Cruising Through Florida’s History

St. Augustine, Florida, dates back to the 1500s, giving the city plenty of time to build up things to see and do.

St. Augustine
St. Augustine’s nickname is “the nation’s oldest city.” It’s also sometimes called “the ancient city.” Carmen Ziss/Shutterstock

St. Augustine, on Florida’s northeast coast, is a popular stopover for yachtsmen cruising up or down the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s a good run either from Charleston, South Carolina, to the north, or from Key West, Florida, to the south. The combination of history, fun and marine services that St. Augustine offers is tough to beat, no matter the final destination on the itinerary.

The city dates to 1565—the age of Spanish galleons—and the historic district still has buildings that were constructed in the 18th century, for fans of architecture on foot tours. It’s worth a trip off the boat to explore Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument that’s preserved under the watchful eye of the National Park Service. The Spanish built this fort to defend the city after a raid by an English privateer. Today, it is the oldest masonry fort in the United States, open seven days a week. Visitors can look around on their own or take tours, including an artillery tour, which focuses on the cast-iron and bronze weapons on the gun deck (no sitting on the cannons, please).

There is more modern fun to be had in the heart of the historic district, where all kinds of restaurants, shops and bars welcome tourists with a smile. Yes, there is a high season here: Expect the most tourism activity from June through August. If you want to avoid the crowds—or perhaps get off the boat for a few nights at a lower-rate hotel—consider tying up at one of St. Augustine’s marinas during the months of March through May.

Some of the more unique local spots include the Hyppo, which makes gourmet ice pops (try to order a Banilla Vanana without tripping over your tongue), and the Maple Street Biscuit Co., whose biscuits include the Squawking Goat (served with fried chicken, fried goat cheese and house-made pepper jelly).

St. Augustine Lighthouse
The location of the St. Augustine Lighthouse has a history that included a wooden watchtowner in 1589. Sandi Cullifer/Shutterstock

Shops in the historic district also have a creative flair: Anchor Boutique makes custom rings, and it repairs pieces that got damaged aboard the boat. After all, sometimes the deepest beauty can be found in preservation.    

Where to Stay

St. Augustine is on the Intracoastal Waterway. Camachee Island Yacht Harbor is 2 miles from the historic district, with nightly or monthly rates. English Landing Marina also takes transients and has slips for catamarans.  Marineland Marina has 20-plus slips for transients. St. Augustine Marine Center has dockage for boats up to 100 feet length overall. It has a 110-ton Travelift too. St. Augustine Municipal Marina has maps online of its mooring fields.

Make the Climb

A climb up the 219 steps of the St. Augustine Lighthouse for towering views of the surrounding area is included with every admission ticket. Children must be at least 44 inches tall to make the attempt; younger kids can head to the climb-in puppet theater. Service animals are welcome on the lighthouse grounds but not inside the historic building. There also are interactive exhibits such as learning how to tie knots.

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