Visit St. Augustine, Florida - The Oldest City in the U.S. With a Rich History

Caroline de Braganza
St. Augustine Flagler CollegeArvid Olson/Pixabay

Welcome to the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States—known as the "Nation’s Oldest City."

St. Augustine lies on the northeast coast of Florida and is the county seat of St. John’s County. The city is popular with day trippers and tourists,and less than a two-hour drive from Orlando.

(You may spot Clint Eastwood as he loves to vacation here!)

History buffs will love St. Augustine—four centuries wrapped in one location—from the Spanish and English, to Greeks, Native Americans and African Americans.

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Spanish admiral and explorer, founded the city in 1565, where he ruled as governor of Florida until his death in 1574 from typhus.

It remained the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years and the most important city for almost three centuries. It later became the capital of East Florida under the British, and for a short while the capitol of the Florida Territory when the British ceded it to the U,S.

Examples of the city’s rich history are the Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century Spanish stone fortress, and the St. Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine. In addition, St. Augustine boasts the narrowest street in the United States, and the oldest street!

More on those later!

You can marvel at the city’s colonial architecture or enjoy 42 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches—St. Augustine beach, Crescent Beach, Vilano Beach, North (Usina) Beach, and South Ponte Vedra Beach.
St. Augustine Beach Fishing PierPaul Brennan/Pixabay

Castillo de San Marcos

St. Augustine is home to the Castillo de San Marcos, completed in 1695, the oldest masonry fort in North America. The fort is the only one from the 17th century in the U.S. still standing.

The Spanish who built it originally named the fort the Castillo de San Marcos. The British renamed it Fort St. Mark when they took over in 1763. In 1821, when Florida became a U.S. territory, the fort became Fort Marion. Congress restored the fort’s original name in 1942.

Despite being attacked many times, and besieged twice, nobody ever conquered the Castillo de San Marcos. Control of the fort switched peacefully between the Spanish, British and the U.S. During the American Civil War, the Confederacy controlled the fort.
Castillo de San MarcosPaul Brennan/Pixabay

Fort Matanzas National Monument

This fort, completed in 1742, served as protection for Castillo de San Marcos. Although you cannot visit the fort at the moment, the park is open for visitors. You can take a virtual tour here.

Lightner Museum

The Lightner Museum is in the former Alcazar Hotel, built in 1888 by Henry Flagler, founder of the Florida East Coast Railway. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the museum is one of the premier collections of fine and decorative 19th-century and early 20th-century art in the country.
St. Augustine LighthousePaul Brennan/Pixabay

St. Augustine Lighthouse

The 165-foot-tall St. Augustine Lighthouse was built in 1874, after the earlier lighthouse threatened to collapse from beach erosion, and now houses a not-for-profit maritime museum.

If you’re willing to climb the 219 steps to the observation deck, you can enjoy a stunning view.

The oldest street in the U.S.

Aviles Street runs through the heart of the Artist District in St. Augustine. Archaeologists, digging several layers under the brick paving, recently found pottery shards from the early 1600s—proof of its claim to be the oldest street in the United States.
Aviles Street, St. AugustinePaul Brennan/Pixabay

The narrowest street in the U.S.

Treasury Street connects the Royal Spanish Treasury to the bay where the ships docked. The street was only 7 feet wide making it difficult for thieves to remove and escape with chests of gold from the treasury.

St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, dedicated this shrine, just steps from the historic City Gates, to the memory of the survivors of the 1768 Turnbull New Smyrna Colony. The survivors had found solace in Avero House, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

More to explore in St. Augustine

Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center (LMCC) - an African American history museum in Lincolnville, St. Augustine—a neighbourhood created by free men and women in 1866. The LMCC’s mission is to “preserve, promote and perpetuate over 450 years of the African American story”.

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum in St. Augustine is the world’s oldest and opened in 1950, a year after Robert Ripley’s death.
Schoolhouse, St. AugustinePaul Brennan/Pixabay

The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse - This historic building is the oldest in the U.S. and part of the home sold to Juan Gonopoly, a Greek carpenter, when the British took possession of Florida, and Spanish officers and residents fled.

Fountain of Youth Archeological Park - The myth of the Fountain of Youth is a Taino Indian legend of a spring on the island of Bimini and a river in Florida that restored youth to those who bathed in their waters.

Potters Wax Museum - George Potter opened the oldest wax museum in the U.S. in 1948. A trip to Madame Tussauds in London as a child inspired him to create his own wax museum.

Cathedral Basilica Parish of St. Augustine - constructed over a 5-year period between 1793 and 1797, this was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1970.
Cathedral Basilica, St. AugustineJohn Tuggle/flickr


St. Augustine Old Jail - Henry Flagler built the city's historic Old Jail in 1891; it served as the St. John’s County Jail until 1953. Book a tour here.

St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park - One of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions opened in 1893. Details here.

Spanish Military Hospital Museum - Enjoy a guided tour back to the Spanish Colonial days of medicine. (3 Aviles Street)

Anastasia State Park - Just a 10-minute drive away you’ll find this protected wildlife sanctuary. Or stay at the campground which offers 139 sites for RVs and tents.

St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum - Where you can explore the Golden Age of Piracy!

Ghost Tours - People claim this is the most haunted region in the US! Find a list of tours here.
Panoramic view of waterfront, St. AugustinePaul Brennan/Pixabay

With so much to soak up in St. Augustine, you won’t cover four centuries in a day.

From live music featuring local musicians, to restaurants, a horse-drawn carriage ride, art galleries, to the pristine beaches - you’ll be back for more!

(Did you know Ray Charles completed his schooling at The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine?)

If you’re there this weekend, don’t miss the free Fourth of July Fireworks and Concert event,

In the meantime, take a listen to this beautiful song:

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Published essayist. Follow me for local news that impacts our lives, plus stories on public and mental health. Through writing, I also share my passion for music, politics, our environment and social justice, and hope you find value in my words.


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