St. Augustine – What to see in the first European city in the U.S. Ariana in America, USA, Florida
St. Augustine is a city on the Atlantic coast in the southeastern United States in Florida, founded in 1565 by the Spanish and personally by Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the first governor of Florida. And the first name of the city was San Agustin, that is, St. Augustine, as the Spaniards, after a long voyage, saw the land exactly on St. Augustine’s day.
St. Augustine was the capital of East Florida from the beginning, and continued to be so even under English rule for 20 years. It wasn’t until 1824, after the American conquest of Florida, that the capital was moved to Tallahassee and remains there to this day.
Nevertheless, St. Augustine is now considered the first European city in the United States to be permanently inhabited. Incidentally, the first European town in the United States at all was San Miguel de Gwaldape in Georgia, which was founded in 1526, but was abandoned by settlers after 3 months.
Founded by the Spanish, but formerly owned by the English as well, St. Augustine appears in typical colonial style, like Santa Barbara on the West Coast of the United States, for example.
I think that’s enough history, (you can read more on Wikipedia or the official St. Augustine website). Now I’ll tell you how to get to this interesting city and what you can do there.
Good to know. There is a Visitor Center in downtown St. Augustine where you can come and get a map of the city and lots of practical information, including lots of information regarding recreation here and helpful tips. The Visitor Center is located at the intersection of San Marco Ave and W Castillo Drive, near Fort Castillo de San Marcos at 10 S Castillo Dr, St Augustine.
How to get to St. Augustine
Getting to St. Augustine is very easy by car:
- From Miami, as we did, you have to get to St. Augustine on I-95. Take exit 16 at the St. Augustine Historic Sites and Downtown sign (faster). Or turn a little earlier onto Route 207 and go through town. And if you take the coastal scenic route A1A, it leads through Anastasia Island right into downtown.
- From Orlando, take Route 4 north and then take I-95, and then take 16 to St. Augustine.
- From New York or Savannah to the south also take I-95 south and turn onto Route 16.
You can fly to Jacksonville, which is 40 miles west of St. Augustine. You can also rent a car there and drive into town yourself or take a bus from the airport.
We drove ourselves from Miami, spending our last day on the beach in Delray Beach and heading north as part of our trip from New York to Miami by car and back.
Since St. Augustine is a very touristy city, there are many different hotels, from exclusive to chain hotels. You can check and compare rooms and rates on Bookings →
- Historic hotel in the center of the city, right across from the fort – St George Inn
- New hotel with larger rooms – TRYP by Wyndham
- Typical and inexpensive, close to the fort – Anastasia Inn
- Hotel on the highway for commuters – Quality Inn Elkton
St. Augustine Attractions
St. Augustine simply has a huge number of attractions and it is convenient that they are grouped together in different neighborhoods.
- Most of St. Augustine’s attractions are clustered near the city’s main attraction, Fort Castillo de San Marcos in the Spanish Quarter.
- The second group is the King Street area, where there are museums and wineries.
- And several other curious attractions are located on the neighboring islands. For example, the lighthouse of San Agustin on the island of Anastasia.
You can see the sights of St. Augustine on foot or by car (convenient to go to distant locations). Unlike China and post-Soviet countries, most tourists in the U.S. prefer to explore the sights on their own rather than walk in the crowd behind a tour guide like in Beijing.
However, there are several interesting ways to see the sights of St. Augustine with a guide:
- On the Red Train Tours, which has been in operation since 1953. The guided tour lasts 1.5 hours and makes 22 stops. On the plus side, they pick you up and take you back to your hotel. There are also haunted tours of scary haunted places. Tours start at 8:30 and the streetcars run until 5 p.m. Cost for three days: $24.99 and $9.99 for children. Website – www.ripleys.com/redtrains
- Old Town Trolley Tours is said to have the coolest guides. The ride lasts 1 hour and 10 minutes, with 20 stops scheduled among St. Augustine’s attractions and places of interest (you can get off at any stop and then get back on the next trolley). The cost is from $25. Website – www.trolleytours.com
- On the boat (Scenic Cruise) with a family that has been trolling guests for generations. They are big experts on the history of their city. Their tour lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes on Matanzas Bay. It departs from the city harbor, just south of the Bridge of Lions.
A definite plus of this tour is that you can see dolphins along the way. For more information: www.scenic-cruise.com
I don’t know about the trolley and streetcar, haven’t tried it out, but seeing the city from the Matanzas River would be very curious. We took a ferry ride on the local river in Savannah and it was so cool!
St. Augustine’s most important attractions
Castillo de San Marcos
Fort Castillo de San Marcos is a star fort, the oldest fort in America. No one could conquer St. Augustine after the fort was built, and it changed hands through diplomatic arrangements rather than siege. It was built after the dashing pirate Francis Drake devastated and burned the young town of St. Augustine
- Address: 11 South Castillo Drive, Saint Augustine.
- Cost to visit: $15 per person or per Annual Pass of all U.S. National Parks, children under 15 are free
- Hours of operation: 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Official site: Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth is the site of St. Augustine’s first colony in 1565. Here you can see cannons being fired and see the old village of Timucuan, which is about 3,000 years old, climb the Spanish Watchtower, visit the reconstructed Mission of 1587 and, of course, drink from the Ponce de León Eternal Hope Spring. It is also considered the site of the landing of Ponce de Leone, the discoverer of Florida in 1513, although other sources say it happened at Cape Canaveral.
- Address: 11 Magnolia Drive St. Augustine
- Cost to visit: $15 and $9 for children
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Website: fountainofyouthflorida.com
St. Augustine Lighthouse
The St. Augustine Lighthouse was built just after the founding of the city and was a wooden lighthouse. Then, when it collapsed, the lighthouse was rebuilt by building it out of shell, just like Fort San Marcos. Again, the lighthouse failed the test of time. Finally, in 1874 the present lighthouse was erected. It is still active, and there is also a museum inside. We were surprised how similar it is to the lighthouse at Cape Meares, Oregon, but here it is a little taller.
- Address: 81 Lighthouse Avenue St. Augustine
- Tickets: $12.95 and $10.95 for children
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Website: http://www.staugustinelighthouse.com/
Lightner Museum is located in the former Alcazar Hotel and was built by railroad magnate Henry Flagler. The museum collection includes antique furniture, costumes from past eras, and mechanical musical instruments. Vintage lovers won’t miss a museum like this!
- Address: 75 King Street, St. Augustine
- Tickets: $15 for adults and $8 for children ages 12 to 18, 11 and under are free.
- Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Website: https://lightnermuseum.org/
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is home to exotic birds, mammals and reptiles including 23 species of crocodiles and even Komodo dragons! By the time we visited San Augustine, we had already seen alligators in their natural habitat when we went to Everglades National Park near Miami, and I saw Komodo dragons at the Honolulu Zoo, so we didn’t go to the farm. Getting to meet these formidable guys once was enough for me!
- Address: 999 Anastasia Blvd, St. Augustine
- Cost to visit: $24.99 and $13.99 for kids
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Website: https://www.alligatorfarm.com/
Potter’s Wax Museum
The Potter’s Wax Museum is the oldest museum in the United States. Here you can look at wax models of celebrities: historical figures, politicians, stars and popular movie and book characters.
- Address: 31 Orange Street, St Augustine.
- Tickets: $10.59 for adults and $7.41 for children, cheaper online at $9.53 and $6.67 respectively. Admission for children under 5 is free.
- Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Website: https://www.potterswaxmuseum.com/
The Old Jail, the Old School, and the Old Store
San Augustine has an 1891 jail that looks like a prison today but is a great hotel inside. There’s a 1908 store where you can see everything that was sold in the early 20th century. And the oldest wooden schoolhouse was built in 1763 and is still preserved in the heart of town (next to the St George Inn). All of these city sights are easy to see if you take a streetcar or trolley tour.
Fort Menendez is a world of old Florida and an interactive museum. Here you can see manufacturing and art: wood carving, sewing and felting, candles, jewelry, Native American canoes.
- Address: 257 San Marco Ave, St Augustine (old address, new opening January 2019).
- Cost to visit: $11 adult ticket and $8 for children
Pirate Treasure Museum
The St. Augustine Pirate Treasure Museum has the world’s largest collection of pirate artifacts. It also exhibits real pirate chests and treasures from shipwrecks.
- Address: 12 S Castillo Dr, St Augustine
- Ticket price: $14.99 adults and $7.99 for children (ages 5-12).
- Hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Website: http://thepiratemuseum.com/
As you can see, St. Augustine will be great fun for travelers with kids, so it makes sense to move to St. Augustine from Orlando hotels with a child and spend many more fun-filled days in Florida.
A beach vacation is also available in St. Augustine. The city beach is located on Anastasia Island. With the beaches of Miami local, of course, can not compare, here is much quieter. But who travels with the whole family, on the contrary, will appreciate it.
To summarize, I will say that we did not regret stopping in St. Augustine. It was very interesting to see the Fort Castillo de San Marcos, and San Agustin itself was very atmospheric, though touristy. However, since European Florida was born here, everything here is steeped in history. So it’s definitely worth a stop on your way to or from Miami.
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