewing and Sweet City Cupcakes.
A little known fact is that Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lincoln’s “Little Woman who wrote the Book that Started [The Civil War]” and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, owned property in the Mandarin area that she regularly occupied. The house was not only a winter escape, but an escape from the pressures of Northern society and the troubles that fame had brought her. Harriet Beecher Stowe loved the Florida wildlife and illustrated the luscious landscape and community in her work Palmetto Leaves.
An exhibit at the Mandarin Museum focuses on Harriet Beecher Stowe and even houses a piece of furniture she owned and an 1800s copy of the book that made her famous.
Villa Zorayda in downtown St. Augustine is an architectural feat inspired by the look and feel of the Alhambra palace in Spain. The house is the noted subject of the book Tales of the Alhambra, and Villa Zorayda is named for one of the princesses in the story, “The Legend of the Three Princesses.”
The city of St. Augustine gets its name from land being spotted on the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo. This Roman pagan turned Christian convert from the 300s A.D. was a father of the early church and wrote the first autobiography of the Western world. His book Confessions continues to tell a very relatable story of the empty illusions of wealth and debauchery, the frustration of meddlesome mothers, and the search for the greatest questions of the heart.
Anyone who reads Confessions will recognize many of the scenes captured in the stained glass windows of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine on the Plaza de la Constitución, most of which illustrate important moments from Augustine’s life. These include the scene of Augustine’s conversion with his friend Alypius, when Augustine became gravely ill, and when Augustine sat conversing with his mother.
She and I stood alone, leaning in a certain window, from which the garden of the house we occupied at Ostia could be seen; at which place, removed from the crowd, we were resting ourselves for the voyage, after the fatigues of a long journey. We then were conversing alone very pleasantly; and, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, we were seeking between ourselves in the presence of the Truth, which Thou art, of what nature the eternal life of the saints would be, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man.
Other Noteworthy Spots
We've mentioned Potter's before in a previous article highlighting all the famous Englishmen (and English ladies) you can find there. Their collection is impressive, so it probably comes as no surprised that Potter's is home to some of the greatest classic writers. You can see the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Robert Stevenson, Charles Dickens, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, along with many other famous authors.
Your bookworm travel experiences don't end there though. There are also wax figures of popular characters from famous books, including a certain popular wizard boy.
Evergreen Cemetery - Burial Place of Randolph Caldecott
If the "Caldecott" sign is ringing a bell in your head, it's probably because you're thinking of the Caldecott Medal. This award honors the greatest American illustrators of childrens books. Many of the books I grew up with were recipients of the Caldecott honor: In the Night Kitchen, Mirette on the High Wire, The Polar Express, and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.
The award is named after Randolph Caldecott, a famous illustrator from England who had an incredible influence on children's literature. Caldecott suffered from bad health and often holidayed to warmer climates in order to avoid illness. It was on a February trip to New York and then Florida that he became ill and died in St. Augustine just shy of his 40th birthday. His body was buried here at Evergreen Cemetery, which is tucked away in a picturesque resting place in West King down Rodriguez Street.
Helpful signs point visitors to his graveside, and a plaque has been placed there by the Friends of Libraries group.
Dining with Character
The main character from the popular American novel Gone with the Wind represents vitality, passion, survival, and growth. Her transformation takes pages to unravel and her story is considered one of the great novels that shaped America. Any fan of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book will find a welcome seat at Scarlett O’Hara’s Restaurant in St. Augustine inspired by the fiery leading lady.
The venue is dotted with mementos of the Southern classic, including a portrait of the lady herself, and the legendary line “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
As God as my witness, you’ll never be hungry again.
This by the book donut shop is tasty fodder for any bookworm. Their freshly baked donuts come in unique flavors and are made from scratch. Order them hot and drink some coffee while perusing the walls painted with colorful classics. Fiction Donuts even has some fun gear for bibliophiles, plus a book club for kids K-5.
This St. Augustine staple is known for their 1905 Salad, their Spanish cuisine, and their ornate atmosphere, but if you look closely, there’s more than meets the eye. Surrounding the walls of the Columbia are various nods to the famous story Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The classic tale follows a man from La Mancha as he pursues fantasies of grandeur as a knight, battling windmills and saving damsels. The story acts as a satire of chivalry and a classic piece of European literature.
Winn-Dixie and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Okay, so Winn-Dixie is a grocery store, not a restaurant. But for those staying in one of St. Augustine’s vacation rentals, condos or Airbnbs, a trip to the grocery store is a necessity for stocking a condo kitchen. The Winn-Dixie store is a southern staple and is headquartered in Jacksonville, FL. In fact, it’s so closely linked with life in Florida, that the author actually picked the shop as the location for the dog’s discovery in Because of Winn-Dixie because she was feeling homesick for Florida during a particularly cold Minnesota winter.
Although not in St. Augustine, the Yearling Restaurant is certainly worth the drive out--especially if you are a fan of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s classic book The Yearling and you’re out visiting her homestead anyway. The restaurant oozes old country Florida vibes, and its menu matches its rustic appeal.
An exhibit at the front of the restaurant highlights Rawlings and her books, along with a taxidermy doe. Plus, the restaurant sells used books! You can browse their collection and every book has a price on the inside cover.
Keep in mind that the eatery is only open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Poe’s Tavern is actually in Atlantic Beach about an hour north of St. Augustine, but we couldn’t not mention it. After all, it’s a tavern themed around American writer Edgar Allen Poe and has burgers named after his greatest works including Annabel Lee, the Pit and the Pendulum, and The House of Usher. Tragically good food awaits those who enter.
Quoth your hunger, "Nevermore."
Book a Room
The author of the Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms is the theme behind the Hemingway House Bed and Breakfast. The owner's favorite book by the author was A Moveable Feast, and was the eventual inspiration to make the bed and breakfast a shrine to the prolific Florida resident author. The rooms are named after Hemingway's wives, and mementos decorating the walls include a map of Havana, Cuba handed over by Hemingway himself!
And of course it's not just cool posters of Hemingway and objects that have touched him. There's also a bookshelf with copies of his books and other books about him. In fact, the inn sells a book they published written by a visitor to the inn who spent a Weekend at Hemingways in 1958, hence the name.
Spine Tingling Book Shops
Books are aplenty in St. Augustine, not just in thrift stores and antique shops, but in specialized used book retailers that not only showcase unique and individual genres, but also like to promote Florida’s best writers.
Anastasia Books is run by the widow of Stetson Kennedy, Mrs. Sandra Parks. It carries lots of local heritage books as well as historical fiction, history books, military books, and more. Outside the shop is a fun literary map of Florida. A glance at the map will show you where literary figures lived and worked throughout the Sunshine State, and a copy of the aforementioned map is available here for Literature and English teachers interested in some classroom decor.
Bouvier is an Aviles Street shop with rare items for the book collector. Their precious inventory includes dated manuscripts, some as far back as the 13th century. Viewing the inside is like walking through a mini museum, and anyone who is a fanatic for vellum, scriptoriums, or botanical prints will be pleased with what they find. Think of the work that went into these when today it's a matter of loading a printer and pressing a button. What an extraordinary age we live in.
Buy the Book is a small local bookshop located a few miles away from the Historic District of St. Augustine. The little store on US 1 South is joined with a post office for extra quaint bookshop authenticity. They carry Romance, Thrillers, Classics, Biographies, Hobby books, and more. It's a further drive, but if you're heading down to Faver Dykes or the Florida souvenir stand to get some gifts, it's on the way.
Second Read Books is a well-kept and organized bookshop with a whole bookcase to the right showcasing local St. Augustine and Florida authors. What it lacks in inventory size, it makes up for in browsability and unique finds. Plus, it’s a great place to seek out works connected with famous locals like Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
It's just around the corner from Scarlett O'Hara's, so make sure to take your copy of Gone with the Wind when you go to grab food.
Little Free Library Boxes in St. Augustine, Florida
Some of you may not know the name of Todd Bol, but he passed away in 2018 and was the founder of the Little Free Library non-profit. These little boxes around town (and around the world) are filled with books to take or trade. If you’re traveling, consider leaving a book behind for someone else to find.
You can find little free libraries marked on a map, but others like the one pictured above are waiting for passersby to happen upon it. All it takes is a bit of strolling around the Historic District’s scenic streets.
Gifts for Booklovers
This downtown shop has all sorts of eclectic gifts, including tons of items for bookworms. Get a puppet of some of the greatest literary minds, or a magnet of one of their well-written expressions. There are also pencil pouches, notepads, and other accessories for writers.
Although its main market is students, the Flagler College Bookstore has some very delightful items for connoisseurs of the written word. You'll find enamel pins, t-shirts showcasing popular bestsellers and cult favorites, some very punny mugs, plus these candles that capture the scent of a bookstore with "matchbooks" to "match." Wow, so much wordplay.
Another goldmine of book gifts can be found in several of St. Augustine’s antique shops. For example, I stumbled upon this Charles Dickens’ plate over at Antiques and Things (I didn’t actually stumble upon it or it would be in a million porcelain shards). Although it’s a bit out of view, the plate to the left of this one honored Shakespeare. Yeah -- they really knew how to make classy gifts back then, which is why you’ll only find treasures like Famous Author plates in an antique store.
For more bookish events, check out our local St. Johns County Public Library for schedules. They have book sales, movie nights (typically based on books-turned-movie), and book clubs for snowbirds looking to fill their schedule.
There's also the Florida Heritage Book Festival in the fall. Dates for 2019 TBA.
How did you miss this?!
If there’s anything we missed, we want to know about! Email our Content Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org or add a place worth checking out in the comments below.