I could not be in NE Florida without at least stopping at our oldest city, St. Augustine. This city dates back to the 1500s when folks like Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon (of fountain of youth fame) claimed this land for Spain. They were not the only ones, the French and English were here too, before the good ole USA either bought or fought their way to claiming all east coast lands from Maine to Florida.
Back to the Spanish —
Pedro Menendez, the founder of the first European colony in what is now the US, landed here in 1565 (40 years before Plymouth Rock), met up with the Timucua people, indigenous to the area, and set about creating a thriving society that at once enriched the coffers of Spain and inadvertently decimated the native peoples (by giving them European diseases to which they had no immunity.) The city’s architecture still maintains a very Old World, Spanish feel, with tabby (a cement made with oyster shells) walls and tile roofs, at least in the historic downtown area. If you like history, you will find it in St. Augustine, in all its fascinating and commercialized glory.
Dominating the downtown is the old Hotel Ponce de Leon (now the home of Flagler College). Built in the Spanish Renaissance style and covering an entire city block, it was one of America’s most impressive resorts when it opened in 1888, and is no less impressive today with its beautiful courtyard and stained glass designed by Tiffany.
Across the street is another Flagler hotel, the Alcazar (now the city hall and home of the Lightner Museum), also in the Spanish Renaissance style, and a few steps away is Villa Zoyada, a 1/10th scale of a section of the Alhambra Palace in Spain.
If you tire of opulence and Spanish Renaissance architecture, the parklike square offers glimpses of life in the old city — the old market and well, along with tall ships in the harbor, the historic bridge of lions, not one but two historic forts, the city’s lighthouse, and numerous “attractions” that interpret the city’s history.
I was going to take a picture of the fountain of youth for y’all but since everything came with a price, this is as close as you get unless you come yourself.