Fort Matanzas National Monument was built in 1742 to defend the city of St. Augustine from British attack. Located just 15 miles south of St. Augustine, it has stood in the Matanzas Inlet for well over 250 years.
A remnant of Florida's Spanish past, today the fort is maintained by the National Park Service. The Visitor Center and most of the park grounds are open daily to the public from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Fort itself is accessible only via a passenger ferry which runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday. Both the ferry and admission to the Fort are FREE, but guests must stop at the Visitor Center to obtain a ferry pass.
Fort Matanzas has a long history, closely connected with the founding of St. Augustine by Pedro Menéndez de Aviles. In 1565, Menéndez killed over 250 French Huguenots upon the shores of this inlet, including the famed Jean Ribault. Due to the history of the site, the Spanish named both the fort and the inlet "Matanzas," which means "slaughters" in English. That name carries on to this day.
It is believed that a small wooden watchtower was always present on the inlet to guard the watery 'back door' entrance to St. Augustine. The fort that visitors see today was not built until British attacks increased along the Florida coast in the 1740s. Visitors will note some similarities between the construction of St. Augustine's fort, the Castillo de San Marcos, and Fort Matanzas because both are made of coquina. Coquina, a naturally occurring stone along Florida's east coast, is composed of shell fragments that are cemented together by the pounding surf upon the beach. This stone is easy to quarry and provided the Spanish with ample building material that was impenetrable to cannon fire.
Fort Matanzas hosts frequent reenactments and living history demonstrations depicting the times of the early fortification. A reenactor is onsite almost every day during the summer, relaying the history of the fort to visitors. On Wednesdays and Saturdays (weather permitting), musket demonstrations are given on the hour from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
The passenger ferry to Fort Matanzas runs Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The ferry is free, but guests must check in at the Fort Matanzas Visitor Center for a pass to ensure seating on the boat.
Along with being a historical site, Fort Matanzas also has some beautiful nature trails. A 1/2 mile boardwalk trail leads through the maritime forests at Matanzas. Visitors can walk on the shore, collect shells, fish, or picnic. For more information about the southern portion of this park, see our our description of the Matanzas Inlet.
Fort Matanzas National Monument is located at 8635 A1A South in St. Augustine, just south of SR 206.