St. Augustine, dubbed the Oldest City in America, is rich in History! Just walk along the cobblestone-like, paved brick streets and take a look around and you’ll see so many interesting sites to explore! Whether you are planning a vacation to St. Augustine or you live here, there is so much to see and do! Below is my list for must-see sites (with a few bonus recommendations along the way). The photos were taken by me during my visits to the recommended places … and all are places I would (and will) visit again! By the way, did I mention I am a local? I just love our town!
Castillo de San Marcos (aka The Fort)
This National Monument is located right in the heart of downtown St. Augustine, right along the Matanzas Bay. When you first see the Fort with your own eyes in person, you will be wowed! It’s simply an amazing sight and when you learn about the history of the Fort, how it was built, and see inside of it, you will be further amazed … trust me. In fact, the entire structure is built from coquina! The Castillo de San Marcos was a post for the Spanish Empire guarding St. Augustine, the first European Settlement in the U.S. It was constructed between 1672-1675 and was occupied by military forces for 250 years. I have only been inside the Fort once but I definitely plan to visit again. I was amazed at the design of this structure. It is huge and it’s really cool to get an up close look inside and out! This walk-in park has a $15/person fee … and it is well worth the cost! Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday they do Historic Weapons Demonstrations, but you can check out the website for more information regarding special events, parking, and more! Castillo de San Marcos website and here is a great brochure with a map and info about the Fort. Here are more photos from our visit at the Castillo de San Marcos.
The Fountain of Youth archaeological Park
This is certainly an interesting place to visit. It is the site of the first Spanish settlement in the New World founded by Pedro Menendez and previously occupied by the Timucua Indians. As you walk the beautiful archaeological grounds of this park, you can visit the Timucuan Village, see the stars at the Planetarium, watch canon and musket firings, see a replica of a Spanish tower, and of course take a drink from “The Fountain of Youth” in the Spring House. But what I really love about the Fountain of Youth is the beauty of the grounds, 15 waterfront acres. I also love the peacocks! Yes, you will see peacocks on the grounds and they are so beautiful especially during their mating season when the males open up their feathers and shake their tails. The park has free on-site parking. When driving to the FOY, be sure to notice the beauty of Magnolia Ave. For more information about the park and planning your visit, check out the FOY website. Here are more photos from my last visit to the Fountain of Youth, which I enjoyed with some of the ladies from my neighborhood.
Worth the stop: just down the road from the FOY, stop by the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission de Dios. This is the site of the first Catholic mass in what is now the United States. It is where Pedro Menendez landed on the coast September 8, 1565 and claimed the land for the King of Spain in the Nombre de Dios (name of God).
The St. Augustine Lighthouse
Climb the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse and see a spectacular view of St. Augustine. Learn all about the history of the lighthouse (from the original wooden watchtower that burned to the ground, to the current lighthouse and its revival). With your admission, you can enjoy the lighthouse, the museum, the Keeper’s house, the shipyard play area, a nature trail, and a Behind the Scenes tour. The cost of admission and memberships are used to protect the restoration of the lighthouse as well as provide many educational services to the community. I have been up the steps to the top a few times and I must say it’s a beautiful lighthouse with a fantastic view, definitely worth the time and cost! Oh, and its great exercise … and afterwards, you can go eat at one of many delicious restaurants in town. For more information about the lighthouse and to plan your visit, check out the website. Below is a video from this February of the view!
The main building of this college, located in downtown St. Augustine, was once the famous Ponce de Leon Hotel. This luxury hotel was built in 1888 by Carrere and Hastings for Henry Flagler, an industrialist, oil magnate, and railroad pioneer. Flagler College was founded in 1968 and compromises 19 acres. It is a private, liberal arts institution of higher education. The school has been ranked by US News and World Report as well as The Princeton Review as one of the best regional colleges in the southern United States. Flagler offers tours that focus on the architectural heritage of the former Ponce de Leon hotel. On the tour, you will see the beautiful courtyard, the grand lobby (make sure to look up!), the dining room, and the Flagler room. It is really beautiful architecture and it certainly adds charm to the town. I love the fountain in the courtyard and the 68 foot domed ceiling in the lobby, just stunning! Tours are daily at 10 am and 2 pm but space is limited. Check out the Flagler website for more info! Here are more photos of the beautiful architecture from my visit.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort Matanzas is located a little down the road (A1A) from Downtown St. Augustine in South St. Augustine. This fort was built by the Spanish in 1742 to defend St. Augustine from British attack. The plan was to guard the southern mouth of the Matanzas River, which could be used as a rear entrance to the city of St. Augustine. Like the Castillo de san Marcos, this fort is also built from coquina, which has proved to be very strong. Click here for a neat little article about coquina rock. When you visit Fort Matanzas, you will take a short ferry ride across the Matanzas River to get to the fort. The view is very nice and you might even see some dolphin along the way. The fort is not very big but it has two levels (the stairway/passageway up is a little tight but doable). Entry at Fort Matanzas is free and there is ample parking. Just make sure to stop in the Visitor’s Center to receive your boarding passes for the ferry. There is also a half mile boardwalk nature trail through a maritime forest. For more info, visit the Fort Matanzas website. My suggestion for a fun day, would be to visit Fort Matanzas, then go across to the beach or down by the inlet and enjoy a swim or go fishing. You could also drive 10 minutes down the road to the beautiful Washington Oaks Garden State Park. Here are more photos from our visit to Fort Matanzas.
I hope you enjoyed my top 5 list of historical places to visit in St. Augustine. There are definitely more to go see! I would recommend taking a ride on the Old Town Trolley (you can learn a lot about the city this way!) For even more places to visit, check out Florida’s Historic Coast website. If you liked this blog post, give me a like and follow my Blog to discover more fun places to visit in St. Augustine and Florida! ~Kristina~