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Florida Guide > Days Out

A day trip to St Augustine

While everyone around you makes their way en masse to visit good old Mickey Mouse, why not take a day off to see the oldest city in America, St. Augustine, a well worth the effort two and a half hour drive away on Florida’ s Atlantic coast just over one hundred miles from Orlando.

Discovered, so tradition says, by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 as he searched for a Fountain of Youth believed to be in the area, the city was eventually founded in 1565 and ruled by the Spanish when, in 1586, it was attacked and burned by Sir Francis Drake. In 1702 and 1740 there were further unsuccessful attacks by British forces but in 1763, the Treaty of Paris awarded Florida and St. Augustine to Britain, a trophy they had been unable to take and hold for themselves. However, a mere twenty years later the same treaty returned the land to Spain and they held it till 1821 when it was taken over by the United States.

Although the city is steeped in history and fascinating to visit, there is plenty to keep children of all ages occupied and interested. The best way of seeing the small, compact city and receiving historical information along the way is to take an Old Town Trolley Tour or Sightseeing Train which allows you to get on and off wherever and whenever you choose. Your ticket covers you for the day and can be purchased from their respective stations in San Marco Avenue, a five minute stroll from the fort and its’ car park. (Take plenty of quarters).

Also in San Marco Avenue is the Old St. Johns County Jail and a small fee will get you a half hour guided tour through the restored jail, sheriff’ s living quarters, gallows and includes a display of weaponry. Virtually next door is The Fountain of Youth where you are given a small drink of natural spring water, unfortunately with no guarantees attached. This is the water which led Ponce de Leon to land at this spot almost five hundred years ago in his unsuccessful quest for eternal life. Ten years after drinking the water, I can help him rest easy by confirming it doesn’ t work. Also in the gardens is a planetarium and numerous strutting peacocks and impressionable pea hens.

The olde worlde centre revolves around St. George Street, named after King George 111, Broad Street, Charlotte Street and Spanish Street and is awash with shops, cafes, restaurants and points of interest including the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in America dating back to 1716. In 1937 it was encircled by a giant chain to anchor and safeguard it against hurricanes.

The Florida Heritage Museum, Flagler College and Lightner Museum are all locally situated for a visit and across the Bridge of Lions is Anastasia Island, home of St. Augustine Lighthouse.

The quaint streets, unique shops, magical atmosphere and old history makes St Augustine a great day out for all the family.

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Page added on: 31 December 2008
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