The most picturesque residential section of the city, Old Town, is a delightful stroll along narrow brick streets and walkways lined with stone walls and wonderful old homes with overhanging balconies. Many of the homes are among the town’s 30-plus art galleries.
The Oldest House Museum Complex, operated by the St. Augustine Historical Society, features the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, the oldest surviving Spanish Colonial dwelling in Florida. The site has been occupied since the 1600s and the present house dates to the early 1700s. The complex includes gardens, a historical museum and a museum store.
The Dow Museum of Historic Houses is a collection of homes that traces five centuries of architecture from 1790 to 1910 in a complex that also includes gardens and statuary.
The last three decades of that collection coincide with St. Augustine’s “Gilded Age.” It began when Henry Flagler, one of John D. Rockefeller’s partners in Standard Oil, visited in 1883, and was impressed with the town’s possibilities as a resort. He had two lavish hotels built and purchased a third. The grandest, the1888 Alcazar Hotel, featured health spas, a gymnasium, steam baths and the world’s largest indoor pool. It was a mecca for society until it was done in by the Depression. Otto Lightner, the founder of Hobbies Magazine, restored the building in 1948 and turned it into the Lightner Museum to house his eclectic collections of Victoriana — an intriguing mix of furnishings, sculpture, paintings, mechanical musical instruments, toys and a fine selection of glassware that includes work by Tiffany.
Across the street, the Spanish Renaissance building that was the Hotel Ponce de Leon is now the main building of Flagler College. Take a tour to see highlights like the dining hall featuring 79 Tiffany windows and the Flagler room with eight chandeliers by Tiffany. The third hotel, the Casa Monica, was bought by Flagler and renamed The Cordova. It has been renovated and reopened in 1999 with the original name.
The Memorial Presbyterian Church at the corner of Valencia and Sevilla Streets was built by Flagler in 1889 in Venetian Renaissance style with an imposing 100-foot dome as a memorial to his only daughter. Both he and his daughter are buried in the mausoleum.
For something completely different, don’t miss the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, one of the area’s most popular attractions. In addition to alligators, it is the only place in the world to see all 23 species of living crocodiles.
Historians have debunked the theory that Ponce de Leon was searching for the Fountain of Youth, but a touristy Fountain of Youth National Archeological Park claims to have been his original landing place. There is no proof that the awful-tasting water will restore your youth.
You can be sure, however, that the lavish beaches across the bay on Anastasia Island have restorative powers, and you can thank Ponce de Leon for finding them.