In addition to its other 'claims to fame', St. Augustine can also rightfully be called the birthplace of tourism in Florida. This was all the result of the efforts of a prominant American businessman, Henry Flagler. He had teamed up with John D. Rockefeller as one of the partners who developed Standard Oil and reaped a fortune starting in the 1870s. As it turned out, because of his wife's health problems, they moved to St. Augustine in 1878 on the advice of their physician. In the 3 years before her death, Flagler came to enjoy this little backwater of Florida, but realized that it was severely lacking in infrastructre.
With his millions of dollars and business contacts, Flagler set to work to rectify the situation, even building the Florida East Coast Railway to bring northerners down to this new-found paradise, and to fill up the 540-room Hotel Ponce de Leon that he had just constructed! And that was only the start - Flagler continued his railway south all the way to Miami and kickstarted development along the entire coast.
Today, there are many signs of the magnificent buildings that he built in the city. The Ponce de Leon is now known as Flagler College, specializing in liberal arts, education and business studies. One of his other hotels, the Alcazar has been transformed into the Lightner Museum, featuring many native American artifacts. The presence of so many opulent Spanish-styled buildings makes for a very pleasing visual effect when you stroll the streets of St. Augustine.
The photo shows a typical street scene as we arrived in the city.
It was good fun taking a slow walk around some of the smaller back streets of St. Augustine. Because of the age of the city, and the tropical vegetation, there were a few very interesting old buildings to observe, some run-down and some looking quite spiffy. Or, you can enjoy a bit more lively atmosphere in the 'Old Quarter' of the city where the tourist needs are more obviously catered to. This, however, can also get to be a bit too much sometimes. It was also fun to drive across the bridges linking the mainland to the islands just offshore from the city. It provides a great view of the forts and all the boating action taking place along the waterfront.
Here, we are relaxing outside the Mill Top Tavern located on St. George Street not very far from Fort San Marco. This was a busy spot of the city. I know that we had a meal in the Tavern but cannot remember what in consisted of, other than the fact that I must have had a beer for sure!
At one end of the historic district is the oldest drugstore in the United States. It was established in 1739 at this same spot, by Antonio Gomaas. It still functions as a store selling herbs and teas and has some historic displays. Admission is free.
The Grace United Methodist Church which was constructed in 1886. It was designed by John M. Carrere and Thomas Hastings who also designed the Alcazar Hotel for Henry M. Flagler. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is beautiful.
The Pena-Peck House was built in 1750. It served as the residence of the Spanish Royal Treasurer Juan Esteban de Pena. It is an outstanding example of the First Spanish Period homes built in Saint Augustine and is built of coquina like the fort. During the British Period, it became the home of the first Lt Governor of Florida. Finally, in 1821 it became the home of Doctor Seth Peck. Today the house is the home of The Women's Exchange who operate tours of the house and sell items to suuport the house and their activities. The home is popular for weddings, luncheons and other special events.
The historic district is a walkable area featuring a vast array of attractions, shops, art galleries, restaurants, bed & breakfasts and hotels within a short distance from one another. St. George Street, a pedestrian-only corridor located right in the center of the historic district, is where most of the city's visitors congregate to eat and shop. While St. George may be the only pedestrian-only corridor, however, numerous other surrounding streets also offer a variety of unique shops, restaurants and galleries from which to choose that are just a short walk away. In fact, two main entry corridors, King St. and San Marco Ave., are known for having large concentrations of art galleries and antiques shops respectively.
Saint Augustine's historic district is made up of cobblestone streets, historic buildings, quaint cafes, unique shops and bed-and-breakfast inns. This area is the center of the oldest continuously inhabited European town in the United States.
The town was laid out in the 16th Century. It was surrounded by a wall, just just a single gate on the north side near the Castillo. While the town's layout of streets and walls dates back to the 1500s, the oldest surviving buildings are from the early 1700s.
Among the most notable locations in the historic district are the Plaza de la Constitución, the Oldest House, the Basilica Cathedral of St. Augustine, the Villa Zorayda, and Stanbury Cottage.
The nicest part of the visit is to walk along St. George ST and take in the buildings. If not for the retail shops now occupying the buildings, and the tourists milling around, it would be like back in time to enjoy that life of old.
Saint Augustine has an extensive historic district that is older than most in the US. Much of it is closed off to vehicular traffice so you can walk through it. Specific tips on some of the more interesting buildings will follow.
I was surprised to learn the old city gate shown here dates "only" to 1808 - old by USA standards, but still several centuries after St Augustine was settled. Upon further investigation I learned that there had been earlier versions of the city walls constructed of wood and dirt, but these had not been sturdy enough to adequately defend the city against attacks by the British.
Major construction projects were undertaken in 1730 and again in 1808 to beef up the fortifications. The old city gate, constructed of coquina*, marked the final stage of the project. The walls were last attacked (unsuccessfully) was during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). The two city gate pillars we see today are original; the walls on either side and in the immediate area are partial reconstructions.
*Coquina: quarried material comprised mainly of sea shells.
Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León is credited with the discovery of Florida in 1513 and giving the state its name. Digs in the vicinity of the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park seem to indicate that the landing and earliest Spanish settlement were here, at the site of present day St. Augustine. Ponce made an equally important discovery, in the eyes of the Spanish, what we now know as the Gulf Stream, that current which would aid the royal vessels returning home from the new world.
The statue shown here sits at a spot that is the entry point to St. Augustine for many visitors. Crossing the Bridge of Lions (sp: leónes) from Anastasia Island, the Plaza de la Constitución and the statue are the first landmarks seen.
This statue of Juan Ponce de León is a copy of one at the Cathedral in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the explorer's body is interred. It was presented to the city in 1923 by a local doctor/philanthropist.
The Old Quarter abounds in pleasant walks and alleyways. This one leads to Tolomato Cemetary. originally the site of the 1st Christian Indian village in America, it later became a Catholic cemetary and contains the remains of Augustin Verot the 1st bishop of St Augustine.
Spanish architectural style, antiquity and ambiance are St. Augustine's main attractions. The city is just to the east of U.S. 1and just to the west of the Matanzas Bay. The following are some pointers and things we feel are important to see and do while visiting.
Castillo de San Marcos- A large Spanish fort (Circa 1672, oldest stone fort in the U.S.) which was a major line of defense against the British and French. 1 S. Castillo Dr. 904-829-3800
Plaza de la Constitution- A huge stone plaza which was once the business center of the old city, it overlooks the Mantanzas Bay and the Bridge of Lions at one end and a reconstruction of a 1800's public marketplace at the other. Where King, St. George Charlotte and Cathedral Streets converge.
The Lightner Museum and Antique Mall- The museum is three floors of collections of one of the city's benefactors, Otto Lightner. The antique mall is built on top a huge indoor swimming pool from the Hotel Alcazar (built in 1888), the former inhabitant of this building. King and Cordova Sts. 904-824-2874
The many houses on the tour including the Ximinez- Fatio House and the Sanchez de Ortega House. Both are in St. Augustine Restored Spanish Quarter Museum, 33 St. George st. 904-825-6830.
Parking is available in the historic districts and the beaches. The streets are narrow with parallel parking (some smaller streets are for foot traffic only) and several are a short distance outside of the old city area (there are two on Hypoleta
What a great way to learn about Saint Augustine and some of the really great pubs that the city has to offer. We arrived at Ann O'Malley's (the jump off point for the tour) around 4:45pm. We were introduced to our "Pub Scout," Mia who took us in to meet the rest of the tour and get us a drink. The tour began in Ann O'Malley's at 5:00pm. We learned a bit about pub crawls, St. Augustine and the pub before we were ready to head out to the next pub. I hate to give away the entire tour here, but suffice it to say that you go to some fabulous pubs and Mia will tell you the history of Saint Augustine with a smile and a lot of fun. The price was fantastic and included our drinks and tips to the servers! We had a great time. We also found out that they do an afternoon one that goes to different pubs with different history. We'll be signing up for that one the next time that we are in town. Please don't miss this tour. You won't regret it! Cheers!
There is a lot more to the historic old downtown section of St. Augustine than St. George Street where the tourists seem to gather. One of those is Aviles Street, the oldest public street in the USA.
Recently given a facelift, this revitalized 16th century street features a pleasant mix of museums, art shops, and eateries - all in historic structures. To be sure, it is less of a "touristy" feel to it than St. George Street (which I also enjoyed).