No city in north America has more historical relevance than St. Augustine, Florida. When the King of Spain sent Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles to colonize Florida in 1565, little did he know that for the next 250 years the British, French and Spanish would fight for control of the region (and most of Florida).
Under Spanish rule fortification was as important as finding food, defending the colony from disease, and appeasing the Native Americans. The fort Castillo de San Marcos (at one point renamed Fort St. Mark) stands at the entrance to the city of St. Augustine. The fort was started in 1572 and refortified many times as the continuing conflicts with the French and British battered the fort many times.
Over the years St. Augustine and the fort was a haven for run away slaves, a mission for Native Americans, a prison for those same Native Americans, briefly controlled by confederate troops in the civil war and later a prison for deserters in the Spanish-American War. The narrow streets, coquina-built homes and Spanish influence is evident throughout the city.
Henry Flagler Brings St. Augustine to Modern Times – For the 1800’s
In the late 1800’s Henry Flagler invested in St. Augustine and the region in many ways. He built the Ponce de Leon Hotel, purchase a railroad to serve Florida’s east coast, bought another hotel and built a bridge over the St. John’s River to facilitate travel. Today Flagler College stands where the then elegant Ponce de Leon Hotel stood. Flagler’s holdings went beyond St. Augustine to hotels up and down Florida’s coast from Jacksonville to Miami.
Today, you can roam the downtown area and see the many old buildings reminding you of almost 500 years of political and economic change for St. Augustine. As you wander some of the “streets”, some are no more than well preserved alley’s, you will find a wide selection of shops, restaurants, a good crop of museums, and plenty of quaint novelty stores to occupy your time.
Plenty to See and Do In St. Augustine
Things to do include taking a tour in a horse drawn carriage. Visit the old Fort Castillo de San Marcos and the Government House Museum. Stroll up St, George Street to see the many shops lining both sides of this street (no cars, just walking!). Along the way end your hunger at the Prohibition Kitchen. This place is huge with a novel menu. Of course Harry’s Bar is the local’s favorite for dinner. Just a refreshment? Try the Tini Martini Bar – a six seat fun bar.
If you plan to stay overnight, there are the normal Best Western’s, Holiday Inn’s and the rest. However, for a little more upscale experience, try the Casa Monica Hotel in the middle of downtown. As part of the Marriott collection, this grand old hotel has been restored to it’s original elegance.
St. Augustine is about 45 minutes from Jacksonville, about 3 1/2 hours from Tampa/St. Petersburg area, Two hours from Orlando and about 5 hours from Miami area.