In 2015, St. Augustine, Fla., celebrates its 450th birthday. No other city in the U.S. can put that many candles on its cake.
In the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the U.S., historic preservation is paramount. St. Augustine's historic downtown pulses with intimate cafes, bars, and shops, all nestled along narrow, cobblestone streets.
“The city and community are deeply committed to its history,” St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver says. “It is our patrimony, and we are very careful with it.”
In a time when people talk more with their phones than in person, downtown St. Augustine remains refreshingly unplugged. “St. Augustine feels like a European city,” Shaver says. “People feel transported back in time when they come here to visit. Even the locals often look at the oak trees or the buildings when they walk downtown.”
Historic, yes; behind the times, no. St. Augustine has a top-notch school system, liberal arts and technical colleges, a range of housing options, and year-round warm weather in which to enjoy the sand and the surf.
Tops in Education
Ranked No. 1 in total Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test points for the past six years, the St. Johns County School District accommodates 34,000 K-12 students. Its high school students place above the national average in SAT and ACT test scores. The school district is also the largest employer in the county, with more than 4,000 full- and part-time employees.
Flagler College, a four-year liberal arts college, is also a primary source of employment for St. Augustine residents, as well as a focal point of the city’s heritage. Flagler College’s main hall is located within the former Hotel Ponce de Leon Hotel, a National Historic Landmark built in 1888 by Standard Oil partner Henry Flagler.
The Flagler name also attaches to Flagler Hospital, a not-for-profit acute care facility established in 1889. The hospital consistently receives top rankings for clinical excellence. St. Augustine residents have access to 16 other acute-care hospitals within 60 miles.
Active, Artistic Community
St. Augustine’s rich history attracts a diverse population of historians, scholars, artists, retirees, active adults, and any combination of these. The city boasts a thriving arts community with a variety of small art galleries and antique shops, as well as a popular First Friday Art Walk.
Active adults and families will have no shortage of opportunities to soak in the sunshine, thanks to St. Augustine’s many parks, golf courses and water sports opportunities. Anastasia State Park contains tidal salt marshes and more than 4 miles of beach on its 1,600 acres. Visitors can surf, swim, fish, sailboard or paddleboard at the park.
With the Atlantic Ocean, St. Johns River and IntraCoastal Waterway surrounding the city, watersports are a popular pastime. For canoeing and kayaking, head to Faver Dykes State Park, which offers both along Pellicer Creek. Rent jet skis and dart across the IntraCoastal, or try parasailing above the ocean on an adventurous afternoon.
With its devotion to history, stunning architecture and endless activities, St. Augustine charms those passing through and those born and raised. As Shaver says, “Whatever you feel like doing, you can find it here ... other than ski.”