If you can find a spare day during your Florida vacation to do something very different from the theme parks, you'll have an extremely interesting time visiting St Augustine, one of the oldest USA towns, where the first Spanish settlers landed in 1513.
It was Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer, who first landed at St Augustine and named Florida as la Florida (land of flowers). Since then Florida has changed 'ownership' a few times (Spanish, French, back to Spanish, British, Spanish again) finally being purchased by the USA in 1821. The Castillo de San Marcos (the fort built by the Spanish) was renamed Fort Marion to honour a Revolutionary war hero and the State capitol was then moved from St Augustine to Tallahassee.
Henry Flagler arrived at St Augustine in 1885 and he constructed two lavish hotels, the beautiful Alcazar, and his masterpiece-the Ponce de Leon.
The mainland is joined to Anastasia Island across the Matanzas River by the Bridge of Lions. St Augustine also has miles of sandy beaches on the Atlantic ocean.
St Augustine is full of historic buildings - the oldest USA wooden school house, the oldest house, the oldest store (complete with goods from the 1900s) amongst others, all of which are beautifully preserved and most of which you can visit.
Take a guided tour around the historic area of the town by train, bus (for only $1!), horse drawn carriage or you can explore on your own. There are also a wealth of interesting and unusual shopping opportunities.
To get there from the Orlando area, take the I4 east towards ORLANDO and then the I-95 north via the exit- on the left - towards JACKSONVILLE and follow signs to St Augustine. This area is 98 miles from the Orlando area but this is easy driving and well worth the effort of an early start.
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