St. Augustine Florida Vacation - History
St. Augustine (also known as the Ancient City) has the distinction of being the oldest European settlement in the US - established by the Spanish as they ventured north from their exploration and conquistador activities in Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. How old is St. Augustine? St. Augustine dates from before Jamestown (42 years) and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock (55 years), having been first settled in 1565, after several other Spanish settlements in Florida failed over the prior decades. That year was important since the French had set up an outpost in Florida just one year prior -- they found themselves "evicted" by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Initial wooden forts and surround settlements were destroyed by Sir Francis Drake before the century was out, and again later by pirates. But once the new stone fort was built, it has endured, despite changing hands a few times and a number of sieges. St. Augustine sits on the northeast coast of Florida, about 25 miles southeast of Jacksonville, but north of Daytona Beach area.
Today, St. Augustine, Florida, is a mixture of the old Spanish heritage, combined with a Florida seaside resort orinigated by Henry Flagler after the Civil War, combined with the feeling of a college town built around Flagler College which dominates the skyline of the old historic district with its distinctive architecture. Maps from the middle of the 1700s show the historic Spanish district to have the same look and layout as you will find today. The historic downtown has a touristy feel to it, complete with a wax museum, but the pedestrian zones in the Spanish quarter, the quaint shops and restaurants, and the wonderful Florida location make it a "good" touristy feel. Go and enjoy!
St. Augustine Map
The main historic downtown of St. Augustine is on a protected peninsula that is surrounded by the Mantanzas River and Intracoastal Waterway, with the Atlantic Ocean just beyond the harbor. You can see an aerial photo of St. Augustine here
. The old town is located on the main center stretch of land, just right of center. You can see a number of red brick roofs and a bridge connecting up to another peninsula above. Flagler College has the red roof, and the bridge is the Bridge of Lions that will get you out to the beaches. The Castillo de San Marcos is found at the green patch an inch and a half left of the bridge, just below the tip of that little finger of land that the bridge connects to. If you are coming from Jacksonville, you can either come south on Rt. 1 or on I-95 (take the exit for Hwy 214, which runs you right into King St. which goes through the center of the historic district). One convenient way to see the city is the red sightseeing trains (RedTrains.com
) - little trams pulled by a red train-looking engine. You can see a map of St. Augustine and the tour route here
in large PDF format. Once you buy a ticket, you can ride the train for 3 days and get on and off all you want - an especially attractive option for getting around in the heat of the summer. Tour runs every 15-20 minutes starting at 8:30 and running until 4PM. On their website you can also find links to other local attractions, like the Fountain of Youth, Lightner Museum, Ripley's Believe it or Not, San Sebastian Winery, etc. The basic tickets cost $18 for adults, $5 for kids 6-12, but there are a number of package deals available that include admission to various other sites -- decide what all you want to see before settling on the type of ticket you want.
Best St. Augustine Hotels - St. Augustine Lodging Reviews
The nicest and most expensive hotel in St. Augustine, with 138 rooms, is the Casa Monica Hotel located on 95 Cordova St., right in the heart of the historic district. Their website is CasaMonica.com
. Rates in the Spring range from $200-$500 per night. Another nice property here is the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront. Located near the visitor center off Avenida Menendez. Spring rates range from $180-$320 per night, midsummer rates slightly cheaper, and winter rates slightly higher.
You'll also find a Hampton Inn, Best Western Spanish Quarter, and Best Western Historical nearby with good family rates. Other popular hotels include the St. George Inn, Clarion Casa Del Mar, Holiday Inn, and Days Inn at St. Augustine Beach. Keep in mind the beach is only a few minutes drive from the historic district -- while it is nice to be able to wander the streets in the evening, consider staying by the oceanside as well.
St. Augustine Beaches and Golf
Part of the allure of a trip to Florida is of course the sunshine and beaches. Some of the popular beaches in and around St. Augustine include Ponte Vedra Beach, Micklers Beach, Usina Beach, Surfside Beach, Vilano Beach, North Beach, St. Augustine Beach, Butler Beach, Treasure Beach, and Crescent Beach. You can read about the location and details of the various beaches at OldCity.com
. Local golf courses in St. Augustine include Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Ponte Vedra Inn and Club to the north, and March Creek Country Club out by St. Augustine by the Sea. World Golf Village is just a few miles north of St. Augustine off Interstate 95, home of the King and Bear golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer (WGV.com
Castillo de San Marcos
The "castle" of San Marcos is an old, stone Spanish fort, built on a locations where a dozen wooden forts had stood in prior decades. Its construction began in the late 1600s (finished in 1695), making it the oldest masonry in the US and the only existing fort from the 1600s still standing. Part of the National Park service, their official website is NPS.gov/casa/
. The fort is strategically located, overlooking the harbor where the Matanzas River ends its run to the sea, giving Spanish cannons control of the area around the surround town. You can tour the fort at your leisure or take a guided tour. The fort is open daily from 8:45AM to 5:15PM (except Christmas). Summer weekends are the busiest and hottest times to visit - expect more crowds. The entrance fee is $6 for adults 16 and up, 15 and below free. There is a metered parking lot right in front of the Castillo, with 2 hour time limits. All you have to do is cross the street and you will find yourself in the historic district known as "The Plaza".