Finding quiet in St. Augustine

I only make it to St. Augustine about twice a year and the trip is always framed by memories of chaperoning elementary-school field trips.

Those days are a distant memory now, but the sound of children's voices, not always as whimsical as the ones in my memory, is still part of the soundtrack of a stroll through the Old Town district of shops, eateries and historic buildings. If you're taking along the youngsters, I'd recommend a stop at the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum (, if you don't mind mixing your history with some entertaining flair.

It might burn off a little youthful energy, too.

Because I didn't have any kids in tow on my impromptu road trip last week, I opted for a few stops off the beaten path before venturing into the tourist hub. First, there was a quick stop at Grandpa's Music (, across the Bridge of Lions on Anastasia Boulevard about 10 minutes from the tourist district.

It's a cozy shop known for its assortment of ukuleles, sort of a Mayberry-esque gathering spot for guitarists.

From there, I headed back across the bridge toward town, heading north on San Marco Avenue past the Castillo de San Marcos fort to the shops and galleries uptown. For a book lover, no trip to St. Augustine is complete without a stop at Wolf's Head Books (, with its 10 cramped rooms packed floor-to-ceiling with rare, out-of-print books and assorted literary goodies.

Down the street, a sign for The Art of BBQ ( suggested an art gallery for rib-lovers, but sadly that notion was too good to be true. Still, the shop's assortment of inventive grilling accessories (pig-shaped smokers, sauces, rubs, hats and T-shirts) is heaven for backyard chefs.

My heaven? On this afternoon, it was climbing the narrow stairway to the Mill Top Tavern ( on St. George Street in the historic district to catch singer-songwriter Don Oja-Dunaway. I met him here a dozen years ago when I was reporting a story on folk icon Gamble Rogers. Oja-Dunaway, 66, knew Rogers and other folk heroes such as Steve Goodman.

He has been a fixture for 35 years, working six days a week (every day but Tuesday). The beer is cold and the kids' voices on the street below are as sweet as my memories.

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