Feature

Getting the flavor of...Florida’s island with no name

Native Americans were the island's first residents, and Ponce de León set foot on its shore centuries before it became popular with movie stars and mobsters.

Florida’s island with no name
Though many people have been to the long barrier island east of Jacksonville and St. Augustine, “no one apparently thought to name it,” said July Wells in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Native Americans were the first residents, and Ponce de León set foot on its sandy shore centuries before it became a popular draw for movie stars and mobsters. To be fair, “the Beaches” might seem a good enough name to locals because the land only fully cut ties with the mainland when a canal was dug a century ago. Besides, several island communities have names: Mayport, a quiet fishing village, sits at the northern tip. Next comes the condo-filled community Atlantic Beach, home to Hanna Park, “a magnet for surfers, beachcombers, and campers.” Jacksonville Beach, with its active boardwalk, acts as the island’s hub, while the former mining settlement Ponte Vedra is now concerned with “mining the affluent”: It’s home to PGA Tour headquarters and various gated communities.

Old San Juan
The walls of Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan “ooze history,” said Bob Downing in the Akron Beacon Journal. Today, Old San Juan is a “compact, colorful neighborhood” inside vibrant, modern San Juan, but to get a real sense of the city’s history, walk El Paseo del Morro. This 1.5-mile trail winds alongside the fortress walls built after Ponce de León settled here, more than 500 years ago, and passes the great forts Castillo de San Cristobal and El Morro. The latter is a “sprawling, six-level complex of weathered sandstone” and “the biggest attraction in Old San Juan.” Some claim that ghosts inhabit the ruins, but you’re more likely to come across the “city’s most famous occupants”: feral cats. The streets and waterfront are roamed by hundreds of strays, some thought to be descended from Spanish stowaways. Along the trail, they frolic in the surrounding brush and along the rocks between the trail and the water. “They’re everywhere.” 

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