The Four Forts in St Augustine and the History Behind Them

It should come as little surprise that St. Augustine, named the ancient city, is filled with wonderful historical attractions for first-time visitors. Few attractions capture the deep history and the contentiousness of the region’s occupancy better than its many historical forts. Below we cover the four best forts in St. Augustine, and why visiting the city provides such a fascinating dive into history. 

Castillo se San Marcos

The Castillo de San Marcos is part of St. Augustine’s signature landscape. The iconic and breathtaking fort hangs over the water, snug wonderfully between the entrance to St. George St downtown and the inlet, home to dolphin, manatee, and sailboats alike.

The Castillo de San Marcos is the definitive fort in St. Augustine. You may have seen it in Google images of the famous ancient city. You may have seen it driving through downtown or reviewing a vintage postcard. But it is absolutely something you won’t miss. Large, imposing, and gorgeous, this vibrant fort preserves the area’s dynamic and constantly-evolving history of ownership and leadership. 

Built in 1672 over around a thirty year period, the fort sought to secure St. Augustine from invading forces from the water and land. Soldiers used the fort to fire cannons over the river. A moat historically surrounded the fort, making it challenging to breach from the land, while multiple drawbridges hung around it for tight control of who came in and out. 

Overall, you can see all of this when visiting, including the deep moat trench, the drawbridges, and a live cannon firing demonstration. Reenactments are common on weekends, where soldiers gather to declare war and fire genuine cannons from the fortress roof. 

The Castillo de San Marcos is a national monument. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Monday and Tuesday) and is located at 1 S Castillo Dr. if you wind up in St. Augustine’s historic St. George Street, you won’t miss it, standing triumphantly along the water. 

Fort Matanzas 

Bold, defiant, and easily visible, the Castillo de San Marcos is a stark contrast to the reserved, off-the-radar magic of Fort Matanzas. 

Fort Matanzas was built in 1742 to ensure southern protection of St. Augustine via its numerus water passages. It is nestled about 15 minutes south of downtown St. Augustine at the Fort Matanzas National Monument and park. 

The fort is built tall and thin, akin more to a watchtower occupied by a small crew as opposed to a full fort built for a small army.  

Fort Matanzas, perhaps most notably, was a major battleground position for Pedro Menéndez de Aviles. In 1565, he managed to stave off a French attack, killing over 250 French and securing the site for decades.  

The current fort is not entirely the same as the one Pedro Menéndez de Aviles used in the mid-1500s. It was rebuilt extensively around 1740 as a position against incoming British forces. It managed to secure what has been considered St. Augustine’s backdoor entrance. 

The fort is only accessible via ferry. Guests can park in the park’s lot and explore the on-site nature trails. This includes a pleasant ½ mile trek through dense maritime forests` as well as along a quiet beach. The fort is in view here. The ferry to it runs from the park every day from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

You’ll find the park and monument at 8635 A1A S near the St. Augustine beach rentals. We recommend calling ahead for up-to-date ferry hours and park admission. 

Fort Mose Historic State Park 

Across about 40 acres of thick hammocks and sensationally-green maritime forestry rests some of the best trails in the city. Fort Mose Historic State Park is a free park sight open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, rain or shine, holiday or otherwise. 

The park is a quiet and largely unmanned retreat for history and nature lovers alike. Here you’ll discover picnic areas, an elevated boardwalk along major trails, an observation deck, and a kayak launch. History admirers in particular will find a lot to dig into at the visitor center and museum. The museum dives deep into the area’s most definitive achievement. Fort Mose stands as the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in the United States. It actually predates the founding of the country! 

With that in mind, many original sites are no longer accessible due to degradation. But the land where this settlement once stood flourishes with nature, including some of the most exemplary bird nesting and resting areas in the state.  

Furthermore, the first Saturday of the month features musket firing demonstrations and other historical demonstrations pertaining to firearms and settlement habits.  

It can all be found at 15 Fort Mose Trail. Fort Mose is within a short about a 20-minute drive from the St. Augustine Beach condo rentals. Admission is free for all ages. 

Fort Menendez 

Fort Menendez, or the Old Florida Museum, is an interactive deep dive into early European settlement. Explore what it was really like to live in Florida in the 16th century beyond just screens and video recreations. Guests can actually hold recreated tools and other artifacts used to prepare meals, hunt for food, and build a shelter. Guests will venture from one station to the next, solving the problems of the era through wit and historical tools. 

It gets even better. Guests can actually barter items they acquired, learning the ropes of the system that settlements used to enrichen themselves and each other. The on-site museum and shop allows kids and adults alike to take home goodies and activities influenced around old American indian and Spanish culture. 

It is really a fascinating way to see what it was all like. Call ahead to confirm Fort Menendez’s opening hours and event scheduling. As of 2020, the fort was renamed the Old Florida Museum.

St. Augustine Resorts

You can’t go wrong staying at any of the top-rated St. Augustine condo rentals. Contact us for more information!

St. Augustine is America’s Oldest City  

You can see it in the cobblestone streets. You can see it in the tight design of historic downtown, a city template ideal for an era where horses and buggies roamed the streets. Every major feature of St. Augustine harkens back hundreds of years. You can unfold incredible secrets by exploring St. Augustine’s rich history with ghosts. You can stop by all the forts and see just how chaotic life must have been over the hundreds of years, never knowing exactly who would control St. Augustine- and for how long. 

With a city over 450 years old, you get a little piece of everything.  

Where to Eat 

History drenches the ancient city. Even its restaurants are part of the hundreds of years of fascinating history that St. Augustine embodies. In few restaurants is this more apparent than at the Café Alcazar- a tour-de-force of stunning architecture and impressive food. 

More than a restaurant, the Café Alcazar virtually doubles as a museum. The café is housed in the Lightner Museum, one of the city’s top historical sites. The Lightner is an appreciation of excess- Turkish baths, one of the largest indoor swimming pools in the world, and a three-story ballroom all contribute to its immense presence in the city. 

The café consists of old-world ambiance and delicate meal preparation, giving you only the best in largely organic and local dishes. Despite this level of quality and atmosphere, Café Alcazar is casual- no lean and sophisticated dress code required. 

Café Alcazar is currently a lunch-only stop. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. You will find half and full sandwich selections, soups, salads, and lunch-portion seafood. There’s also escargot, roast beef sandwiches, steak, hot ham and swiss, pesto alfredo pasta, and shrimp Giovanni, among others. 

You can unearth Café Alcazar at 25 Granada St, the same site as the Lightner Museum.  

Of course, this is hardly the only excellent restaurant in St. Augustine. We highly recommend a number of other local favorites, like Uptown Scratch Kitchen, Collage in downtown St. George St, the recently opened Crave, Sunset grille beachside, the Blue Hen Café for its amazing breakfast, and Back 40 for fresh sandwiches and Florida seafood staples. 

Plan Your St. Augustine Vacation

Overall, St. Augustine is magic. Between its assorted historical forts capturing the essence of its combative history and its many (many) restaurants pulling influences from all over the world, there’s a lot to adore about this ancient north Florida escape. But you can’t forget it’s varied museums, like the Old Jail and Potter’s Wax Museum, alongside its gorgeous architecture and ancient aesthetic.