As you stroll through St. Augustine’s downtown, you can experience the unique chapter that America’s First City plays in the nation’s history. Founded in 1565 as a Spanish military presidio and settlement second only in importance to Havana, St. Augustine became capital of the 14th British colony before becoming an important U.S. territorial city.
Narrow brick streets reminiscent of Europe and punctuated by church steeples provide the setting to enjoy the colors and fragrances of jasmine, bougainvillea, and orange blossoms. These are intermingled with the aroma of fresh baked bread and culinary delights served at local restaurants.
Perhaps, you will enjoy watching some local shrimp boats return through the inlet heading to their ports along the Sebastian River west of downtown. This sensory experience is heightened through a multitude of recurring events such as cannon firings at the Castillo de San Marcos and seasonal festivals held throughout the year.
Celebrating the Heritage of a Fortified City
St. Augustine boasts many “firsts” including the first military muster in the United States, dating back to the city’s founding in 1565. One way this tradition is honored as at the Castillo de San Marcos. The nation’s oldest and only 17th century military fortification continues to anchor the north end of Spanish colonial St. Augustine. The fort is famous for its cannon firings, the first park in the nation where, more than 60 years ago, historic interpreters engaged the public. Enjoy your national park…the tour, a unique and beautiful view of the city, and a reenactment.
Continue your military tour with a visit three miles north of the Castillo via US1. The historic Kings Highway leads to Fort Mose (pronounced Moh-say). Here, in 1738, the Spanish sanctioned the first free Black settlement in North America. Each summer, an all-day event gives the public a unique experience. First person interpreters reenact the Battle of Bloody Mose, a victory the Black militia and fort citizens enjoyed over the English soldiers led by Gen. Oglethorpe. The original battle took place over June and July 1740. The event is scheduled in June. Come and share the celebration!
Experience Cultural Events
Historic Florida Militia Events Showcase Spanish Culture
Several celebrations announce spring in St. Augustine. A week-long Festival de San Agustín hosted by the Historic Florida Militia includes a ceremony honoring the February 19 birthday of Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez, the city’s founder and military leader. The setting is City Hall, the former Hotel Alcazar on King Street. In 1972, St. Augustine’s sister city Avilés, Spain, gifted a bronze statue of the explorer, a replica of the one that stands in Avilés, Menéndez home. The statue, located in the courtyard at the front of City Hall, attests to the community’s unique Spanish heritage. You can help the Historic Florida Militia reinforce this connection through the School of the 16th Century living history program. This engaging public event is planned for February at the Colonial Quarter on St. George Street.
Spanish Wine Festival
Helping to usher in the beginning of spring is the Spanish Wine Festival. Created in 2012 as part of the events relating to St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary in 2015, the Festival has grown over its first decade into a significant cultural tradition in its own right. You can enjoy this new tradition that is scheduled for February 25 and 26, 2022. The memorable series of events is slated to feature 100 Spanish wines highlighting the culture, cuisine and heritage of the Mediterranean region. The festival gives back to the community with the upcoming festival planned to benefit Flagler College’s Hospitality and Tourism program.
Easter Week Festival
A crescendo of public events recognizes the Easter holiday season in St. Augustine. The first of these honors the three members of Spanish royalty who reigned during the time that the Castillo de San Marcos was built, the stone fortification that ensured the future of the city. Known as the Royal Family Transfer of Office, you can enjoy the ceremony that takes place in the Plaza de la Constitución on the Thursday before Palm Sunday.
Then, join in one of the first events for the Royal Family. The Blessing of the Fleet hosted by the St. Augustine Yacht Club is held on the bayfront each Palm Sunday. The event acknowledges the critical importance of the water’s bounty to sustaining life in the nation’s oldest city. Be sure to enjoy Easter Saturday with the nation’s second oldest Easter Parade followed on Sunday by a Promenade in the Plaza. Wear your hat and your Easter finery! The Royal Family closes out the Easter season with a Knighting Ceremony the following week, publicly “sword-to-shoulder knighting” civic heroes of the community.
Culinary Experiences with a Spanish Flair
Columbia Restaurant, 98 St. George Street & Spanish Bakery & Café, 42 ½ St. George Street
The heart of St. Augustine’s commercial downtown is identified by two historic sites from the city’s 400th anniversary in 1965. The Hispanic Garden with its statue of Queen Isabella and the Casa del Hidalgo built by the Spanish government as its tourism office mark the intersection of St. George and Hypolita Streets. A third corner of the intersection is marked by the Columbia Restaurant. Established in 1905 in Tampa’s Ybor City, in 1983 the Gonzmart family extended the Latin influence of “Florida’s oldest restaurant” to the nation’s oldest city. Nearly forty years later, the third Columbia Restaurant remains a cultural and social anchor in the downtown.
A short distance north toward the City Gate is the Spanish Bakery & Café. The aroma of baking bread can easily lead you to this charming and authentic family-owned restaurant opened in 1965 and located in the historic Salcedo Kitchen.