If you're looking for a destination that is rich in history and offers a wide range of activities, look no further than St. Augustine, Florida. As the oldest continuously occupied settlement in America, this charming city has countless things to do and see. From exploring the historic Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and taking a ride with Old Town Trolley Tours, to indulging in gourmet popsicles at The Hyppo and learning about the city's dark past on a ghost tour, there is something for everyone. Don't forget to visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum for stunning views and maritime archeology exhibits, and take a stroll along Magnolia Avenue, one of the most photographed streets in America. Whether you're interested in food, history, or simply enjoying the beach, St. Augustine has it all.
History of St. Augustine
St. Augustine, Florida holds a rich history as the oldest continuously occupied settlement in America. Established in 1565 by Spanish explorers, the city has seen the influence of various European powers throughout its centuries-long existence. The city's history can be divided into three main periods: Early Settlements and Spanish Influence, British Control and the Second Spanish Period, and the American Era and Modern Developments.
Early Settlements and Spanish Influence
Juan Ponce de León, a Spanish explorer, claimed Florida for Spain in 1513. However, it was not until 1565 that Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the settlement of St. Augustine, which he named after the patron saint of brewers. The Spanish influence can still be seen today in the city's architecture, as St. Augustine boasts well-preserved Spanish Colonial buildings and narrow cobblestone streets.
British Control and the Second Spanish Period
In the 18th century, St. Augustine and Florida fell under British control due to various conflicts between Spain and Britain. However, in 1783, the Treaty of Paris restored Florida to Spanish rule. This marked the beginning of the Second Spanish Period, during which St. Augustine experienced a revival of its Spanish heritage. Many historic landmarks, such as the Castillo de San Marcos, were built during this time and still stand as testaments to St. Augustine's Spanish past.
American Era and Modern Developments
In 1821, Florida was ceded to the United States, and St. Augustine became an American territory. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the city underwent significant changes and developments. St. Augustine's role as a major tourist destination began to take shape, with the opening of the first hotels and the establishment of organized tourism. Today, the city continues to thrive as a popular tourist destination, celebrating its rich history while embracing modern developments.
Exploring St. Augustine
When visiting St. Augustine, there are several must-see attractions that showcase the city's history and natural beauty. From trolley tours to historical sites, here are some of the top places to explore.
Old Town Trolley Tours
Locals recommend taking a ride with Old Town Trolley Tours to get around the city easily. These hop-on, hop-off tours provide narrated commentary, allowing you to learn about St. Augustine's history and see its iconic landmarks. With convenient stops at popular attractions, such as the Castillo de San Marcos and St. Augustine Lighthouse, these trolley tours offer a comprehensive way to explore the city.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
One of St. Augustine's most iconic landmarks, the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. This well-preserved fortress was built by the Spanish in the late 17th century to protect St. Augustine from British invasion. Today, visitors can explore the fort, walk along its coquina walls, and enjoy unbeatable views of the St. Augustine Inlet.
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
For panoramic vistas of the city and a fascinating glimpse into maritime history, a visit to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum is highly recommended. Climb the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse for breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The museum showcases maritime archeology, with exhibits on shipwrecks, pirates, and the city's seafaring past.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
Looking for a unique and adventurous experience? The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park offers just that. This park is home to a wide variety of alligators, crocodiles, and other reptiles. Visitors can learn about these fascinating creatures, watch live feedings, and even zip-line over the alligator habitats for an adrenaline-pumping experience.
Whetstone Chocolates Factory
For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to the Whetstone Chocolates Factory is a must. This family-owned chocolate factory offers free tours where you can learn about the history of chocolate making and see the production process. The tour concludes with free samples of their delectable treats, making it a delightful experience for chocolate lovers.
Food and Drinks in St. Augustine
St. Augustine is not only known for its rich history and beautiful attractions but also for its diverse culinary scene. Whether you're craving Southern cuisine, fresh seafood, or international flavors, the city offers an array of dining options to satisfy every palate.
The Floridian Restaurant
Located in the heart of downtown St. Augustine, The Floridian Restaurant is a beloved establishment known for its upscale Southern fare made with local ingredients. From classic dishes like shrimp and grits to unique creations like the fried green tomato BLT, every item on the menu is a flavorful celebration of Southern flavors. Don't forget to save room for their mouthwatering desserts, such as bourbon pecan pie or homemade banana pudding.
Beat the Florida heat with a visit to The Hyppo, a popular spot for gourmet popsicles made with local, in-season produce. With a plethora of unique and refreshing flavors to choose from, such as avocado lime or strawberry basil, these handcrafted popsicles are a delicious treat for all ages. Vegan and gluten-free options are also available, ensuring that everyone can enjoy these frozen delights.
The St. Augustine Distillery and Ice Plant Bar
For those looking to quench their thirst, The St. Augustine Distillery offers a unique experience. This local distillery is known for its handcrafted spirits, made using traditional methods and locally-sourced ingredients. Visitors can take free tours of the distillery, learning about the distillation process and the history of spirits in St. Augustine. After the tour, head upstairs to the Ice Plant Bar, where skilled mixologists craft delicious cocktails using the distillery's spirits.
Must-Do Activities in St. Augustine
Looking for memorable experiences in St. Augustine? Here are some must-do activities that will make your visit unforgettable.
St. Augustine's rich history has left behind tales of hauntings and paranormal activity. Embark on a ghost tour to learn about the city's dark past and hear chilling stories of apparitions and unexplained phenomena. Whether you choose a guided walking tour or a frightful ride on the Ghost Train, these tours offer a unique and spine-tingling adventure.
Nights of Lights
If you're visiting during the holiday season, don't miss St. Augustine's iconic Nights of Lights. From mid-November to the end of January, the city shines with millions of twinkling lights, creating a magical atmosphere. Take a leisurely stroll through the historic district or book a romantic carriage ride to fully immerse yourself in the enchantment of the season.
St. Augustine Amphitheatre
Music enthusiasts and culture lovers will appreciate the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. This outdoor venue hosts a wide range of concerts and events throughout the year, featuring both local and renowned artists. Additionally, the amphitheater is home to a weekly farmers' market, where visitors can browse local produce, crafts, and artisanal products.
Beautiful Beaches in St. Augustine
No visit to St. Augustine would be complete without experiencing its beautiful beaches. With its stunning shoreline and pristine waters, the city offers a picture-perfect coastal getaway.
St. Augustine Beach
St. Augustine Beach is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. With its wide sandy shores and ample space for sunbathing and beach activities, it's the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the Florida sunshine. The beach is also well-equipped with amenities, including restrooms, picnic areas, and beachfront restaurants.
For a more serene beach experience, Crescent Beach is a hidden gem. This tranquil stretch of coast is known for its quiet atmosphere and natural beauty. Visitors can stroll along the sandy shores, collect seashells, or simply unwind amidst the peaceful surroundings. Crescent Beach is also a favorite spot for fishing, with its abundant marine life.
Picturesque Streets in St. Augustine
St. Augustine boasts a charm that can be found in its picturesque streets. While many areas of the city offer stunning views, one street, in particular, stands out as a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
Magnolia Avenue is a scenic street lined with majestic live oak trees, creating a canopy of greenery. This iconic street is often described as one of the most photographed streets in America, thanks to its enchanting beauty. Take a leisurely stroll down Magnolia Avenue, marvel at the moss-draped trees, and capture unforgettable photos of this idyllic location.
Accommodations in St. Augustine
St. Augustine offers a variety of accommodations to suit every traveler's needs. Whether you prefer the convenience of a hotel, the charm of a bed and breakfast, or the comfort of a vacation rental, the city has plenty of options to choose from.
St. Augustine's hotels range from luxurious resorts to budget-friendly options, ensuring that every traveler can find a place to stay that suits their preferences. Many hotels in the city are located in the historic district, allowing visitors to easily explore the city's attractions on foot. Some hotels even offer stunning views of the water, ensuring a truly memorable stay.
Bed and Breakfasts
For a more intimate and personalized experience, consider staying at one of St. Augustine's charming bed and breakfasts. These historic homes turned accommodations offer a warm and inviting atmosphere, with unique rooms and personalized service. Many bed and breakfasts are located in the heart of the historic district, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the city's rich history.
If you're traveling with a larger group or prefer the comforts of a home-away-from-home, vacation rentals are a popular choice in St. Augustine. From cozy cottages to spacious beachfront villas, these rentals offer a wide range of options to fit every budget and preference. With amenities such as full kitchens, private pools, and proximity to the beach, vacation rentals provide a comfortable and convenient stay.
Dining Options in St. Augustine
St. Augustine's culinary scene is as diverse as its history, offering a wide range of dining options to satisfy every craving. Whether you're in the mood for fresh seafood, Southern comfort food, or international flavors, the city has something to please every palate.
As a coastal city, St. Augustine is known for its fresh and delicious seafood. From shrimp and oysters to grouper and snapper, seafood lovers will find plenty of options to tantalize their taste buds. Whether you prefer waterfront seafood shacks or upscale seafood restaurants, there is no shortage of venues to enjoy the flavors of the sea.
For a taste of authentic Southern cuisine, St. Augustine is home to several restaurants that specialize in classic favorites. From savory fried chicken and creamy grits to tangy collard greens and flaky biscuits, these establishments pay homage to the region's culinary traditions. Indulge in the comfort and flavors of the South at these beloved eateries.
St. Augustine's culinary scene extends beyond American cuisine, offering a variety of international flavors. From Italian trattorias to Mexican taquerias, visitors can explore a world of tastes without leaving the city. Sample dishes from different cultures, such as sushi, tapas, or curry, and embark on a flavorful journey during your visit to St. Augustine.
Shopping in St. Augustine
Shopping enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities to indulge in retail therapy in St. Augustine. From unique boutiques to antique stores, the city offers a diverse shopping experience for visitors of all interests.
Historic District Shops
The historic district is home to numerous shops and boutiques, offering a wide range of products. Explore the cobblestone streets and discover charming stores selling handmade jewelry, artisanal crafts, and locally-made goods. Support local businesses and find one-of-a-kind souvenirs to remember your time in St. Augustine.
For those with an appreciation for antiques and vintage finds, St. Augustine's antique stores are a treasure trove. Peruse through a collection of unique furniture, vintage clothing, and collectibles as you step back in time. These stores offer an opportunity to find one-of-a-kind pieces that add charm and character to your home.
St. Augustine is a hub for artists, making it a haven for art enthusiasts. Explore the city's art galleries to discover a range of artistic styles, from traditional to contemporary. Browse through paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and photography and take home a piece of St. Augustine's vibrant art scene.
Supporting local businesses is easy in St. Augustine, given its abundance of local boutiques. These independently-owned shops showcase the work of local designers and artisans, offering unique and handcrafted products. Whether you're in need of clothing, accessories, or home decor, these boutiques provide an opportunity to discover distinctive items while supporting the local community.
Events and Festivals in St. Augustine
St. Augustine is a city that loves to celebrate, with numerous events and festivals taking place throughout the year. From art exhibits to music festivals, there's always something happening in this vibrant city.
St. Augustine Art and Craft Festival
For art enthusiasts, the St. Augustine Art and Craft Festival is a highlight. This annual event showcases the work of talented artists from around the country, displaying a wide range of mediums, including painting, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, and more. The festival is held in downtown St. Augustine and offers a unique opportunity to admire and purchase beautiful artwork.
Each year, the Greek community in St. Augustine hosts the Greek Festival, inviting locals and visitors to experience the vibrant culture and flavors of Greece. This lively event features Greek music, dancing, and delectable Greek cuisine. Sample traditional dishes like moussaka and baklava, and join in the celebrations with traditional dances and live entertainment.
St. Augustine Music Festival
For music lovers, the St. Augustine Music Festival is a must-attend event. Held every June, this free concert series showcases a range of classical music performances by talented musicians from around the world. Attendees have the opportunity to enjoy beautiful music in historic venues, such as the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, while immersing themselves in the city's rich cultural heritage.
Festival of Lights
St. Augustine's Nights of Lights, mentioned earlier, is not the only festival that celebrates the city's enchanting illumination. The Festival of Lights is an annual event that takes place from late November to January, adding to the magic of the holiday season. This festival features a dazzling display of Christmas lights and decorations throughout the historic district, creating a festive atmosphere for all to enjoy.
St. Augustine offers a wealth of history, natural beauty, and cultural experiences for visitors to enjoy. Whether you're exploring its historic sites, indulging in its culinary delights, or immersing yourself in its vibrant events, this city has something for everyone. With its rich heritage and picturesque charm, St. Augustine is sure to captivate and leave a lasting impression on all who visit. So pack your bags, embark on an adventure, and discover the enchanting city of St. Augustine.