A collision of history and travel memories in St. Augustine, Florida

View of Fort Matanzas from above, Creative Commons

When I first started writing this post, I kept going back and forth on how to present it properly. I wanted to tell you my favorite spots in St. Augustine, Florida- tourist spots that are on numerous “must-see” lists, but also give you my locals only perspective as to why they are, rightly so, on such lists.  As I kept writing and deleting and rewriting, I noticed that instead of writing about the history of the sites, my own memories and history with this beloved city kept flooding in. Does this ever happen to you? Have you ever known a city so well, maybe even your own hometown in which you know every street corner, that it’s hard to tell someone about the place without recalling your own great memories?

Old city gates by Yakin669 (Creative Commons)

It’s that collision that makes every scrapbook, Flickr album, and blog come to life for me. These types of posts end up being a mashup of stories and history from years gone by interlaced with personal memories that are still living and breathing.

So, without further ado- Here’s a little history on St. Augustine and a few travel memories, too:

View from above, Creative Commons

History: Besides Ponce de Leon and the Spanish, St. Augustine was inhabited by a wide variety of people- including the local Indians, French, Napoleon’s nephew (heir to his throne), and even Ralph Waldo Emerson. The latter two both coming down to St. Augustine because they had heard how great the weather was for Tuberculous and other respiratory problems. Emerson was quoted saying, “a queer place…full of ruins, chimney-less houses, (and) lazy people”, but adding “the air and sky of this ancient, fortified, dilapidated sandbank of a town are delicious”.  Somehow through all the negative comments, it’s apparent that Emerson enjoyed living in St. Augustine.

Having grown up near St. Augustine, I think the historical facts add so much charm to this seaside community.  Here today, you can still walk the streets of a city from an era long gone, climb the walls of a fort that once fought off the French and English, walk into a lighthouse that steered so many ships safely to land, and visit a gorgeous college campus that was once a very exclusive hotel. For me though, these five places bring back very different moments and time periods of my life.

The Fort: Castillo de San Marcos- the oldest masonry fort in the U.S., was the first “castle” I ever saw in real life.  I was on a 3rd grade field trip and the idea of a fort with a moat and pirate history (wait- they shot canon balls and fought off pirates!!!!- Are you kidding me?) was magical. I’m sure this is every kid’s dream come true- at least every kid who grew up watching Disney movies. Today, the cocina shelled fort looks weathered and gray, but it actually remains quite strong and stands just like it always has, outlasting attacks by different countries and hurricanes.  Any visitor here will get to discover secret rooms, a draw bridge, and special reenactments throughout the day, complete with Spanish translations.

Reenactments

St. George Street: The ‘main street’ in St. Augustine sells everything from chocolates and wine to vintage clothes and antiques.  Peppering the street, there are several bars and restaurants able to satisfy whatever your taste buds desire.  Also on this street are several tourist attractions, like the Oldest School House in the US and street performers.

I love getting together and taking a long walk down St. George Street, and, while I have seen all the different sights of St. George Street, mostly what I remember is meeting friends on this street during college breaks. Several of my best friends went to different colleges all across the U.S. and sometimes Christmas break was the only time of year I might see them. It might seem so touristy to some people, but to me it reminds me of friendship and love.

The Lighthouse: Built in 1874, the lighthouse is another top tourist spot not too far from St. George Street. If you like lighthouses, this one is especially beautiful set right along the water with the highest view of downtown St. Augustine providing great views of the city and the beaches.  The lighthouse offers tours throughout the day, for anyone willing to climb to the top.  Also, they have special sunset climbs to the top of the Lighthouse the best spot for a perfect sunset photo (and they give you a champagne toast)!

Even though I have driven by the lighthouse more times than I can count, my first visit up inside was this past Christmas with my mom. Well, actually- she didn’t come up because we brought our dog, so she stayed down with him and I walked the 219 steps in 5 inch heels by myself. (I didn’t realize I was going to go inside- very poor planning on my part!) As I was climbing to the top, I realized that I was really happy. That might sound sappy, but I really enjoy pushing myself and exploring. The view from up there is stunning, especially on a really clear day.  Not only could I see my Mom and my dog but I could see all the way to the ocean.

The spiral staircase in the Lighthouse

The Fountain of Youth: This place has a really fascinating history. Ponce de Leon had heard about a mysterious fountain but didn’t know where exactly it was located. During his search, he found Florida and settled in St. Augustine for awhile. There is no clear evidence that he ever found The Fountain of Youth, but in 1904, a woman by the name of “Diamond Lil” created the tourist attraction on the spot where it is said Ponce de Leon first landed. She spread wild stories to residents and tourist until her death in the early 1920′s but even after people kept coming and drinking from this fountain. (You can still drink from it today.)

Whatever you believe about this special fountain, I fondly remember the land that this tourist attraction is built on. It’s a huge property right on the inter-coastal waterway with views stretching from downtown St. Augustine all the way to Vilano Beach to the North. A few years ago, I went home to visit my family around 4th of July. We didn’t have any plans to watch the fireworks until some friends told us that they were watching them at The Fountain of Youth. We brought beach chairs, sweatshirts and drinks, and about 20 or so people lined up to watch the fireworks from our private spot near the Fountain of Youth. It was the best 4th of July I’ve ever had, something truly special with my parents and the location.

View from the Lighthouse

Have you ever been to St. Augustine? Do you have history and travel memory collisions?

Jade Broadus is a spunky girl hailing from Jacksonville, Florida. She’s addicted to traveling and has a strange obsession with maps and globes. A lover of dogs, fashion, fish tacos, marine biology, and college football, she has a broad range of interests. Jade has a strong passion for the film “Love, Actually” and has watched it 176 times. Her interests include singing really loud, impromptu dances, shopping, and dressing up in cute dresses and extravagant hats. She has written for Gadling, AOL Travel, Discover Los Angeles, LACOT, LandLopers and Spunky Girl Monologues.

12 Comments

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Jim Brandano

    We have just moved to Florida and have been to St Augustine twice to photograph the birds at the Alligator Farm. ( I have written about it on my blog http://jpweddingphotograpy.blogspot.com/2011/05/ when-youre-64.htmlI ) really love the city and we are planning on coming back to see and photograph other parts of it. Really like Harrys always interesting food and music. I agree that mixing facts and your own personal stories brings the blog alive.
    You might want to think about listing your blog on networked blogs and get more people to read it. Thanks for the facts and the stories

    http://jpweddingphotograpy.blogspot.com/2011/05/when-youre-64.html

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Cathy Sweeney

    I’ve always loved the history of St. Augustine, yet I’ve never been there despite many trips to Florida! I particularly want to visit the Fountain of Youth :-) Nice to get your take on the sites in a place you know so well.

    • Reply May 26, 2011

      jade

      Thanks, Cathy. Well, if you ever do make it there, let me know and I’ll point in all the right places!

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Jeremy Branham

    Isn’t St Augustine also the home of the World Golf Hall of Fame?

    • Reply May 26, 2011

      jade

      Yeah, The World Golf Village isn’t too far from my parents house. And, there’s TPC in Ponte Vedra, too.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Michael Figueiredo

    I would travel all the way to St. Augustine just to take a photo under that “Fountain of Youth” sign! :)

    • Reply May 26, 2011

      jade

      Yeah, it lives up to the hype- it’s a pretty cool place.

  • Reply May 26, 2011

    inka

    Can’t wait to get back to Miami in Decmber and explore more of the marvels of Florida. I’ll give you a shout, jade, ok? And, yes, I totally agree: what makes a good blog post is the combination of personal experiences and memoreis with the actual description of the place. That’s what distinguishes travel writing from guide books.

  • Reply May 26, 2011

    Norbert

    I love historical places like these. This reminded me so much of Castillo del Morro in San Juan. It has a “similar” history since it was built under the spanish influence and Juan Ponce de Leon also played a big role in San Juan (BTW, named after Juan Ponce de Leon)

  • Reply May 26, 2011

    adventureswithben

    St. Augustine is a great getaway from Orlando. Love going up there every once in a while.

  • Reply July 23, 2012

    Ed

    The photograph labelled fort matanzas is not fort matanzas, which is about 10km south of the city and much smaller.

  • Reply December 9, 2013

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