Best Things To Do in St. Augustine
With a nickname like the Ancient City, you better believe this seaside destination is filled with historic sights. Though you may not have time to see them all, you cannot leave St. Augustine without visiting the Old Jail and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. If you're a nature lover, check out St. Augustine Beach and the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. There are even a few unconventional activities nearby, such as ghost tours of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and cannon and musket firing demonstrations at the Colonial Quarter.
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Antiquities, historic attractions and delectable cuisine are just a few of the things you'll find on St. George Street, the city's central pedestrian thoroughfare. At the northern end of the street, visitors can explore boutiques like Sunburst Crystal and Tillie's Bath Cottage, as well as historic sites like the Old City Gates and the Oldest Wooden School House. The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum are within walking distance; as you travel south, you'll see additional shops and cafes, plus art galleries and the Colonial Quarter.
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Castillo de San Marcos served as a fort for more than 205 years. Built between 1672 and 1695 by the Spanish, it protected the newly established territory of Spanish Florida from the British and pirates. It's the oldest masonry fortification in the U.S., as well as the only surviving 17th-century military site in the country. Additionally, it is one of only two forts in the world constructed from coquina, a semi-rare limestone composed of shell fragments. Though the Spanish maintained control of the Castillo de San Marcos for most of its military career, it was used by the British during the American Revolution and by Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. The fort became a national monument in 1900.
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The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum features shipwreck artifacts, a wooden boat building exhibit and a 165-foot-tall lighthouse. The lighthouse, which was built between 1871 and 1874, is the oldest surviving brick structure in St. Augustine and has 219 steps. Some also believe the site is haunted by several formal lighthouse keepers and two young girls who died on-site in the late 1800s.
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The eclectic Lightner Museum is located just south of Flagler College near St. Augustine's historic city center. Housed within the former Alcazar Hotel, which was built by Henry Flagler in 1888, the museum features an impressive collection of 19th-century art. Notable exhibits include unconventional items like shrunken heads, salt and pepper shakers, human hair and cigar labels. You'll also find traditional art pieces and collections with Tiffany & Co. glass and antique furniture.
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Located on St. George Street in downtown St. Augustine's historic district, the Colonial Quarter offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century residents. The living museum is divided into four areas: the 16th Century Spanish First City, the 17th Century Spanish Fortified Town, the 18th Century Spanish Garrison Town and the 18th Century British The 14th Colony. In each section, travelers can witness activities like the construction of a ship, musket drills, leatherworking and cannon firing demonstrations.
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Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is the site of St. Augustine's original settlement. The Fountain of Youth, a mythical spring believed to have anti-aging properties, can be found in the park, as well as a planetarium, a blacksmith shop and a replica Timucua village. On the park's grounds, visitors will find several white and blue peacocks (nearly 30 reside within the park).
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Situated 5 miles southeast of St. Augustine's historic district, St. Augustine Beach features roughly 2 miles of white-sand beach and clear water. The beach is popular with families, thanks to its kid-friendly splash pad. If fishing or a relaxing stroll is what you're after, visit the St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier, which sits at the north end of the beach.
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As its name suggests, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum displays a variety of pirate artifacts, including the world's oldest "Wanted" poster, the world's only pirate treasure chest, and one of two surviving 17th-century Jolly Roger flags (that familiar black flag featuring a skull and crossbones). At the center of the museum, travelers can climb aboard a replica pirate ship with a helm and cannons.
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St. Augustine's Old Jail was built in 1891 to accommodate the city's criminals. Financed by railroad magnate Henry Flagler, the jail was designed to blend in with the rest of the Ancient City's buildings and features Romanesque Revival-style architecture. In 1954, a year after the jail closed, the property reopened as a historic attraction. The facility was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
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For an up-close look at exotic animals, check out the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. This nonprofit sanctuary was established in 1995 as a care center for rescued and unwanted exotic animals. Mountain lions, bears, ligers and leopards are just some of the animals housed here. Notable residents include five arctic wolves and an African lion that once belonged to Michael Jackson.
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