The History of St. Augustine’s Forts, Museums, Hotels and Beaches
Many attractions in St. Augustine boast a rich history.
From the Castillo de San Marcos and other museums and forts in St. Augustine, to the area’s beaches and hotels — almost everything has a place in the past.
Those of us familiar with St. Augustine — the earliest permanent European settlement in North America — keep coming back as if we were history itself. We’re inspired by the story and spirit of elements within the city, from a balcony angled over narrow street to a turret raised atop a landmark tower or a wall meant to repel intruders from long before America, as a political ideal, arose in the popular imagination.
Many attractions in St. Augustine boast a rich history — from forts and museums to hotels, beaches and more.
Forts and Museums
Spain founded the city in 1565, and between 1672 and 1695 settlers built Castillo de San Marcos. The fort, with its distinctive omni-directional bastions, was built to help defend against hostile powers that preyed on Spanish treasure fleets returning from Peru and Mexico. Formidable as it remains — now a National Monument that interprets St. Augustine as part of American and world history — the fort also reminds us of war’s distant echo in the day-to-day city. So strong was war’s grip on the town that when St. Augustine became irrelevant to world affairs, time virtually wound down. The architecture of fortification became an aesthetic legacy.
Other relics of war remain throughout the city. Visitors might find themselves walking down Artillery Lane, past the St. Francis Barracks and the Museum of Florida’s Military. Some may stroll past a stack of cannonballs beside a monument honoring WWI troops and on to the Santo Domingo Redoubt, a recently restored post of logs from the 1730s embedded in the city’s defensive wall behind the Visitor Information Center.
North of town, visitors will find the site of Spanish Fort Mose. In the 1720s, the fort settled runaway English slaves in the continent’s first sanctioned African-American community. But an English assault in 1740 reduced the site to age-old marsh. Today the site is marked by a plaque that honors the site’s settlers and the area is most evocative when clouds shroud the sun and sea fog blurs distant beach dunes.
Ornamental hotels of the 1880s still remain in the city as well. One is now a college (Flagler College, originally the Ponce de Leon), and two others are historical museums (Zorayda Castle and the Lightner Museum, originally the Alcazar). Another hotel of the time has been fully restored again for guests (the luxurious Casa Monica Resort & Spa).
Beaches and Parks
St. Augustine’s beaches and parks boast their own history and significance. Laced along an otherwise smooth and sandy shore from Ponte Vedra Beach to Summer Haven lie sections of shells by the billions, their fragments compacting with sand and water to form the regionally distinctive building material called coquina. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain quarried coquina to build its defensive perimeter. Across from the beach, Fort Matanzas was part of that perimeter. Today the small fort stands fully restored 15 miles south of the city, served by a free, hourly National Park Service ferry. Former coquina quarries also remain open to visitors in Anastasia State Park.