St. Augustine

It's easy to see why people have been settling here for nearly 500 years. Today, St. Johns County combines the best of both worlds, with its ancient natural beauty providing the backdrop for a contemporary residential and commercial lifestyle.

St. Augustine's rich history and cultural diversity have helped shaped a dynamic city for both residents and visitors alike. It’s unique mix of both the Old and the New is what beckons visitors to come explore and is what has always brought them back.

The story of St. Augustine is the foundation of sightseeing tours via tram, trolley, horse-drawn carriage, walking tour or cruise boat. History comes to life here, where on any given day, you will find guides dressed in old-world costumes, weaving you through the sites of the town.

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Some of St. Augustine's most popular landmarks include the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a living history museum which interprets life in colonial, St. Augustine circa 1740; the Fountain of Youth Discovery Park, where it is said Ponce de Leon sought everlasting youth and the Mission of Nombre de Dios, where Pedro Menendez de Aviles first set foot on Florida’s shore in 1565. Still other landmarks include the Ponce de Leon and Alcazar Hotels built by Standard Oil magnate, Henry Flagler in the late 19th Century. Today those grand Victorian structures house Flagler College, St. Augustine City Hall and Lightner Museum. The original 1888 Casa Monica Hotel has been restored into a luxury hotel and provides world-class accommodations in downtown St. Augustine. The city has more than 50 attractions, historic sites and points of interest.

Accommodations are plentiful and range from splendid resorts to charming bed and breakfast inns. Dozens of unique restaurants are sprinkled throughout St. Augustine, ranging from quaint cafes to four-star rated dining establishments, with many restaurants serving as attractions themselves.

Shopping in St. Augustine is a buyer's delight with boutiques, unique gift shops, antique stores and museums waiting to be discovered on nearly every downtown street. On the outskirts are shopping malls and retail centers, including miles of outlet shopping at The St. Augustine Premium Outlets and the Belz Factory Outlet World, both at I-95 and S.R. 16. New to St. Augustine is the Cobblestone Village located on S.R. 312. With its wide array of restaurants and specialty shops, it is a shopping experience not to be missed.

Strolling through the back roads of downtown St. Augustine offers a glimpse of what life must have been like so many years ago. Many homes are registered on the National Register of Historic Places, while many other modern homes adopt the Old Florida style of their neighbors. Whether looking to buy or rent in St. Augustine, you will most certainly find something to suit your taste.

St. Johns County

St. Johns County has something for everyone. Whether you're looking forward to a relaxing day at the beach, a history lesson come to life, or a day exploring the shops of Old St. George Street, we have it all.

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St. Augustine's centuries of history entice 6.5 million visitors from around the world each year. Our guests enjoy exploring the historic streets and attractions of downtown St. Augustine, lounging on the beautiful beaches of St. Augustine, Vilano and Ponte Vedra. and find plenty of shopping and entertainment to spark most everyone's attention.

Residents and visitors to St. Augustine enjoy scores of celebrations and events all year long. From the Great St. Johns County Fair in the spring, to the acclaimed holiday season Nights of Lights, to a handful of festivals and historic tributes sprinkled in between.

Mother Nature had a field day when creating St. Johns County. The forty-two miles of expansive beaches offer a natural playground for most every water enthusiast. Boating, surfing, fishing and jet-skiing are popular pastimes in St. Johns County, with several fishing tournaments drawing quite a crowd.

The golf courses of St. Johns County are world-acclaimed, luring golfers of every ability. The multi-faceted resort community of the World Golf Village, with its centerpiece World Golf Hall of Fame, calls our community home. The PGA TOUR is headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach and draws world wide attention with the annual Tournament Players Championship (TPC) at Sawgrass. The annual Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Tournament is also played here in St. Johns County. Whatever level of skill, you will find inspiration by the professional golfers who have played the courses here and continue to do so with every passing year.

The ATP (governing body for men's professional tennis) maintains an elaborate world headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach where players can practice on grand slam style courts.

St. Johns County is also known as "America's First Romantic Destination." Many people start out visiting here, making memories as they stroll along the bay front, or unwind at a first-class resort. Several folks find themselves drawn back here to call this place home, capturing our timeless beauty and easy charm forever... finding it all in St. Johns County.

History of St. Augustine

The story of the founding of St. Augustine cannot be told without including the story of the colonization of the southeast section of the United States. Known today as the nation's oldest continuously occupied city, St. Augustine's history is firmly interwoven with the fates and fancies of many nations and people.

Florida was discovered by Don Juan Ponce de Leon, a former governor of Puerto Rico. He sighted the eastern coast of Florida on Easter Sunday, March 27, 1513, while in search of gold and silver. Ponce claimed the land for Spain and named it La Florida.

In the following half century, the government of Spain launched no less than six expeditions attempting to settle Florida, but all failed. In 1565, the French succeeded in establishing a fort and colony near the mouth of the St. Johns River, and in doing so, threatened Spain's treasure fleets which sailed along Florida's shoreline. As a result, King Philip II named Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain's most experienced admiral, governor of Florida and instructed Menendez to explore and colonize the territory. King Philip also instructed him to drive out any corsairs or settlers of other nations, if they should be found in Florida.

Sir Francis Drake, the English corsair, pillaged and burned the town in 1586. Then in 1668, another pirate, captain John Davis, and his English buccaneers plundered the home and left 60 persons dead in the streets. Clashes between the Spaniards and the British became more frequent when the English colonies were established in Georgia and the Carolinas.

The year 1672 saw work begin on the stone fortress, now called Castillo de San Marcos. The fort was nearly completed in 1696, but not officially dedicated until 1756. Attesting to the strength of the fort, in 1702 Governor James Moore of Carolina led a two month siege without success, and in 1749, an even stronger attack by British General James Oglethorpe of Georgia was beaten off.

In 1763, the stroke of a pen accomplished what pitched battles had failed to do. Spain gave Florida to Great Britain in exchange for the newly conquered Havana, and St. Augustine came under British rule for the first time. England ruled over the city and the territory for 20 years, which included the period of the American Revolution. The citizens of the city remained loyal to the crown throughout the span. In 1783, under the terms of a treaty signed by England, France and Spain, Florida and St. Augustine returned to the rule of Spain, which lasted for 37 years.

In this period of the world's history, many changes were taking place in Europe and a a result, Spain sold Florida to the United States. At a colorful military ceremony on July 10, 1821, troops of the United States took possession of the territory and the Spanish soldiers departed, never to return again.

In the Second Seminole Indian War (1835-1842), the Indians made a desperate attempt to regain control of Florida from the Americans. In 1837, two prominent Seminole leaders, Osceola and Coacoochee, with a number of warriors were captured just south of St. Augustine where they had come under a white flag for a parley with the Americans. All were imprisoned in the Castillo from which Coacoochee and 20 of his followers managed to escape. Osceola, however, was transferred to Fort Moultrie at Charleston, SC, where he died.

The end of the Seminole War made Florida safe once again for visitors, who came to take advantage of the fine climate. In 1845, Florida became the twenty-seventh state of the Union with Tallahassee selected as the state capital. This was a compromise between St. Augustine and Pensacola, both of which were difficult to reach from most parts of the state.

St. Augustine continued to prosper until it was interrupted by another conflict, the Civil War. Slaves in this area played a minor role in the economy as compared with the rest of the state, and there was considerable Union sentiment in the city due to the number of northern-born residents. Florida, however, seceded from the Union, and according to letters,"It was announced here by the firing of cannon and musketry, and much shooting."

In March of 1862, a Union blockade squadron appeared off the inlet and demanded the city's surrender. During the night, the small Confederate garrison withdrew and the city was then occupied by Union forces who remained until the end of the conflict.

During the winter of 1883-84, Henry M. Flagler, one of the co-founders of the Standard Oil Company, visited the City and was impressed with the charm and possibilities of the area. As a result of his interest, he built the magnificent Hotel Ponce de Leon and the Alcazar Hotel.

Flagler purchased the newly constructed Hotel Casa Monica, renaming it Hotel Cordova. With the opening of these three, the wealthy and fashionable flocked o St. Augustine, soon to become known as the "Southern Newport". Flagler purchased the surrounding railroads at the same time as he started his hotels, marking the beginning of the Florida East Coast Railroad. Eventually, he extended FEC down the east coast of Florida, first reaching Palm Beach and then Miami in 1896.

The progress made by men such as Flagler also took its toll. The old and battered buildings inevitably gave way to the modern. Many old houses and the remaining sections of the defense lines were uprooted to make way for new buildings. In those days, these changes were hailed as a great improvement.

St. Augustine has again become a major point of interest for tourists. Now, however, instead of just a winter playground, St. Augustine, rich with heritage of the past, has become an important center for visitors all year long.
Information Curtsey of St. Johns County Chamber