St. Augustine: A taste of sunny Spain in Florida

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When we think of early America, our thoughts go to John Smith and Jamestown, the Puritans and Plymouth Rock. Surprisingly, St. Augustine in northern Florida holds the title of oldest continuously occupied city in the continental United States founded by Europeans. Today, the charming, sunny city remembers its Spanish heritage while making room for plenty of quirky shops, restaurants and tourist attractions.

The Spaniards landed in St. Augustine in 1565, after spotting land on the saint’s feast day. The chaplain of the expedition, Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, celebrated Mass for them. Now, an open air altar marks the approximate spot of the first Mass in the United States. Visitors can stroll around the grassy grounds and see a large steel cross, the small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of La Leche, stone Stations of the Cross and a Catholic gift shop.

Across the city, check out the beautiful red and gold interior of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

The city’s Spanish origins are most evident in the Castillo de San Marcos, a fort on the Matanzas River. Parts of the old city walls remain as well. The terra-cotta colored buildings of Flagler University, though constructed more recently, pay homage to Spanish architecture.

A glass of sangria and a bite to eat is best enjoyed in one of the many bars and restaurants along St. George Street, a pedestrian walkway filled with unexpected treasures. Tucked among the many shops, tourists can visit the country’s oldest wooden schoolhouse, a small Greek Orthodox Shrine covered with colorful frescoes, and the Pepper Palace, where you can buy every type of hot sauce and pepper jelly imaginable.

St. Augustine also has its share of tourist stops, such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, the Pirate and Treasure Museum and the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. For the more adventurous, try zip lining over crocodile-infested waters at the Alligator Farm Zoological Park. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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