On September 8, 1565, 52 years and 5 months after Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain, Pedro Menendez landed on the east coast of Florida with 5 ships carrying a total of 600-800 people. His intentions: to drive out the French Huguenots and establish a Spanish settlement in what is now St. Augustine, FL. It’s been 450 years since then, and St. Augustine is still thriving, its Spanish colonial charm rivaling the English colonial charm of Charleston, SC (est. 1670) and Savannah, GA (est.1733). Today, St. Augustine celebrated its 450th Anniversary with a reenactment of Menendez’s landing, a procession through the city, and a commemorative mass at the Cathedral Basilica, wrapping up a week-long celebration that started on September 1, 2015.
I had the pleasure of visiting St. Augustine earlier this year as it was gearing up for its 450th Anniversary celebration. Within the visitor’s center, the Tapestry exhibit (on display April 4 to Sept. 20, 2015) had much of St. Augustine’s history on display, with replicas of Pedro Menendez’s flagship, the San Pelayo, and a 16th century Spanish colonial building.
Regardless of what time you go, St. Augustine is living history. There are about a dozen different ways to relive Spanish colonial Florida within St. Augustine’s historic district. If you are interested in visiting a traditional open-air history museum, St. Augustine has three: Colonial/Spanish Quarter, the Old Florida Museum/Fort Menendez, and the Dow Museum of Historic Homes, also known as Old Town St. Augustine or Old St. Augustine Village.
If old Spanish forts are your thing, St. Augustine is home to the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas. Once used in the defense of the city, these forts are now National Monuments, operated by the National Park Service and open to the public.
If you love historic homes, then you should take a stroll down St. George Street to see how reconstructed historic buildings come alive with the attention of modern businesses.
On top of this, St. Augustine has several historic house museums – historic homes that are now open to the public and offer guided tours – where you can experience what domestic life was like in St. Augustine centuries ago. These include the Oldest House Museum, the Ximenez-Fatio House, and the Peña-Peck House. At these historic house museums, the museum is the house.
With its abundance of historic buildings, the entire city of St. Augustine is practically an open-air history museum in and of itself.
Interested in visiting? Here are a few links to help with your planning: