St. Augustine Florida is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States. Founded in 1565 it has been under the flags of Great Britain, Spain, the United States. Known as the Ancient City, St. Augustine is rich in history, culture and fun, family activities. With the beautiful beaches to the east of the city and endless beauty of the St. Johns River to the west, there is something for everyone. The old town is the jewel of the city. Only one of three walled cities in the North America, exploring the narrow streets will give you the feeling that you are walking through an old European settlement. The 25 most popular things to do and see in old town St. Augustine are outlined in the following list.
- St. Augustine Visitor’s Info Center – Start your visit to St. Augustine at the VIC. Pick up brochures for area attractions and tours and learn about local events. A great place to park is directly behind the Visitor’s Info Center.
- Public Burying Grounds – During the yellow fever epidemic of 1821, this half-acre plot was set aside as a public cemetery. Many Protestant pioneers to the new Florida Territory are buried here. Often such burials, made at public expense, went unmarked. The Presbyterian Church has owned and maintained the cemetery since 1832. Interments were discontinued in 1884.
- Castillo De San Marco – St. Augustine, Florida is home to the oldest masonry fort in the United Station. The Castillo de San Marcos was first built in 1672 by Spain during its occupancy in Florida. From 1763 through 1784 Britain occupied the state and renamed the masonry St. Mark. When Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821 The Castillo de San Marcos became Fort Marion, named after Francis Marion, a revolutionary war hero. It was not until 1942 that the Congress renamed the building Castillo de San Marcos. This masonry was built with coquina stone, “little shells” in Spanish.
- Waterfront – Beautiful views of the Matanzas Bay show you why St. Augustine was considered such a strategic location.
- Bridge of Lions – The Bridge of Lions spans the Intracoastal Waterway and connects downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island. Lions made of marble guard the bridge, begun in 1925 and completed in 1927 across Matanzas Bay. From its earliest days, it was hailed as “The Most Beautiful Bridge in Dixie.” It has long been a symbol of the nation’s oldest city.
- Ponce De Leon Statue – A life-size (4’11” tall!) representation of the first European to discover Florida, the statue of Ponce De Leon is a centerpiece in old town. He is pointing to the sea as a reminder of Spain’s conquest of the seas.
- Florida National Guard Headquarters – St. Augustine has had a military presence since its founding in 1565. It is only fitting that the headquarters for the Florida National Guard is located here.
- St. Augustine National Cemetery – The first interment took place in the area of the cemetery in 1828 it was then used as the post cemetery for the St. Francis Barracks. The first burials were soldiers stationed at St. Francis Barracks and veterans of the Indian Wars, including many that were transferred from burial grounds in what was then Seminole controlled territory. Major Francis L. Dade is buried here.
- The Oldest House Museum – For more than three centuries this site has been occupied by St. Augustinians. Beginning about 1650, successions of thatched wooden structures were their homes. This coquina stone house was built soon after the English burned St. Augustine in 1702, and originally was a one-story rectangle with two rooms.
- Aviles Street – The oldest street in St. Augustine that is more reminiscent of old world Europe. A quaint thoroughfare of restaurants, stores, and galleries. Tip: If you are planning on visiting St. Augustine, be sure to print the St. Augustine Walking Tour and Guide found at http://www.citywalkingguide.com/staugustine
- Spanish Military Hospital Museum – A reconstruction of the Military Hospital that stood on this site during the Second Spanish Colonial Period (1784-1821). The museum explains what you would have experienced had you been a patient during this period.
- Cathedral Basilica – St. Augustine is home to the oldest Catholic parish in the United States. The first Catholic mass was celebrated in 1565.
- Potter’s Wax Museum – A St. Augustine favorite for young and old, Potter’s Wax Museum presents celebrities of today and historical figures of the past… all in realistic wax!
- Public Market – An important location for 17th, 18th and 19th century commerce. The first public market place was established in this Plaza by Governor Mendez de Canzo in 1598. Here, for the first time a standard system of weights and measures was introduced in this country for the protection of the consumer.
- Plaza de la Constitución – Once a commercial center for various businesses in the Old City, the Plaza de la Constitución is now home to an array of restaurants and shops. Its history began when a constitutional government was initiated in Spain. The area was used for the slave market and other commercial activities. Visitors to St. Augustine enjoy stopping at the Plaza for a peaceful rest and the lovely scenery.
- St. George Street – The “Main Street” of old town St. Augustine. Shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors and more adorn this pedestrian only thoroughfare.
- Government House Museum and Visitor’s Center – The Government House has long been the home to many administrative and political offices. Throughout its many centuries of existence-the earliest records date back to the late 16th century, it has been a residence for Governors, a courthouse, a post office, government offices and more. Following the plans of the royal decree from Spain, it along with other major buildings in town, faces the central plaza. Today, the Government House Museum offers exhibits and displays that showcase the cultural, economic and historical past of the city from the original Spanish settlers of the 16th century though the Flagler era in the late 1800’s. Visitors of all ages benefit from the many exhibits and learning activities available in the museum.
- Flagler College – The magnificent structure that is now home to Flagler College was once the Ponce De Leon Hotel. Built between 1885 and 1887 by railroad magnate Henry Flagler, the luxury hotel served guests to St. Augustine until the 1960’s when it was acquired by Flagler College.
- Lightner Museum – The Lightner Museum is a museum of antiquities, mostly American Victorian, housed within the former Alcazar Hotel.
- Villa Zorayda – Inspired by the 12th-century Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, Villa Zorayda was built by Boston millionaire Franklin W. Smith in 1883 as his private home. Today it is open to the public as a museum.
- Memorial Presbyterian Church – Built by Henry Flagler in memory of his daughter, the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian was built in 1889. Henry Flagler is interned in the church. The church is open to public during the day.
- Spanish Quarter Museum – Learn about life in 17th and 18th century Spanish St. Augustine with hands on activities and live reenactors.
- Oldest Wooden School House – Touted as being the oldest wooden school building in the United States. The exact date of construction is unknown, but it first appears on tax records in 1716.
- Old City Gates – At one time, these gates were the only entrance to the city of St. Augustine. The gates were built in 1808 as line of defense in conjunction with a wall that surrounded the city.
- Ripley’s… Believe It or Not! – The original Ripley’s… Believe It or Not! museum makes its home in St. Augustine. Originally opened in the 1950’s just a short time after Robert Ripley’s death.
A great way to see the city is aboard the Old Town Trolley. They offer a comprehensive St. Augustine sightseeing tour of old town that gives you the opportunity to hop on and off at numerous areas throughout the city. It is convenient and gives you a great feel of where things are at the beginning of your visit.
C Belland is a travel writer for TrustedTours.com. Trusted Tours and Attractions promotes and sells discount tour tickets in over 30 cities throughout the United States.
**Editors Note** There are several other wonderful places to visit such as the beaches, the Alligator Farm, Fort Menendez, Marineland and The Fountain of Youth to name a few.
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