St. Augustine is situated a mere 40 miles from the glassy skyscrapers of downtown Jacksonville, 100 miles from the rocket ships of Kennedy Space Center and 100 miles from the fantasy theme parks of Orlando – but the city’s rich history and cultural diversity make it seem worlds away.
The city has more than 50 attractions including historical sites and points of interest, living history museums, animal parks and ghost tours. Many are located within walking distance of one another in downtown historic St. Augustine, while others in the uptown antiques area or across the Bridge of Lions
on Anastasia Island are accessible via tourist transportation, making it possible to see it all without having to move your car!
Guided walking tours as well as those conducted via tram, trolley, horse-drawn carriage or cruise boat all offer unique narratives of the story of historic St. Augustine, covering some of St. Augustine’s most popular landmarks.
- The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a living history museum which interprets life in colonial St. Augustine circa 1740.
- The Fountain of Youth Discovery Park, where it is said that Ponce de Leon went in search of everlasting youth.
- The Ponce de Leon and Alcazar Hotels, built by Standard Oil magnate Henry Flagler in the late 19th century. Today those grand Victorian structures house Flagler College, and St. Augustine City Hall and Lightner Museum, respectively.
- The original 1888 Casa Monica Hotel, restored into a luxury hotel providing world-class accommodations.
- Shopping in St. Augustine is a buyer’s delight with boutiques, gift shops and antique stores waiting to be discovered on nearly every downtown street.
- Accommodations are plentiful and range from splendid resorts to charming bed and breakfast inns.
- Dozens of unique restaurants are dotted throughout St. Augustine, composing a varied collection of quaint cafés together with four-star rated dining establishments.
Founding of St. Augustine
The oldest continuously occupied city in the United States, St. Augustine played an integral role in the early colonization of North America. Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico, landed near present-day St. Augustine on Easter, March 27, 1513 in search of the legendary Fountain of Youth. Claiming it for Spain, he named the beautiful land “La Florida” for the many flowers in bloom.
Over the following half century, Spain launched at least six unsuccessful attempts to establish an actual settlement in Florida. Finally, in 1564, the French beat them to it with the establishment of Fort Caroline along an area of high sand dune bluffs that overlook the St. Johns River in present-day Jacksonville. The new French colony posed a threat to the Spanish treasure fleets that sailed along the Florida coast.
As a result, King Philip II of Spain named his country’s most experienced admiral, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, as the new governor of Florida and instructed him to not only colonize the area, but also drive out any settlers from foreign lands that he may encounter. In 1565, Menendez drove the French out of Florida and founded
St. Augustine as a permanent colony and military installation for Spain.
History of St. Augustine
1513 Ponce de Leon lands near the site of St. Augustine and declares La Florida for Spain.
1565 Menendez establishes St. Augustine and drives the French out of nearby Ft. Caroline.
1586 English pirate Sir Francis Drake burns and pillages St. Augustine.
1668 Captain John Davis and his band of English buccaneers slaughter 60 townspeople in the streets and plunder their homes. Such clashes become increasingly common with the establishment of English colonies in Georgia and the Carolinas.
1672 Construction begins on St. Augustine’s famous coquina fort, the Castillo de San Marcos.
1696 The Castillo de San Marcos is completed. In its history it never falls to any outside attacks.
1702 Governor James Moore of Carolina leads a two-month siege on the Castillo without success.
1740 British General James Oglethorpe of Georgia launches another unsuccessful attack on St. Augustine.
1763 After the French and Indian War, Spain trades Florida to Great Britain in exchange for Havana. St. Augustine comes under British rule for the first time.
1783 After maintaining its allegiance to Britain during the American Revolution, St. Augustine and Florida are returned to Spanish rule under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, signed between England, France and Spain.
1821 A colorful ceremony in St. Augustine marks the peaceful transfer of power as Spain sells Florida to the United States. Spanish soldiers leave St. Augustine, never to return again.
1837 Osceola, famous leader of the Seminole Indians, is captured near St. Augustine and held prisoner for two months in the Castillo de San Marcos before being transferred to South Carolina. This occurs during the Seminole War, which carries on for much of Florida’s 24-year territorial period.
1842 The Seminole War ends in Florida with the surrender of much of the Seminole nation.
1845 Florida becomes the twenty-seventh state of the Union. Tallahassee is selected as the capital due to
a geographical compromise between St. Augustine and Pensacola. Tourism also begins to take hold about this time.
1862 During the Civil War, a Union blockade appears off the city’s inlet and demands the surrender of St. Augustine. That night Confederate troops retreat and the Union occupies the city through the end of the Civil War in 1865.
1883 The Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax River railway is completed, linking St. Augustine with its booming neighbor to the north, Jacksonville. During the winter of 1883-1884, Henry M. Flagler, co-founder of
the Standard Oil Company, visits St. Augustine and is amazed by its charm and tourism potential.
1883 Henry Flagler’s two magnificent hotels, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (now Flagler College) and the Alcazar Hotel (now houses the Lightner Museum) open for an elite tourist clientele. He also purchases the Cordova Hotel (now the Casa Monica). The three hotels make St. Augustine a magnet for high society travelers, earning the city the nickname “Newport of the South.”
1896 Flagler’s East Coast Railway reaches Miami, opening the door to developing South Florida.
Today, St. Augustine remains a popular international tourist destination, retaining a unique mix of small town charm, Southern hospitality, historical integrity and seaside appeal.