St. Augustine – Explore Florida’s historic coast
When looking for a coastal holiday along America’s diverse Atlantic seaboard, the destination choices are endless. Warm and sunny beach holidays are among the most sought after and Florida, America’s Sunshine State, is a place which offers this in abundance. There is one Florida city though that can claim particular distinction.
Atlantic surf and beautiful beaches are only part of this city’s charm as it also happens to be America’s oldest city of European settlement still to be occupied. With that comes fascinating glimpses into America’s past; a rich history illuminating the struggles of colonial powers in America. I am referring of course to St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565.
Castillo de San Marcos
Even as the impressive and historic Castillo de San Marcos fort stands guard, when visiting St. Augustine today it’s hard to imagine that this quiet old city once held significant strategic importance. An outpost created to maintain and strengthen Spanish power in the New World, its military relevance to the Spanish would continue up to the time of the American Revolution in the 1770’s.
The Castillo de San Marcos, built in the late 1600’s is the oldest masonry fort in the U.S. With its four distinctive bastions jutting out at each corner this impressive military post was instrumental in both protecting St. Augustine as well as preventing the British from gaining a foothold in Florida. The fort was besieged twice in its history. The first in 1702 when during a two month siege by the British, over a thousand residents and soldiers took refuge in the fort. Only when the Spanish fleet from Havana arrived did the siege end. The second British attempt was in 1740 and lasted 27 days. For this reason a second fort, Fort Matanzas was built which would protect the southern inlet leading to St. Augustine and Castillo de San Marcos.
Built between 1740 and 1742 Fort Matanzas was to further enhance the security of St. Augustine by maintaining control of Matanzas inlet, a strategic waterway leading to Castillo de San Marcos and the city. Standing strong after hundreds of years the fort still looks imposing as it guards the banks of the Matanzas River. Its high stone walls, thirty foot tower and sentry box immediately convey a military era gone by. Both of these historically significant forts are part of the National Park System and are open for daily tours.
St. Augustine – Downtown
The lovely downtown area of St. Augustine is quaint and inviting and Spanish architectural influences remain today. The St. Augustine City Hall and Lightner Museum, formerly the Alcazar Hotel, was built in 1887 in the Spanish Renaissance style and is particularly stunning. The museum houses a wonderful collection celebrating America’s 19th century gilded age. The Ponce de Leon Hall, built in 1888 and now part of the campus of Flagler College is part of the historic downtown district and another wonderful example of Spanish Renaissance style architecture.
Not to be missed is the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. The lighthouse, built in 1874 is still operational and a “behind the scenes tour” offers a great 140 foot high view of the area from atop the lighthouse. With the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program the Lighthouse Museum seeks to preserve the maritime history of the area and offers many interesting exhibits.
St. Augustine offers both old world charm and outdoor recreational fun that the whole family will enjoy. There are so many interesting things to see and do that it’s hard to fit it all in. From the quaint streets of Old Town with its shops and cafes to national park sights and historic buildings to sun and surf, this has got to be one of the most amazing places on the Florida coast.