Residents of St. Augustine are fiercely proud of their history, but it doesn't always get its due. Colonies like Plymouth Rock, Mass., or Jamestown, Va., often get more love from the history books. But on the 450th anniversary of the oldest permanent European settlement in North America, St. Augustine is going all out to set the record straight.
When Spanish conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilé stepped ashore on Sept. 8, 1565, he chased away the French, founded missions for the native Timucuan Indians and became the governor of La Florida. For five centuries, St. Augustine existed under Spanish, English and then U.S. flags. Top that, pilgrims!
Events, parades, art exhibits and a Spanish wine festival are happening in September for a month-long party. There have been rumors that the king and queen of Spain may even show up to mark this American milestone!
Cathedral Basilica, one of the many trolley stops in St. Augustine's Old City — Photo courtesy of Daron Dean / Visit Florida
For the official anniversary in September, don’t miss these official 450th events:
Sept. 4-6: Music & Street Festival - Music fills the street throughout the Old City. Historical reenactments, fireworks and parades are planned for the weekend.
Music in Old St. Augustine — Photo courtesy of Rob Bixby
Sept. 8: Countdown Clock Ceremony and Commemorative Mass - Witness an authentic, historical re-enactment of Pedro Menéndez’s historic founding of St. Augustine on the exact date at the Mission Nombres De Dios. A procession takes spectators to The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine for a Commemorative Mass.
Mission Nombres de Dios — Photo courtesy of Daron Dean / Visit Florida
Sept. 9-12: Spanish Wine Festival - Quaff delicious Spanish wines over four days, with special events such as wine dinners and a grand tasting. The King and Queen of Spain are officially invited.
But if you can't make it in the fall, there are many ways to get a taste of history and celebrate with the locals any time you choose to make your visit this year:
Castillo de San Marcos
You can’t miss Castillo de San Marcos – both literally and figuratively – the enormous 17th-century fort on the river just outside Old St. Augustine.
The oldest masonry fortress in the United States boasts 12-foot-thick walls that are 33 feet high, and it also features a moat and a drawbridge.
Weekends feature reenactments complete with musket and even cannon firings.
Fort Matanzas in St. Augustine — Photo courtesy of Saginaw66
Fort Matanzas is the Castillo’s little sister, built in 1740 on Rattlesnake Island to be first to spot possible attacks on the city.
To see it, jump aboard a park ranger-driven pontoon boat, and ride across a beautiful section of the Matanzas River. Once there, you can explore the fort and climb a narrow ladder all the way to the top for views of the mostly undeveloped river.
Sipping from the Fountain of Youth — Photo courtesy of Daron Dean / Visit Florida
The Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth is where St. Augustine’s European history started. Myth says this is where Ponce De Leon discovered a spring that would keep him young forever. Not the case, but it is the site where St. Augustine was proclaimed a city in 1565.
The grounds are gorgeous, and you can even sip from the fabled spring.
St. Augustine Beach — Photo courtesy of Visit Florida
St. Augustine Beach
Head to St. Augustine Beach to get a sense of what the Spanish must have felt when they came ashore. With its soft sands, warm sun and ocean breezes, no wonder they wanted to call the place home.
Docked at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina through July, El Galeón is a 170-foot, authentic wooden replica of a Spanish galleon. Nearly 10,000 square feet of sail is manipulated by dozens of crew members, just as it was done in the 16th century.
Take a tour to walk the decks and ship's quarter.
El Galeón — Photo courtesy of Rob Bixby
Ride the Old Town Trolley into the Old City. Yes, you’ll look like a tourist, but it’s the best way to learn St. Augustine’s centuries of history.
You can also jump on and off as many times as you like when you come to a point of interest and want to explore on your own.
Okay, so the colonials didn't play golf, but locals would love to show you around TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra during this year’s THE PLAYERS Tournament.
On May 5 through May 10, world-class PGA golfers like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler Bubba Watson will compete for a $10-million purse.
If you miss the tourney, the course is open to all golfers who want to test their mettle on one of Florida's most spectacular courses.