POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Finding quiet in St. Augustine

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Mill Top Tavern in St. Augustine

Singer-musician Don Oja-Dunaway has been a fixture for 35 years at the Mill Top Tavern in St. Augustine. (Bob Patterson / May 29, 2002)

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 (piratesoul.com), 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 (grandpasmusic.com), 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 (wolfsheadbooks.com), 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 (theartofbbqonline.com) 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 (miltoptavern.com) 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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