A Walkthrough STA History, No Admission Required

In my final phase of quarantine, I escaped to St. Augustine. I spent 43 days cooped up in my West Palm Beach home, with cabin fever slowly taking over my persona. I transitioned from “Stay Home” to STA FLA, and my spirits are elevated now that I am back to exploring Florida. There is an unrestricted beach and all of my favorites of The Local Spots Series are still serving their customers downtown.

The days of FLOvid19 do make STA feel a bit like a ghost town, since most attractions have been closed. This time made me realize that you do not need to take a tour or pay a fee to appreciate many of St. Augustine’s landmarks. I rounded up some points-of-interest to give you a walkthrough STA History, no admission required!

Explore where “La Florida” was Discovered in 1513

Magnolia Avenue & The Fountain of Youth

This scenic street is home to one of the oldest landmarks in US History, The Fountain of Youth. Juan Ponce de Leon landed here in 1513 on his quest for a fountain that provided water to make those who drank it forever young. In reality, Ponce just found a small fresh water spring in the native Timacua Village. He reached this point around Easter with wildflowers rolling across the landscape, and named it “La Florida.”

The admission to the Fountain of Youth is $18 to drink some metallic tasting Florida well water and look at some archeological exhibits. I suggest you snap a photo in front the sign and spend your dollars at the Fountain of Juice across the street. and drink some Cuban coffee or fresh squeezed juice instead. This adorable open air stand serves up fresh squeezed juice, fruit smoothies and Cuban coffee. Take your sip for a stroll down Magnolia Avenue, a beautiful Southern street shaded by the canopy of the live oaks and Spanish moss swaying in the breath. A few hours before sunset is a great time to snap some shots of what National Geographic has called one of the most photographed streets in the country.

Roam where the Saint Augustine was born in 1565

The Castillo de San Marcos & Mission Nombre de Dios

This fort has been holding strong for 325 years and is an icon of the Oldest City. The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the US and took 23 years to complete the structure built from coquina stones. The Castillo grounds are accessible without admission and is a designated National Monument. It is common for visitors and locals to picnic on the seawall or the rolling lawn in front of the fort. My favorite time to visit is at night, you can get an earful of spooky tales from overhearing a ghost tour and take some silly shadow photos on the fort walls.

My favorite view at the fort is from the walkway on the North side of the Castillo. From this vantage point you can see the Mission Nombre de Dios, where founder of St. Augustine Pedro Menendez claimed this city in the name of Spain and God. It became a Catholic mission where the Spanish baptized the natives and it is also the site where Menendez massacred French Huguenots in 1565. This is how the river got the name “Mantazas” which literally means slaughter, and from this point you can see where the Mantanzas River meets the Tolomato River in a grassy estuary habitat.

Saunter where the Oldest City became the Modern World in 1925

The Bridge of Lions & Davis Shores

I took Hazel Bay for a stroll from the Bridge of Lions to the City Gate, which is about a 10-minute casual stroll. In the past 15 years of visiting STA, this is the first time I have taken a picture of these beautiful Medici lion statues. I remember being told on a ghost tour during my 4th grade STA Field Trip (a Floridian rite of passage) that the artist committed suicide because the sculptor forgot to put tongues on his beautiful big cats. As it turns out, this is an Urban Legend that derived from the Chain Bridge in Budapest, and it is not even a true story. No lives were spared over lions tongues in neither Florida nor Budapest.

This drawbridge was built in 1925 and took two years to complete. It connected the Oldest City to Anastasia Island by the work of D.P. Davis where he developed the neighborhood of Davis Shores. This is the same developer that created Davis Island in Tampa, which was his first time using these dredging techniques.

Where to Wander Next?

I also discovered that the Florida Humanities Council has an app to download which has multiple walking tours of St. Augustine that you can listen to on your mobile device as your stroll the ancient streets. You can download the Florida Stories App here.

Be sure to check out my FLOmap while you wander St. Augustine to find all the best local spots and landmarks.

3 comments
  1. Laura
    Laura
    May 13, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    Great post with lots of fun ideas! I’m a history teacher and so I wanted to make you aware of a couple of historical errors you shared. The story of Ponce de Leon searching for the fountain of youth is a myth, but the attraction does sit on the site of the original native village. The site of the slaughter of the Huguenots was not by the Castillo but was near Ft. Matanzas south of St. Augustine. The Fl Humanities App is great! Love your sharing of Florida!

    Reply
    • Mandy Mizell
      Mandy Mizell • Post Author •
      May 25, 2020 at 11:31 pm

      Hi Laura, I’m glad you enjoy the App & love that you’re a history teacher. The Fountain of Youth is a hot topic on whether that was Ponce’s true quest, he was actually in a political war with Diego Columbus. Ponce was the governor of Puerto Rico and was encouraged to seek new land under the Spanish crown when King Ferdinand favored Diego and replaced Ponce as the governor in 1511. Ponce allegedly heard from natives that the FOY was in Bimini, wandered off to Florida in 1513 and found some fresh water to drink. This was prominent as a mystical water in literature dating back to 5 BC. There is no historical evidence to support this, but it is legend. This legend has been recorded over 500 years, so it is now part of our history. This site was indeed a Native Timacua Village which has been archeologically confirmed on the Fountain of Youth site as Seloy. The natives probably took him to the fresh spring, likely to replenish supply of water, then a cute story was built along the way. Ponce may have taken a sip and been like “Oh I heard of fresh water like this in Bimini where it keeps you young forever,” then the story got out of control. Also realize that politics were involved, so I do find it feasible that Ponce’s men made a fantastic story around his excursion to show how much better he was than dumb old Diego Columbus. I never stated that the Huguenot slaughter was at the Castillo in my post, I stated the Mission Nombre de Dios is where they got slaughtered. But I’m wrong, haha thanks for the fact check! I know that it happened at the “Matanzas Inlet” and I confused it for the St. Augustine Inlet which is by the Mission Nombre de Dios. Also I learned this bit o’ knowledge while standing at the Mission Nombre de Dios on my Catholic School Field trip and I associated the place with the location. So indeed, Fort Matanzas is where the massacre was. I will place an asterisk in the post for people to read this comment. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  2. alyssa
    alyssa
    May 13, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    Wow! Great info, I can’t wait to explore the oldest city!

    Reply
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