Since we moved to Florida a decade ago, exploring historic St Augustine has been on our ‘we should do this’ list. We had heard great things about this old city and its history. And much like nearly everyone else, we knew St Augustine and Fountain of Youth!
So, we added it to our Southern Road Trip, before heading home.
Pizza Before History!
It was a bit dreary, grey, and raining when we set off to explore the historic district of St. Augustine. So, we parked, walked a bit, and grabbed some lunch, hoping for the skies to clear.
And since we just celebrated National Pizza Day, we skipped ahead in our blog and talked about lunch at St. Augustine’s Pizza Time, touted as the ‘2nd best pizza in the United States.’
Castillo de San Marcos
We took a quick walk around the historic Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in the morning.
The construction for this fort began in 1672 to replace the deteriorating wooden structure. A local stone, known as coquina, formed by a compressed shell, built a fort that still stands today.
The fort built by the Spanish defended La Florida and the Atlantic trade route.
Old St. Augustine
The historic downtown is the oldest part of the city. Many buildings date back to the 1700s, with many streets older than the buildings. It’s very walkable with several pedestrian-only walkways.
You’ll find a cemetery and the city gate at one end of the city. The gate was built into the walled city to allow access by day and safety by night.
Beyond the gate, you enter into a unique mix of interesting old buildings, restaurants, boutiques, and bars. You move from the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the U.S.A. to the Shopaholics Outlet and Panama Hat Company.
St. Photios National Greek Shrine
Along St. George Street, sandwiched between the 18th Century Spanish-inspired tavern and a Spanish colonial life museum, is the St. Photios National Greek Shrine.
The shrine is the first national shrine of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America and a memorial to the first Greek Orthodox pioneers who arrived in the new world in 1768 and all those who followed.
It was interesting to find this tranquil space filled with Byzantine iconography in the middle of a historic colonial Spanish city and contemporary business district. The artwork is magnificent, and the history is fascinating; it’s definitely worth the visit.
The Hispanic Garden
A few blocks down St. George Street with found a beautiful garden. The Hispanic Garden, also known as Queen Isabella Garden, has an exciting but somewhat controversial story.
Created in 1965, it was designed for the 400th anniversary of Spain to commemorate Spain’s link with her colonies.
It was spearheaded by the only woman member of the St Augustine Preservation Board, Elizabeth Towers. The garden design with its Spanish flavor was designed by the only two women landscape architects in Florida at the time. Renowned artist Anna Hyatt Huntington designed the bronze statue of Queen Isabella on a horse.
At some time in its history, the gardens, which were open and approachable to the public, became home to musicians and artists. But, after removing the artists, and subsequent protests that followed the removal of the artists, the gardens were redesigned with high walls to keep people out.
Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine
Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine
38 Cathedral Place
St. Augustine, FL 32084
At the far end of St. George Street sits the iconic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. The congregation, established in 1565, is the oldest Christian congregation in the continental United States. Earning it the name ‘America’s First Parish.’
The cathedral, built in 1797, is a mix of Spanish Colonial and Renaissance Revival styles of architecture.
The architecture and religious artwork inside the cathedral are spectacular. We were fortunate when we arrived, it was very quiet, and we could spend some time and relax and enjoy the sanctuary.
And That’s Just St. George Street!
All in all, we enjoyed the historical aspects of old St. Augustine. Truthfully, we could have lived without a lot of more touristy shops.
We wish we had more time to explore places like the Pirate and Treasure Museum, the Shipwreck Museum, or the Colonial Quarter. With some COVID restrictions still in place and just before the Nights of Lights, it was pretty quiet, and a few places were closed.
But, there’s lots more of St. Augustine to explore!