So quiet and serene were my surroundings that I could almost hear the flutter of a butterfly’s wings as it flitted around me looking for a pretty flower to land on amongst the dunes.

Hope you don’t see any alligators in there,” a man said as he passed me on his way to a long boardwalk that leads over a wide expanse of natural dunes and onto the beach at Anastasia State Park. I was taking pictures of wildflowers, and had just come from the beach, where I’d photographed sea, sky, and shoreline. I’d seen white capped waves, scurrying shore birds, sea oats blowing in the breeze, and a few other beachgoers here and there.

But no alligators.

“No, just pretty flowers,” I told him, as I sat photographing a field of yellow, orange and blue blooms at the dune’s edge. I waved, “Enjoy your day.”

Anastasia State Park is an easy place to enjoy, and a perfect place to escape the busyness of the holidays. Billed as “Paradise near historic St. Augustine,” the 1,600 acre park is located two miles from downtown on Anastasia Island, and provides opportunities for coastal camping, ocean swimming, sunbathing, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, surfing, picnicking and hiking nature trails.

It’s a popular park, but with four miles of broad pristine beach, it’s easy to find peace and quiet there, especially during the winter months. Which is especially nice during the holidays, when like most people, I find myself getting caught up in the stress of it all. Shopping. Parties. Decorating. Cooking. Wrapping gifts. It can become overwhelming.

A quiet walk on Anastasia’s beach can be the perfect antidote. So can exploring the park’s tidal salt marshes, lagoons and maritime and upland hammocks. Within the park, Anastasia Watersports rents canoes, paddleboats, kayaks and catamarans, and also offers windsurfing lessons.

The park is filled with wildlife, and what better way to remove yourself from seasonal craziness than to surround yourself with ospreys, herons, egrets, dolphins, manatees and butterflies?

Bring your bike and cruise the bicycle trails that wind throughout the park, or head into the woods to hike the self-guided nature trail. Trader Joe’s, next to the beach, also rents bicycles, as well as beach chairs and umbrellas. You can also grab lunch at their tropical grill.

If you want to go all out, and stay for more than a day, you can also camp in one of the park’s 139 campsites tucked away in the woods in the park’s southwest corner. They have electric and water hookups for RVs and tents, and WiFi is available at Trader Joe’s if you can’t bear to disconnect for too long from the outside world.

I found it difficult to leave Anastasia State Park. Strolling along the beach, bird watching and photographing flowers was relaxing.  It felt good to immerse myself in the beauty around me and forget about the holiday madness for a while.

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