DescriptionAs the oldest, continuously occupied European settlement in the United States, St. Augustine has played varied and prominent historic roles. Juan Ponce de León, in search of the legendary Fountain of Youth, landed in this area Apr. 3, 1513, and took possession of the region for Spain. In 1565 King Phillip II sent Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to colonize the new territory. Menéndez de Avilés arrived in Florida on the Feast Day of St. Augustine and named the landing site after the saint.
Its coastal location made the town both strategic and vulnerable. Pirates sacked St. Augustine in both the 16th and 17th centuries. Military importance soon came to the forefront as England extended its holdings southward down the coast. Spain responded by starting to build Castillo de San Marcos in 1672.
By the time St. Augustine was ceded to England in 1763, it had served as the seat of government for 30 missions as well as for all Spanish possessions in the regions of Florida and coastal Georgia. During the Revolutionary War, British loyalists from adjacent states sought refuge in St. Augustine.
In 1783 in recognition of Spain's assistance to the United States in its war against Britain, Florida was returned to Spain. Encouraged by Spanish land grants, many Americans moved onto property vacated by the English. Florida became a U.S. possession in 1821, and during the Second Seminole War in the 1830s, St. Augustine resumed a military role.
The quiet coastal town came to life in the 1880s when Henry Flagler began to develop the area as a winter resort and playground. With a railway link provided from New York, plush hotels were built and leisure activities such as golf and yachting awaited the city's guests.
Still preserving strong evidence of its Spanish origin, the Old City is being restored to a likeness of its colonial days; much of the historic area north of the Plaza de la Constitución is complete. Typical Spanish houses, with walled patios enclosing Old World gardens, line the many narrow streets.
Tolomato Cemetery, also known as the Old Spanish Cemetery, is at Cordova Street between Orange and Saragossa streets. Formerly the site of the Christian Native American village of Tolomato, the cemetery served as a Catholic burial ground 1784-1892 and is the burial site of Augustin Verot, the first bishop of St. Augustine. The cemetery is only open by request; information is available at the rectory entrance of the Cathedral of St. Augustine on Treasury Street.
South of the city on Anastasia Island, St. Augustine Beach provides a return to the present. Miles of wide, hard-packed sand beaches afford beach driving, swimming and surfing opportunities. Boating also is popular.
Tours of area attractions by horse-drawn carriage depart from the bayfront area next to Castillo de San Marcos. The city's historic sites can be seen in a different light during nightly ghost tours. Costumed guides tell eerie stories about the city and its historic buildings as part of walking tours conducted by Ghost Tours of St. Augustine; phone (904) 829-1122. The Trolley of the Doomed provides transportation to haunted sites such as the St. Augustine Lighthouse grounds and The Old Jail on tours offered by Ghosts & Gravestones; phone (866) 721-1844.
The Huguenot cemetery, between the City Gate and the Visitor Information Center, is open to the public anytime the gate is unlocked.
Note: Parking regulations are enforced strictly throughout the city. Yellow curbs are no-parking zones. Several parking lots are available.
Visitor InfoSt. Augustine & St. Johns County Visitors Information Center 10 W. Castillo Dr. ST. AUGUSTINE, FL 32084. Phone:(904)825-1000
ShoppingSt. Augustine Outlets and St. Augustine Premium Outlets are both off I-95 exit 318 on SR 16.
Things to See
The Old CityBlack Raven Adventures
Other Points of InterestAuthentic Old Jail Complex
WINERIESSan Sebastian Winery
AAA Walking Tours
The Old City
The tour will take 1-2 hours, depending on your pace as well as the number of listed sites you visit and plaques you stop to read along the way. Those attractions appearing in bold type have detailed listings in The Old City section. Even if you decide not to visit a listed site, reading the listing when you reach that point should make the tour more interesting.
The best place to park is in the Historic Downtown Parking Facility adjacent to the Visitor Information Center, 10 W. Castillo Dr., across from the Castillo de San Marcos. Keep in mind that no automobiles are permitted on St. George Street north of the Plaze de la Constitución.
St. Augustine, compact and full of history, is a great place for a stroll. Influenced by the Timucuan Indians and placed under Spanish and English rule before becoming a U.S. territory, the city retains the flavors of its multicultured past. In the early 18th century, the walled city was entered through the City Gates, and this remains a logical place to begin a walk through Old St. Augustine. The Spanish built the wall surrounding the city in 1739 for defense; this gateway connected the wall, which was constructed of palm logs, dirt, cacti and coquina (soft limestone containing shell and coral fragments, quarried locally on Anastasia Island). The pillars, also made of coquina, were added in 1808. Closed at dusk, the gates protected the north end of the city. A replica of the log wall runs from the gates to the Castillo de San Marcos, which you can see by looking east toward the water. Looking west from the gates, you can see the Santo Domingo Redoubt, an important defensive position.
The Huguenot Cemetery, just north of the City Gates, serves as a final resting place for many non-Catholics, not solely French immigrants. An outbreak of yellow fever coupled with the fact that the Catholic cemetery inside the city walls would not accept Protestants brought about its founding in 1821.
Begin by heading south on narrow St. George Street, where second-story balconies add interest to simple buildings and whitewashed walls hide courtyards. More than 50 houses and craft shops have been restored or reconstructed on this pedestrians-only lane, where it seems there are always groups of school children on field trips.
The first spot the kids flock to is the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, on the right at 14 St. George St. The cedar building also served as a guardhouse during the Seminole Wars due to its proximity to the City Gates. If you can beat the crowd, check out its tabby floors (a mixture of crushed oyster shells and lime) and wooden peg construction.
The major part of the restoration area begins as you cross Fort Alley. The reconstructed Colonial Quarter, 33 St. George St., is a living-history museum demonstrating daily life in the 16th-, 17th- and 18th centuries. Noteworthy structures in the village include a Spanish soldier's dwelling, a leatherworker's shop and a blacksmith's forge.
Note the National Greek Orthodox Shrine, 41 St. George St., dedicated to the Greek colony of New Smyrna, where Greek immigrants were kept as servants. Its St. Photios Chapel is decorated with icons and frescoes depicting Greek Orthodox theology. Gold leaf highlights much of the chapel's artwork, and sounds of Byzantine music fill the halls.
On the west side of the block at the corner of Cuna Street is the Sánchez de Ortigosa House. Nearby are the reconstructed wooden buildings comprising the Peso de Burgo/Pellicer House, occupied by a Minorcan family 1763-83.
Proceed along St. George, enjoying the warm tones of ancient coquina stonework and the glimpses of courtyards between many of the buildings. At 105 St. George is the Sánchez House, a restored coquina and masonry building (now home to a crystal shop); house tours are offered.
As you cross Hypolita Street, look out for the sightseeing tram that shuffles by, accompanied by clanging bells.
Glance down Treasury Street, one of the narrowest streets in the Old City. On the left, the Peña-Peck House occupies the corner of Treasury and St. George; built in the 1690s for the Spanish treasurer, it was later occupied by a British doctor whose wife often used the house for high-society get-togethers. The art and furnishings reflect an extravagant lifestyle.
The tower on your left is part of the large Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine, which faces the Plaza de la Constitución. Founded in 1565, the parish holds what are said to be the country's oldest parish records, dating from 1594. The present cathedral was built in 1797 in the Spanish Mission style; following a fire in 1887 it was restored and its adjacent Spanish Renaissance-style bell tower was added. Inside the church, oil paintings are replicas of those found in the Vatican's Pauline Chapel. Victorian stained glass and sculpted marble also adorn the interior. (You might choose to visit the church later, as the route circles back this way.)
Cross Cathedral Place and continue south along St. George. To your left is the Plaza de la Constitución, which extends east toward the bay. Established in 1598 by an edict from King Phillip II, it was the hub of the original settlement. In the center is a monument dedicated to the Spanish Constitution of 1812.
The building to your right on the corner of St. George and King streets is the Governor's House Cultural Center and Museum. Dating to the 1700s, the site served as the headquarters for Spanish, English and territory governors 1595-1821. It is now home to the St. Augustine Preservation Board and contains interesting artifacts and Spanish treasure.
Turn right at King Street. At Cordova Street, the Casa Monica Hotel will be on your left. This Spanish/Moorish-style structure, one of three hotels owned by railroad magnate Henry Flagler, has a long history. Born as a grand hotel in 1887, it later served as the county courthouse for nearly 30 years before reopening in its present state.
Now look to the right. You can't miss the former Ponce de León Hotel—a huge Moorish-style palace with tall spires, turrets and a red-tiled roof. Built in 1888 by Henry Flagler as part of his grand plan to turn the city into an exclusive winter retreat, the hotel was the country's first major building to be crafted using poured concrete. The interior is posh: It features Tiffany stained glass, imported marble and carved oak. A beautiful courtyard, open to the public, leads to the foyer. Since 1968 the building has served as the main hall of Flagler College; it has what is arguably the fanciest student dining room. Guided tours are available.
Across the street from Flagler College is the third of Henry Flagler's hotels—the Spanish Renaissance Revival-style Alcazar Hotel, which also opened in 1888. Its design was based on the royal palace in Seville, Spain. Palm trees, fountains and a statue of Pedro Menéndez front the large building, which shelters City Hall and the Lightner Museum. Flagler would be proud—the museum's collection of decorative arts is quite affluent.
If you like, continue 1 block west on King Street to Villa Zorayda Museum, a smaller re-creation of the 13th-century Spanish Alhambra in Granada.
Retrace your steps along King to St. George. At the corner of St. George and King is Trinity Episcopal Church, established in 1830 and said to be the oldest Protestant church in Florida. Turn right onto St. George and make a left on narrow Artillery Lane to enter the city's oldest section.
At Aviles Street, turn right. At the corner of Cadiz Street is the two-story Ximenez-Fatio House (it's the one surrounded by the white picket fence). This late 18th-century coquina house has been restored and is furnished to reflect an 1850s boarding house.
Traipse back on Aviles, where galleries and boutiques reside. On the right, at 3 Aviles, is the Spanish Military Hospital Museum (once called the Hospital of our Lady Guadalupe), which has displays depicting day-to-day operations of the 18th century.
Head back to the Plaza de la Constitución by continuing north on Aviles. The market building to your right is a replica of the original. Turn right on Cathedral Street and walk for one block to Charlotte Street. From here you can see the life-size statue (on the east end of the plaza) of Juan Ponce de León, who landed in 1513. To the east the Bridge of Lions, a Mediterranean-style bridge built in 1927, crosses Matanzas Bay. Tile-roofed towers, arches and lion statues grace the structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Turn left on Charlotte and proceed north. A three-block walk past boutiques, antiques shops and bed and breakfast inns leads to Cuna Street. Look northeast from the corner of Charlotte and Cuna for a good view of the fort and bay. Turn left on Cuna, where more stores in restored buildings entice shoppers. At St. George, turn right. The City Gates, where you began your tour, is about a block north.
Other Points of Interest
Things to See