Many people complain that Florida has no real history. It’s true, it does not have much compared to Europe, but the history it does have is very impressive. For example, did you know that America’s oldest continuously occupied settlement is St Augustine in Florida?
This lovely city has a relaxed ambience and is full of history and old world charm. The historic streets, Spanish-style architecture, Bridge of Lions and quaint shops along St George Street make this a delightful place to spend a day. The historic quarter includes America’s Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, colonial dwellings and the old City Gates.
Visitor Information Center
- Castillo Drive/Cordova St
St Augustine FL32084
Tel: (904) 484-5160
GPS Coordinates: 29.902, -81.315
Things to Do in St Augustine
St Augustine is a truly historic city with many attractions, a fortress, museums, historic houses, and beautiful architecture in the heart of the city. It was founded in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles on the feast day of St Augustine, and this is how the city got its name. In 1702, it burnt down and was rebuilt in the shadow of the huge Castillo de San Marcus. Many of these 300-year-old buildings can still be seen today, lining the pretty, narrow streets of the historic district.
In 1883, railroad magnate Henry Flagler visited St Augustine on his honeymoon. He was so impressed with the area that he built the grand Ponce de Leon Hotel in 1888, now the centerpiece of Flagler College. Wealthy visitors began to follow his example, traveling by train to Florida’s East Coast and soon St Augustine was a popular tourist destination, as it continues to be today.
Visitors will find St Augustine is a charming and unique city. It is quite compact and easy to walk around with plenty of lovely pavement cafés and high-end restaurants. Trolley tours are a great way to learn about the main historic sites with an informative guide. Stroll to the old fort, the Castillo de San Marcos, which overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway spanned by the Bridge of Lions. The fort is a National Monument, managed by the National Park Service. Visitors can walk the casements, watch videos, view re-enactments and weapons demonstrations, or take an interpretive walk with a ranger. Take a ghost tour of the city or visit the incredible Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attraction nearby, which is interesting for all ages.
Enter the Old City Gate and wander along the cobblestone streets to the Plaza de la Constitution. Explore the Colonial Spanish Quarter nearby with its charming higgledy-piggledy buildings, including America’s oldest wooden schoolhouse. A massive chain encircles this cypress and red cedar building and anchors it to the ground during high winds! This traffic-free area has a collection of historic buildings and small shops selling ice cream, chocolates, gifts, and antiques. Some of the interesting attractions include the Spanish Quarter Museum which has seven reconstructed buildings with costumed interpreters demonstrating crafts and skills from the mid-18th century.
In contrast, King Street is the heart of the more modern city. Lined with beautiful Spanish-influenced architecture, it is very pleasant to stroll along and admire the buildings such as Government House with its Spanish-style loggias and Zorayda Castle with its Arabic motifs, a replica of the fabulous Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Further along King Street, the Hispanic-Moorish building that was once the Alcazar Hotel now houses the impressive Tiffany glass and antiques of the Lightner Museum collection.
One-hour tours of the Ponce de Leon Hall are well worth taking to see inside this lovely Spanish Renaissance-style building. It was constructed in 1888 as the Ponce de Leon Hotel and is now a National Historic Landmark, part of the Flagler College campus. It was designed by architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings, who went on to build New York Public Library and the House and Senate buildings in Washington D.C. It features Tiffany designed mosaics, stained glass windows, and beautiful murals by George Willoughby Maynard and Virgilio Tojetti. You can just imagine that it was quite a wonderful place to stay in its time and was one of the first hotels in the country to have electricity. The grounds are also very pleasant to stroll around.
There are several beaches around St Augustine including the white sands of Anastasia Island, just five minutes from downtown. It has a pier, playground, pavilion, cafés, and shops. Crescent Beach is also on Anastasia Island, a wildlife refuge with a natural setting that is popular for beachcombing. Vilano Beach is said to be the area’s best kept secret with waterfront restaurants, a fishing pier, parasailing, and SeaDoo rentals.
St Augustine as a city is free to visit but various attractions charge admission/tour fees.
Old Town Trolley Tours
Children 6-12 $10.30
Adults $7 (7-day access)
Children under 15 Free when accompanied by an adult
Ponce de Leon Hotel/Flagler College Tours
Children under 12 Free
Colonial Spanish Quarter Historic District
General admission to the street – Free
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Children 6-11 $7.99
Teens 12-18 $5
Under 12 Free
See individual attractions for opening times
Where to Eat in St Augustine
Just along St George St there are a number of sidewalk cafés offering everything from coffee and cakes to sandwiches and light lunches. For a more substantial meal in nice surroundings, try the Aviles Restaurant in the Hilton Hotel on Avenida Menendez. It has an international menu including some Spanish specialties as a nod to this Spanish-influenced city.