St Augustine, Florida: Old World Charm in the New World

Robert Ramstetter By Robert Ramstetter, 25th Oct 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>North America>United States>Florida

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. Its rich history and abundant attractions allows the visitor to step back in time. See everything from an old Spanish fort to an unspoiled beach that stretches for miles.

European Flavor in America

Have you ever wanted to explore some of Europe's historic cities? Does the thought of walking ancient, narrow cobblestone streets pique your interest? Is your idea of Europe include visiting fortresses built to defend the town against cannon attack from pirate ships and invading armies? Does the high cost of visiting such exotic places prohibit you from enjoying them? Fortunately, there is a place right here in sunny Florida where you can experience such wonders. Welcome to St. Augustine, founded in 1565 and America's oldest city.

Castillo de San Marcos

Whether you are a first time visitor, or you are returning for the thirtieth time, a trip to St. Augustine would not be compete without a visit to the Castillo De San Marcos, dubbed "The Old Fort". Built out of coquina, a local rock made of tiny shells compressed into stone eons ago, the fort's four foot thick walls were designed to withstand cannon attacks by sea and an army of invaders by land. Due to the strategic location of St. Augustine, the early fort had to withstand even the most brutal attacks of the time. Whether it was because of its impenetrable design, or just plain luck, the city never experienced any serious invasion.
Visitors to the Old Fort can meander through its many tunnels and corridorqs, visit the powder room, infirmary, and sleeping quarters. Any of these moss-covered chambers could be mistaken as a dungeon to the uninformed visitor. Each room, however, is marked with a sign explaining its particular use. For those who want a more detailed explanation of the various chambers and passageways, guided tours are available at specified times throughout the day.

The Old City

Virtually everything in St. Augustine is named "Old This", or "Old That." With so much to see and do, it is prudent to visit those places that pique your interest. A little homework ahead of time can help differentiate what a particular visitor would consider worthwhile, vs. those attractions that one would consider a tourist trap.
The "Old City" is the section of original and restored buildings from the colonial period. Among these is the "Oldest Schoolhouse". The interior of this structure is able to be viewed from the doorway. Visitors are no longer able to enter, however. Large chains from an old sailing vessel have been added to the exterior of the wooden building to help shore it up. This is a must-see, because each visit could be the last. Even though it has weathered some fierce hurricanes, it seems as though the building cannot take much more. You never know, though, because it would not be surprising if it stands another two hundred years either.
The narrow cobblestone streets of the Old City are closed to vehicular traffic, which makes it safe and pleasant to meander about. The visitor will find almost anything from candy shops, cigar making demonstrations, candle shops, and just about anything else. Of particular interest is the St. Photios Greek Orthodox shrine. Not only does it present an interesting history of the Greek migrants to the New Smyrna Beach area over a hundred years ago, its air condition provides the summer visitor relief from the oppressive summer heat.
Outside of the Old City, there is also plenty to do. Some of the noteworthy attractions include The Old Jail, Alligator Farm, and Ripley's Museum. As anyone who has ever visited St. Augustine in the middle of summer can tell you, the temperature and humidity climb steadily upward as the morning approaches noon. By lunch time, the heat can be so oppressive that it makes it extremely unpleasant to explore the sights. Fortunately, this is the perfect time to relax and cool off in the Atlantic Ocean. St. Augustine Beach is directly adjacent to the Old City. Just follow the signs to South A1A and you will drive along a most scenic stretch of the ocean.

St. Augustine Beach

If you are looking for one of the great unspoiled stretches of the Atlantic, make sure you plan a stop at Anastasia State Park. With plenty of parking and several miles of unspoiled, lifeguarded beach, it is the perfect way to relax and enjoy the afternoon. The warm, gentle surf and hard packed sand is reminiscent of nearby Daytona Beach, but without the crowds.
Back in the early 70s, a nearby jetty was built to protect the inlet. Just about that time, motels began springing up past Anastasia Island State Park. Unknown to the civil engineers at the time, this jetty proved to have unintended consequences. The natural currents that had shaped the St. Augustine Beach shoreline for eons were suddenly altered. Erosion had rapidly depleted the beach in front of the newly built motels. The northerly currents carried the sand away and deposited it at the mouth of the jetty, causing Anastasia State Park to suddenly expand seaward.

A Changing Shoreline

When I was very young, we were on our way to Daytona Beach for our annual family vacation. We would always take the exit for St. Augustine and drive the remaining distance over A1A. At one point, we discovered this little park, which is now Anastasia State Park. There was a small playground right on the beach. I remember it well because, as a young kid, I was fascinated by a large amount of sand crabs that inhabited the area. Each time the water washed over the sand, it would cover the crabs' holes. As soon as the water retreated, thousands of sand crabs would emerge from the sand and scurry about until the next wave came a few seconds later. The next year, on our trip to Daytona, I could not wait to see the sand crabs again.
As I said, just one year later, we returned. The playground was still there. However, by now, so much sand had been deposited by the newly-routed current that the ocean was no longer visible. The beachside motels had a giant concrete wall constructed to prevent them from washing into the ocean. What had once been a small roadside stop was now a very large park.
About ten years ago, a beach replacement project was begun for the former beachside motels. Sand was pumped onto the shore from out in the ocean at a pretty hefty price. The motels adjacent to the state park once again, after forty years, were beachfront property. This lasted until hurricane season that year. Even though the beach was replaced, the underlying reason that it eroded in the first place was never addressed. One year after the beach restoration project, it looked pretty much the same as it had before the ill fated endeavor was ever started. So, if you want to enjoy the beach at St. Augustine Beach, Anastasia State Park remains your best bet.
St. Augustine had something that is sure to please just about anybody. Whether you seek historical places or fun in the sun, or endless tourist attractions, you can find it there.

See also:
Daytona Beach, World's Most Famous
Panama City Beach, How Progress has Destroyed Paradise

Photo credits:
Old Fort: Doug Kerr,
Schoolhouse: Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0
Beach: Dave Winer,


Beach, History, Oldest City, St Augustine

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author avatar Robert Ramstetter
Robert Ramstetter is a world traveler and writer of short stories, full length novels, and a vast array of technical articles.

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author avatar Carol Roach
8th Feb 2015 (#)

great article, I wish I could visit a beach it has been about 20 years since I have been to one.

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author avatar Robert Ramstetter
9th Feb 2015 (#)

I love the beach too. Thanks for the comment.

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