Visit St. Augustine, Florida—the oldest city in the U.S.—for a historical family vacation.

By Maryn Liles
October 05, 2015
Castillo De San Marcos

For your next educational family vacation, consider a trip to St. Augustine, Florida—the oldest city in the U.S.—which celebrated its 450th anniversary last month. Founded by the Spanish in 1565, this small town of approximately 12,000 residents has a lot to offer in the way of family-friendly learning.

When I visited this summer for vacation, I was taken on a tour of Castillo De San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the U.S., which began construction in 1672. It's the site of numerous battles—most notably between the Spaniards and French. Kids will enjoy learning the stories behind the bullet holes in the fort's coquina walls and seeing the soldier's modest sleeping quarters. (Did you know that the Spanish soldiers taking cover in the fort had to hang their food from the rafters, so rats couldn't reach it?)

Show older kids the site of the horrific event at Monson Motor Lodge—credited in some respects as leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act—where whites and blacks were protesting segration by swimming in the pool together, an act that was against the law at the time. In response to this swim-in, the hotel owner poured acid into a pool, killing or severely hurting many. A plaque at the pool's location commemorates the story, which marks a turning point in America's history, since the Civil Rights Act was passed the following day.

Then, take a walk through downtown St. Augustine and learn about the city's growth in the 1800s, thanks in part to Henry Flagler, a renaissance man from New York. After making his millions in standard oil, he moved to Florida and built several luxurious hotels and purchased a series of short line railroads, that later became known as the Florida East Coast Railway, making northern Florida more accessible and encouraging the city's development.

If visiting in warmer months, I recommend stopping by the pristine beaches at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club to search for tiny shark's teeth, which are commonly found in the area, and to see the U.S.'s largest Karastan rug. (Fun fact: The second largest is in the White House.) I was lucky enough to stay in a beachfront room there during my trip this summer, and I highly recommend it for families since there are so many services readily available on-site, from ocean-certified lifeguards to $3/hour babysitting to bike rentals.

Now I'm not the kind of gal who usually likes to vacation in the same place twice, but the beautiful, historic city of St. Augustine is one destination I want to visit again.

Maryn is the Associate Lifestyles Editor for Parents and writes about home gadgets, crafts, and birthday parties. Follow her on Instagram: @marynliles.