Thursday, March 20

St. Augustine, Florida

What To See And Do In St. Augustine, Florida

We have taken a few trips to this beautiful little city.  I hope this blog post might help if you were thinking about St. Augustine as a vacation destination.  There is something for everyone in St. Augustine including beaches, historical sites, dining, lighthouses, parks, fishing charters, beautiful sunsets, alligators and shopping to name a few. 

The best way to see the downtown area is on foot but the kids really enjoyed renting bikes for the day and exploring all the back alleys, narrow roads and waterfronts.

We’re from the north so the best time for us to visit is anytime from Christmas until Spring Break, when in Ohio there is snow on the ground and howling winds.  It makes the sunny 80 degree days in Florida seem like heaven.

St Augustine History and Info:
St. Augustine is a city in Northeast Florida and the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States.
Known as the "Ancient City," San Augustine was founded in September 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and subsequently served as the capital of Spanish Florida for two hundred years.
Since the late 19th century, its historical character has made the city a major tourist attraction.
North Florida boasts a year-round mild climate, perfect for walking around Saint Augustine's historic district with its cobblestone streets, historical landmarks, cafes, bars and shops.

Things I Recommend Seeing In St. Augustine

Castillo de San Marcos
Throughout its history, the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument has been closely intertwined with the city and the neighboring structures which served as the city's outer defenses - Fort Mose to the north and Fort Matanzas to the south. 

Given the Fort’s architectural details, it's hardly surprising that Castillo de San Marcos actually took 23 years to build. Construction began in 1672 and it’s completion in 1695 allowed the town to survive a siege by Carolina Governor James Moore, who attacked and burned St. Augustine in 1702. 
Numerous other historic events have taken place within the walls of this ancient stronghold including the imprisonment of Seminole tribe leader Chief Osceola after he was captured in 1837. 

Fabricated of coquina, which is a virtually indestructible limestone comprised of broken sea shells and coral, the walls of the fortress remained impenetrable through 300 years of enemy shelling and pounding by violent storms. 

Flagler College:
This National Historic Landmark is the center piece for Flagler College and is one of the nation’s first electrified buildings.

Originally the Hotel Ponce de Leon, it was built by Henry Morrison Flagler in 1888, and is a master piece of Spanish Renaissance architecture.    It’s also the first in a series of luxury resorts along Florida’s east coast and the first poured concrete building in the United States.  The building is made with a mixture of cement, sand and coquina shell. 

This hotel entertained famous celebrities from all around the world, including several presidents.
Louis Comfort Tiffany is credited with the building’s interior design including the stained glass and mosaics.  The interior is decorated with imported marble, carved oak and murals painted by Tojetti and George W. Maynard. 

It was converted to Flagler College in 1968 and operates tours for both visitors and prospective students. You will be amazed at the incredible architecture which has been painstakingly preserved throughout the years. The campus grounds landscaping is equally impressive with rows of towering palms and well kept gardens.

Mission of Nombre de Dios
And The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche
Mission Nombre de Dios traces its origins to the founding of the City of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city.  On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed and proclaimed this site for Spain and the Church. It was here that Menéndez knelt to kiss a wooden cross presented to him by Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, chaplain of his expedition. 
It was on these grounds that Fr. López would celebrate the first parish Mass and begin the work at America’s first mission. It was at this sacred spot that the Spanish settlers would begin the devotion to Our Lady of La Leche that continues into the present. The landscaping and gardens are also beautiful!

Our Lady of Le Leche Shrine

In the early 1600s, the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine established the first Shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States. The original chapel and several reconstructions were damaged by storms and attacks.
The present chapel was reconstructed in 1915 and enshrines a replica of the original statue of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto – Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery.

Father Lopez Statue

The impressive bronze statue of Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, chaplain of Menéndez’s fleet; celebrant of the First Mass here; and the first missionary, stands eleven feet tall. 

The Great Cross

This massive structure, made of stainless steel and rising two hundred and eight feet above the marshes of the Matanzas River, stands as a sentinel over the Mission and a “Beacon of Faith” for all who pass this way.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in colorful Spanish tiles, commemorates the 1531 visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego in Guadalupe, Mexico.

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum
St. Augustine is the site of the oldest aid to navigation in North America. The original Spanish watchtower became Florida's first lighthouse in 1824.  The original watchtower near this site, built in the late 1500's was threatened by shoreline erosion by 1870.

Construction began on the current lighthouse and was completed in 1874. The old tower succumbed to the sea during a storm in 1880.
The current lighthouse was constructed of Alabama brick and Philadelphia iron, and is St. Augustine's oldest surviving brick structure. Light keepers' and their assistants lived and worked there until the tower was automated in 1955.

214 steps to the top of the lighthouse

The St. Augustine Lighthouse rises 165 feet above sea level and contains 214 steps. 

Keepers house viewed from the lighthouse
Climb the 214 steps to the top of the 1875 Lighthouse for a wonderful view of Saint Augustine and the wide, sandy Beaches. 
Also at the top, a first order Fresnel lens serves the beacon. The St. Augustine lens consists of 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape towering twelve feet tall and six feet in diameter.

Visit the historic keepers' house to see the home of Major William Harn from Philadelphia. Harn commanded his own artillery battery at the Battle of Gettysburg. 

Walk around the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program Boatworks and boat yard to see small craft under construction and view artifacts from shipwrecks just off shore. And Check out the United States Coast Guard history exhibit!

Basilica Cathedral
A small but very historical Cathedral that is beautifully maintained and has wonderful architectural features, religious symbols, statues and paintings.
Upon entering the cathedral, visitors pass under a circular arch in the Classical period style.

Although the building has had 2 fires, the damage was not total and the exterior shell of the building was still salvageable due to an inflammable material used for the exterior walls.
Architecturally, the church remained virtually intact up to the major renovation in 1965. At that time, Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley commissioned the building of a Eucharistic Chapel, the hanging of murals depicting the Catholic history of Florida by artist Hugo Ohlms, and the fashioning of a new tabernacle by the Gunning Company of Dublin, Ireland

Linking the building with the special care given it by its 18th-century Irish pastors, the newly renovated Cathedral was dedicated on March 9, 1966 by Cardinal William Conway, the primary cardinal of all Ireland.
On December 4, 1976, Pope Paul VI raised the edifice to the dignity of a Minor Basilica. It was the 27th American church to be honored as such by the Holy See. As a testament to its historic national significance, the Cathedral-Basilica was named a National Historic Landmark.

St Augustine Beaches
St. Augustine boasts 43 pristine miles of beaches. There's a beach for everyone. Some permit vehicles and dogs while others allow only pedestrians. Some of the area beaches produce abundant shelling opportunities, while others are covered only in luxurious fine, golden sand. From single vantage points in town, you can experience both the joy of the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean horizon and the peacefulness of the sun setting beyond the salt marsh along the Intracoastal Waterway.

St. Augustine Beach was the location of an infamous globster, known as the St. Augustine Monster that washed up on the beach in 1896. 
Some have claimed that this was the remains of a lusca.

Crescent Beach
Crescent Beach is located on Anastasia Island, a wildlife refuge. This beach offers a serene, natural setting and is a great place for beachcombers. It is one of the most scenic, unspoiled beaches in Florida. Crescent beach offers boating, diving, fishing, and many other attractions. It is convenient to excellent RV and camping facilities.

St. Augustine Beach.
St. Augustine Beach is located on Anastasia Island where you can enjoy white sand beaches, the St. Johns County Pier, a playground, pavilion, fishing pier, volleyball courts, bait shops, fine restaurants, shopping and more. RV and cabin camping areas are located nearby. Vehicles are permitted on the beach within designated areas.

Anastasia State Park and Recreation Area
Anastasia State Recreation Park is a protected bird sanctuary and consists of 1,700-acres and five miles of beautiful, sandy beaches. It features swimming, lifeguards, a bath house, hiking, nature trails, a boat ramp, fishing, a volleyball court, beach equipment rentals such as umbrellas and beach chairs, canoes, nature trails, grills and picnic areas, concessions, a covered pavilion, gift shops, playgrounds, and camping. Vehicles are prohibited from driving on the beach in this area.

Fort Matanzas National Monument
Built 1740-1742, the fort represents a well-preserved masonry watchtower fort built by the Spanish. It was designated a United States National Monument on October 15, 1924.

By providing a perch to observe enemy vessels approaching from the south, the fort played a strategic role in warning St. Augustine of potential enemy advancements from the south via the Matanzas River.
Coastal Florida was a major field of conflict as European nations fought for control in the New World. As part of this struggle, Fort Matanzas guarded St. Augustine’s southern river approach.

View from the old Fort Matanzas

Convicts, slaves, and troops from Cuba were used as labor to erect the structure, which was sited on present-day Rattlesnake Island.
Fort Matanzas is only accessible by guided boat tours. This National Monument in St. Augustine Florida is open every day of the year except for December 25.
My husband and I drove and then took a ferry to this fort while the kids (teenagers) rented bikes and rode all over the historic area and beaches. 

St. Augustine Alligator Farm 
In the late nineteenth century, George Reddington and Felix Fire began collecting alligators on Anastasia Island; they founded the St. Augustine Alligator Farm at South Beach in 1893. By 1910, the Alligator Farm became an established Florida attraction. 

The Anastasia Island Tram carried vacationers from their accommodations within the city of St. Augustine to the Alligator Farm and other tourist attractions along the island. After a huge storm stuck in the 1920’s the park was moved inland.

Exhibits include Albino Alligators, birds of Africa, Florida native reptiles and amphibians, a fossil exhibit, Komodo dragon and python exhibits, Red Ruffed Lemurs, and much more. 

There’s also a feeding demonstration every day at 12 noon & 3 p.m.  There are thousands of alligators from big to small. You can even buy food to feed the smaller gators.

St. George Street 
Downtown St. Augustine is centered along St. George Street, a pedestrian only thoroughfare where no cars are allowed.

Shopping in downtown St. Augustine

Along St. George Street, several large historic buildings have been subdivided into numerous stores almost creating a small indoor mall, containing businesses of varying sizes from average size stores to small stands.

My daughter Alexis purchasing a pirate eye patch

Located between Cathedral Place and Orange Street, St. George Street has many great shops and restaurants on both sides of the street, but is also a bit touristy with t-shirts and souvenir shops.
Most shops close at 5pm or 6pm on weekdays, but restaurants and bars stay open later.  Shops offer everything from antiques and arts to crafts and clothing.

Vilano Beach Area
Five minutes north of historic downtown St. Augustine, Vilano Beach offers a large variety of activities for all interests. Of note are vacation rentals, waterfront restaurants, parasailing, the Vilano Beach Fishing Pier, and Sea Doo rentals. There are also onsite picnic shelters and outside showers. And if you’re looking to get out on the ocean, Vilano Beach offers deep sea fishing charters and sailboat charters.

Arched bridge to the Vilano beach area

When Henry Flagler attracted northern tourists to his hotels in St. Augustine, the seaside community of Vilano Beach was their oceanfront playground. Ferries and horse drawn trolleys brought visitors to the beaches.
A beach pavilion at the ocean with an interactive fountain and a matching pavilion at the fishing pier on the Intracoastal Waterway at either end of Vilano Road were constructed in an architectural style combining art deco modern and Florida vernacular, and a new boardwalk over the salt water marsh in the Intracoastal estuary connects the residential area to the north with the Town Center under construction to the south.

There are 5 oceanfront parks, many other public beach access points and a public fishing pier.  Hundreds of sea turtle nests are laid each year under the supervision of three turtle patrols (Vilano Beach, South Ponte Vedra Beach and GTM Research Reserve) from May to October.
A quiet little beach town is a five minute drive over a beautiful arched bridge from the North end of the historic district.

Vilano Beach is a favorite for surfers, skim boarders, kite boarders, fishermen, and those hoping to catch a glimpse of dolphins.
Walk the beach by moonlight to see baby sea turtles scampering to the sea.
Vehicles are permitted on the beach within designated areas.
This is our favorite beach because we can take the dogs and it has a friendlier family style atmosphere.  And is rarely crowded!

Fishing Charters
You can plan a fishing charter trip with a full-time professional salt water fishing guides.  Charters offered are for offshore, near shore and Intracoastal Waterway fishing with full and half day deep sea fishing trips available.

The men went ocean fishing all day

Fishing Tackle and Bait are provided.
Full & Half day Deep Sea Fishing Trips.
Private Charters available for Offshore Fishing and Gulfstream Trolling.

You can catch Snapper, Grouper, Amberjack, Wahoo, Tuna, Billfish, Dolphin, Cobia, Shark.....
Just minutes from Downtown St. Augustine and the Inlet, it offers excellent year round fishing from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulfstream. 
The men fished while we toured sites and shopped.

Old City Farmer’s Market, St. Augustine
Good food, plants, fresh produce and beautiful crafts.  Has an arty local artisan feel to it and there’s plenty of parking. 

A few of the items we saw: breads, bagels, muffins, jams, jelly, cheese, fish, coffee beans, fruit and vegetables, crafted creams, lotions, jewelry, crafts, art work and lots more.  Located on A1A just south of St. Augustine.
We always find such beautiful art work or crafts here, plus pastries to die for!


Have a great vacation where ever you choose to go,

Old City gates
Fishing on the beach
Downtown, St. Augustine
Bloom near Flagler College
Other Posts:

The Mothman Festival

Cancun, Mexico

Lake Superior Circle Tour


Marge said...

OMG! What a wonderful travelogue of St. Augustine. I've been there several times but learned lots more here from you. Native Clevelander & adopted daughter of Florida.

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Well hello fellow Ohioan!

Anonymous said...

We went there twice when we were younger and really liked it.

Anonymous said...

Great post . It took me almost half an hour to read the whole post, but well worth it. Definitely this one of the more informative and useful post for me. Thanks for the share! Jyoti Soni

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Thank you Jyoti Soni. There is so much to see and do in the St. Augustine area, I just couldn't choose what to leave out of this post! Glad it was helpful

Anonymous said...

Nice Florida information, thanks! Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said "You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear." She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! Lol I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Sounds like something that would happen to us. Except my daughter or son would keep the hermit crab as a pet!