By  Mike Miller   Updated December 24, 2021

St. Augustine, Florida Things To Do, Lodging, Dining, & Real Estate At End Of Article

St Augustine, Florida is the closest thing to an authentic history lesson in the entire state;  maybe even the entire country. 

You will be walking among ancient functioning buildings, some of them dating back to the the city's founding in 1565, more than 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

St Augustine Downtown View to SouthSt Augustine Downtown View to South

Many of the weathered buildings and forts that were a major part of St Augustine history are still in daily use by residents and visitors alike.

St Augustine Panorama ViewPanoramic View of St. Augustine From Lighthouse
Wikimedia Commons, Mike Raker

This history of the city still lives and breathes and you can almost feel the ghosts of ancient Spaniards keeping a benevolent eye on you.

Flagler Memorial Presbyterian ChurchFlagler Memorial Presbyterian Church


The history of St Augustine, Florida can be traced back to 1493. Juan Ponce de Leon was a shipmate of Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World.  

He came back to Florida with his own expedition in 1513, and claimed the land - most of North America - for Spain. He named it "Florida the Great Country of North America."

The French also tried to claim this land, but failed.

Pedro Menendez de Aviles came to the area in 1565 from Spain with all the materials and people to establish a city. The official history of St Augustine began with its founding on September 8, 1565.

One hundred years later, English pirates killed most of St. Augustine's residents. After that massacre, the Spanish built the Castillo de San Marcos.

Vintage Postcard Tourists at Castillo San MarcosVintage Postcard Tourists at Castillo San Marcos

St Augustine, Florida history includes a role in the American Revolutionary War. The Ancient City became an important British military center and supply depot.

St Augustine has survived under the Spanish, British, American and Confederate flags. It was a Union town after 1862 until the end of the Civil War.


Some of the earliest settlers in modern St Augustine were Minorcans. Minorca and Majorca are the Balearic Islands located in the Mediterranean Sea and belong to Spain.

They had been brought from Minorca to New Smyrna Beach, 74 miles south of St. Augustine, in 1768 by Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician.

Dr. Turnbull thought these hardy people would be able to withstand the brutal Florida climate and conditions. His idea was to form a colony and develop a plantation.  

Life was miserable among the alligators, snakes and mosquitoes in the mangrove swamps around New Smyrna.

The colonists were very unhappy and believed Dr. Turnbull had made false promises and not lived up to his bargain with them.

More than 900 of the 1400 Minorcans died during the ten years of the New Smyrna venture.

The distraught colonists began to hear about St Augustine, and many of them decided to move up there.

During May and June of 1777 most of the colonists migrated to St Augustine and by 17 July 1777 Turnbull's attorneys had set all the colonists free.

Many of the descendants of these early Minorcan colonists still live in the St. Augustine area.

Some of the family names that you will see in the phone book and on local businesses include Acosta, Manucy, Pellicer, Pacetti, Ponce and Canova.

In the years after the Civil War, and through the development sparked by Henry Flagler, St Augustine remained in many ways a typical small southern town.  


The modern history of St Augustine Florida began in the mid 1880's when Henry Flagler came to town. He built the Hotel Ponce de Leon and the Hotel Alacazar.  

The hotel is now the campus of Flagler College, which was founded in 1968.

Flagler College, St. AugustineFlagler College, St. Augustine

St. Augustine became the base for Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway. 

The distinctive three towers of its headquarters have been a St. Augustine landmark for years, and is the first thing you see when entering the old part of town from King Street.

Florida East Coast Railway Offices, St. AugustineFlorida East Coast Railway Offices, St. Augustine

This railroad expanded down Florida's east coast and had more to do with developing and populating the state than anything else.

Vintage Postcard St. Augustine, FloridaVintage Postcard St. Augustine, Florida

In the years after the Civil War, and through the development sparked by Henry Flagler, St Augustine remained in many ways a typical small southern town.  

A wooden bridge across the Matanzas River to Anastasia Island was built in 1895.  This bridge was unreliable and broke down many times over the years.

Bridge of Lions Under Construction 1926Bridge of Lions Under Construction 1926
Florida Memory State Archives

After Henry Flagler came to town his bridge expert, Henry Rodenbaugh, spearheaded a bond issue to build a new bridge across the river.

The iconic Bridge of Lions was built across the Matanzas River and opened in 1927.

Vintage Postcard St Augustine Bridge of LionsVintage Postcard St Augustine Bridge of Lions

The 1960's saw serious civil rights demonstrations in the Ancient City. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders of the time were in town during some stressful times.


This old black and white video is a look back into the early days of St. Augustine as a major Florida tourist attraction.


Since the late 1960's, St Augustine has seen a lot of development north, south and west of town, especially in the beach area.

St. Augustine LighthouseSt. Augustine Lighthouse

None of this development has spoiled the special charm of the downtown area of this special old city.

Original 450 year old buildings made of coquina are in daily use and fully functional.  This historic St. Augustine Lighthouse still stands as a tourist attraction and reminder of the seaport days.

Castillo San Marcos and Downtown St AugustineCastillo San Marcos and Downtown St Augustine

The Castillo de San Marcos is still impressive, in good condition, and is a major tourist attraction.

Vintage Postcard St. Augustine St. George StreetVintage Postcard St. Augustine St. George Street

The view down Charlotte Street is still very similar to the scene you see above on the vintage postcard.

St. George Street remains a great place for people watching and breathing in the ambiance of the old buildings and costumed characters. 

St. Augustine Bridge of Lions in 1969St. Augustine Bridge of Lions in 1969
Florida Memory, State Archives of Florida

The historic Bridge of Lions still connects downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island. 

The original was built in 1927 and was always a beautiful and iconic structure loved by locals and tourists alike.

By the end of the 1990s the bridge had deteriorated with age and was requiring a lot of maintenance.  The decision was made to replace the bridge.

St. Augustine Bridge of Lions After Rehabilitation
Photo by RS&H

After numerous consultations with experts and residents, the Florida Department of Transportation decided to rehabilitate the bridge instead of replacing it.

Medici Lion at Bridge EntranceMedici Lions at Bridge Entrance

They retained the services of RS&H to design and supervise the rehabilitation and historic preservation.  In 2010 the brand new old bridge was opened and is as beautiful as ever.

The famous Medici Lions guarding the entrance were restored to their original 1927 luster.

Tourists Enjoying St. George StreetTourists Enjoying St. George Street

The Ancient City is still charming in spite of the intense tackiness of some of its tourist attractions.


The city has a spectacular lighting display during the holiday season from November through January.  

St Augustine Nights of LightsSt Augustine Nights of Lights

During this season the downtown historic district is decorated with lights and shops and restaurants stay open longer than usual.

Trolley and Lightner Museum, Night of LightsTrolley and Lightner Museum, Night of Lights

St. Augustine Florida is a great place to visit, and a great place to live.  Enjoy this short carriage ride for a glimpse of the historic district of the city.


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