Visiting St. Augustine - The Oldest Town in America

Thrill-seekers swarming the world-famous theme parks in Orlando and beachcombers chilling out at Daytona Beach often miss St. Augustine, a c...

Thrill-seekers swarming the world-famous theme parks in Orlando and beachcombers chilling out at Daytona Beach often miss St. Augustine, a centuries-old little gem located on the Florida's Atlantic Coast. While the Sunshine State offers tons of activities to keep you entertained for weeks, if not months, trust me - St. Augustine definitely deserves a day trip. After all, it's the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in North America. How cool is that?

St. Augustine seems like a very lovely and charming little town. Plenty of art, cozy coffees, fine dining restaurants, fascinating museums, great shopping opportunities. But as you walk on its narrow cobble streets, you also feel history, a lot of history around.
Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, which marks the beginning of the colonization of North America by British, may be more well known (after all, the United States is a direct descendent of the British Empire), but St. Augustine is actually 55 years older. 
Spanish founded the town in 1565 and retained the control for much of Florida for over 250 years until they ceded it to the United States in 1821. It's remarkable that all previous attempts to colonize North America ended unsuccessfully for Spanish. Diseases, wild weather and attacks by native tribes were among the main causes. 
Founding St. Augustine was not the most difficult task, its defence was. Over much of its early history, the town experienced frequent attacks by native people, pirate raids and British military assault.
Initially built wooden forts were too weak to protect the settlement, so Spanish were forced to think outside the box. After 100 years of struggle, they discovered coquina rock (sediment made of shellfish) on the nearby barrier island and used it to build the Castilo de San Marcos fort to uphold the town from intruders. Its defence ability was so strong, the fort was never taken by force. 
Having a non-British outpost in North America played a very important role for black people fleeing slavery from the British Empire and later from the United States. In 1693, the Spanish king proclaimed that runaway slaves from British colonies would be given freedom in Florida. If, and only if, they converted to Catholicism. Its bizarre Spanish obsession with Catholicism has shaped much of the world's history a half millennia ago. I'm talking about the "Spanish Inquisition" that terrorized Spain itself and its colonies in Latin America.
Fort Mose, just north of St. Augustine, was the first legit black town in North America. Given the extent of the most recent Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, this place is definitely of a special interest to the United States from a history perspective. 
Henry Flagler, an American business magnate who made a lot of money off oil, forever altered the way St. Augustine looks and feels today. He had a nasty idea to make the town a winter playground for wealthy Americans and he largely succeeded. 
Flagler brought a railroad in the late 19th century and built three luxury hotels that are now considered the most famous landmarks in St. Augustine. All three are built in the beautiful Spanish Renaissance Revival and Moorish styles.
Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College).
Hotel Alcazar (now Lightner Museum).
Casa Monica Hotel.
But St. Augustine is more than just a lovely town. Anastasia State Park, located just a 10-minute drive from the town centre, offers four miles of pristine white-sand beach for everyone to enjoy. Given it's facing east, it must be ideal for watching sunrises. 
A short trails takes you to the old quarry where coquina rock was mined since the 17th century. There is a small but very pretty hammock forest to enjoy while at the park.

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