Exploring St. Augustine, FL

October 28, 2010

St. Augustine City Gates

I have just returned from a long road trip up and down the coasts of Florida, and will be detailing some of my outdoor adventures in the upcoming week. My first real stop on this trip was in the town of St. Augustine.

In addition to the beaches, St. Augustine has a number of excellent outdoor adventures and parks to visit. One of St. Augustine’s major claims to fame is that is is the nation’s oldest city.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Castillow de San Marcos

A big part of this history can be found through the gates of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, maintained by the National Parks Service.

Castillow de San Marcos Castillow de San Marcos

This monument began construction in 1672, and includes 20.5 acres of land surrounding the fort. Visitors to the area can spend a lot of time just hiking around the grassy parks and dry moats. The park sits along the edge of the Matanzas River, and provides excellent views of sailboats, the St. Augustine lighthouse, and the coast of nearby Anastasia Island.

Castillow de San Marcos Castillow de San Marcos

The fort itself is almost entirely outside. Begin a visit to the side by crossing the moat and drawbridge before entering the gates. As one passes through the gates, the center of the fort opens up into a large square. This is where the townspeople could flee for safety in the event of danger.

Castillo San Marcos

The fort itself is made up of a mixture of shells and stone called coquina, and provided a sound defense for the newly founded Spanish colony in the 17th century.

As one tours the fort, there are numerous “rooms” along the ground level that provide a history of the attacks on and life in the fort.

Continue up the stair case to the top floor of the star fort for some tremendous views of Mantanzas River, St. Augustine, and the surrounding area.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine

Spring Break road trip 162

Spring Break road trip 167 St. Augustine

St. Augustine

After leaving the fort, I suggest heading towards the city gates that enter into the Spanish quarter for some shopping, food, and more St. Augustine history.

Spanish Quarter

St. Augustine

St. Augustine St. Augustine

In addition to the typical tourist shops and restaurants, the Spanish Quarter also offers a number of historical sites. Check out the oldest school in America, and get your “degree” from there for only a few dollars.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine

Also, be sure to take a tour of the Colonial Spanish Quarter section with its living history museum reenactments and Flagler College. The number of opportunities for some history gathering near the City gates is almost endless. Just wonder down  and around Spanish Street and St. George Street, and you’ll be sure to find your own historical interests.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not & the Fountain of Youth

Spring Break road trip 294

Leaving the area around the fort, one can find a really interesting example of outdoor living just outside the original Ripley’s Believe It or Not at Castle Warden.

What appears to be a very large tree on its side, is in fact a hollowed out tree on its side. In this hollowed out Redwood, a man built his home, one carving at a time.

Spring Break road trip 288 Spring Break road trip 290

Check this out in the parking area next to Castle Warden for a the fantastic rate of FREE!.

Fountain of Youth

Finally, if you continue away from the Fort, you will come to one of St. Augustine’s archaeological claims to fame. The Fountain of Youth claims to be the location of Ponce De Leon’s initial Florida landing, and the beginning of North American European colonization.

Fountain of Youth

For its historical significance the Fountain of Youth is interesting. However, I must say that I do not recommend visiting this park. The park has some nice views of the river, and some interesting animals in the park, including peacocks, nearly tame squirrels (from frequent feedings), an what I believe was an emu.

Spring Break road trip 235 Spring Break road trip 252

Spring Break road trip 264Spring Break road trip 265

St. Augustine

Despite this, the park’s buildings are outdated, the planetarium was admittedly ancient, and not correctly functioning, and there has not been enough time spent maintaining and developing the historical aspects of the park. I cannot recommend paying the $8 per adult to enter the park unless you simply must see the place where it is claimed Ponce De Leon first landed in Florida.

Even the namesake fountain here is under-whelming. There is not any grand or beautiful water fountain, only a small sulfur tasting spring inside one of the outdated buildings, surrounded by some older life size figurines.

Fountain of Youth Fountain of Youth

Other than the Fountain of Youth, however, seeing St. Augustine is a must for excellent beaches, excellent history, and excellent outdoor adventures to be had.


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