We spent a lot of time driving and walking around St. Augustine. This is a beautiful and very historic city. If you are going there, take some of the tours, they are worth it! Driving around on your own is also a good way to see things on your own schedule, just pick up some free maps at any tourist shop.
The Lightner Museum is a good place to start. It was built in 1887 in the Spanish Renaissance style, by railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler. It was originally the Alcazar Hotel. The Ponce de Leon Hotel (across the street) was also built by Flagler. After years of serving the wealthy northern vacationers, the elegant resort hotels closed. The Ponce de Leon, is now Flagler College; the Alcazar, now the City Hall and Lightner Museum.
The arrival of Henry Flagler in 1885 marked the beginning of a golden era for St. Augustine that extended through 1914. Flagler saw great potential for St. Augustine as a popular winter resort and playground for rich Northerners. He built many of the elegant buildings in St. Augustine, including several hotels and churches.
The Presbyterian Church was built just under a year and is still used today. Flagler built this church in memory of his only daughter and granddaughter. Flagler, his daughter and one of his wives are buried inside the church.
The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1565, when Spaniard Pedro Menendez and his men celebrated the first mass in St. Augustine.
The Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park in St. Augustine is the site where Spanish conquistadors first came ashore in what is now the continental United States. On April 3, 1513, in the season of "Pascua Florida" - as Easter Season is known in Spanish (meaning Feast of Flowers) - Ponce de Leon expedition sighted land in the present locality of St. Augustine and named it La Florida.
When they landed, the priest who had accompanied the soldiers said a Mass of thanksgiving as the native Timucua Indians looked on. Ponce de Leon took possession of the continent for Spain, naming it "La Florida" to commemorate the Easter season and the blossom-filled coastline he encountered.
St. Augustine was founded forty-two years before the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts - making it the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent.
The gate was built in 1739, providing the only access through the defense line. In 1808, the pillars were added.
On the far north end of town you will find the Mission de Nombres De Dios - This Mission, overlooking the intracoastal waterway, was founded in 1565 and is possibly the first permanent mission in the U.S. A 208 Ft. cross stands here and is visible to ships, day and night.
There are a lot of other things to see and do, but we just didn't have enough time. I do want to go back and spend a few more days. We stayed across the Bridge of Lions on Anastasia Island, you can find my pictures from there of the old lighthouse, here.