St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
The most iconic structure in this part of Florida, the St. Augustine Lighthouse tower offers visitors a unique perspective of the beaches, the Atlantic Ocean, Matanzas Bay and the skyline of the nation’s oldest city.
First lit in 1874, the St. Augustine Lighthouse continues to send its light into the darkness above the Atlantic. The lighthouse’s nighttime beacon with its flash every 30 seconds and its unique paint scheme glistening in the sun announce the location of the nation’s oldest city both day and night.
Today, the lighthouse not only continues to serve its traditional navigation purposes, it also provides visitors with a magnificent view and brings alive maritime history and lore. The Keeper’s House along with the historic Coast Guard barracks and the Maritime Archaeology and Education Center tell the story of the lighthouse’s past, present and future.
Plus, special tours and events held here throughout the year entertain and educate while serving as a reminder of St. Augustine’s eternal link to the sea.
The most iconic structure in this part of Florida, the lighthouse tower offers visitors a unique perspective of the beaches, the Atlantic Ocean, Matanzas Bay and the skyline of the nation’s oldest city. Forged in a foundry near Philadelphia, the tower’s ironworks, including the impressive winding staircase, were shipped here by sea and assembled during 1871-74.
The magnificent lens is a First Order Fresnel, the largest class of lenses ever made. The lens was made in France by Fresnel in about 1870. The exact composition of the glass remains an unsolved technological mystery. Visitors to the top of the lighthouse can look up inside the huge lens – an experience that often includes the expression “wow.”
The tower also includes the oil room where the fuel burned at the top was stored and prepared for nightly use. Pig lard and kerosene were burned before electricity arrived in 1936. There’s also an office that includes artifacts (check out the giant wrench used to tighten the “acorn” nuts that help hold the observation deck in place). Logbooks and other artifacts provide a visual record of what it was like to operate a lighthouse in the days before electricity. One log extract includes an apology from an assistant keeper who fell asleep during his watch and allowed the light to burn out.
It’s 219 steps to the top, but the tower has eight landings to catch your breath – level 4 even has a comfortable bench. During their ascent, climbers can learn lots of interesting information from the ample signage on the white brick walls. Stories of lightning strikes, hurricanes and one tremendous earthquake highlight the perils of working at the lighthouse. You can also try your hand at lifting the oil courtesy of weighted oil buckets.
The Keeper’s House
This beautiful Victorian home shows that even though the work hours were long and the pay was not that great, the living quarters for members of the U.S. Lighthouse Service serving here were impressive. The large, three-story duplex housed the keeper, assistant keeper and their families.
Today, the parlor remains furnished as it was when the Harn Family worked and lived here 1879-1889. In contrast, another section of the house today provides digital learning centers for kids along with interactive displays and games.
The basement of the home features artifacts recovered just offshore, including an extensive collection of materials and cannons from an 18th century British ship.
The top floor of the home is devoted to large exhibits – currently the local shrimping industry and the world famous Desco shrimp boats once produced in St. Augustine are featured.
Coast Guard Barracks
Built in 1942, the small barracks just past the Keeper’s House housed Coast Guard personnel permanently stationed here during World War II. Coast Guard members were posted 24/7 atop the tower to watch for German u-boats, several of which used the tower for navigational fixes. The barracks shows what life was like for “Coasties” stationed here.
Maritime Archaeology and Education Center
Features Legend of the Lights – exhibits devoted to lighthouse operations and lore. It includes a large model of the Spanish lighthouse that stood here from 1737-1880. This lighthouse is one of the few that employs full-time marine archaeologists. A hallway in this building allows visitors to look inside the Museum Artifact Conservation Lab where work is underway conserving the latest underwater discoveries made by Lighthouse archaeologists.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum offers a wide range of fun and educational tours and events.
Ghost Tours: Due largely to the extensive coverage given to the Lighthouse by the Ghost Hunters TV show, many visitors are interested in learning more about the many paranormal events connected with the lighthouse. The tragic deaths of three young girls that occurred during the construction of the lighthouse are frequent themes. The lighthouse currently offers two ghost tours that factually look at these paranormal activities, as well as some unexplained mysteries. Offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, the Dark of the Moon tour is a guided two-hour tour that includes ghostly tales, maritime history and a nighttime trek to the top of the tower. The view is unforgettable. For a shorter excursion, the Lighthouse Ghost Tales guided tour features a one-hour nighttime exploration of the lighthouse grounds, Keeper’s House and base of the tower. Reservations and advance ticket purchases are required from the Lighthouse website. Private tours are also available.
The Keeper’s Tour: Get a personal tour of the lighthouse from a uniformed Lighthouse keeper. The one-hour tour of the working lighthouse includes an exclusive visit to the lens room at the top of the tower. Get all your lighthouse questions answered by an expert. Tour ticket includes general admission.
Sunset Moonrise: One of the most romantic and spectacular events in the region! Held each month on the full moon, participants atop the lighthouse watch the sun set behind the historic city and then witness the full moon ascending from the dark Atlantic. Champagne and hors d’oeuvres are served. Participation is limited so make reservations well in advance.
Sunrise, Lens Room Tour: See the sunrise from the lighthouse Lens Room. The beautiful, handcrafted lens is your companion as you greet the new day’s first rays of sunlight. Participation is very limited.
For more details and ticket purchases, visit www.StAugustineLighthouse.org/visit/expand-your-visit
Lighthouse Illuminations: This spectacular holiday event features more than 20 specially-themed Christmas trees exploring maritime history and lighthouse lore. Included in the daytime admission, a separate evening admission provides participants with a magical experience lit by the trees and lights on the grounds. Plus, a climb to the top of the tower features an amazing view across the bay to the city of St. Augustine and its renowned Nights of Lights celebration featuring millions of tiny white lights. Illuminations is presented several nights each week, Thanksgiving week through mid-January.
Luminary Night: Held on the first Wednesday in December, this nighttime event is one of the most popular in St. Augustine. Admission is free to this holiday celebration featuring live music, food and drink, a visit by Santa Claus and the opportunity to climb the tower for an inspiring look down on to thousands of candle-lit luminaries lighting the lighthouse grounds.