Lying between the city of St. Augustine and the Intracoastal Waterway, Camachee Island is a small island, connected by bridges to the mainland on the west and to Vilano Beach on the east. It is home to island villas, townhouses, and a small community of luxury homes, as well as the Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor. This harbor community serves thousands of visiting boaters each year which transit the waterways and coastline of Florida.
Also on the island, a short walk from Harbor 26, are restaurants for breakfast, lunch, dinner, take-out, live music, charters for sailing and fishing boats, sailing school, convenience store, bait and tackle, and several other shops and marine-related businesses. A short drive to Vilano Beach brings you to sun, fun, and limitless beachside activities, along with numerous eating establishments for casual or fine dining.
Harbor 26 is central for visiting other popular nearby sites, such as the Guana Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) National Estuarine Research Reserve, TPC Golf Course and Headquarters and ATP Tennis Headquarters in Ponte Vedra, World Golf Village and IMAX, Factory Outlet Malls at I-95.
In the other direction, the nearby Old City of St. Augustine bustles year ‘round, with historic sites, museums, horse-drawn carriages, award winning restaurants, cafes, historic churches, special events, quaint shops, antique malls, recreation, attractions, and unique galleries. Saint Augustine is a rich cultural center, with special events held in the old city year 'round. A stroll through the oldest city's historic district, along the narrow ancient streets around the Inn, is not to be missed. Visit Castillo de San Marcos, the 17th century fort, and the City Gates, part of the original wall around the Spanish city. Climb to the top of the Lighthouse, take the ferry to Fort Matanzas, explore galleries in the monthly art walks. Experience a horse-drawn carriage, step-on trolley tour, pub crawl, schooner cruise, tastings of local wines & spirits, concert in the plaza, ghost walk, eco-tour, historic demonstrations and re-enactments, parades and fireworks, cultural festivals, art fairs and food celebrations at the events field, and the annual holiday Nights of Lights spectacle. The choices are endless!
What is now Camachee Island was once in the middle of the Tolomato River (which today forms part of the Intracoastal Waterway, flowing on the east side of Camachee Island). Changes in topography over several centuries created marshland between the river and the mainland. Ferries and horse-drawn trolleys brought visitors to the North Beaches in the days of Henry Flagler's Ponce de Leon Resort in St. Augustine. A palm-log bridge was constructed in the 1920s to provide access to the area by automobile. In 1926, a Florida developer build the Grand Vilano Casino on Vilano Beach, hosting big name bands, vaudeville, and dances. The Coastal Highway, Route A1A in Vilano, was constructed in 1928. In the late 1940s and 1950s many small motels and motor courts were built along Vilano Road.
Dredging of soil for the athletic fields of the nearby Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind created the original portion of the island in the mid 1950s. In the late 1970s, development created the present Camachee Marina, the South Harbor, and the part of the island with commercial facilities. This was soon followed with further expansion of the island to the north and creation of the North Harbor, involving the removal of 18 feet of earth from about 5-1/2 acres of upland. It took about 3 years to remove 150,000 cubic yards of dirt and build bulkheads around the perimeter. When Camachee Cove was completed in 1981, about 350 boats could be accommodated in wet slips, making it one of the largest marinas along the eastern seaboard. The St. Augustine Yacht Club, originally chartered in 1876, makes its home here, and the Northeast Florida Marlin Association, the premier bluewater fishing organization in the area, is headquartered here. Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor is a protected marina, safe haven for visiting boats of all sizes, and full service boat yard, just a mile from the Atlantic Ocean, with access directly to the Intracoastal Waterway.
Prior to 1995, a drawbridge brought traffic from the mainland directly into Vilano. The Francis and Mary Usina Bridge was opened in 1995, diverting traffic away from Vilano Road. The community re-purposed the east end of the old bridge to create a wide fishing pier, and the Vilano Beach's Town Center district now bustles with restaurants, shops, lodging, a large supermarket, beach pavilion, residential complexes, boardwalk over the salt water marsh, and art deco moderne styling. The "Bluebird of Happiness", which once graced the Vilano motel owned by Newton and Wilda Haley, has new life as a symbol of the town. Several restaurants offer al fresco dining along the Intracoastal Waterway. Vilano is now a year-round residential community with many fun family activities. Surfers flock to Vilano Beach, with heavy wave action created by the nearby Matanzas Inlet.