3 Unique Ways to Immerse Yourself in History and Culture in St. Augustine

Experiencing the rich history of the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida, is not simply a passive activity. You can go beyond visiting museums and historic sites and truly be immersed in the heritage and culture of a town with more than 450 years of history. Here are 3 ways to absorb St. Augustine’s unique and diverse history.
 
Food
 
Many locally owned restaurants have menus with dishes that reflect the different cultures of the people who founded and shaped the old city.  The Paella at the Columbia Restaurant mixes flavors and seafood into a hearty celebration of Spanish and Cuban culture.
 
The Taberna del Caballo on St. George Street makes fresh homemade Sangria daily – both red and white. The refreshing cocktail pairs perfectly with the variety of Spanish tapas the restaurant serves.
 
The Athena restaurant, located off the Plaza in the heart of the historic district, represents the Greeks who came to St. Augustine along with many other peoples of Mediterranean descent.
 
The Spanish Bakery is tucked away off St. George Street in a courtyard anchored by Whetstone Chocolates. The Bakery serves authentic Spanish picadillo, empanadas and pilau, culinary treasures of a bygone era.
 
Special Events
 
Florida’s Historic Coast’s largest festival is Nights of Lights. This holiday spectacular runs from the weekend before Thanksgiving to the end of January each year. The entire historic district – from historic sites to bed and breakfast inns, to museums and attractions and private homes – are all lit from the sidewalk to the rooftop with white lights – over 3 million. Tracing its origins to the Spanish tradition of displaying a white candle in the window during the Christmas holidays, the spectacular lighting display reflects the city’s 450 plus year history and illuminates the beautiful ancient city.
 
The Datil Pepper Festival celebrates the spicy little pepper found on nearly every local’s table and in dishes, sauces, jellies and even cocktails in the local restaurants and retail shops. Datils are small in size but big in heat. The exact origin of the Datil pepper on Florida’s Historic Coast is up for debate. Some say the Minorcans brought the pepper with them when they fled an indigo plantation in New Smyrna Beach to settle in St. Augustine. The Datil pepper is grown abundantly in the greater St. Augustine area but not found in many other locations. The pepper is an important part of local traditional dishes.
 
Menorcan Heritage Celebration is presented by the Menorcan Cultural in the gardens of the historic Llambias House. The event commemorates the anniversary of the Menorcans arriving in Florida. It features different types of pilau, baked goods and displays.
 
Historic Re-enactments
 
Founder’s Day is the Saturday closest to St. Augustine’s anniversary September 8. This day honors the founding of America’s First Parish, the Cathedral of St. Augustine, and St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. Both were founded together 453 years ago on Sept. 8, 1565, by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. The event will takes place at the Mission Nombre de Dios and Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. At  the mission, a historical re-enactment of the Spanish landing is led by the Historic Florida Militia’s Men of Menendez followed by a Mass at the rustic altar on the mission grounds. The event continues at the Fountain of Youth, which features an afternoon with opportunities for children and families to meet the historical re-enactors and participate in activities.
 
The Battle of Bloody Mose is an annual re-enactment of the June 26, 1740, Battle of Bloody Mose, a pivotal battle between the British and the Spanish militia composed of former British slaves granted freedom by the Spanish.  Fort Mose (pronounced Mo-say) was the first free Black settlement in the United States. Slaves who fled their British owners traveling south to St. Augustine were granted freedom and provided land to live with their families in return for converting to Catholicism and for joining the Spanish in their fight against the British to protect the city. Today Fort Mose is a state park located at the north area of the city.
 
Searle’s Raid of St. Augustine is an annual event commemorating the bloody pirate raid led by Robert Searle against the city and inhabitants of St. Augustine in 1668. The event starts with a call to arms and procession on St. George Street and Cathedral Place to the City Gate. A historic encampment with 17th century weapons, clothing, equipment, camp life and social activities are shown and demonstrated at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. The re-enacted battle takes place in the Plaza de la Constitución progressing to the City Gate.