St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine, Florida's, claim to fame is that it's the oldest continuously occupied city in the continental United States founded by Europeans. The city was originally founded in 1565 and served as a Spanish military outpost. A large amount of the architecture today reflects that Spanish heritage. St. Augustine's historic downtown features many examples of Spanish Colonial architecture. Nearby, the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is the oldest masonry fort in the United States, an excellent attraction to visit, and within walking distance of St. Augustine's downtown.
Visitors coming to St. Augustine will find a bustling downtown with a lot of activity. During the day, the streets are filled with shoppers and the restaurants are filled with customers. Trolleys circle around the area giving guests a colorful tour of the city. At night, the St. Augustine is hopping as well with plenty of nightlife and restaurants. And if you want to combine night life with history, numerous ghost tours are given of the area.
Downtown St. Augustine is centered along St. George Street, a pedestrian only thoroughfare where no cars are allowed. Be careful crossing the side streets though as cars can travel along those. Other businesses can be found on the side streets such as Hypolita Street and Cuna Street. If you continue south along St. George, you'll eventually hit Cathedral Place and King Street where other shops and restaurants are located particularly around the large Casa Monica Hotel. Just past this is historic Aviles Street, a quaint neighborhood with cobblestone streets that provides a quiet alternative to St. George Street. It still has plenty of shops, galleries, cafes, and historic sites and although it can sometimes be missed by visitors, it is highly recommended.
St. Augustine is located in St. Johns County along Florida's First Coast. The city is near the Atlantic Ocean and is easily accessible from Interstate 95 or U.S. 1. St. Augustine is approximately 40 miles south of Jacksonville and 105 miles north of Orlando. The best bet would be to head to the St. Augustine Visitor Information Center (10 West Castillo Drive, 904-825-1000) where there is plenty of parking and clean public restrooms.
We start our visit to St. Augustine by parking at the large parking garage at the corner of Cordova Street and West Castillo Drive. You have to pay for this parking garage but it's pretty convenient because you are just outside of the historic district and just across the street from the Visitor Information Center.
And here is the Visitor Information Center. Inside you will find information, of course, along with public restrooms. The lady is looking down on a beautiful mural on a plaza that separates the center from the parking garage.
We set off for the Historic District by heading south on Cordova Street. At the intersection of Cordova Street and Orange Street is Potter's Wax Museum, America's oldest wax museum. Before that it was an old drugstore. It is also the lone surviving Italiante commercial structure, once common in St. Augustine.
On the opposite corner is an interesting piece of roadside architecture. As a tourist destination, you see all kinds of crazy things in St. Augustine. Here you have a burger joint in the shape of a castle.
Cordova Street tends to be a bit quieter but there a few businesses down this street as well, such as this cafe. As you can see, they also offer nightly ghost tours. There are many tours in St. Augustine, including many haunted ghost tours.
You'll never know what you'll find in St. Augustine. If you go down Tolomato Lane off of Cordova Street, you come up to the backside of Around the World Marketplace. The front entrance is on Orange Street, but they also have merchandise on display on Tolomato.
We head back to Orange Street and continue to head east on Orange. On our left are the Old City Gates. In 1704, after years of devastating attacks the citizens finally built a wall around the city, which was already 150 years old at the time. These gates and walls are some of what remains.
Across the street, we see the intersection of St. George Street and Orange Street. St. George Street is the Main Street of St. Augustine and is the heart of the city's Historic District. It is a pedestrian only thoroughfare made up of shops, restaurants, taverns, and tourist attractions.
Here's another historic building, this one occupied by a pizza place. In front is a stop for people to hop on or hop off of one of the many sight-seeing trolleys that travel through the area.
The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse is located in St. Augustine. Although, it is touted as being the oldest wooden school building in the United States, the exact date of construction is unknown. It does first appear on tax records in 1716. The school is open almost everyday for tours.
The St. George Inn is a hotel located on the north end of St. George Street and made up of three buildings with rooms on the second and third floors and retail on the bottom floors. In the middle of the buildings, is a courtyard pictured here, known as City Gate Plaza.
Here is another view of City Gate Plaza. You can see visitors shopping and enjoying the ambiance provided by the trees and the fountain in the middle of the courtyard.
This is an older picture from a previous visit to St. Augustine. On our most current visit to the city this was a construction site. But I thought I would include this older picture to give you an idea of what once stood there and hopefully give you an idea of what could come back. This was the Old Grist Mill and once contained shops and a tavern.
The Arcade of Professional Artisans and Craftsmen can be found just off St. George Street. This open air galleria contains several fixed and rotating merchants' establishments leased and owned by local artisans and craftsmen.
Across the street is the Colonial Quarter, a two-acre attraction that shows what life was like for many centuries in St. Augustine, including replicas of the forts and watchtower. The Colonial Oak is an area where concerts are held under a sweeping live oak.
As we continue south on St. George Street, on the right we see more signs for the Colonial Quarter on the right, including signs for the Museum and Gift Shop. Shops and a store selling coffee and candy are across the street. On the far left, there appears to be a man in some sort of costume.
The Bull & Crown Publick House is on the Colonial Quarter property. Built on the original site of skilled Minorcan carpenter Francisco Pellicer's home, it was reconstructed in 1977 to honor St. Augustine's Minorcan community. Great place to eat outdoors if you want to people watch along St. George Street.
This house is known as the Rodriguez-Avero-Sanchez House and was built circa 1762. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was originally built during the first Spanish occupation of the city.
People enjoy food and wine in this shady atmosphere. When I was researching this, several months after taking the photos, it looked like the restaurant and building were up for sale. The year the building was constructed was 1934. So some buildings here are not as old as others.
Known as the Oliveros House, this house was actually reconstructed several times in its history until its present form as seen here took shape in 1978. Today, it is home to Flagler's Legacy, the official merchandise store for Flagler College.
We pass the intersection of St. George Street and Cuna Street to find this historic building that now houses an ice cream shop.
Tucked away behind some shops on St. George Street is this peaceful courtyard with a nice cottage that is home to a small boutique.
Back out on St. George Street we continue heading south past a wide assortment of shops and restaurants.
Walking down St. George Street, window shopping competes with historic architecture for people's attention.
The Columbia Restaurant is one of the largest and oldest Spanish restaurants in Florida with many locations throughout the state, including one in St. Augustine.
Just across the street, on the corner of St. George and Hypolita Street, is this small and well-maintained public garden.
You can head either east or west on Hypolita Street and find more shops and restaurants. Here is a restaurant you will find if you head west on Hypolita. The restaurant is said to be haunted by the man who built the house back in 1879.
Although it looks historic, the Casa Del Hidalgo was built in the mid 1960s as Spain's contribution to the city's quadricentennial celebration. The building contains shops, restaurants and even public bathrooms.
As we continue heading south along St. George Street we find more shops and even an information kiosk that sells tickets for one of the many sight-seeing trolleys that travel through the area. The building is known as the Sanchez House and was built in 1809.
Across the street is a small indoor mall called St. George's Row.
Continuing further down St. George Street, we see fewer historic buildings, but we do get more trees, benches, and fountains in the middle of the pedestrian area along the middle of the street.
Although the building architecture isn't as much to look at along this stretch, they make up for it with some interesting fountains instead. This is a view looking northbound back the way we came.
More shops, restaurants and ice cream places along St. George Street. This is a view looking southbound. This part of St. Augustine suffered from a Great Fire on April 2, 1914, which may explain why there are fewer historic buildings in the area.
Some of the architecture along here has a twentieth century look to it. Especially with the glass blocks.
On the left-hand side of the picture is an historical marker telling visitors that it was on this site where Frederick Douglas gave a speech to an estimated 700 people on April 7, 1889 in front of the Genovar Opera House. The Genovar Opera House burned down in the great fire of April 2, 1914.
It is interesting though to see how many of the rebuilt structures try to maintain that mission style of architecture, including the Spanish tile roof.
St. Augustine reflects a wide variety of architecture and cultures. This is the Peña-Peck House built around 1750 by order of the King of Spain. But it served as home to governors during British occupation. Eventually the home was left to the city to be maintained as an example of antebellum homes in the south. The house contains a museum and gift shop as well.
Across the street, on the corner of St. George and Treasurey Street are some more stores, an ice cream shop, and even an old time photo shop, all in non-descript, although brightly colored buildings.
We approach the southern end of the pedestrian only section of St. George Street. That large building on the left is Heritage Walk and contains a mall inside with many shops and a restaurant.
And this is an interior view of Heritage Walk.
Now that we have reached the end of the pedestrian only section of St. George Street, we have to watch out for cars. Here's one of the many sight-seeing trolleys that travel through the area. Many also have drop-off and pick-up locations throughout the city as well.
Plaza de la Constitución is the oldest public space in America, laid out in 1573. Its Constitution Monument may be the only remaining monument in the Western Hemisphere celebrating the Spanish Constitution of 1812.
The Government House, constructed of coquina, served as the governor's official residence for many years. Today, the building is owned by the State of Florida, and the first floor contains a history museum.
Next, we turn right and head west on King Street. Shops line the ground floor of the Casa Monica Hotel, one of the oldest continuously run hotels in the United States.
And if we continue heading west on King Street and turn around, we get a better look at the Casa Monica Hotel, built in 1888 by Franklin W. Smith who first got Henry Flagler interested in the area. When the hotel ran into financial difficulties, Flagler bought the property from Smith. The architectural style was Moorish Revival and Spanish Baroque Revival.
If we continue heading west on King Street and cross Cordova Street, we come to the Hotel Alcazar, built by Henry Flagler in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style in 1887. Today this building is occupied by City Hall and the Lightner Museum, which contains antiquities, mostly American Gilded Age pieces.
Across King Street from the Hotel Alcazar is Flagler College. When first completed in 1888 in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style, this was the Ponce de Leon Hotel, owned by Henry Flagler. So if you're keeping track, yes at one time this intersection did, in fact, have three large hotels on it.
Now if we double-back and head east on King Street we'll find more shops and restaurants along the way. This is a view of the south side of King Street. Across the street is Plaza de la Constitución.
Tucked away just off King Street is Aviles Street, which has the distinction of being the oldest public street in the country. This scenic street has many shops, galleries and restaurants. It can be easily overlooked but is definitely worth a visit.
We head south on Aviles Street and come across the Spanish Military Hospital Museum. Aviles Street was originally known as Hopsital Street because of the presense of a military hospital along the thoroughfare.
Shops, cafes, and galleries line the scenic street. But be careful. This isn't a pedestrian only road, so buses, horse and carriages, and even sight-seeing trolleys try to navigate their way down the narrow street.
Behind a house along Aviles Street is a peaceful courtyard with these statues titled Sons of St. Augustine.
This is a view looking northbound along Aviles Street. That tall building in the background is 24 Cathedral Place, St. Augustine's tallest building. It was originally built in 1926 as the First National Bank Building.
Now, we'll jump ahead and go over to Cathedral Place and check that area out. We're actually at the base of 24 Cathedral Place, the high-rise we saw in the last picture. The street gets its name from the Cathedral Basilica, which you can see straight ahead.
We'll head east towards the water, although we're still facing westbound. Here you can see some more restaurants featuring a wide array of cuisines. In the distance, you can see Flagler College.
We make it to Avenida Menendez, which runs north and south along the Matanzas River. This is a view of the corner of Avenida Menendez and King Street. Notice the wrought-iron work on the building. Also, on the far-right hand side of the picture you can see a trolley pulling up.
As we head north along Avenida Menendez, between King Street and Cathedral Place, we come to Ponce de Leon Circle, featuring a statue of Ponce de Leon, the first European who made contact with Florida.
The Bridge of Lions is a double-leaf bascule bridge that spans the Matanzas Bay. The bridge connects downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island. The bridge was begun in 1925 and completed in 1927.
We continue heading north along Avenida Menendez with shops on the left and the water on the right. Ahead, you can start to make out the Castillo de San Marcos.
And here is the Castillo de San Marcos. With construction beginning in 1672, it is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Today, you can take a tour of the fort. Also, you can see that horse and buggy is one of the many ways to get a scenic tour of St. Augustine.
From here, we head up Cuna Street where we find several more shops and restaurants.
If we continue heading west on Cuna Street, we will hit St. George Street where we will have been earlier and we will have made a large circle. So this completes our tour or St. Augustine. Now let's grab something to eat. All of that site-seeing made us hungry. There are plenty of restaurants on St. George Street up ahead. Or we can go back to Avenida Menendez where there were some places overlooking the fort and the water.
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