St. Augustine: A History Lesson in America’s Oldest City

A Homeschool Field Trip for the Whole Family…

If you live in Florida and haven’t visited St. Augustine yet, you are surely missing out on tons of History, Beauty, Fun and a Big Educational opportunity for the whole family. Many Florida schools take their 4th-graders on a field trip to St. Augustine as a part of their Florida’s State History study, but in all honesty, all U.S. students could and should benefit from visiting and learning about the oldest continuously European settled city in the United States.

As Homeschoolers, we didn’t need to wait till 4th grade and miss out on all the historic heritage, landmarks and outdoor fun this town has to offer. St. Augustine and its surroundings has been providing our family plenty of history lessons during the last 3 years with many more still to come.

If you are not a Florida resident and planning to take a trip to Florida listen up, because Florida is so much more than Disney, Sunshine, Beaches and the occasional weird news flash story🤷‍♂️. However, if a beach vacation is what you are looking for during your Florida vacation, no need to despair, only a few minutes south on their Island side, you’ll find one of the most beautiful beaches on the East coast.

Visiting St. Augustine serves as a wonderful way for kids (and adults) to learn a great amount of U.S. History while adventuring around the beautiful town and its surroundings.

The very First Thanksgiving dinner…

When learning U.S. history, kids read many books and stories about English settlers in Jamestown, and I feel St. Augustine is often overlooked.

Truth is, the First Thanksgiving was held between the Spanish settlers and the Timucuan Indians in St. Augustine 56 years before the Puritan-Pilgrim one held in Plymouth.

But many history and biography books erroneously keep on teaching to our children otherwise. Also, St. Augustine was founded by Spanish Explorer Pedro Menendez De Aviles in 1565, which is 55 years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Rock, and 42 years before Jamestown was founded in 1607.

Where learning comes to life…

Our children have so much more history knowledge that I ever had at their age and it has also served them really well understanding the concepts of colonies, settlements, pilgrims, and so on…My 3rd grader’s favorite books to read are, for example, true biographies of Daniel Boone, Pocahontas, and anything related to Native Americans interacting or “reacting” to the arrival of European settlers and how they changed this Country.

From there he’s branched out to pick books about our current Presidential Elections and the history of past elections. I attribute this to

our St. Augustine’s adventures over the years and exploring its surrounding towns. This has truly had a great influence on our children’s love for anything related to the history of our country.

St. Augustine has easily become one of our favorite spots to vacation, and after being there 3 times, it still left us wanting to go back for more. There are so many important places and Landmarks in St. Augustine that the regular tourist doesn’t even get to know about and explore, so I’m here to spill on those well-kept secrets (shhh 🙊) and more! So let’s get started, shall we?

1.  Downtown St. Augustine…

Welcome to “La Florida“! Remember how I mentioned St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish Explorer Pedro Menendez De Aviles? Well, many years before that in 1513, another Spanish Explorer named Juan Ponce de León, landed near what today is St. Augustine, claimed it for Spain, and gave it the beautiful name we still hold till this day, “Florida” which means “land of flowers”.🌷🌼💐🌻

The “Old Town Trolley” sightseeing tour is the best way to discover St. Augustine’s landmarks and history.

There is also another trolley called the “Red Train Tours” but I personally found the “Old Town Trolley” had a better route and a few better stops. I also found their 3-day pass is the way to go because one single day won’t even begin scrapping the surface of this crown jewel.

We have taken this trolley numerous times and on every single ride, we learned something new thanks to each driver sharing their knowledge on the History of America’s oldest city and it’s by no means a boring ride.

You can sit on the trolley and do the complete 70-minute tour, or like us, you can hop off at stops you find interesting and explore more. After 3 years and 3 times going to St. Augustine, I can say I still have plenty of places I still haven’t had the chance to see or want to see again, and that’s a testimony of how beautiful, intriguing and interesting this city is.

Stops and tours we found worth doing as a homeschool family with small children are:

  • Fountain of Youth (The 15-acres grounds, are gorgeous filled with history as it’s also an archaeological park, a blacksmith re-enactment, cannon firing demonstrations every hour and so much more. If you skip the Fountain of Youth you’d skip on a ton of Learning, kids fun, together with the chance to drink the legendary water from the natural spring which Ponce de Leon’s believed will keep you forever young…🙌)

  • Mission of Nombre de Dios – Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche FREE TOUR! (A truly Blessed place for the whole family where you are immediately overcome with a feeling of Peace from the moment you step on the Mission’s grounds.

This “sacred acre” is home to a 208-ft cross which was erected as a Landmark and symbol of our Nation’s religious beginning since the very first Catholic mass and Thanksgiving dinner were held around here.

The Mission’s grounds are also home to an archeological dig, a shrine to the Virgin Mary from the late 1500s and many graves that date back to the 1800s. A small museum is also found here next to the new church where the original wooden coffin of Admiral Menendez can be seen. You don’t want to skip this Blessed educational opportunity for your kids!)

  • City Gates: St. George Street (a great walk, thru a road filled with small local shops and restaurants all giving that characteristic European feel. Here you will also find the Historical Landmark of the U.S. Oldest Wooden School and the Colonial Quarters. (A must see!)
  • Castillo De San Marcos is a National Monument and not only the oldest structure in St. Augustine, but also the oldest masonry fort here in the United States (Its “sister” Fort is found in San Juan Puerto Rico).

Its coquina walls are why it is still standing till this day since its flexibility made it resistant to breaking while getting hit by cannonballs in the 1700s (learned all this while visiting!).

Their Jr. Ranger program is a great way to help kids really appreciate the history of the Fort, town and times. My children were also amazed to walk around the fort in what at one time used to be the Moat of this Fort because, until that day, they had only read about Castles and Moats on some of their younger kids books.

  • Freedom Trail is a great walk thru all of the historic sites of the civil rights movement. The Freedom Trail is a self-guided tour thru 31 historic civil rights markers where people will learn about the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement of St. Augustine.

From Martin Luther King Jr. to local heroes like Dr. Robert Hayling, (a dentist who used his dental office to house lawyers and leaders during the movement a very dangerous thing to do at the time). The St. Augustine Four (young teenagers who were jailed for just trying to order a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter),

and many more landmarks to see and explore.

A walk thru the Freedom Trail is a great opportunity to help kids truly picture and understand not only St. Augustine’s important role in the Civil Rights Movement but also America’s very recent history to this matter.

  • St. Augustine Distillery. FREE TOUR! Alright, alright… I know you must be thinking why a tour of a distillery can be educational to kids, but this is truly is a great stop filled with history, inspiration, and wisdom. 
  1. History, because the St. Augustine Distillery is located in a building that is over 100-year-old which used to be an Ice Plant. This building was added to the “National Register of Historic Places” since it’s the only Ice Plant of its kind still standing in N. Florida.
  2. Inspirationbecause it’s founded by a group of locals who got together and went to great lengths to restore this Historic Ice Plant, bring it as close as possible looking like the original structure, and turned into a Successful local business bringing their vision into reality!
  3.  Wisdom, because the St. Augustine Distillery uses locally grown sugar cane, wheat, corn, and citrus, which helps develop a unique taste and smell to their finer quality spirits setting them apart from the commercial ones out there but also promoting and helping our local Farms and Economy. BRAVO to them! You will leave this tour with much-gained knowledge and the free samples sure do help to make it one of our best stops😉🍹!
  • Whetstone Chocolate Factory.  This tour not only explains the making of chocolate but of course being that it’s in St. Augustine, it also explains with the help of a video the history of chocolate and then employees will explain the Whetstone’s very own history.

Who knew Chocolate used to be a very bitter drink?? I didn’t! Where do cocoa beans come from, how they are grown, and how different chocolates are made,

are all some of the questions that will be answered and demonstrated while tasting some great Chocolate!

  • The Pirate Ship “Black Raven  takes you out in the Bay for about an hour, and offers a very cute entertaining Pirate show. Kids absolutely love this, and it truly gave them the understanding that Pirates really did exist and are not just a cartoon character someone invented. We found a Groupon for this tour at the time, and for the price we paid it was worth it.
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not was completely different of what I expected, not that it was bad but let’s just say I’m ok with visiting that museum only once. Whether you choose to buy tickets or not,

I do advise to hop off the trolley at that stop and go check-out the house made out of a tree trunk they have in their parking lot…it is AMAZING!

There is also a real size Nile crocodile statue with the true story about how its believed to have eaten hundreds of people in the Nile River😲.  Another interesting site here is the exact replica (using the same granite) of the original Italian “Statue of David”, it’s hiding behind the bushes because you know…he’s naked! 🤣

  • We visited the Pottery Wax Museum” during our Ghost and Gravestones trolley tour and were underwhelmed by both. I’d recommend saving your money for something different.

There are many more tours, museums, and landmarks to visit in the city of St. Augustine, however since this homeschool family is also a camping and beach loving family, we chose to camp on Anastasia Island (only a few miles south) and decided while there to take some time to explore it.

Anastasia Island not only is home to the most beautiful East Coast beaches in Florida (and this comes from a South Florida resident), but it’s also very rich in history beginning from the “Bridge of Lions” all the way south to Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. It’s hard to believe with all the history that downtown St. Augustine has to offer, there is much more left to learn and discover, but trust me there is! Here is a list of more Historic and Educational rich places we have visited and enjoyed on Anastasia Island.

1. Anastasia State Park

There are many reasons Anastasia State Park is ranked #6 of 100 parks in the U.S., and being on the National Register of Historic Places is definitely one of them. Anastasia State Park is where the Spaniards discovered how to make that very resistant and flexible Coquina stone. They discovered that tiny shells fragments naturally found in this area’s beaches, if formed together into blocks and let dry, it would glue and form into a porous type of limestone.

The coquina quarries located at the entrance of the park is a great place to take the kids for a “historic hike” after seeing the Fort in downtown St. Augustine.

Here kids can walk thru where Spaniards made each and every stone that forms the walls of Castillo De San Marcos and helped save St. Augustine from days of being attacked by cannonballs.

This quarry site was used from the 1700s when the Castillo de San Marcos was first built until the end of that century. Anastasia State Park has also beautiful pink colored sandy beaches, majestic oak trees creating a unique canopy throughout the park, and a long boardwalk to the beach that overlooks natural and untouched dunes, with a gorgeous view of the magnificent St.Augustine Lighthouse. History has never looked better!🤗

2. St. Augustine Lighthouse

With its beautiful white and red stripes, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and its gorgeous surrounding grounds are a perfect place to bring the whole family. Kids who are at least 44inchecs tall can climb all the way up the 165 ft tower, but if your brood is made of shorties👶 don’t let the height limit discourage you from visiting.

There are many geographical and historical landmarks on the surrounding grounds which are also filled with family-friendly activities. The St Augustine Lighthouse is also a Maritime Museum and offers an archaeological program (LAMP) which has discovered many historic shipwrecks around St. Augustine.

The LAMP has recovered a great amount of these shipwrecks cargo and some of these well-preserved artifacts are showcased at the Lighthouse Museum which has lots of kid-style interactive displays. The St. Augustine Lighthouse is also an NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather station.

Many don’t know that the St. Augustine lighthouse was the first lighthouse established in Florida in 1824, however, the tower you see today is not the original lighthouse built by the new American Government.

Beach Erosion claimed the original building that served as the St. Augustine lighthouse, which toppled into the ocean in 1880 and the remains are now part of a submerged archaeological site.

Luckily the tower you see today had already been built 6 years prior, but almost a century later in 1970, an arsonist set it on fire and the tower suffered devastating damages. Ten years later in 1980, the grounds and tower were restored by a group of 15 women who were part of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine (JSL) and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places a year later in 1981.

3. Alligator Farm

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm is over 100 years old and the only zoo in the whole world that has every living type of all 24 species of crocodilians. Like many places in St. Augustine, there is lots of history in this place. From American Alligators, Crocodiles, Albino Alligators, the world’s deadliest bird, Monitor Lizards, Tucans, and many many more Exotic animals I can’t possibly list here, we left completely amazed.

The St Augustine Alligator Farm has many shows and exhibits throughout their grounds and twice a year they have “Homeschool Day” charging only $9.00 x person. If you happen to go on a different time of the year,

They recognize and appreciate our brave Law Enforcement officers and offers a 50% discount and may God Bless them for their good hearts!!

Learning and fun are guaranteed with this stop!

4. Historic Butler Beach

Nowadays on Butler Beach, everyone can enjoy it’s beauty while sunbathing, taking a 3/4 of a mile drive on it (yes just like in Daytona Beach), riding your bike and also taking the dog along for a great relaxing day on this gorgeous dog-friendly beach.

Believe it or not, until 1927, in Florida beaches were for white people only! That year Mr. Butler (an African-American wealthy businessman) became so frustrated with this injustice that he began buying ocean front property and then a tract of the beach itself naming it Butler Beach.

Mr. Butler opened this stretch of the beach for African-Americans to enjoy, at the time it was the only beach between Daytona Beach and north of Jacksonville, where they were allowed. My mind is absolutely blown every time I stop to think about how beach segregation was a thing, not to mention the fact it was still going on up to less than a century ago😔.

Butler Beach had also an important role in the 1964 Civil Rights Movement which thankfully also ended beach segregation. This location is a great opportunity for some Sun & Fun while learning about its recent important role in History.

5. Fort Matanzas National Monument

Our family stumbled upon Fort Matanza National Monument during one of our drives down on A1A in Anastasia Island. To our surprise, once we parked and walked inside a small building, we found out they offer free 5 minutes Ferry rides to take you over to the fort.

The Fort Matanza National Monument has a very important role in protecting St. Augustine from the enemy trying to sneak in a back way thru the Matanza River and they will explain this and much more during this FREE amazing history rich tour.

Kids will absolutely LOVE this Rangers’ guided tour where they will take visitors inside the fort to see 2 of the original cannons, sleeping/living quarters, and a lookout deck on top only accessible by ladder. The details inside the sleeping living quarters truly take them back in time and even during the hottest summer months those coquina walls keep this building surprisingly cool (good engineering lesson as well😉). Fort Matanza National Monument offers a great history lesson for children and adults.

6. Marineland

Marineland was the World’s First Oceanarium, that opened in 1938. Today Marineland operates as a dolphin conservation center, where you can see dolphins, feed the dolphins, swim with the dolphins, all while learning about them, their habits, and the environment.

Our family loves to visit Marineland, and its beautiful surroundings are breathtaking as it’s on a cliff right off the Atlantic Ocean, offering an absolutely stunning view. Kids will love this Dolphin Adventure but keep in mind it requires an entrance fee and tickets for all activities you’d like to do. A Dolphin adventure well worth it!

7. Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

There is so much history in Washington Oaks State Park you should plan on spending at least a few hours at this site.

From learning about some of the Native American’s Fish hunting habits to how Citrus crops were brought for the very first time to our country by Spanish settlers in this very site,

this park doesn’t receive the attention it really deserves.

Its beautiful historic Rose Garden, Bella Vista Trail, man built river pond, and canopying oak trees, receive lots of attention and reviews online. However, the Young’s house is also found on its premises, and here is where you will learn the history and importance of this beautiful place.

As Homeschooling families we have many Blessings and one of them is exploring and learning things more in-depth than kids enrolled in school have the chance and time to do.

Whether it’s St. Augustine or not, enjoy and embrace the time you have together with your children to not only learn from textbooks but also go out and explore. These will be the experiences and times our children will remember, cherish, and help them the most.

Job 12:7-10

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
May you enjoy St. Augustine as much as we do,
Juno. 🌊

Show comments

Read the discussion

2 replies to “St. Augustine: A History Lesson in America’s Oldest City”

  1. Yankee soul/girl at 💓 says:

    I so enjoyed your St Augustine article. My husband and I have been there several times, and we agree every time is like the first time. Next time we go we will use this article to guide us to places we haven’t seen yet. Thanks and keep up the good work Juno👏

    1. Juno says:Author

      Hi,
      and thank you for your feedback and encouragement.😇 Glad this article can be of good use for you and your husband and I truly hope you both will enjoy these places as much and even more than we did!!

      Many Thanks,
      Juno.

Comments are closed.