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Founded back in September 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain, St. Augustine is the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States. It is easy to see why Menendez chose this place to colonize. With it’s white sandy beaches, green palm trees and warm climate, I’m sure it had to remind him of home. If you are spending a weekend in St. Augustine, you will have plenty to keep you busy.
With its rich history, you will want to explore all this city has to offer. The key to seeing everything you want to see in St. Augustine is careful planning. We would suggest you spend your first day at the Anastasia State Park and at the St. Augustine Lighthouse. For the second two days, take the Old Town Trolley Tour to explore some of the historic sites. No matter what you decide to do, there is no better choice than to spend a weekend in St. Augustine.
How to Spend your Weekend in St. Augustine: DAY ONE
Day at the Beach
You really can’t go wrong visiting any of the beaches in St. John’s county. You will find them white, deep and relaxing. Depending on which beach you choose to hit, you might be able to drive and park directly on the beach. The key is to ONLY do this if you have a 4-Wheel Drive Vehicle.
Probably the most scenic beach is in Anastasia State Park. This beach has more than just white sandy beaches. It has many different types of native birds, turtles, and other wildlife. You can walk the nature trails that wind through the dunes. While you can’t drive on the beaches here, you can do water sports as there is an onsite rental shop for canoes, sailboards, paddleboards, and kayaks.
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
The Lighthouse in St. Augustine is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Florida. Built in 1871, the current lighthouse has been renovated to it’s near original state. Visitors can climb 219 steps up a spiral staircase to get a breathtaking view of St. Augustine and what once was the original port in Florida.
Across from the lighthouse is the light keepers house. Inside, you will find exhibits, artifacts and information on the life of a lighthouse keeper.
This is a great spot for families visiting the area. Kids can take part in the Maritime Hammock Scavenger Hunt where they can search for animals that live in this coastal habitat, medicinal plants and other natural elements in the natural area of the historic site.
How to Spend your Weekend in St. Augustine: DAY TWO & THREE
Old Town Trolley Tour
One of the best ways to see St. Augustine is through the Old Town Trolley Tour. This tour allows you to hop on & off at whatever sites you choose while entertaining you will facts and history during your drive. When we decided we’d only have a weekend in St. Augustine Florida, we knew the trolley tour would be the best way to go. There are 22 stops on the Trolley Tour, but we chose the ones that we thought were our favorites.
The Trolley Tour Stops We Chose During our Weekend in St. Augustine
The Old Jail is located at Old Town, along with the The Oldest Store Museum and is a great place to start your Trolley Tour. This historic jail served the city of St. Augustine from 1891-1953. Take a guided tour of the jail and learn about Flagler, the inmates and what life was like behind bars.
You’ll also see the gallows, from which many criminals were hanged.
The Oldest Store Museum
Wondering what it was like to go shopping back in the dawn of the 20th century? Inside the Oldest Store you will find state-of-the-art appliances, inventions, and just the normal things people might purchase in the year 1900.
Castillo de San Marcos
This National Monument is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. It was built by the Spanish to protect and defend their claims in the New World. Wander around the fort and check out the many exhibitions. There are always re-enactors in period dress around the fort. You’ll find them demonstrating and explaining historical weaponry and discussing what life was like for the colonists who lived there.
The Old Senator
“Old Senator” is a 600 year old Oak Tree that sits in the parking lot of the Howard Johnson hotel. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the people of St. Augustine take this tree seriously. There is a seating area underneath it and you will appreciate it a bit more if you see it in person. It is truly a beautiful tree with it’s hanging Spanish moss and you can only imagine all that it has seen in it’s 600 years!
Mission of Nombre de Dios
When Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed and proclaimed this site for Spain and the Church, he named it Nombre de Dios, meaning Name of God. He put Father Lopez in charge of the mission, making him the first parish priest in St. Augustine . Along with several archeological sites, you will find the following:
- Prince of Peace Church
- Father Lopez Statue built by Dr. Ivan MestrovicT
- The Great Cross
- Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine
- Chapel of Our Lady of La Leche
- Our Lady of La Leche Shrine
- Rustic Altar
Fountain of Youth
Certainly, you have heard of the fountain of youth. When Ponce de Leon arrived here is 1513, he believed that he found the secret to eternal youth. Not only will you find the spring from which he once drank, but also a 16th century European settlement.
The Spring House at Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is a beautiful 60-year old coquina building that encompasses the original natural spring that was recorded in a seventeenth century Spanish land grant. It is no wonder why Ponce de Leon thought the water was magical; it contains over 30 minerals.
Wondering how the navigator’s found their way to Florida? Venture in the Navigators’ Planetarium. Here you will learn about ancient techniques in navigation and be able to see what the night sky looked like back on April 2, 1513, the night before Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the shores of Florida.
Back before their were lighthouse and fortifications, there were watch towers. You’ll find Spanish Watchtowers along the coast line just as they would have been in 1565 when Pedro Menedez landed here.
When Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed here on September 8, 1565, he brought 20 artillery pieces to protect the european settlement. You will find a replica of a six-pounder gun cannon and reinactments on how they were used. If you have small children, prepare them for the loud sounds they will experience when the cannon is charged.
The landscape of this facility is amazing. There is plenty of natural spaces to explore and you should be surprised if you stumble upon a Peacock.
If you aren’t too exhausted from all the walking during your days spent roaming about the sites in St. Augustine, consider taking a Ghost Tour at night. It is another great way to hear about the history of the city and you’ll learn some of the scarier aspects!
Have you had a chance to visit St. Augustine? Do you have any tips for those spending a weekend in St. Augustine?