St. Augustine Florida: what to see in a city rich in art and history

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Joel Fulleda
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In northern Florida, not far from Jacksonville, we find a historic city in the United States: St. Augustine. Founded by the Spaniards in 1565, it is in fact the oldest still inhabited European settlement in the country, as well as being a really interesting town to visit. St. Augustine proves that visiting Florida doesn't necessarily mean being limited to beaches or amusement parks: it does history, art and culture they can have their own place in the journey.


Index


  • What to see in St. Augustine?
    • The Old Town
    • The historical places
    • The churches and palaces
    • Museums
  • What to see around St. Augustine
    • The beaches of St. Augustine
  • Events in St. Augustine: the calendar
  • Where to eat in St. Augustine? Tips for a good gastronomy experience
  • Where to sleep in St. Augustine

What to see in St. Augustine?

St. Augustine is a town of about 12 souls, so we're talking about a small town and not a large metropolis with numerous neighborhoods. Nonetheless, its history makes it full of things to see and experiences to live. Also consider taking advantage of the hop-on hop-off bus service, which will allow you to get around the city with a single ticket.

Info and ticket for the hop on - hop off bus tour

The Old Town

Numerous American cities boast among their attractions a Historic District, usually corresponding to the first settlement of the settlers, or in any case to the part of the city where the historic buildings are still preserved. St. Augustine, compared to the others, can claim to have the oldest "old city" of all. As this is the oldest American settlement still standing, the Historic District of St. Augustine is a great step back in time. Although today it is not exactly as it was five centuries ago, the approximately 200 historic buildings that we can meet are quite impressive.



St. George Street it is the main street of the district, where any visitor passes at least once to take a photo. All around there are historic houses, restaurants and boutiques. There oldest street however is Aviles Street, now known for its art galleries, as well as restaurants and ice cream parlors. Another record is that of narrowest street in America: Treasury Street. This alley only one meter and eighty centimeters wide, was intended to make it difficult for any thieves to escape with the treasure of a possible sacking of the city: this explains the name "Via del Tesoro". Finally, on Orange Street we can see part of the ancient walls that surrounded the town.

The historical places

San Marcos castle
Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

The center of St. Augustine is not very large and is easy to visit. But what are the things not to be missed? Surely you have to start with those buildings and places that emphasize the antiquity of the coastal town, so much so that records abound here as "oldest in the United States" or "oldest in Florida". Here are some suggestions.

  • Plaza de la Constitución and Bridge of Lions. Let's start from the city center: the constitution square, where the obelisk celebrates the Spanish constitution of 1812 and the monuments present remember the prisoners of the American revolution, the civil rights movement, the soldiers who fell during the wars. The large cannons testify to the colonial period when St. Augustine was a powerful fortress overlooking the ocean.
  • San Marcos castle. This star-shaped fortification, built between 1672 and 1695, is the only military fortress dating from the XNUMXth century in all of the United States and, of course, the oldest building in the city. A peculiarity of the fort is that it was built with the resistant coquina stone, which made it impenetrable both from fire and from the attacks of enemies, such as the English who claimed possession of these lands for a long time. Today both the rooms used as accommodation for soldiers and prisoners and the armory can be visited. Furthermore, events and initiatives take place here throughout the year. On the official website it is possible to consult the updated access times and any scheduled events.
  • González-Alvarez House. If the Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest American building, this is the oldest surviving colonial mansion in Florida and dates back to the early 1700s. The Spanish and British colonial architectural styles are a mirror of the evolution of the domination of this territory over the course of the of the centuries. The thick stone walls protected from the cold in winter and above all from the heat in summer, while the openings allowed the circulation of air by exploiting the winds that blow from the southeast in summer. Visiting it allows you to understand something more about that historical period and about the succession of colonists in America. All updated timetables are available on the official website. 
  • Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse. Also in St. Augustine there is also the oldest wooden school in the USA. A small classroom on the ground floor and the house of the master and his wife on the first floor make up this interesting historic building in cedar wood and hand crafted nails. Visit it if you want to touch a piece of history and understand how school life was in the nineteenth century. More information on the website.
  • Government House. From 1598 the governor lived in the house which later became the presidential residence during the time when Florida was an independent state. What we can visit today was the governor's house starting in 1710. In 1821, when Florida was annexed to the United States, the building was in ruins and was restored in several stages (in 1833-34, in 1873, in 1937 ), as it changed destination. Today it houses a small historical museum on the first floor and often hosts exhibitions on the ground floor.
  • Ximenez-Fatio House Museum. This is a museum aimed at showing what life was like during the second period of Spanish colonization (1783-1821). We can enter a very meticulously furnished house, with a beautiful courtyard and the opportunity to participate in thematic initiatives. For further details you can consult the dedicated website.
  • Colonial Quarter. This is not really a historical building, but the reproduction of a neighborhood as it was in the time of the Spanish and English settlers. You can see how the vessels were built in 1500 and how some typical trades of the time were carried out, from the farrier to the typographer, as well as visiting a soldier's house and climbing the observation tower.

The churches and palaces

Whether they are more or less ancient, the palaces and churches of St. Augustine often have architectural styles that make them interesting and not at all monotonous.



  • Cathedral Basilica. As you can guess, this is St. Augustine's cathedral, but it is also the oldest church in the city. Indeed, today we see a much more recent building than the first sixteenth-century church, which was set on fire in an English attack in 1586. The second church, made of straw and palm wood, was also burned to the ground in 1599. The third church lasted 95 years, until the fire caused by another English attack in 1702. For nearly a century St. Augustine did not have its own church, until construction of the present cathedral began, but the sad fate of the fires had not disappeared. In 1887 the church burned down again. Fortunately, having used coquina stone and concrete masonry instead of wood, saved the structure and it was possible to restore it and give it the appearance we see today. The façade combines neoclassical styles with those of the Spanish missions, while inside the murals depict scenes from the history of the Catholic Church in the new world and the stained glass windows show episodes from the life of St. Augustine of Hippo, to whom the city is dedicated.
  • Memorial Presbyterian Church. This Presbyterian church, built by the industrialist Henry Morrison Flagler in 1889 and dedicated to his daughter, who died in childbirth (for this reason it is called the “Memorial”), has another Christian belief. Inside it houses a mausoleum where Flagler's wife and daughter are buried. If looking at it it will seem familiar to you, the reason is simple: it is inspired by the basilica of San Marco in Venice. In fact, the dome is particularly striking, very similar to those of its Venetian cousin.
  • Flagler College. Also Henry Flagler, in addition to the aforementioned church, in 1887 built a large luxury hotel, the Hotel Ponce de Leon. Today that facility has been transformed into a college. The building can be visited and among its features is the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass: 79 decorated windows.
  • Markland. Also known as Andrew Anderson house, this residence has the particularity of being built with the Greek revival style, which re-proposes an architectural style inspired by ancient Greece. Today it is owned by Flagler College and can be visited inside on special occasions.
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Museums

Pirate & Treasure Museum

From a museum point of view, St. Augustine does not offer huge collections or grandiose museums as we can find in major US metropolises, but there are some interesting small museums.

  • Villa Zorayda. Inspired by the famous Alhambra in Granada, this late 1933th century Moorish style building has had various uses over the years: home, restaurant and casino. In 2400 it was transformed into a museum that showcases mainly antiques and collectible furniture. The most curious and even most discussed piece is the “Sacred Cat Rug”, an ancient carpet more than XNUMX years old, made with the fur of cats along the Nile River. Updated timetables and prices can be found on the museum website. 
  • Lightner Museum. What used to be a hotel, the Alcazar hotel, is now a museum of XNUMXth century works of art. There is a permanent collection, but regular exhibitions are also organized. All information on the official website.
  • Pirate & Treasure Museum. Dedicated to children, this curious pirate museum catapults visitors 300 years back in time, providing an immersive experience in the Caribbean where piracy reigned.
  • Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum. Believe it or not, as the name of the museum implies, here you will find some of the weirdest things you've ever seen. Three floors of absurd objects that will leave you dazed or make you smile.
  • Saint Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. On Anastasia Island, the island in front of the city and reachable via the Bridge of Lions, there is a lighthouse dating back to 1874, 50 meters high, around which ghost stories and legends revolve. It is possible to climb to the top of the lighthouse and visit the maritime museum, where various artifacts from vessels found over the centuries are preserved.

What to see around St. Augustine

Outside the historic center there is more that you can see to learn more about the history of this place. First and foremost, don't miss the Fort Matanzas National Monument. The word "matanzas" means "massacres" and it is due to the fact that here in 1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, first governor of Florida, killed over 250 French Huguenots. Today the imposing fortress is home to historical reenactments and performances, but it is also simply a striking place to visit on your St. Augustine tour. To access, you can use the parks card.

Another interesting place, but of a completely different kind, is theAlligator Farm Zoological Park: a zoo where you can also do things a little different than the usual zoos. An example: with a zipline you can fly over crocodiles tied to a rope: please, watch your feet!

The beaches of St. Augustine

Another thing to do around St. Augustine is to enjoy some of the beautiful beaches that St. Johns County offers tourists. Here are ours advice on the best beaches in this area, but if you are interested in sea life, don't forget to read our article on best beaches in Florida.

  • Saint Augustine Beach. It is the largest beach in the city and is located on Anastasia Island, the 37km long island parallel to the coast, located opposite St. Augustine and connected to the city center by the Bridge of Lions. Here you will also find the St. Johns County Ocean Pier: a large equipped pier where it is possible to fish. Behind the beach lies theAnastasia State Park, where it is possible to take beautiful walks in the countryside.
  • Butler beach. Also on the island, south of the previous one, there is also this beach surrounded by nature and therefore ideal for those looking for a real oasis of peace and tranquility.
  • Vilano Beach. A few minutes north of the city, it is ideal for surfing, thanks to the strong currents at this point.
  • Crescent beach. About twenty minutes south of the city we find another beautiful beach, where you can practice various water sports. Here the sand is very compact, therefore it is possible to cycle on the beach with ease and this makes it ideal for a seaside ride.

Events in St. Augustine: the calendar

If you happen to be in St. Augustine at certain times of the year, you could enrich your vacation by participating in a particular event or some themed initiative. An example is the Celtic Music & Heritage Festival, a Celtic-themed event that takes place every March during which you can listen to live music, have whiskey tastings, attend or participate in typical games of ancient Scotland, or simply stroll among the stalls to taste something or buy some objects of craftsmanship. Also in the month of March, St. St. Patrick Day Parade.

In summer, however, do not miss the 4 of July Fireworks & Concert at Castillo de San Marcos: the traditional American festival of July 4th where fireworks are the corollary to live music concerts and many entertainment activities. Between November and December the night lights up with Nights of Lights: three million lights change the face of the historic center for numerous consecutive evenings. For the occasion there are night carriage tours and other themed initiatives.

Finally, throughout the year you can take part in a very special tour of the city: the ghost tour. A bizarre way to discover the city, taking a tour where the protagonists are ghosts and paranormal phenomena.

Info sui Ghost Tour a St. Augustines

From mid-November to the end of December the historic center is illuminated: this is the named event Nights of Lights. Three million lights, from sunrise to sunset, embellish and make buildings shine. Many activities stay open until late in the evening and you can take special tours for example on foot, by carriage, even by sea and by air. A Christmas tree is placed in the Plaza de la Constitucion.

Where to eat in St. Augustine? Tips for a good gastronomy experience

If you are looking for a suitable place for a lunch or dinner in St. Augustine, our advice is to stop and eat in the historic center, where the setting is much more beautiful. Here are some tips.

  • Columbia Restaurant (98 St. George Street). Opened way back in 1905, it is in the ranking of the 25 best restaurants in the United States and can boast of having won the Golden Spoon (golden spoon). Here you can enjoy excellent dishes, especially Spanish and Cuban cuisine, but besides the food it is worth eating here for the setting itself: you will sit in dining rooms decorated with paintings and fountains, immersed in an enchanting atmosphere.
  • Raintree Restaurant (102 San Marco Ave.). Here the cuisine varies from American to Asian, passing through the Mediterranean one. Nice that it is housed in a Victorian colonial house.
  • Mayan House (22 Hypolita Street). Sangria and tequila are the strong drinks of this place, where Latin American cuisine is the host, among pretty rooms and a beautiful courtyard. The fish is great.
  • Scarlett O’Hara’s (70 Hypolita Street). The typical atmosphere of the South of the States can be breathed in this place, excellent for those who love barbecue, but also many other varieties of food. Live music, karaoke and theme nights will enliven your dinner.

Where to sleep in St. Augustine

Casa Monica Resort

Who would like stay in Saint Augustine you can do this by choosing from charming hotels and B & Bs, for example in the characteristic Historic District:

  • Casa Monica Resort & Spa (95 Cordova St.), a historic hotel, with an ancient charm but with a modern finish. The facade has Moorish-style columns (see photo) while the lobby features artwork. The rooms and suites, which overlook the downtown or the lush garden, give a touch of luxury. The hotel features a lounge, café, restaurant, spa, fitness center and swimming pool.
  • Il Saint George Inn (4 St. George Street), offers the elegant charm of a historic hotel combined with the familiar atmosphere of a B&B.
  • A Victorian house with two large porches, located at 70 Cuna Street, houses the Carriage Way B&B defined "the B&B jewel of the ancient city" (the B&B jewel of the ancient city). The rooms are furnished with period furniture, architectural merits and elegant modern touches.
  • Funny Farm (2798 Usina Street), is a place just outside the city where you can stay overnight in peace and tranquility, but with plenty of things to do. You can use the barbecue, play darts or take a bike for a ride.

All accommodations available in St. Augustine

Florida: the Sunshine State in pills!Florida is a land with a sub-tropical climate with clear and sunny skies but also with possible hurricanes from June to November. This state is famous for beaches, palm trees, Kennedy Space Center (see the article Cape Canaveral what to see), golf courses, Everglades Natural Park, the famous Daytona International Speedway for Nascar cars, amusement parks such as Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, Busch Gardens, Cypress Gardens and for the presence of animals such as alligators, manatees, flamingos and Florida panthers.

Certainly all these attractions are a magnet for many tourists even at an international level but it should not be forgotten that this land is rich in history. Florida was colonized in 1513 by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon who landed near today's Melbourne beach area (central-east area) and called this state “Florida” (the land of flowers).

 

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