From the sixteenth-century fort of Castillo de San Marcos to the Gilded Age resort hotels built by Henry Flagler, the cobble-stoned streets of St. Augustine are steeped in history. Founded by Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest “continuously occupied city” in North America. Its community has remained wonderfully dedicated to preserving its historic past, and today, there are countless historic sites to visit. Here are our top five:
- Lightner Museum: Whether it is stained glass by Tiffany or exquisite shells and geological samples from around the world, porcelain produced at Sèvres, or an Egyptian mummy, it can all be found at the Lightner Museum. The remarkable collection spans four floors of the former Alcazar Hotel—a Gilded Age resort hotel built by railroad magnate Henry Flagler in 1888. Visitors to the Museum today can not only marvel at Otto Lightner’s fascinating collections, and experience the magnificent Alcazar Hotel building, but can also enjoy an exciting program of exhibitions. The popular Café Alcazar (in the what was once the largest indoor swimming pool in the world) and museum store add to an exciting day out for all.
- St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum: Built between 1871 and 1874, this 165-foot-tall lighthouse is worth a climb up its winding staircase of 219 steps to see the spectacular views of the area. On the surrounding grounds, you can see shipwreck artifacts, a traditional wooden boat building exhibit, natural trails, and more. As the oldest surviving brick structure in St. Augustine, the placemay be haunted by those who used to work at the lighthouse – if you believe local lore.
- Fountain of Youth Archeological Park: This 15-acre archeological park commemorates the Florida landing of Ponce de Leon in 1513, and the founding of America’s oldest European Colony established by Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez in 1565. Set on the banks of the Matanzas River, the park features a Navigator’s Planetarium, a replica Timucua village, historical recreations, and an archaeological dig site. Of course, don’t miss the opportunity to sample some of the anti-aging water they offer and turn back the clock!
- Oldest Wooden School House Historic Museum & Gardens: Right on St. George street, you can visit the first co-ed school, built in 1788. Constructed from cedar and cyprus held together by wooden pegs and handmade nails, the school had no running water or electricity. A recorded schoolmaster schools the children–and make sure to show your kids how easy they have it today by checking out the “dungeon.”
- Old Jail: Built by railroad magnate Henry Flagler in 1891, this historic structure was the St. John’s County Jail until 1953. Today, it is a museum, where the guides are outfitted in period costumes and tell intriguing tales about the former inmates and staff of the jail, while showing off fascinating artifacts such as weapons, a pictorial history of hangings, and jail cells.
- Aviles street: Stroll down the oldest street in America, lined with wonderful art galleries, boutique shops, and restaurants. Living up to its reputation as the nation’s oldest street, here archaeologists have uncovered pottery shards from the early 1600s!