St. Augustine, Florida

When Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez first visited St. Augustine in 1565 there wasn’t nearly as much to see and do as there is today when you visit the oldest city in the United States. Here are a few highlights of things that you should not miss.

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1 Medici Lion Statue on Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine, Florida

This Carrara marble Medici lion is one of two that guards the entrance to the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine, Florida. They were carved by F. Romanelli and a gift from local philanthropist Dr. Andrew Anderson. The bridge has been called “The Most Beautiful Bridge in Dixie.” It is even more beautiful after an $80 million restoration was completed. The male lion with his paw on an orb was patterned after the originals commissioned in 1576 for the Italian garden of Ferdinando I dé Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The original pair is now in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy.

20 Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine, FL 32080
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2 Ponce de León Hall at Flager College in St. Augustine, Florida

The Ponce de León Hotel was built for $2.5 million in 1887 by Henry Flager who was co-founder of Standard Oil. This 10,000 square foot courtyard and garden was the entry for the massive 4.5 acre building. It had 540 rooms with electricity constructed by Thomas Edison. It was the centerpiece of Flager’s vision to transform St. Augustine into a luxury resort area. His dream was never fully realized. But perhaps it has for the female students at Flager College who now use this magnificent building as a dormitory.

74 King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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3 Lion Sculpture at Flager College in St. Augustine, Florida

The Ponce de León lineage started in 13th century Spain and means “of lion.” So it seems appropriate that the 19th century hotel named in honor of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León would have two dramatic lion carvings guarding either side of its front gate. The most famous lions in St. Augustine, however, are the Medici Lions on the Bridge of Lions. That photo is also on this website.

74 King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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4 Rotunda Murals at Flager College in St. Augustine, Florida

The inside of the Ponce de León Hall at Flager College is still as grand and glorious as it was when it opened as a luxury hotel in January of 1888. Muralist George Maynard painted this lobby rotunda which rises 86 feet. The images represent Adventure, Conquest, Civilization and Discovery. Louis Tiffany created 70 stained glass windows. And about forty works of art from Henry Morrison Flager’s collection still hangs on the walls. I wonder if the students at Flager College appreciate these masterpieces as they walk through the hall towards their dining hall?

74 King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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5 Tower at Flager College in St. Augustine, Florida

This stunning 150 foot tower is one of two that flank the Spanish Renaissance Revival building in downtown St. Augustine now known as the Ponce de León Hall. When it was a hotel in the late 19th century, each tower was a storage tank that contained 8,000 gallons of 86° water to provide their guests with hot running water. When the facility was occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard during WWII, some people believe these towers were used as a brig but experts disagree. The prison was on the fourth floor.

74 King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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6 Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida

This fortress was in military service for over 250 years. Spaniards named it Castillo de San Marcos when they built it in 1696 using coquina which is a mix of seashells and limestone. Surrounding it was a moat that contained seawater from Matanzas Bay. During the British rule from 1763-1783 it was Fort St. Mark and when the U.S. took control in 1821 the Army base was Fort Marion. It was finally deactivated in 1933 and is now a National Monument managed by the National Park Service.

1 S Castillo Dr, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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7 Soldiers Fire Canon at Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida

Touring inside of the Castillo de San Marcos while learning about its fascinating history is exciting. One of the highlights is when volunteers dressed as Spanish soldiers demonstrate their musket and then fire a cannon. The view of Matanzas Bay from on top of the fort’s gun deck is also worth the price of admission.

1 S Castillo Dr, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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8 Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida

Henry Flager was a co-founder of Standard Oil, the “father” of Miami and Palm Beach, Florida, and a major benefactor of St. Augustine. He was building the Ponce de León Hotel, which is now Flagler College, when his daughter died in 1889. It became the impetuous for creating the Memorial Presbyterian Church that’s modeled after St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. In 1913, he was buried in a mausoleum beside his daughter.

32 Sevilla St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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9 Memorial Presbyterian Church Façade in St. Augustine, Florida

It is hard to believe this beautiful and ornate Memorial Presbyterian Church was built in less than a year in 1889. This feat was accomplished by two young architects who were working at a major New York City firm when Henry Flager entrusted them to design his Ponce de León Hotel. During that project, John Carrère and Thomas Hastings created their own firm. They went on to build several additional landmarks in St. Augustine, including the Grace Methodist Church, The Hotel Alcazar, and Henry Flager’s winter home called Kirkside. They also designed the New York Public Library and many other celebrated buildings in the U.S and around the world.

32 Sevilla St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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10 Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in Old City of St. Augustine, Florida

Just beyond the city gate in the historic district of St. Augustine you’ll find this humble school that claims to have been built before 1716. This makes it the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the United States. Peeking out the second story window is a mannequin that represents the wife of the schoolmaster who used to live there with his family. Notice those heavy chains. They were installed in 1937 to help prevent the red cedar and bald cypress structure from blowing away.

14 St George St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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11 Casa Rodriquez House in Old City of St. Augustine, Florida

The house of Rodriguez-Avero-Sanchez was built in 1762. It is one of several original or reproduced 18th century buildings you’ll find as you walk along St. George Street in the Old City of St. Augustine, Florida. The structure’s significance was recognized by the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Inside you’ll find the Casa Rodriguez jewelry store.

52 St George St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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12 Casa del Hidalgo in Old City of St. Augustine, Florida

St. George Street provides a pedestrian only walkway through the Old City of St. Augustine. Here you will find shops, restaurants and attractions – many of which are nestled in historic buildings – designed to make the tourist feel right at home in the nation’s oldest city. A less hectic and quainter neighborhood is along the cobblestoned Aviles Street. But there is so much more to see within a few blocks in every direction. Don’t want to miss a thing? Then stop inside this building called Casa del Hidalgo where you will find the Visitor Information Center.

35 Hypolita St #101, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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13 Noche de Gala Parade in St. Augustine, Florida

In 1565, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed his ships during the feast day of St. Augustine so he called his new settlement San Agustín. Each February, this Florida city celebrates his birthday with a procession of people dressed in colorful 16th century costumes. It is quite the spectacle, especially as they approach the Old City Gates. Later that evening, the Lighter Museum hosts a fundraising dinner called Noche de Gala. The expensive event requires either black-tie or formal colonial attire.

102 Orange St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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14 Mask at Noche de Gala Parade in St. Augustine, Florida

During the annual Noche de Gala parade in February along St. George Street in St. Augustine, you will be delighted to see people dressed up in all kinds of vibrant 16th century Spanish costumes. The atmosphere and sounds are electric. Most exciting are the huge papier-mâché heads called cabezudos. Apparently, each one represents a historic Spanish person from literature. This event celebrates the birthday in 1519 of the city’s founder, Pedro Menéndez. The fabulous tradition dates back centuries.

102 Orange St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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15 Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida

In 1887, Henry Flager, the co-founder of Standard Oil and railroad tycoon, built his second posh accommodation for rich northern snowbirds in St. Augustine called the Alcazar Hotel. This elegant Spanish Renaissance structure delighted its guests with the world’s largest swimming pool until it closed in 1932. Fourteen years later it was purchased by Otto C. Lightner, a newspaperman from Chicago, for his collection of Victorian art, furniture, costumes, musical instruments and glassware. He gifted it all to the city in 1948 when it became the Lightner Museum.

75 King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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16 Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Florida

The oldest church in Florida began in 1565 when Spanish soldiers built their first Roman Catholic Church. It and several other structures were burned or destroyed until this Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine was completed in 1797. It was constructed from coquina or crushed sea shells which proved resistant to future fires. The bell tower was fashioned in a Spanish mission style but on a grander scale. One of these four bells dates back further than any other in the United States. The church was extensively renovated in 1966.

38 Cathedral Pl, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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17 Stained Glass Window Inside Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Florida

Augustine of Hippo, who is the patron saint of theologians and the namesake for this city in Florida, was born in 354 AD. His feast day is August 28, the anniversary of when he died in 430. This stained glass window inside Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine shows him sitting beside his mother. St. Monica is the patron saint of married women and mothers. This is just one of several beautiful pieces of art that adorn “America’s Oldest Parish.”

38 Cathedral Pl, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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18 Treasury on the Plaza in St. Augustine, Florida

When this Mediterranean Revival style building opened in 1928 as the First National Bank, it was St. Augustine’s first high-rise and a proud symbol of Florida’s roaring land boom during the 1920s. Over the years it became the Exchange Bank, The Atlantic Bank and Espinoza-Sanchez. In 2014 it was renovated and renamed the Treasury on the Plaza. It’s enormous and opulent Grande Ballroom is now a venue for wedding receptions and special events. The former 18-inch steel bank vault is used as a service bar.

24 Cathedral Pl #111, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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19 Government House History Museum in St. Augustine, Florida

As the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine is blessed with numerous museums and historic attractions so the Government House is often overlooked. This was the governor’s residence from 1710 until 1821. Today it is a history museum managed by the University of Florida. Their exhibit is appropriately called “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins” because it tells the story of the area’s earliest settlers in the 16th century until the 1800s. It is located in the Plaza de la Constitución in the center of town.

48 Cathedral Pl, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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20 Oldest House in Old City of St. Augustine, Florida

Spanish settlers first lived on this site dating back to the 1600s. Tomas González Hernandez built this Spanish Colonial home in the early 1700s when the area was still under Spanish rule. Over time it became known as the González-Alvarez House. The last owner, George Reddington, sold it to the St. Augustine Historical Society in 1918. This National Historic Landmark is now part of the Oldest House Museum Complex.

271 Charlotte St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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21 Franciscan with Indian Boy Statue in Old City of St. Augustine, Florida

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish explorers in 1513, there were more than 100,000 Timucua American Indians living in the area now known as northern Florida. Although many of the Spaniards were brutal to the native people, others established missions among the Timucan chiefdoms starting in 1565. In tribute to those early missionaries, this statue of a Franciscan monk with his arm around the shoulder of a young boy was erected in the Oldest House Garden.

271 Charlotte St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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22 Ponce de León Statue Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida

Ponce de León was a Spanish explorer who first sailed with Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1493. Twenty years later he led three ships to find and explore the islands of Bimini. When he arrived, he named it La Florida after the Spanish Festival of Flowers. Many historians believe his landing occurred at St. Augustine. Legend also suggests he sought the Fountain of Youth. This statue of the conquistador wearing an etched comb morion and holding a single-headed battle axe greets you at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.

11 Magnolia Ave, St. Augustine, FL 32084
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