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Visiting St Augustine

The oldest city in Florida, St. Augustine, is located about midway between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach in northeast Florida. It was established 8 September 1565 by Spanish admiral Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. Old Town, the historic section of St. Augustine, is dominated by the Castillo de San Marcos, the fortress built in the late 17th century to protect Spanish trade and commerce from raids by pirates and the British. In 1924 the Castillo, at that time called Fort Marion, was designated a national monument and in 1933 was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service. The site is open every day of the year, except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p. m. Visitors can take ranger-led tours of the fort and see historic weapons demonstrations. Check at the visitor center for scheduled times.

Just south of the Castillo, within walking distance, are motels and restaurants. Other historical attractions in Old Town are St. Augustine’s oldest house, built in the early 18th century, the Old Jail, the City Gates, the Colonial Quarter, Plaza de la Constitucion, and the Spanish Military Hospital. All the historical attractions are within a comfortable walking distance of each other, or, if you prefer, you can take a trolley tour of Old Town. At the Visitor Information Center, located at 10 S Castillo Drive, you can find information on tours and other areas of interest to you.

To the east of Old Town, across the Bridge of Lions over Matanzas Bay, lies Anastasia Island. Along Highway A1A, you will find more places to eat and to lodge. A short drive south along Anastasia Boulevard will bring you to St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, Anastasia State Park, and St. Augustine Beach.

If you have any interest at all in maritime history, the lighthouse and museum are worth a visit. The compound includes a visitor center and gift shop, the light tower and oil storage house, the keepers’ house, a boatworks where volunteers build replicas of historic wooden boats, and an archeological exhibit where artifacts from shipwrecks are displayed. Restrooms and a café are located at the keepers’ quarters. The light tower is 140 feet high. Visitors can climb up to the lantern room and enjoy a panoramic view of St. Augustine. It is still a working lighthouse, although the oil lamp has been replaced by a 1000-watt light bulb. Guided tours of the compound are available. Tickets can be purchased at the visitor center. If you have a membership in another Florida attraction, such as Bok Tower Gardens, showing your member card may get you a reduced admission fee.

Anastasia State Park contains a 139-site campground with full hook-ups for RVs, beach access close to the campground, a self-guided nature trail, and a trail through an old coquina quarry which supplied building material for the Castillo de San Marcos. Anastasia Watersports offers rentals on paddleboards, kayaks, sailboards and canoes. The Island Beach Shop and Grill serves prepared food, sells sundries, camping and fishing supplies, and rents bicycles and beach equipment. Camping reservations can be made through the Reserve America web site (ReserveAmerica.com) or by calling (800)326-3521.

The park is open from 8:00 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Current admission fees can be found on its web site at www.floridastateparks.org/hours-and-fees/Anastasia.

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