A Brazilian's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida

Guest blogger Cris from Vivajando highlights the sights every Brazilian visitor should check out. Check out the Portuguese translation available via link in the copy.

  • Para ler este artigo em português ou para mais dicas de viagem do blog Vivajando, clique aqui.

    Have you ever been to Florida, in the United States? Each day, more and more Brazilians say “YES” to this question. The number of Brazilians in Florida is so big that your instinct to say in Portuguese “desculpe” or “com licença” (instead of sorry or excuse me) has a great chance of being understood by the other person! On the other hand, most tourists abbreviate their itinerary with the Miami and Orlando duo; both – of course – have lots of attractions to offer which are already amply explored by blogs and sites.

    But the intention of this post is to alert you of this:

    There is life in Florida besides Miami and Orlando, guys!

    And if you agree to give a chance to other cities, I can assure you: you will not regret it!

    Keeping this in mind, in this post I’m going to talk about a city that is really pretty, charming and historical. Unfortunately you don’t read much about it in any Florida guides written for Brazilians (most of us haven’t even heard of it before). I am talking about Saint Augustine, a city that simply carries the respectable title of being the “Oldest City of the United States,” founded in 1565 by the Spaniards (and you thought that New York or Boston carried this title, eh? Shame on you!). But if you think that, being so old, Saint Augustine is archaic, unstructured, or outworn – man! – you couldn’t be more wrong!

    The city is super preserved, organized and completely prepared to receive tourists. The old part of the city is so adorable that it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in town. Also, including it in your Disney trip is easier than you may think. The city is located only 2 hours drive from Orlando – easy breezy!

    Think of a small town (it has a population of approximately 14 thousand) which is COMPLETELY READY to receive tourists from all corners of the country and the world. Saint Augustine is a cozy and welcoming city that allows you to walk through most of the attractions. So, make sure you wear a comfortable pair of shoes and start exploring! You will notice there are plenty of attractions in the city described as “the oldest” or “the first” which will definitely call your attention.

    A BRIEF HISTORICAL EXPLANATION TO SITUATE YOU:

    As previously mentioned, Saint Augustine is the oldest city in the United States; it was founded by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on September 12, 1565.

    However, you won’t find any buildings prior to 1702 in the city. The reason? In an attempt to subdue, English troops besieged Saint Augustine for 50 days – days by which the intrepid Spaniards resisted: the English soldiers surrendered but not without committing one last act of war: they set fire to the city!

    After this somber episode, the population of Saint Augustine reconstructed around Old Town, located on the surroundings of Castillo de San Marcos.

    CASTILLO DE SAN MARCOS – THE CITY FORTRESS

     

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Castillo de San Marcos]

    One thing is certain: the Castillo de San Marcos is definitely the main attraction of Saint Augustine – the fortification was originally built by the Spanish from 1672 to 1695 to protect and defend Saint Augustine from English attack. This is the oldest masonry fort in the United States and currently represents a symbol of Spain’s early colonization in the country.

    If you have to pay to visit just one attraction in Saint Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos is one of the most extraordinary places in America and the visit is very worthwhile (although I strongly recommend all other other attractions mentioned below, of course).

    The walls of the castle are formed by broken shells (coquina) and sand cemented together, essentially creating a natural form of concrete, which besides absorbing the impact of the opposing artillery, it also rebounded the bullets of the enemies causing only small damages to the structure.

    The visit gives you access to the whole castle: a museum that tells in detail the rich history of the colonization of the region and the daily routine of the officers in the fortress; the rooms that were used by the soldiers, the guns, the prison, the employees of the Castle dressed as in the old days and ready to answer any question… well, that’s a lot!

    And there is a special bonus: in the middle of all this, you enjoy a magnificent view of the city from above. You will realize that the choice of that particular place to build the fort was not for nothing.

    Another very interesting experience: visitors can watch historic weapons firing demonstration on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (10:30 AM, 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM, 3:30 PM), so do not be alarmed if you are strolling around town and hear a boom!

    A WALKING TOUR THROUGH OLD TOWN: SAINT GEORGE STREET

    As you enter the Historic District – especially Saint George Street you feel like you’re going back in time, more specifically to 1695, when the street began to be formed.

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Caminhando pela Saint George Street]

    The main street of the city is pedestrian-only. You will find more than 25 very old structures that have been restored and are available for visitation.

    My suggestion is that you walk through it all as follows:

    [1] – Consider Castillo de San Marcos as your starting point and then begin your tour in the City Gate – which is nothing less than the walls of the old portal of the city. And here’s a tip if you are driving: in this area it is quite easy to find paid parking lots.

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - O portal de entrada na cidade]

    his portal from 1739 provided the only access through the line of defense on the north side of Saint Augustine.

    [2] – Passing through the walls, on your right you will see the Authentic Old Drugstore building, which was an old and small pharmacy, 1887.

    [3] – Potter’s Wax Museum, which is the first Wax Museum in the United States, is located on the same site; you will find exhibits of the original 1949 collection with incredibly realistic details (even the hair used on the figures is real). Some of the wax figures are so perfect that even give you a weird feeling – it seems like Albert Einstein is really there staring at you!

    You will meet some famous Hollywood celebrities, historical and political figures (which perfectly suits Saint Augustine, of course!) and even a “Hall of Terror” with fanciful movie characters. The place is not as big as the usual Madame Tussauds we see around, but it’s quite unique!

    [4] – Now finally entering Saint George Street, right at the beginning you will come across an ultra hyper wooden house that will catch your eye! It is The Oldest Wooden School House in the United States, from 1788. As soon as you enter it, you will see a very well-groomed and ornate garden that you will soon realize to be the home of a thousand thousand squirrels!

    In the garden you will also see the kitchen that was built as a separate building from the main school environment. The reason was to avoid any excess heat in the main house and also should the kitchen catch on fire, the school may be safe.

    Inside the school itself (which second floor was also the home of the teacher and his family) you will see a representation of a class with teacher/student puppets explaining through a recorded dialogue the most interesting facts of the school and its ancient customs.

    Another interesting fact is the chain that surrounds the school, which was put there in 1937 in order to protect the school as an anchor in the event of a hurricane passing through the region.

    At the end of your tour you must make sure to take your visitor’s diploma you can keep as a souvenir!

     

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Oldest Wooden School]

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Oldest Wooden School em Saint Augustine]

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Pátio externo da Oldest Wooden School]

    [5] – A few steps ahead of the school you will see the Colonial Quarter, which is an interactive museum that immerse you in experiences of three centuries. A journey to Saint Augustine’s colonial history.

    [6] – Continuing your walk, I hope you are on an empty stomach! Here on St. George Street you will find an infinity of shops, cafes and confectioneries. However, if I can only leave one gastronomic tip it would be this one: GO FOR THE ITALIAN PIZZERIA Pizza Time, which was elected by Trip Advisor as the second best pizza in the US (just out of curiosity, the first one is from Brooklyn, NY). The place REALLY does justice to this accolade. Don’t forget to also try their famous garlic roll – it comes with a homemade tomato sauce is absolutely delicious! Oh, and get in the line even if it’s big!

    Go … just go! And I’m so sure you’ll want to thank me, so in advance I say: “You’re very welcome!”

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Pizza Time - água na boca]

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Saint George Street - rua de pedestres]

    Strolling down Saint George Street, the pedestrian street of the Historic District of Saint Augustine.

    The end of this delightful walk along St. George Street culminates in three other sites:

    [7] – Plaza de la Constitución (yes, the name is like that, in Spanish!) – the first public square of the United States established by ordinance of the Spanish court in 1573!

    Well… by now you probably already realized why everything here is stated as “first” or “oldest“, right? 

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Praça da Constituição]

    Plaza de la Constituición very illuminated during the special event “Nights of Lights" held during the winter  (with the Monument of the Constitution in the background).

    A LITTLE MORE OF HISTORY:
    The Constitutional Monument [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Monumento da Constituição]

    In March 1812 Spanish Parliament drafted the Spain Constitution and issued a decree for all the cities of the Spanish empire to rename their main squares as “Plaza de la Constituición” and to build monuments in celebration of the new constitutional government.
    So the Constitutional Monument of Saint Augustine – then the capital of the Spanish colony of Florida – was built in 1813 in celebration at this time.

    However, in September of 1814, news arrived from Europe saying that this constitutional government had been overthrown and that the monarchy had been re-established, and with that, a second royal decree was issued stating that such monuments should be destroyed.

    The officers at Saint Augustine resisted the order and refused to demolish what had given them so much labor and time to build, so the Constitutional Monument we see today located right in the center of the square is probably the only remaining and unchanged monument of that time.

    [8]The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine is located right in front of Plaza de la Constituición, and is one of the most … most? – (go on, take a guess!) – oldest Christian congregations in the United States!

    It was constructed over five years – from 1793 to 1797, becoming a Cathedral in 1870.

    In 1887, the structure burned in fire, but the damage was not total – the walls of its exterior were still standing and salvageable due to the special fireproof material used to build the masonry: broken shells (coquina) and sand cement.

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - A Basílica]

    [9] – Bridge of Lions: The main bridge of Saint Augustine is was built in 1926 and it is guarded by two imposing marble lions from 1927.

    The more enthusiastic visitors can cross it on foot to enjoy an incredible view of the city, observing the seafront of the city from a different angle.

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Ponte dos Leões]

    [10] – As you cross the Public Square and the Bridge of Lions, look for a gateway where it is written “Aviles Street“; a very charming stone street. You will find restaurants, museums, antique shops and art galleries – a bit of everything!

    And for those who are enjoying Saint Augustine superlatives, this is the oldest planned street in the United States! 

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - A Bela Aviles Street]

    Source: Saint Augustine Historic Inns

    [11] – A little further down Aviles Street – on Charlotte Street – you can see the Oldest House Museum Complex. It is a Spanish-style house that, as the name says, is the oldest in town, built in 1702, shortly after the English set fire to the city.

    In 1970 it became a recognized landmark, and today its museum, its exhibition gallery and external garden are areas preserved by the St. Augustine Historical Society.

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - The Oldest House]

    After your walk on Aviles Street and a visit to the Oldest House, you may continue walking to two other attractions nearby.

    [12] – Head to King Street and your first stop will be the Lightner Museum – a museum of impressive architecture. Just seeing the beautiful gardens and the facade of the building is already worth the walk!

    The museum’s exhibit includes objects from the American Golden Years (costumes, day-to-day artifacts, musical instruments, furniture, etc.), as well as it is the place of St Augustine City Hall.

    As we were short of time, I was only able to visit the outside, but with a special bonus: I was there during the annual event “Nights of Lights,“ which takes place from mid-November to the end of January – and transforms the city into an even more incredible place!

    [13] – Right in front of the museum you will notice another imposing building: Flagler College. The building used to be a hotel – Ponce de Leon – which was built in 1888 and was considered to be one of the most luxurious hotels in the world.

    Flagler College maintains a totally preserved structure with an opulent and magnificent architecture.

    Oh if I could go back in time and have the opportunity to choose where I want to study! This place would be a serious candidate! It is worth taking a nice walk through the campus (entrance and visit to the roundabout and campus is free and open to the public). If you want to take a closer look, maybe you should consider taking the guided tour there!

    TROLLEYS

    [Passeios em Saint Augustine - Trolleys]

    Sources: Old Town Trolley & Red Train Tours

    This tip goes for those who got tired just by reading the term “walking tour” – calm down! Your trip to Saint Augustine is not lost and you also have an excellent choice!

    Saint Augustine offers trolley tours around town, which take people to all the city’s best sights in the system hop on / hop off.

    There are day and night tours available – some of them are themed (“Christmas tours,” “Haunted tours,” or even the “Ghost Tours,” which include visits to gravestones!).

    SO, THE FINAL VERDICT…

    SAINT AUGUSTINE IS DEFINITELY WORTH VISITING!

    Saint Augustine is a small and adorable town where you can spend hours and hours walking around and there will always have something else to be seen.

    We spent two incredible days in this city that mixes the charm of an old city with a laid-back, beach-loving environment.

    Being so close to Jacksonville and Orlando, this is definitely a great option for everyone to consider when visiting Florida next time!

    Oh… and I know how Brazilians are! For those of you who don’t want to give up the shopping, the city has a branch of Premium Outlets.

    If you have to choose between history, beach and shopping, well… here you can have all three!

    Follow Vivajando on Facebook.

     

    Para ler este artigo em português ou para mais dicas de viagem do blog Vivajando,clique aqui.

    For more travel information and ideas in Portuguese, check out Vivajando, an online Brazilian guide for travel inspiration and quick tips!

     





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Updated: Friday, March 30, 2018

Cris Geiser Flessak's picture
Cris Geiser Flessak

Cris hails from Brazil. She is fluent in Portuguese and manages her own travel blog Vivajando geared to young, Brazilian traveles. Follow her blog for more places to visit!