There is no doubt that a field trip or vacation to St. Augustine, Florida will be full of history. As the oldest city in the US, it has a rich history. We have visited 3 times and still enjoy going back and finding new hidden places to explore. You can visit 2 national parks, you can learn the lore and legends of the city on the tour trolleys (which I highly recommend to get around the area), and you can count lots of hours of history learning while you visit. In addition to these, I want to suggest some other destinations to consider adding to your explorations of the area!!
World History @ Castillo de San Marcos
Castillo de San Marcos is one of two National Parks in the area. It’s the only one we have visited, because the second, Fort Matanzas National Monument was closed when we visited, due to hurricane damage. Castillo de San Marcos is an impressive site built on the causeway as a stronghold for the area. The walls are made of inches of crushed shells making it able to withstand long attacks from the ocean. Daily there are demonstrations both in the fort and on the grounds, including firing a cannon! To enter the fort there is an admission charge by the National Park Service.
We enjoyed the Junior Ranger program here. I was impressed that they had a simplified program for my preschooler to complete, which I haven’t seen at the other parks we have visited. My oldest was able to earn both a badge and a patch for completing the activities. Within the rooms of the Fort there are displays of the history and warfare that occurred at this site. Most of the site is open to the elements with little shade cover provided.
American History @ the Oldest Wooden School House
Tucked in the historic district near Castillo de San Marcos is the Oldest Wooden School House. You can walk through and visit the gardens for a peek at life in the past. There is a animatronic teacher demonstrating lessons and exhibits of the last graduating class. The gardens had statues of fairies, and useful plants. My girl and I found it delightful to slip in and visit, while the boys explored other places. There is a small admission charged.
Food Science @ Whetstone Chocolate Factory
Whetstone Chocolate Shops are hard to miss when you are in St Augustine. They have several locations where they sell the chocolate but only one where you can tour the facility and observe the process. I enjoyed learning that white chocolate has no cocoa powder in it but it is still called chocolate because it is made from the cocoa butter that comes from the seeds. We also were also given different grades of chocolate to taste. Tasting them as we learned about them gave me a greater appreciation for the different grades of dark chocolates.
Math @ St Augustine Lighthouse and Museum
Practice your math skills as you count the 200+ steps as you climb to the top of the 165 ft lighthouse. Another landmark with the distinction of being the “oldest,” the St Augustine Lighthouse has guided sailors for centuries. The shoreline has changed since it was first built but it is still a guiding landmark used today. The property has been restored and shared by a dedicated team of local enthusiasts. We learned that every light house tower is painted different and has a different light pattern to be read from the sea. So either looking at the tower or the light, sailors know which lighthouse they are looking at. During WWII Coast Guard joined the keepers as they watched the seas for enemy ships.
Art @ the Ponce de Leon Hotel
The Ponce de Leon Hotel was an exclusive luxury hotel when it opened in 1887. Built by the same architects as the New York Public Library, and decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his Tiffany Company, it is now a part of Flagler College, but there is still a nice tour of the building offered regularly by the college. The largest collection of Tiffany stained glass remains in the building and many of ornate decorations have been restored which makes it great fun to visit and look around.
Physical Education & Marine Biology @ the Beach
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the beach! The city is the oldest for a reason. It’s location made it a strategic stronghold for ruling nations as they conquered and fought over this part of the coast. The beaches are beautiful here and sandy. We have visited both public access points as well as rented a house on the beach, all with great sand and surf to play to our hearts’ content. It is a sea turtle habitat, so no porch lights on ocean view properties, but you might get lucky enough to watch some hatchlings headed back to the sea. We have enough piles of shells from our beach walks to last us for quite awhile.