While St. Augustine is known for its beaches, many also consider it a great place to venture a little farther offshore.
The area is a well-known spot for those who enjoy sailing, fishing or just touring on a variety different vessels.
St. Augustine has the Municipal Marina for easy access right to the heart of downtown. And there are several privately run marinas that afford boaters entrance to the water all over the county.
“St. Augustine has a very rich maritime history,” said Barry Benjamin, a commissioner on the St. Augustine Port, Waterway and Beach District. “There are a lot of places for recreation along the Matanzas River, lots of waterfront restaurants.”
Although there are many choices, some of the well-known waterfront restaurants include Aunt Kate’s, Beaches at Vilano, Cap’s on the Water, Conch House, Creekside Dinery, Hurricane Patty’s, Kingfish Grill, Saltwater Cowboys, Santa Maria Restaurant, Beachcomber, South Beach Grill, The Reef and Outback Crab Shack, among others. There are also a host of places that might not be on the water but are close enough to provide great views of the water.
Benjamin, a boat owner himself, said St. Augustine is a prime spot for waterfront recreation for a lot of reasons.
“The absence of a lot of no wake zones allows the freedom to operate your boat at optimum performance,” he said. “The closeness to the ocean allows sailboaters to have a nice, carefree, smooth sailing weekend. The waters are nice, clean and pollution-free.”
In addition to the Municipal Marina, there are more than a half dozen other marinas to serve the boating community. Benjamin said most marinas have been near capacity in recent years.
“There’s a large marina community,” he said. “There is access to repairs, parts, service. Anything can be accomplished in St. Augustine without a long waiting period.”
There are also a total of 11 public saltwater boat ramps and another three public boat ramps for the St. Johns River.
While recreation is the main focus for people on the St. Augustine waterfront nowadays, there is a history of commercial activity.
For many years, shrimping and the building of shrimp boats were prevalent in St. Augustine.
According to St. Augustine Lighthouse historians, there were more than 100 shrimp boats that used St. Augustine as their home port by the 1940s, making it one of the largest fisheries in the country.
Brendan Burke, an archaeologist and logistical coordinator for the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, said St. Augustine had a global impact on the economy in the middle of the 20th century. He is the co-author of the book “Shrimp Boat City” with Ed Long.
Burke said the Diesel Engine Sales Company, later referred to as DESCO, built a total of 2,685 boats from 1943 to 1982 — most of which were shrimp trawlers. He said the boats were exported to 23 different countries.
“Over the years, if adjusted for inflation, the business was responsible for billions of dollars,” Burke said. “It was responsible for a lot of the vitality St. Augustine enjoyed in the 20th century.”
Once DESCO went out of business, the waterfront site at the edge of the city limit was used for manufacturing of recreational boats by Luhrs. Operations ceased there in 2008. The site is being revitalized by a new developer, who is building a dry boat storage business with an eye to further development in the future.