Our magazine had trekked south this past week to explore the land of sunshine. Our goal was to explore the fabled city of St. Augustine, Florida, the first true city in North America.
St. Augustine was founded on September 8, 1565, by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida’s first governor. He named the settlement “San Agustín“, as his ships bearing settlers, troops, and supplies from Spain had first sighted land in Florida eleven days earlier on August 28, the feast day of St. Augustine. The city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years. It was designated as the capital of British East Florida when the colony was established in 1763 until it was ceded back to Spain in 1783.
Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819, and St. Augustine was designated the capital of the Florida Territory upon ratification of the Adams–Onís Treaty in 1821. It has the longest chronicled history of any city in the United States as it has existed for 450 years. Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, and Admiral Pedro Menendez established the city. It also boasts the oldest masonry fortress in North America, ‘Castillo de San Marcos’. The fortress is also the city’s major attraction and it had never been militarily captured.1
St. Augustine, and all of Florida for that matter, has become a major tourist destination, thanks to railroad tycoon, and co-fonder of Standard Oil, Henry Flagler. His goal was to make Florida the winter resort of wealthy Americans from the North , and he chose St. Augustine to build his iconic 540 room Ponce de Leon Hotel as his centerpiece. The hotel is now the home of Flagler College.
We first left the Washington-Dulles Airport and landed in Orlando, Florida and began our road trip eastward from there. Arriving in St. Augustine we went to our hotel, The Marriot Bayfront, and began to explore the town. The location of the hotel allowed us walking access to all the major sites and amenities. Our plan was to skip the beaches so that we could concentrate our efforts to explore the town.
Our first stop was the shops and restaurants around St. George Street (pedestrian mall). As it was Sunday we were hampered by early store closings, but headed back there first thing the following morning. A local diner, located at the hotel was our breakfast stop as we set off to see the sites. This area has the largest, and most diversified, assortment of shops located in the most confined area that we ever visited. Moving along we decided to visit the fortress, which stood across the street from our hotel. We were treated to the history and demonstration of the life at the fort by the well trained staff of the National Park Service. It was explained to us that the fort was never militarily conquered and it served as a deterrent to pirates and invading forces. (Be sure to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated in the fierce Florida sunlight).
We lunched at Ann O’Malley’s Pub and dined on their great sandwiches (the best in town). Next day we explored the many museums the town offers including the Pirates and Treasure Museum, Potter’s Wax Museum, Medieval Torture Museum (not recommended for the kiddies), and ended the day touring the bay on the Scenic Cruise Eco Tour boat. We decided to have dinner at Five Star Pizza, the best pizza shop there.
The following day we set forth to check out the Villa Zorayda Museum, former home of Boston architect Franklin W. Smith. This structure housed a fantastic collection of furniture, paintings, and oddities collected from the Middle East and around the world since it was first built in 1883 and boasts a 135 year history. You are able to take an audio tour, and it is well worth the visit. A visit to the St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica and Greek Shrine were next along with the Government House with its displays and collections representing Old St. Augustine. A side trip to view the interior of Flagler College proved interesting but we did not take the tour as time was pressing. We decided to dine at Prohibition Kitchen with its sumptuous burgers and live music.
Our last day there we visited the Potters wax museum, and took a Pirates cruise on the ‘Black Raven’ pirate ship. This venue is really geared for children, but we decided to take it anyway. We lunched at a fabulous little Greek restaurant on King Street with authentic, and delicious, Greek delicacies . Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum was the next stop and proved interesting for all age groups. We finished the day with a great meal at the Columbia restaurant featuring fine Cuban cuisine.
As our stay proved all too short and we were unable to see more of the sites that were offered. In the wee hours of the next morning we made our way back to Orlando to catch our flight home. TAEM recommends that all our readers should visit this great city, but you may want to spend a lot more time there than we were able to. It is well worth the trip!
1. Passages pulled from Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Augustine,_Florida