As the oldest city in the United States, Saint Augustine has something for every explorer wishing to visit. Juan Ponce de Leon is probably the most notable of explorers to explore the land, however there is plenty left for you to explore, too!
With the Atlantic Ocean, Mantanzas River, and the St. Augustine Inlet, you are sure to find beautiful water, and activities abound!
The Fountain of Youth in Saint Augustine has long been famed to be the 1513 landing sight of Ponce de Leon, however no evidence has been substantiated to support this claim and his landing site is still debated among historians. What is known is that Juan Ponce de Leon sighted the eastern coast of Florida in 1513 on one of his exploratory trips and claimed it for the Spanish crown, naming it La Florida. The famed Fountain of Youth location is the site of the first Spanish settlement and fortifications in Saint Augustine that were made by Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles who founded Saint Augustine on September 8, 1565. He sailed in through the inlet and into Matanzas Bay and disembarked in the Timucua town of Seloy with the intention of quickly constructing fortifications to protect both his people and supplies, and to determine the best location to construct a fort, which he established on the site known today as the Fountain of Youth. Saint Augustine served as both a military outpost for Spain’s defense of Florida, and as a base for Catholic missionary settlements throughout Eastern North America.
Saint Augustine would remain the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, and later the state capital of the Florida territory, until 1824 when Tallahassee was made the capital.
Saint Augustine is part of the St Johns River Water Management District. The primary source of the city’s drinking water comes from Florida’s Lower Surficial Aquifer, with the remaining coming from the Upper Floridan Aquifer. Saint Augustine’s water plant is served by 14 groundwater wells, ten in the local Lower Surficial Aquifer and four in the upper Floridan Aquifer.
Things to See and Do
Anastasia State Park
Located across the Matanzas Bay on the Atlantic coast of Anastasia Island, this park has unparalleled beaches, salt marshes, and maritime hammocks. This park was the quarry site for the limestone coquina rock that was used for Castillo San Marcos.
St. Augustine Lighthouse
An active lighthouse found on the north end of Anastasia Island, this lighthouse is the second tallest in Florida, at 165 feet tall. In an effort to keep alive the maritime history of the nation’s oldest port, the Lighthouse Archaeology Maritime Program funds local maritime archaeology. The lighthouse and museum are open to visitors wishing to take on the climb up 214 steps for the breathtaking views of Saint Augustine.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
Once privately owned by a relative of President George Washington, this park is now open to everyone. Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River, the park has formal gardens, hundred-year-old live oak trees, and even a marvelous shoreline composed of coquina rock formations.
Nocatee Preserve Trail
The Nocatee Preseve is composed of 2,400 acres of land along a 3.5 mile stretch of the Tolomato River. This trail winds through communities and conservation lands in an effort to connect the community with nature. Ideal for cyclists, birders, walkers, runners, basically, explorers of all kinds!
Castillo de San Marcos
As the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, Castillo San Marcos is a stop that no explorer should miss! The fort is located on the western shore of Matanzas Bay and is now designated as a national monument with the National Park Service. Castillo San Marcos is one of two forts in the world to be made out of coquina, a type of limestone found locally in the Saint Augustine area. Because coquina is light and porous, it would seem to be a poor building material for a fortress. However, the stone had an unexpected benefit, because of its conglomerate nature and many microscopic air pockets, the stone was compressible. So, unlike a solid material like granite or brick, when coquina was fired upon, it did not shatter, but rather would absorb or deflect projectiles, thus making the fortress incredibly long lasting.