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11 Best Historic Sites in St. Augustine, Florida

Nowhere in Florida is history as celebrated as it is in St. Augustine, America’s oldest city where you’ll find a charming mix of centuries-old buildings, horse-drawn carriages, and a brick-lined pedestrian thoroughfare. Boasting more than 450 years of rich history, St. Augustine’s European flavor and the quaint collection of shops, restaurants, and historic landmarks lures travelers in time and time again. From the Oldest Wooden School House to an archaeological park and the coquina walls of its forts,  here are some of the most popular historic sites in St. Augustine.

Colonial Quarter St. George Street in St. Augustine
Credit: St. George Street in St. Augustine by © Sean Pavone | Dreamstime.com

Colonial Quarter

What Is It? Located in historic Downtown St. Augustine, the Colonial Quarter is a delight for the senses.

Why Do It? Capturing the city’s rich heritage and storied past, here you can walk the streets and get a glimpse of what life was like in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

Good to Know: There are four areas to explore, 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. You’ll see the construction of a ship, cannon firing demonstrations, and musket drills.  

Fountain of Youth The Fountain of Youth
Credit: The Fountain of Youth by Chuck Coker via Flickr

Fountain of Youth

What Is It? A 60-year-old coquina building that encompasses Ponce de Leon’s Spring of Eternal Hope, the Fountain of Youth archeological park was first explored in 1513.

Why Do It? The guestbooks here stretch back to 1868, and its 15 waterfront acres offer an array of attractions to explore, including a park, planetarium, a blacksmith shop, and replica Timucua village.

Good to Know: Admire the local peacock residents, watch the cannon firings, and make sure to sample some of the special water, as it’s believed that it has anti-aging properties for anyone who drinks it.

Castillo De San Marcos Castillo de San Marcos
Credit: Castillo de San Marcos by bigstock.com

Castillo De San Marcos

What Is It? Currently the oldest masonry structure of its kind in the United States, Castillo de San Marcos is a fun place to explore.

Why Do It? This masonry fort in St. Augustine was constructed in 1672 by a Spanish engineer when Florida was a part of the Spanish Empire. Declared a National Monument in 1924, this fort was once used as a military prison for Native American tribes.

Good to Know: Take some time to wander around the magnificent structure and soak up the views that overlook the sea on the St. Augustine coast.

Lightner Museum Lightner Museum
Credit: Lightner Museum by Lightner Museum

Lightner Museum

What Is It? Housed in the former Alcazar Hotel that dates back to 1888, the Lightner Museum showcases an impressive collection of 19th-century art that includes Tiffany & Co. glass and Victorian-era antiques.

Why Do It? The museum also features unconventional items, as you can walk through this architectural masterpiece to discover an eccentric collection of shrunken heads, salt and pepper shakers, and cigar labels.

Good to Know: Like taking a step back in time, you can admire costumes, furnishings, mechanical musical instruments, and paintings from around the world.

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum St. Augustine, Florida, USA at the St. Augustine Light.house
Credit: St. Augustine, Florida, USA at the St. Augustine Light.house by Sean Pavone/shutterstock.com

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

What Is It? Both kids and adults will enjoy an afternoon exploring the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, as it’s home to fascinating shipwreck artifacts, a wooden boat building exhibit, and a 165-foot-tall lighthouse that you can climb.

Why Do It? Built between 1871 and 1874, it is the oldest surviving brick structure in St. Augustine.

Good to Know: Said to be haunted by former lighthouse keepers, brave adventurers can climb 219 steps and admire the sights, as you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Salt Run lagoon and St. Augustine.

Oldest Wooden School House Oldest Wooden School House, St. Augustine
Credit: Oldest Wooden School House, St. Augustine by Bob via Flickr

Oldest Wooden School House

What Is It? Made completely by hand, the Oldest Wooden School House is a fascinating historic structure and architectural feat.

Why Do It? It was the first co-ed school that educated both boys and girls in 1788. This 200-year-old building offers a glimpse of what life was like in that time period, as it originally had no electricity, running water or even a bathroom. Built when Florida was under the rule of Imperial Spain, it is made of cedar and cypress, put together by handmade nails.

Good to Know: You can listen to the animated schoolmaster and purchase handmade souvenirs in the on-site gift shop.

The Old Jail The Old Jail, St. Augustine
Credit: The Old Jail, St. Augustine by Jared via Flickr

The Old Jail

What Is It? Opened in 1891, the Old Jail served as the St. Johns County Jail until 1953. Financed by Henry Flagler, this iconic landmark was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Why Do It? Now a museum that showcases fascinating artifacts, come here to browse a collection of weaponry and pictorial history of the hangings that were carried out at the jail.

Good to Know: Its Romanesque Revival-style architecture will capture your attention, while tour guides in period costumes paint the picture of the conditions prisoners encountered in the jail.

Fort Matanzas National Monument Fort Matanzas National Monument
Credit: Fort Matanzas National Monument by Rain0975 via Flickr

Fort Matanzas National Monument

What Is It? Built in 1742, the iconic Fort Matanzas National Monument can only be reached by ferry.

Why Do It? Used to defend the city of St. Augustine from British attack, it is a remnant of Florida’s Spanish past. Made of coquina, it is composed of shell fragments that are cemented together by the pounding surf upon the beach.

Good to Know: You’ll regularly find reenactments that living history demonstrations here, detailing the history of the fort to visitors.

Villa Zorayda Museum Villa Zorayda Museum, St. Augustine
Credit: Villa Zorayda Museum, St. Augustine by Villa Zorayda Museum

Villa Zorayda Museum

What Is It? An architectural masterpiece built as a winter residence for Franklin Smith in 1883, the Villa Zorayda Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Why Do It? It began the Moorish Spanish revival of architecture you see in St. Augustine today, as this grand Gilded Age home is built 1/10th the scale of the Moorish castle, the Alhambra Palace in Spain.

Good to Know: Featuring a colorful collection of fine art, you’ll find paintings, 17th-century furniture, and a 2,400-year-old rug that was taken from one of the pyramids in Egypt.

Spanish Military Hospital Museum Spanish Military Hospital Museum, St. Augustine
Credit: Spanish Military Hospital Museum, St. Augustine by Dan Lundberg via Flickr

Spanish Military Hospital Museum

What Is It? A unique glimpse of historic medical practices and procedures, the Spanish Military Hospital Museum gives visitors a chance to feel like they’ve traveled back to the Colonial Spanish Period of St. Augustine.

Why Do It? You can watch “cutting edge” colonial surgery techniques performed by the museum staff, while the Apothecary displays herbs that were used as medicine.

Good to Know: You’ll see what life was like as a doctor or patient in 1791 and browse a collection of antique surgical instruments.

Memorial Presbyterian Church Memorial Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine
Credit: Memorial Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine by wikimedia.org

Memorial Presbyterian Church

What Is It? Built by Henry Flagler, the Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine dates back to 1889.

Why Do It? He built the church to honor his late daughter, Jenny, and it’s Venetian Renaissance-style architecture is a sight to behold. You’ll discover an array of ornate details, including a collection of intricate terracotta friezes built by Italian artists.

Good to Know: Sit back and admire the massive copper dome and hand-carved Santo Domino mahogany, as this beautiful landmark has been referred to as one of the religious wonders of the United States.

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