St. Augustine, North America s oldest city, rests on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Northeast Florida. This historic landmark lies with in close proximity to three of Florida s main cities. Jacksonville is a short thirty minute drive to the north, Daytona is a one hour drive to the south and a two hour drive to the southwest will put you in or around the Orlando area. Approximately two and one half miles off of St. Augustine s coast there is a large ocean current, the Gulf Stream, that played an important part in the settlement of the area. As a member of Florida s First Coast, St. Augustine has twenty four miles of beautiful beaches that offer a plethora of recreational activities. This aspect is a perfect complement to any town involved in the tourism industry.
The topography of the area is consistent with the associations of any coastal town in Northeast Florida. The city is bound by three different waterways. To the west of the city lies the St. Johns River, while to the east is the Intercoastal Waterway which empties into the Atlantic Ocean providing a natural inlet and bay for passing boats. Off shooting the rivers and waterways there are vast rich wetlands, estuaries and tidal marshes. Indigenous to the area, large moss draped oaks provide a shaded canopy that is a perfect place to picnic, play or just sit and relax. Just over the Intercoastal and the famous Bridge of Lions, is Anastasia Island and the beaches of St. Augustine. Thick hammocks of palmetto, sea oaks, sable palms and sea oats grow wild along the seemingly never-ending coastline, while twenty foot dunes protect the island from extensive erosion damage. The hard packed sand beaches are blanketed with an endless supply of seashells such as sand dollars, moon snails, and angel wings. At the southern tip of the island the beach is encrusted with patches of coquina reef that provides protection for nesting sea turtles. If one is lucky he or she might witness an act of God as baby sea turtles emerge from their burrow and make way to their new home in the ocean.
With a semi-tropical environment, St. Augustine is conducive to tourism year round. With an average annual temperature of 70 degrees the snow bound travelers of the north find it easy to escape the bitter cold winters in this sun drenched paradise.
As North America s oldest city, St. Augustine has managed to protect and preserve more than five centuries of history and culture. This coastal colonial village is like a time capsule with one hundred and forty-four blocks of homes on the National Register of Historical Places. The city has a certain mystic created by, a contradiction of Old and New World influences jumbled into a refreshing mixture of antiquated romance, youthful vibrant and southern sweetness.
The area was first discovered by Ponce de Leon on his life quest to find the Fountain of Youth. The permanent settlement was founded on September 8, 1565, by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in the name of his king, Philip II of Spain. After fifty years of Spanish failure to colonize the area, a city in Florida finally appeared. With the French starting a settlement to the north, in Jacksonville at the mouth of the St. Johns, St. Augustine became a strategic fortification. The king of Spain gave orders for the construction of a military fort, the Castillo de San Marcos, for the purpose of protecting the Spanish treasure fleets as they road the Gulf Stream back to the European Continent and for organizing troops to oust the French from the extensive Spanish Territory. After a storm forced the majority of the French fleet ashore somewhere near Cape Canaveral, the survivors marched north in hopes of reaching Fort Caroline, the French fortification in Jacksonville. Hearing of their misfortune, Menendez and his men intercepted the French troops at Matanzas Inlet, the river of blood. It was there that he negotiated their surrender and then be
headed all but a few Catholics. This is the site of Fort Matanzas, a small outpost used as a lookout point for the southern frontier. During the end of the sixteenth century Spain suffered many losses in Florida leaving them with little more than a seaport city on the northeast coast of the peninsula. It was attacks such as Drakes Raid and uprisings of the native Indians that left the town in so much a weakened state. Spanish officials considered the possibility of closing the colony, however, St. Augustine survived and its people preserved through all the difficulties of frontier life.
In the seventeenth century Christianity was wide spread as the Franciscan Mission System dotted the east coast and created a pathway westward to the Mississippi. This was also the time period in which the Castillo de San Marcos was converted to a stone fortification. After nine wooden forts were previously built and burned, the stone Castillo, strongly armed with cannons, defended the port and the city.
The next century would be a time of conflict and international exchanges of the colony. For the remainder of the first Spanish period (1565-1763) British excursions and Indian uprisings made life in St. Augustine extremely difficult. In 1763 the British finally occupied the city, not by force but through a peace treaty at the end of the Seven Years war. During the American Revolution, St. Augustine observed a great influx of immigration. As a result the city became a multi-cultural and multi-national community. Religion also witnessed a change of hands as English Protestantism was dominant to the small number of missions who continued practicing Catholicism.
From 1784-1821 the second Spanish period came about as a result of Spain s involvement in the Revolutionary War. The Spanish tried to reinstate Catholicism as the dominant religion but failed as the multi-cultural community continued to practice their own religions. Consequent to the emergence of a new population of Americans, Minorcans, British loyalist and subjects, accompanied by a new plantation economy, Spain would never really regain control of the colony. Sick of it all, Spain relinquished Florida to the United States in 1819, along with five million dollars of Spanish debt.
After the American acquisition of Florida, land speculators moved in
from the north and started large commercial plantations. During the first century of American control the Castillo de San Marcos played a part in both the Seminole and Civil Wars. Soon after the Civil War, rich tourist from the north started to spend their time in Florida. The first Florida guide book , A Winter in Florida, was followed by , Tourist, Invalids and Settlers, twelve years later. The two books offered readers an abundance of information about St. Augustine which was recommended for its, quaint, romantic character, historic structure, and healthfulness. Several years later Henry Flaglar made a dream come true as he built an empire of railroads and hotels extending from St. Augustine to Key West known as, the American Riviera. Florida became the new retreat for the wealthy and the famous. It saw the likes of visitors such as John Jacob Astor, Warren G. Harding, John D. Rockefeller, Will Rogers and Theodore Roosevelt. In less than a decade St, Augustine exploded with churches, winter homes and huge hotels with the majority of structures following the fashion of the Spanish Renaissance architectural style. A prime example of the buildings of this time period is the Ponce de Leon Hotel now known as Flaglar College.
As Flaglar had foreseen, thousands of wealthy tourists were traveling to Florida and St. Augustine to enjoy the magnificent resorts of Flaglar and his competitors. In time many of these visitors purchased property and settled here, some seasonally and some permanently. After the first World War, many middle classfamilies began to vacation and move to the Sunshine State. Strangers visiting the many historic sites and interesting attractions would be a common site during the prime seasons. In 1965 on the city s four hundredth birthday, St. Augustine was well known for its age, historical significance, unusual architecture, and scenic beauty.
Today, St. Augustine stands as a tribute to the past, a living history. This preserved history of the city, not to mention the changes and growth in the twentieth century is simply outstanding. The story of this quaint seaport city is the story of the discovery and settlement of North America. The multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population that existed more than 500 years ago is still present today. The economy follows the vision of Henry Flaglar and caters to tourists world wide. The majority of the economy is tourism related or supported with an abundance of accommodations, restaurants, attractions, and special events.
Attractions and Special Events
There are over 60 attractions to be seen in St. Augustine area. A few of the cities more popular attractions are Ponce de Leon s legendary Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, scenes of architectural magnificence, the St. George ST shopping district with restaurants, boutiques, galleries and the Living Museum exhibit, glimpses of history in the many Spanish houses and centuries old forts and museums, traces of yesteryear depicted through reenactment, the ever famous Alligator Farm and Marineland, and no visit would be complete without taking a trip to Ripley s Believe It or Not. St. Augustine also has numerous natural attractions such as Guana River State Reserve, Washington Oaks Garden State Park, and the beautiful coastline of Anastasia Island.
St. Augustine holds over 45 festivals and special events each year. Whimsical and beachside spectacles vary from a spring parade with horses donning Easter bonnets to beach paddle tennis tourneys and festivals of cabbage and potatoes. Most of these events deal with heritage and heroism from the colonial period. Also many of these events involve reenactments in which many local people take pride in participating. These festivals and events help to make St. Augustine such a special place.
Museums and Historical Sites
Everything seems to be a museum or a historical site. This is what makes this town so unique. St. Augustine has so much culture and heritage that is preserved through the many museums and historic homes. For example, one might visit the Lightner Museum where they might observe works of art or the art work found in the cafeteria of the Flaglar College, the world s largest collection of Tiffany glass.
Main Lure of Tourism and the Tourist Profile
Tourists main attraction to St. Augustine is centered around the historical significance of the city. St. Augustine is North Americas oldest city and therefore a unique tourist destination. Accompanying the many historical attractions are the beautiful beaches adorning St. Augustine s coastline which offer numerous recreational possibilities.
Developing a tourist profile for St. Augustine is difficult due to the wide variety of visitors. One million seven hundred and thirty thousand travelers from all walks of life come each year to get a taste of the way life was in the early beginnings of this continent (Pasquale & Courtenay; at-a-glance, 1995). However, St. Augustine has a well defined target market. The target audience under demographics falls primary and secondary. Adults 25-49, married, with college education, employed full-time, having a household income of 30k plus make up the primary group. The secondary group includes adults 50 plus, with college education, having a household income of 25k plus.
The geographic target audience is separated by domestic and international. Domestic includes travelers destined to Florida from the Southeast, Midwest, and Northeast. Also pertinent and extremely important is the market located with in a 500 mile radius, many of Florida s schools use the destination as a learning tool for getting a closer look at history. International markets are showing an increased pre-disposition for travel to Florida, specifically targeted are the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada.
Chamber of Commerce tourism director, Tica Walley, said that the city has never taken a survey to determine exactly how much revenue has been generated by tourism. The chamber uses the figures from the Bed Taxes as an indication of how much money tourism brings into the community. The Bed Taxes collected in 93/94 were $2,019,899 and in 94/95 they were $2,138,776. After twelve months of tracking, the taxes were up by 5.9%, $118,876,000 from the previous year s figures (St. Johns County TDC, 1995/1996).
Restaurant and Hospitality
St. Augustine has more than 150 restaurants to experience (Pasquale & Courtenany; at-a-glance, 1995). the style of the establishments range from elegant five star restaurants to popular local fish camps for the city is well known for its fresh seafood that comes straight from the docks. St. Augustine has a lot of the restaurants associated with a well developed city however some of the better meals are had at the locally owned and operated establishments. Practically every day during the busy season one could stroll into any random pub or bar and be guaranteed to enjoy some sort of live music, whether it be a band or a street-side minstrel.
St. Augustine has more than more 7000 guests rooms, suites, and villas which accomodate all visitors to the area. The different types of accommodations include hotels, resorts, bed & breakfast inns, RV parks and campgrounds. hotels are located throughout the city and the adjoining beach area. Hotel rooms make up the majority of the 7000 rooms available. The Ponce de Leon Golf and Conference Resort has 193 rooms and the largest clover leaf swimming pool in the state of Florida. The resort also has six tennis courts, a golf course, a restaurant, and a lounge. St. Augustine has 24 bed & breakfast inns that enable visitors to relive the past. The best way to experience the ambiance of the oldest city in America is to stay in one of the historical homes. The oldest establishment is the St. Francis Inn and has been in operation since 1791. For the past fifteen years my father has owned and operated the Casa de Solana a historical home dating back to 1786. The outdoor adventurer can fancy one of thirteen RV parks or campgrounds on the beaches and outskirts of the city. the RV parks can provide the simple pleasures of travel without the expense of hotels and resorts (Pasquale & Courtenay; accommodations, 1995).
There are a number of different transportation methods that will get you to St. Augustine. The long distance traveler may arrive via train, airplane, car, or boat. If arriving by plane, the closest airports are the Jacksonville International and the Daytona Beach Regional. Each one is located approximately one hour away from downtown St. Augustine. There is also a local landing area called Areo sport, for those who fly small private planes into the city. There is an Amtrak station located in Jacksonville for those who prefer to ride the rails. Downtown St. Augustine also has a greyhound bus station with in walking distance to the historical sites. If traveling by car there are two main routes. For the more direct route one can travel Interstate 95 to exit 95 and head west to US1. For the scenic route A1A would be the appropriate road to travel.
The main source of transportation to and from the local attractions are guided tours. Narrated sightseeing tours ranging from horse-drawn Carriages, to open air trolleys and antique trains are available throughout the town. There is also a scenic cruise ship that runs up and down Matanzas Bay. Everything in the downtown area is within walking distance which makes it convenient for the adventurous pedestrian.
There is a Visitor Information Center located at 10 Castillo Drive, St. Augustine Florida, 32084. Visitors may stop by any time during the day to gather information about different landmarks, hotels, and tours. The out-of-town traveler may wish to call the St. Augustine Chamber of Commerce at (904) 829-5681, in order to plan a more organized trip to the area.
My Expert Opinion
St. Augustine is famous for its historical landmarks and beautiful beaches. As it stands the city is already crowded with buildings, resedents, and tourists. In order to maintain and preserve that quaint mystic image I would not suggest any further development for the downtown area, instead I support continuos restoration of the historic district. For example, many tourist come to St. Augustine to experience a part of history in the modern world, however, the visitors image or perception might be cluttered with new construction, and over crowded streets. I say St. Augustine has a good thing going and why fix something that isn t broken. I think the city of St. Augustine should leave tourism development to areas surrounding the town.
Pasquale, Lynne & Courtenay, Danielle. (1995). St. Augustine and the Beaches of Anastasia Island at-a-glance. Tallahassee, FL.
Walley, Tica. St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce tourism director.