Visiting St. Augustine, Florida
Florida residents love to visit St. Augustine between Thanksgiving and Christmas if the weather is mild in order to see all the Christmas decorations. There isn’t, however, a bad time to visit the Oldest City in America which was established in 1565. Just off I-95 in the south portion of the northeast Florida coastline, it’s well worth the visit. Fortunate for us, this early December is mild and we head to see St. Augustine once again.
Taking the St. Augustine exit off I-95, we head through the mainland portion of the town, viewing quaint homes with old-style 1920’s and 30’s architecture. Of course, there are modern homes as well interspersed. Some of the old homes have huge, well-landscaped lawns with lots of trees and flowers.
While Flagler County provides 43 miles of beautiful beaches, it is not the beach we are seeking today, but Old Town, as the oldest district in St. Augustine is called. We head out W. King Street until it dead ends at the Matanzas River. To our left and right we see bridges crossing over to the barrier islands. The south bridge is the Bridge of Lions, guarded by two great lion sculptures. We locate parking and get out to stroll long the streets of Old Town, which are mostly brick streets and rather narrow.
Along each street we encounter are quaint, old buildings which have been transformed into modern businesses. The architecture has been preserved, but the services are modern: restaurants, cafes, shops for everything you can possibly think of, and every place we stop is unique. One of our stops is the Oldest Pharmacy; a pharmacy museum displaying the tools of the very first American pharmacy. Historic information is available, and some of the medical tools displayed make me cringe. A blood-letting tool for “bleeding” people - thought to be a cure for many illnesses - looks scary and makes one wonder how many people died while “being treated” with such non-scientific cures.
We stop for lunch in one of the quaint little restaurants and find a cozy table with a great selection of menu items. Styled much like a British tea room, the little restaurant displays antiques here and there on the walls. It was a delightful place to stop, eat and rest a bit. We stroll the streets after lunch and look at all the bright Christmas decorations.
Wandering on, we decide to take a buggy ride. On the river front there are several carriage services, and we select one, pay the driver who is also our tour guide, and snuggle under a lap robe for the ride - after all it is at least 60F degrees out here and we are cold! The carriage ride takes us through Old Town, by the old Flagler Resort, past many magnificent churches and cathedrals in the area, and by Flagler College and its magnificent old-world architecture before returning us to Old Town.
Next, we want to tour Castillo de San Marcos, so we stroll north just a block or two and enter the oldest fort in America. This stone fort was once a major defense for the Oldest Town from attacks by sea. Walking the same ground where the Conquistadors walked so many years ago; it makes me feel small and humble in the whole scheme of things. The fort was built somewhere around the 1670’s to the 1690’s. The fortress and surrounding area covers 25 acres and is technically known today as Fort Marion, but locals still call it the Castillo. What a remarkable place to visit.
Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth is located in Old Town, and we make sure to visit it. The Oldest House and Oldest School House are other historic landmarks we visit while nearby. Fort Mose, a Free African Community was established by Governor Manuel Montiano in 1768 when about 20 families totaling around 100 people lived in this enclave. Today the area of Fort Mose is a national landmark with archeological digs helping provide artifacts from a distant time.
The Colonial Spanish Quarter relives the costumes, crafts and smells of 18th Century Florida. Candle making, blacksmithing, leather work, and other occupations of the time are represented in the way they were done in the historic times.
There are a number of museums available in St. Augustine including Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Potters Wax Museum, Old Florida Museum, and a Weapons Museum. This trip, however, we aren’t touring museums. We head just north of Old Town to the antique shops. A strip of shops having everything you can imagine in antiques from both recent or ancient history are placed within a several block strip quite near Ripley’s Museum. We browse several shops, dreaming of owning some of the finer antiques we see. We end up buying an old medicine bottle to add to our collection as our memento of the trip.
Having put in a full day, we decide to head back toward the I-95 area, stopping to grab a snack along the way. We have certainly enjoyed our pre-Christmas day trip to St. Augustine and will come back again and again. Every time we come, we try to experience different things, see new places, and there is always something we find we missed on our last trip that we’d love to see. With the Christmas lights decorating the shops, we chose a perfect day to visit. If you can’t come to St. Augustine’s Old Town near Christmas, just make sure you don’t miss coming whenever you can!
Chamber of Commerce serving St. Augustine.
Nearby cities to check for activities and attractions: St. Augustine Beach, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Marineland.
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