By Samantha Crespo
Set your itinerary on a historical pace by starting with Spanish-period sights. After an introduction to the Old City’s Native American and Spanish foundation at Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, glance skyward and follow the cross to Mission Nombre de Dios.
Then, stroll a few blocks south and pass through the Old City Gates to the Colonial Spanish Quarter. This living history museum offers a Colonial History Package that allows visiting history buffs to experience the Quarter; view Struggle to Survive, a film dramatizing the first 14 years of life in St. Augustine; and tour the Government House Museum, where Spanish governors once administered the colony of La Florida and current exhibits illuminate the city’s cultural past.
Nearby, see the city’s center (circa 1600) at the Plaza de la Constitucion. To the north of the Plaza, revere Cathedral-Basilica, home of the oldest Catholic parish in the U.S. The structure dates to 1797, but holds records of parishioners as early as 1594.
History lovers may wish to devote an entire day to exploring The Oldest House Museum Complex. Owned and operated by the St. Augustine Historical Society, the complex includes the González-Alvarez House; the Manucy Museum; the 1740s-era Tovar House, where military history exhibits reside; the Page L. Edwards Gallery, which displays exhibits from the Historical Society’s collections as well as traveling collections; and the Oldest House Garden, where plants that would have been cultivated by Spanish, British and American colonists continue to flourish. Your admission ticket allows entry into all of the complex’s attractions.
Stop at the Spanish Military Hospital, where a reconstructed hospital, including an apothecary and ward, mark the site of a military medical facility that operated during the second Spanish period. Near the Old City Gates, The Oldest Wooden School House marks another second Spanish-period gem. Pay particular attention to the school’s 200-year-old construction incorporating red cedar, cypress and handmade nails.
Behold the British
Hit the battleground running at Castillo de San Marcos and the Fort Matanzas National Monument. Located within St. Augustine’s historic downtown, the Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest remaining European fort in the continental U.S. Call ahead to catch a cannon firing demonstration or one of many heritage events during your visit. About 15 miles south on A1A, you’ll find Fort Matanzas. A boat will ferry you to the Fort that was completed in 1742 to guard Matanzas Inlet and its Spanish settlers from the British.
Back in the Old City limits, tour Old St. Augustine Village. Seven of the Village’s homes and its general store were built between the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the Prince Murat House was raised around 1790 through typical coquina construction and is one of the oldest surviving colonial structures in St. Augustine.
When night falls, board "The Trolley of the Doomed" for a Ghosts and Gravestones Tour that includes a visit to Tolomato Cemetery. The site housed a Christian Indian village during the first Spanish period; was abandoned upon British occupation; then came into use as a cemetery when the Spanish reclaimed St. Augustine.
Aside from its attractions, St. Augustine hosts several events throughout the year in honor of its colonial heritage: a day of celebration on the Plaza marks the city’s birthday each September; a Colonial Arts Festival occurs in October; and December’s "Grande Illumination" entertains with tea, colonial music and dancing before participants carry candles along the route of the British Night Watch Parade through the Old City.