The city of St. Augustine is located in the northeastern part of the American state of Florida. Founded in 1565 by a Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the city remained an important center at the time of the Spanish and British occupations of Florida. Owing to its significance throughout America's colonial past, the city boasts of a rich and vibrant history, which can be witnessed from its centuries-old buildings, colonial-era monuments, and beautiful, narrow lanes. But that's not all that the city has to offer. It also boasts of numerous exciting museums, cozy restaurants, and old-fashioned pubs. And fun doesn't cease here. Enter the city's National Historic Landmark District, and you will see people dressed in period costumes roaming here and there, and graceful horse-drawn carriages running up and down the narrow lanes. Plus, the oldest continuous settlement of America also has a lot in store for paranormal and supernatural enthusiasts.
Sitting on the Northern Atlantic Coast of Florida, St. Augustine offers so many varied things and experiences that if all of these are added up, their sum total tends to convert this historic city into a theme park. However, the most interesting part is that even after hundreds of years, St. Augustine has managed to retain the age-old charm and grandeur, and this can be clearly seen from efforts that the residents put in to preserve its historic appeal. St. Augustine is a perfect family weekend destination and visitors can indulge in a whole lot of activities in there. Here are some interesting ideas.
Visit the Lightner Museum
Housed within the historic building of Hotel Alcazar in downtown St. Augustine is the famous Lightner Museum that occupies three floors of the former hotel. It features several antiquities from the American Victorian period including various Native American artifacts, musical instruments, costumes, furniture, paintings, sculpture, and stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The building itself is also a beautiful Spanish Renaissance Revival structure built in 1887, and has been registered on the National Register of Historic Places.
Have Fun at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is one of the oldest attractions in Florida that has continuously been in operation since its inception. Inaugurated in May 1893, it has grown from being a minor attraction to one of St. Augustine's most visited sites. Currently, it is home to 23 species of crocodilians, including of course the alligators, the farm's main point of interest. But it also has numerous other reptiles, birds, and mammals such as Cape Griffon Vultures and exotic monkey species. There is also a bird rookery and impressive exhibits of bird and animal fossils. Since September 1992, the Alligator Farm has been designated as a U.S. Historic District.
Take a Tour of Flagler College
St. Augustine's best place to be, especially if you are interested in historic architecture, is the famous Flagler College and its campus. The centerpiece of the entire campus is the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, built in 1888 by industrialist and oil magnate Henry Flagler. Imposing facades and outstanding interiors will greet you at this mesmerizing site. Plus, the lawns and gardens around the campus are simply superb. This private liberal arts college has also featured in several movies such as Illegally Yours, etc., and the reasons are obvious. Several guided and self-guided tours of the college are offered, and it is undeniably a great place to take a romantic stroll. The frog fountain in the courtyard is truly amazing.
Experience the Grandeur of America's Oldest Fort
Built in the late 1600s by Spanish colonists as a defense against the Britishers, the mighty fort of Castillo de San Marcos stands on the shore of Matanza Bay. This, almost 400-year-old structure has been declared as a U.S. National Monument, and is open to public every day, except Christmas. Apart from just wandering around the fortress, you will also get plenty of opportunities to view live demonstrations of historical weapons by people dressed in period costumes, something that the kids would love to see. Plus, the fort's gun deck offers a fantastic panoramic view of the city. The park around the fort also makes for a perfect area to picnic with your family.
Embark on a Paranormal Tour
The historic city of St. Augustine, apart from its several attractions, is also famous for its several ghost stories. You will find the locals telling you that they have indeed "seen" and experienced paranormal activities at certain places in the city, and whether you believe it or not, these tales just do not seem to have an end. But that's not all. Several guided so-called "ghost tours" are organized for tourists in the city, wherein you get to go to several places, which are allegedly haunted. The old jail in the city is one such place where the visitors have claimed of having seen orbs of light or even apparitions. The grounds and circular staircase (pictured above) of the St. Augustine lighthouse are also allegedly haunted. So, join one such tour if you have the heart, and get ready to feel the chill!
Believe it or Not!
Believe it or not, but St. Augustine is home to the oldest Ripley's Believe it or Not! odditorium. Opened in 1950, only one year after Robert Ripley's death, this museum of bizarre artifacts that formed Ripley's collection while he was alive, is housed in the Castle Warden and is also rumored to be haunted―another oddity of the odditorium. There are more than 800 exhibits in the museum's collection including, amongst others, real shrunken human heads, a mummified cat, a cobra coffin, and several other unbelievable artifacts from different parts of the world.
Explore the St. Augustine Light
The St. Augustine Light is a beautiful conical, black-and-white-striped lighthouse that stands at the northern end of the Anastasia Island. The current tower was built in the year 1874, and it has been continuously in operation since then. From 1994 onwards, the lighthouse and its ground have been made accessible full time to the public. The keeper's house in front of the building houses a museum displaying numerous exhibits related to St. Augustine's maritime history. Plus, as mentioned above, the lighthouse and its grounds are allegedly haunted, with numerous people claiming to have experienced paranormal activity. Special "Dark of the Moon" tours are offered by the lighthouse authorities wherein they take the tourists on the tour of the site every night and tell them about the history of the place and the people who have died there.
See the City's Historic Cathedral
Home to the oldest Catholic parish in the United States, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is a truly inspirational sacred space, irrespective of the faith you may belong to. Founded in the year 1565, this cathedral has been a vital part of the St. Augustine's religious community ever since the beginning. The seat of the Catholic Bishop of St. Augustine, the church is also a U.S. National Historic Landmark since April 1970. The building is a very beautiful blend of the Spanish Colonial and Renaissance Revival architectural styles. The interiors of the church are also equally attractive.
Camp Inside the Anastasia State Park
Situated on an area of 1600 acres on the Atlantic Coast of Anastasia Island, is the Anastasia State Park featuring a variety of wildlife, beaches, salt marshes, and much more. Tourists can indulge in several activities here including bird watching, fishing, surfing, swimming , kayaking, hiking, beachcombing, etc. The park boasts of having 139 campsites in its wooden areas, where people can stay and explore the park either with a guide or on their own.
Enjoy the Beaches
St. Augustine boasts of being home to a number of beaches including those that fall within the area of the Anastasia State Park. These include the Crescent Beach, St. Augustine Beach, Vilano Beach, North (Usina) Beach, etc. All of them are just perfect places to be for the beachcombers and ecotourists; however, several water sporting opportunities are also offered there. People can indulge in activities such as boating, diving, and fishing, thus, also making them family-friendly places. In fact, the Crescent Beach offers pet-friendly facilities as well.
Take a Ride in the Horse-drawn Carriage
Lastly, while you are in the historic city, do not miss taking a ride in one of the horse-drawn carriages that keep on running up and down the old brick lanes. It is extremely difficult to miss on this one, and while private carriages may seem a little expensive, it would be difficult to resist the temptation at the end. Believe us, it will be a truly historic experience, and you would not regret your decision even if it means splurging a little on these cute rides.
These were just some of the seemingly numerous interesting things you can see and do in St. Augustine. Irrespective of whether you are a history buff or not, the city will keep on enchanting you with its countless possibilities, and every time you visit it, it will have something new in store for you.