To say St. Augustine is old is an understatement. As the “Old City” approaches its 445th birthday, history buffs will love the care that’s gone into preserving the nation’s oldest city.
Nearly 40 years older than Jamestown, Va., St. Augustine is the oldest permanent European settlement. Fifty years after Don Juan Ponce de Leon discovered La Florida in 1513, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles was dispatched by Spain to colonize it. Menendez arrived off the shores of St. Augustine in 1565.
Today, a stone monument in the Fountain of Youth archeological park marks where Menendez was thought to have waded ashore. The Castillo de San Marcos is located on the city’s eastern shore and is a can’t-miss attraction.
The battle fort is the oldest masonry fort in North America and includes an impressive view of the Atlantic Ocean as it flows into the St. Augustine Inlet. Other historic attractions include the Mission of Nombre de Dios, Villa Zorayda, the city gates and the exhibits at the Fountain of Youth park.
For families: There are family-friendly activities throughout the city that kids will enjoy. Get thrown into the pokey at the Old Jail, view the city from the top of St. Augustine Lighthouse, swim with dolphins at Marineland’s Dolphin Conservation Center or hit Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. Children can ride an antique carousel at Davenport Park.
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is a fun way to spend the afternoon and you can see every crocodilian species, the rare white alligator and part of the Florida birding trail. The park has an impressive Papua New Guinea exhibit dedicated to its most famous resident, Gomek, a nearly 18-foot-long Indopacific crocodile nicknamed “man-eater.” The crocodile died in 1997, but a Gomek replica (or is it real?) is on display.
For couples: St. Augustine offers tons of scenic beauty, both at the beach and on the water. Catch a romantic cruise along the Intracoastal Waterway, ride horseback along the beach or take in the sights at the various state parks and monuments that dot the city and surrounding areas.
Fort Matanzas National Monument offers free daily ferry rides across Matanzas River to see the Spanish watchtower built in 1740 to protect the city’s southern entrance. San Sebastian Winery offers tours and free wine tastings that will open up your palate to dry and sweet wines made from southern muscadine grapes.
For ghost-hunters: St. Augustine draws a paranormal crowd to see “the most haunted city in America.” Whether you take it seriously or want to have fun, try out the various ghost tours offered by foot or by train. Even if you’re a cynic, hearing the tales of things that go bump in the night is still entertaining.
For more information about St. Augustine or to plan your trip, visit www.getaway4florida.com.
Where is St. Augustine? St. Augustine, Fla., is 45 minutes south of Jacksonville. Total road time from Columbus is approximately six hours. Climate June through November is hurricane season so be sure to check for tropical storms before visiting. The climate is hot and humid with frequent thunderstorms. Ocean breezes keep the heat at bay. Wear loose clothing, sunglasses, sunblock and a hat to keep cool. Source: www.nps.com
Getting around As getaway vacations go, it’s remarkably easy to see most of the attractions within the city with minimal fuss by simply hopping aboard the sightseeing trains that loop the city. The red trains offer a narrated tour, stops at all major attractions, historical sites, restaurants and shopping. You can get on and off when you choose. Tickets are good for three days. http://sightseeingtrains.com. The city also offers trolley tours. www.trolleytours.com/st-augustine.
Did You Know? Spanish St. Augustine, Fla., was the first of only three walled cities ever constructed in North America. The other two are Charleston, S.C., and Quebec City, Canada. Above: Castillo de San Marcos.