St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States. Juan Ponce de León claimed what is now Florida for the Spanish crown when he landed on a beach somewhere near St. Augustine in early April of 1513. Half a century later, eager to defend their new colony from the French to the north and the English to the west, King Philip II granted a warrant to Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. On August 28, 1565, Menéndez landed at the present site of St. Augustine and built a small fort, which became the nucleus of the community that grew into the attractive historic town of today.
Here are the sites not to miss during a visit to this charming and atmospheric place.
Castillo de San Marcos served as a fort for more than 250 years. Built between 1672 and 1695 by the Spanish, its thick walls of coquina, a limestone made from seashell fragments, protected the newly established territory of Spanish Florida from pirates and rival European powers. It is the oldest masonry fortification in the United States.
A living open-air museum, the Colonial Quarter on St. George Street in the downtown historic district offers a fascinating glimpse of what life was like during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Housed in the former Alcazar Hotel, which was opened by railroad magnate Henry Flagler in 1888, the Lightner Museum features an impressive collection of 19th-century art, plus Tiffany glass and antique furniture.
Assuming you’re up for a climb, the views from the top of this historic lighthouse, the oldest brick structure in St. Augustine, outside the city are truly spectacular.
Four years ago, a group of 28 St. Augustine locals joined together to found the first distillery in northeast Florida since Prohibition. Community-owned and -funded, St. Augustine Distillery occupies a former ice plant dating to 1907. (It was the first place to make commercial block ice in Florida.) It now produces a range of small-batch spirits with locally grown sugar cane, wheat, corn and citrus. These include rum, gin, whiskey and a notable sugar-cane vodka.