National Park Week: April 15-23, 2017
To celebrate both National Park Week and our kids being out for Spring Break, we took a trip down to one of my favorite historic cities: Saint Augustine Florida. No visit to St. Augie is complete without a trip to the grand old lady standing watch over the city for the past 300 + years: The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
1 Castillo Drive St. Augustine, Florida 32084 904-829-6506
The Fort opens at 8:45 am and closes at 5:15 pm daily except major holidays. You can get a list from their website.
Normally the entry for 16 and older is $10 per person but during National Park week, it is FREE!
*If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, entry is always free.
Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post. That means that if you click a link and make a purchase, you not only make your life easier, you spread the love. At no cost to you, every purchase you make from our site makes us a little money so we can continue to travel and share our stories, inspiration, and tips with you! That’s what I call a win/win!
There is lot in front of the fort but it fills up fast. It is metered and is $1.50 per hour. I prefer to park in the Visitor’s Information Center Parking Garage, it is $12 for the day and covered except for the very top deck. They also have free parking for oversized vehicles.
Visitor’s Information Center 10 S. Castillo Dr. St. Augustine, FL 32084
Best Times to Visit
Spring/Fall and Mornings
The Castillo is great year round but spring and fall are the best times to visit. The weather is usually cooler and the humidity is lower. I prefer to go in the mornings for several reasons. It is cooler, the sun is not as strong, and the crowds are smaller. It can get HOT up on the battlements during the middle of the day. Bring and wear plenty of sunscreen. There is no eating and drinking allowed to protect the fort, but there are numerous water fountains and bottle fill stations.
I recommend a minimum of 90 minutes to see the fort. 90 minutes will allow you to see the highlights and get a basic overview. If you have children with you or want to get a more complete experience, I would give it 2-3 hours.
Calling All Junior Rangers
The Castillo has a wonderful Junior Ranger program. If you are regulars to the blog, you know how much we love the Junior Ranger Program. It is a great activity for kids and families and it is free! Their program has both a badge and a patch. You get the badge for completing the marked activities in the booklet and a patch for completing them all. The books are rated for 4-14 but any age can participate. Younger kids will need lots of parental help but making a family affair adds to the fun. For the 4 and under kiddos, they have a worksheet they can complete. It takes 1-2 hours to complete depending on age, ability, and the number of visitors in the park.
Points of Interest
Powder Keg Room
Some of my favorite rooms are the cathedral and the powder keg room. To reach the powder keg room, you have to crawl under this little opening into the room. It was easier when I was a kid, but still just as fun now!
The Lawn & Moat
I also love the lawn around the fort and walking the moat. We like to bring Nerf and/or water guns to play around the grounds. The lawn is a great place for a picnic and a nap if you’re lucky enough to snag a spot under a tree with shade. This can be a great break for little ones.
*Remember this is an old and fragile landmark. Please treat it with respect and do not touch, sit, or stand on the walls, battlements and cannons. Treat her with care so she will be around for future generations.
The Oldest Masonry Fort in the Continental United States
St. Augustine has a colorful and varied history and the Castillo is a fitting example of that history. Construction began on the Castillo in 1672, 107 years after Pedro Menendez de Aviles discovered the city and founded the Spanish settlement. The settlement was founded on a former Native American site and protection for the people was needed. The Castillo is built on the western shore of Matanzas Bay, and was designed by Spanish Engineer Ignacio Daza. Its first round of construction was completed in 1695, making it the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Only the Castillo San Felipe del Morrow in San Juan Puerto Rico is older.
Construction and Style
The Castillo is a masonry star fort and made of a stone called coquina, which literally means “small shells” in Spanish. It was a common building material and is bonded together with a limestone like material. The coquina was quarried from the “King’s Quarry” on nearby Anastasia Island in what is now the State Park. The fort was constructed by local Native Americans and workers brought over from Havana, Cuba.
The Bastions, Ravelin, & Moat
The four “points” of the star are the bastions and are named San Pedro, San Augustin, San Carlos, & San Pablo. At the front of the fort is the ravelin, which protects the sally port and draw bridge. The fort is also surrounded by a moat. It was traditionally a dry moat which they would fill with livestock. The moat could also be flooded with sea water during with use of floodgates built into the coquina sea wall. The depth of the moat was about a foot deep.
The 2nd Construction
In 1798, the interior of the fort was redesigned and reconstructed to improve its safety features. The interior rooms were deepened and the ceilings vaulted. This gave better protection of the bombardments and allowed cannon placement along the gun decks instead of just at the corners. The exterior wall heights were raised from 26 feet to 33 feet.
The first siege at the Castillo was in 1702. British colonists from the nearby Charles Town Settlement (Charleston, SC) sailed two days up the coast at the Governor’s request to capture St. Augustine. The town’s 1500 residents took shelter in the Castillo. The durable and tough coquina did it job by sufficiently absorbing cannon balls and blasts. The English were defeated but destroyed the town before leaving.
The Second siege was after the fort got an upgrade. In a rather comical story of a sore looser (Britain), the British declared war on Spain in 1739. (For more info read about The War of Jenkins Ear) In 1740, led by dashing General and Georgia founder James Oglethorpe, the British once again lay siege to St. Augustine. Once again the British failed. To protect their rear, the Spanish constructed Fort Matanzas to guard the entrance to the inlet.
Never Taken By Force
Although occupied by the Spanish, British, US, and Confederates, the fort has never been taken by force. The British gained it in the Treaty of Paris, then it returned to the Spaniards when they regained control of Florida. The United States received the Castillo from the Spanish and renamed it Fort Marion after the Revolutionary War General Francis Marion. The Union basically abandoned the fort when Florida seceded from the Union and the one remaining caretaker put up little fuss when the Confederates took it over. The Confederates evacuated in 1862 allowing the Union to regain control without a single shot fired.
There were many Native Americans held prisoner in Fort Marion, including the famed Chief Osceola during the Second Seminole War. 20 Seminole prisoners escaped from the fort in 1837.
The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
After 205 years of service, Fort Marion was taken out of active duty. It was designated a National Monument in 1924 and transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. To honor its Spanish heritage and history, her original name was restored in 1942.
Other Sites to See
Complete you visit to St. Augustine with a visit to these other great locations
The City Gate St. George St. Fort Matanzas
If you’re looking for how to spend the perfect day in St. Augustine with the kids, check back this week for the post!
Have you been to St. Augustine? If so what was your favorite thing to do there? Are you planning to head to a NPS site for National Park Week? Share with us in the comments please!
If you enjoyed this post, please share it!