by Hookey Hamilton, Aviles Gallery

It always amazes me when someone comes into my Gallery and says,” I’ve lived here for thirty years, and I have never been down this street before! I love this street!”

It is Aviles Street, the oldest street in the nation, the original art district, and the Gallery is Aviles Street Gallery. I don’t see how people miss it, with the large wooden arch on King Street off the Square, that announces “Aviles Street”!

As you first walk down it, you notice the street looks like you could be in Europe, maybe Spain. It is a very narrow street, of vintage bricks, with old fashioned street lights, and umbrellaed tables in front of the restaurants. The people who walked on this street in the fifteen hundreds were smaller than we are now, and the narrow street was made for walking and for horses and carriages; cars came much later. The whole ambiance reeks of history and charm.

My personal favorite stop in the first block is the Cuban restaurant, La Herencia , followed by Cellar Six. You can stop and have something to eat or drink, inside or better yet, outside, and watch the world go by. Time stops, and you are in a different century.

Across the street is the old Spanish Military Hospital Museum, where you can learn about the Second Spanish Period medical practices. Then check out the first of a series of Art Galleries, Plum Gallery at the end of the block.

When you venture into the second block, you pass the St. Augustine Historical Research Library, housed in the historic Segui-Kirby Smith Building, and an even more narrow passageway , Artillery Lane. It is just wide enough for two rows of soldiers with firearms to walk through. It now leads to the Polish and Greek Restaurant. Gaufre’s.

There are flowers everywhere you look. Continuing down Aviles Street you can go past the crimson bouganvilla and into the Georgia Nick Gallery and Dan Holiday’s Leather shop. You are in the large building called Hamblen House, which according to Dan Holiday, houses fifty artists. After that, don’t miss the Aviles Street Gallery. You’ll find oil and acrylic paintings, pastels, fine art photographs and collages by eight local artists, with the extra benefit of meeting one of them who can tell you about any of our artists. The ninth local artist in the Gallery is Joel Bagnal, a custom Goldsmith. Watch him work at his bench, surrounded by cases of his work. Next is the fascinating Bouvier Antique Maps and Prints store, then Candida’s Closet, a lovely ladies clothing boutique. Facing them is the historic Ximenez-Fatio House Museum, a former Second Spanish Period Bed and Breakfast, where every room has a story. Toward the third and final block is the Father Miguel O’Reilly House Museum and courtyard gardens.

One evening walking on Aviles Street I overheard a young man say, “It’s like Disneyworld, only it’s REAL!!!” You should see it for yourself . It is truly a remarkable street of Art and History- A Hidden Gem.