Offbeat St. Augustine
The Historic Old City is Home to 10 Off-the-Wall Attractions
St. Augustine is a center of originality – after all, it is the oldest continually occupied city in the United States. This makes for a plethora of historic attractions to visit, although some of the city’s celebrated firsts are a bit unexpected.
With many fascinating points of interest to navigate, here’s a list of the top 10 wackiest sites in St. Augustine to spice up your next vacation.
10. The Love Tree
This unusual sight is a wink from Mother Nature. Amazingly, a palm tree has grown through the center of a live oak tree. The natural embrace inspired a legend that says couples who kiss below the tree will seal their love for eternity. Or at least enjoy a healthy lunch together at The Love Tree Cafe, also underneath the tree.
9. Treasury Street
This street, the narrowest in the country at only seven feet wide, connects the waterfront Bay Street to the Royal Spanish Treasury. There is just enough room for two men to carry a chest of gold from the docked ships to the treasury, without fear that a horse-drawn carriage would ride by and snatch the money.
8. Flagler Fountain
Inside the main iron gates of Flagler College, guests are greeted by a large fountain. Surprisingly, the stone toads around the base indicate the time of day. At the center of the fountain is another wonder – a reproduction of the hilt of Ponce de Leon’s sword. The college was originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel.
7. Villa Zorayda Museum
Villa Zorayda Museum was built in 1883 at one-tenth the scale of part of Spain’s Alhambra Palace. You’ll marvel at the architecture and the unique treasures inside, including the world’s oldest carpet. More than 2,400 years old, the Sacred Cat Rug was woven completely from the hair of ancient Egyptian cats. Legend has it that the rug bears a curse; it was stolen from a tomb and wrapped around a mummy’s foot, which is also on display!
6. Spanish Military Hospital
Travel back in time to the Spanish Military Hospital Museum, where the doctor is always in. A guided tour will take you back to Colonial Spanish days of medicine. Your journey begins as their skilled surgeon performs surgical demonstrations. Visit their apothecary and discover how Colonial herbs were the origins of some of today’s most popular medicines.
5. The Old Jail
Completed in 1891 by the same company that later built Alcatraz, the jail housed 72 inmates in crowded cells with no indoor plumbing until 1914. When you arrive, a costumed deputy puts you under arrest, marches you by the creepy gallows, throws you in an iron-barred cell and threatens to leave you in the maximum-security area complete with shackles. A must-see for misbehaving kids!
4. The Fountain of Youth
As the story goes, while questing for the spring of eternal youth, Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513. The site of his famous landing is now an archaeological park where you can visit the fabled fountain and drink the water. The 15-acre grounds is also the site of the original 1565 St. Augustine settlement where Spaniards lived among the native Timuca Indians. The park features living history and re-enactors demonstrating cannon firing and blacksmithing, all to showcase how the 16th Spanish settlers arrived and survived. Explore the special exhibits about the archaeological discoveries of the first settlement. Even if you don’t feel any younger, you’ll enjoy intriguing artifacts surrounded by natural beauty.
3. Potter’s Wax Museum
The oldest wax museum in the country, Potter’s boasts about 200 figures, including presidents, royalty, artists and religious figures. Austin Powers and Dr. Evil welcome you to the intimate gallery, complete with costume closet and a workshop where Brad Pitt’s scratched head sat on a table to be repaired and Angelina Jolie awaited her hands. Stand eye to eye with life-like figures that make you look twice.
2. Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
The weirdest collection imaginable is housed in famous cartoonist Robert Ripley’s original museum. You’ll see a matchstick art pagoda, 634-foot-long gum wrapper chain, fur-covered trout, 1,000-year old petrified peanuts, shrunken heads and the world’s largest moving erector model (aka a ferris wheel). An interactive gallery will make your skin crawl and baffle your mind.
1. The Secret Chamber in the Castillo de San Marcos
Exploring the fort built in 1672, it’s easy for your imagination to run wild. Deep inside, you’ll find a long narrow room and low doorway, hidden until 1932, when a cannon fell through the gun deck. Some say human skeletons were found inside. Documents show this was the original gunpowder magazine. Which story do you believe?