St. Augustine

St. Augustine

Established as a city in 1565 and about 95 mi/150 km north of Orlando, St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental U.S.—it was founded 42 years before the English colonized Jamestown, 45 years before the Spanish established Santa Fe and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Its street plan and architectural ambience still reflect its Spanish origins.

North of the old city is the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, believed to be the site of Ponce de Leon’s landing. The park also claims that a spring on the property is the fabled restorative fountain that the explorer was seeking. Though we suspect this is creative hoopla, it doesn’t hurt to take a drink.

If you head south from St. Augustine, you’ll find several state parks, including the Anastasia State Recreation Area, Faver-Dykes State Park and the Washington Oaks State Gardens.

Also to the south is Fort Matanzas National Monument, built by the Spanish in 1742. The fort is on Rattlesnake Island; 45-minute boat trips there depart from the visitor center at the south end of Anastasia Island. The name matanzas (killings) recalls the execution of some 300 French Huguenot soldiers by Spanish Catholic troops. (The ongoing battles between France and Spain had almost as much to do with religious differences as they did with territorial acquisition.)

About 10 mi/16 km beyond Fort Matanzas is the granddaddy of aquatic theme parks, Marineland.