The Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos, is the star of St. Augustine
The don’t-miss experience when visiting St. Augustine is touring the Castillo de San Marcos — the historic Spanish fort.
The Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine is a winner in so many categories — it has fascinating, history, it offers spectacular views and when the rangers fire the cannons (on weekends), it’s dramatic and entertaining.
ItÂ is the oldest masonry fort in the United States, built from 1672 to 1695, a hundred years after St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish.
It’s located right next to the walkable Old Town area and it has adjacent parking.
Tips for your visiting the Castillo de San Marcos:
Volunteers and rangers in accurate period guard demonstrate how to fire a cannon at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This is a highlight of many visits.
Be sure to read up on the fort, which has aÂ website with lots of information.
When to visit the Castillo de San Marcos
The Castillo de San Marcos is open to the public from 8:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. every day of the year except Dec. 25. (The ticket booth closes at 4:45 pm.) The park grounds are closed from midnight until 5:30 a.m.
Visitation is lowest from the middle of September through late November.
Visitation is highest June through Labor Day, and quite high on summer and holiday weekends when an average of 3,500 people visit the Castillo daily. During the summer, the Castillo de San Marcos extends its hours of operation to open one hour later, until 6:15 p.m.
School group visitation is quite high February through May. High visitation can also be expected during the December holidays, and March through April.
Other highlights of St. Augustine:
- Old Town, best explored on foot. Get a free walking tour map of Old Town at the visitor information center, 10 S. Castillo Dr., across the street from the fort. Or, you can download and printÂ it here.
- St. Augustine Pirate Museum: Fun for history lovers andÂ kids
- The 120-year-old St. Augustine Alligator Farm has one of the best bird rookeries in the state for viewing and photographing birds in spring and early summer. Year-roun, the gators and crocs are fun to see too.
- Anastasia State Park is a coastal treasure for camping and its beaches.Â It has anÂ archaeological site where coquina was quarried to build the St. Augustine Fort. Anastasia State Park is located off A1A, 1.6 miles south of the Castillo.
- Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum: A living history museum recreating the life in St. AugustineÂ in 1740. Costumed interpreters bring life the St. Augustine that was an outpost of the Spanish Empire. The Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum is only a five minute walk from the entrance of the Castillo.
- St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum:Â The 1874 lighthouseÂ is the second highest lighthouse in Florida.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is located 1.5 miles south of the Castillo just off route A1A.
Things to do near St. Augustine:
- Fort Matanzas, 14 miles south, is a smaller Spanish fort built 50 years after the Castillo de San Marcos. Itâ€™s a great stop because you take a small boat to the fort past spectacular scenery. And itâ€™s free.
- Princess Place Preserve, a nearby county park with an 1888 hunting lodge once owned by a princess. Good hiking and camping. Free.
- Washington Oaks Gardens State Park: Historic gardens plus unusual, beautiful coquina-rock beach.
- Flagler Beach, an Old Florida beach town.
- Faver-Dykes State Park for paddling and camping
- Fort Mose Historic State Park:Â The site of the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in United States. Fort Mose State Park is three miles north of the Castillo just off US-1.