Saint Augustine, Florida: Population = 12,975 (Metro area = 69,173), elevation = 9 feet, average January low temp = 45.0, Average July high temp = 90, average sunny days = 223, annual snowfall = 0”, annual rainfall = 48.4”, air quality index = 82, water quality index = 10, comfort index = 29, median age of residents = 41
When we booked our room in St. Augustine, we didn’t realize that we were actually going to be miles away, in the World Golf Village. This is a huge area (6,300 acres) that was developed by the PGA to house resorts, golf courses, shops, restaurants, and the Hall of Fame. On our first couple of days here, we explored the Hall of Fame and had some beers at The Caddy Shack, a nice sports bar run by Bill Murray and his brothers.
St. Augustine claims to be the oldest city in the USA. Or, to add all the qualifiers, the “oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the contiguous United States”. It was founded by the Spanish conquistador, Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. For the next two centuries, the city was fought over and repeatedly burnt to the ground. Somebody must have stayed put though, for the “continuously occupied” to apply.
From all accounts, parking in St. Augustine is rare and expensive, so the best option is to take a trolley and park free in their lot. We bought our tickets and set off in Old Town’s little train of open cars for the circuitous ride through the city. Our first hop off the trolley was at the ancient city gate. This leads into St. George Street, the main tourist “pedestrian mall”. There are a few old historic sites along St. George, embedded like chocolate chips in the big bland cookie of arts galleries, souvenirs stands, ice cream and fudge shops, and “historic museums”.
The historic houses are layered according to the era of construction. In the mid 1700s, the Spanish built little square stone houses with a gated wall around the courtyard. In the mid 1800s, upper floors of wooden construction were added.
Of course the oldest city would have the oldest church. This would be the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augusta, founded in 1565. Like the rest of the city, the actual building was raised and burnt down a few times and other sites were used temporarily. The current building was built between 1793 and 1797.
Some of the finest architecture in the city was built by Henry M. Flagler, an oil and hotel tycoon would spent lavishly to make St. Augustine into his vision of a retreat for the wealthy. His Ponce de Leon hotel eventually became Flagler College but, in its heyday, it housed the well-to-do in impressive style. The original Tiffany windows, still intact in the student dining room are reputed to be worth upwards of $13 million.
St. Augustine may be a historic city, but I found as much “historic” as actual history. There are tourists attractions everywhere with trolley stops in front of them. They have a little but they sell a lot. Parts of the city are old and rare and beautiful, but most of it is pretty ordinary for a Florida beach town. An interesting place to visit.
Next up: Cape Canaveral