In a city as old as this one, of course you can find WWII sites in St. Augustine, Florida. It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States having been founded in the year 1565 by Spanish explorers.
St. Augustine has served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, as the capital of British East Florida for a few more, then as a Spanish colony, capital of the Florida Territory, and eventually as a training center for the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.
St. Augustine in World War II
Upon the U.S. entering World War II, St. Augustine became a training center for the U.S. Coast Guard as well as an important coastal defense. From the top of St. Augustine’s lighthouse (more on that in a minute) U.S. Coast Guardsmen could watch for enemy activity—particularly German U-boats in the area.
Florida’s climate, flat land, and incredible amount of coastline made it the optimal spot for U.S. military training and operations–primarily for aviation and amphibious landings.
WWII sites in St. Augustine
There are only a few WWII sites in St. Augustine you can visit but they’re pretty interesting, and all revolve around St. Augustine being a Coast Guard training hub.
WWII sites in St. Augustine aside, Flagler College is still one of the city’s most popular attractions.
Flagler College, as it’s known today, opened in 1888 as the historic Ponce de Leon Hotel. It was the first hotel of its kind to be constructed entirely of poured concrete and was one of the first buildings in the U.S. to be wired for electricity. (Personally installed by none other than Thomas Edison himself.)
By 1967 the hotel had suffered declining visitor numbers and was closed permanently… until it reopened the next year as the main building of the newly-established Flagler College.
However, between 1941 and the end of World War II in 1945, the Ponce de Leon Hotel/Flagler College was taken over by the federal government. During this time the hotel served as both a training facility for Coast Guard recruits as well as their living quarters—with up to 2,500 trainees living here at any given time.
Today, you can take guided tours of Flagler College to learn all about the school/hotel’s history. You’ll see the building’s famous architecture and murals, the incredible dining hall, the world’s largest private collection of Tiffany stained glass, and so much more.
Castillo de San Marcos
While Flagler College is one of St. Augustine’s most popular attractions, the winner of that category goes to Castillo de San Marcos—the country’s oldest and largest masonry fortress and part of the National Park Service.
Construction on Castillo de San Marcos began in 1672 and the fort became a part of the National Park Service in 1933. Read more about the long history of Castillo de San Marcos here.
It was here at Castillo de San Marcos, just a few blocks from Flagler College, that the Coast Guard recruits completed their boot camp and other training exercises. Additionally, they used the fort’s central courtyard for their graduation ceremonies.
At Castillo de San Marcos you can tour the entire property and learn about the full history of the structure, including the parts it played in World War II. There are free, interpretive park ranger talks, an educational video, reenactments, and the chance the visit the facility completed self-guided. For when you have questions, the enthusiastic rangers are happy to educate you!
St. Augustine WWII Memorial
In the center of town, you’ll find the least conspicuous of the WWII sites in St. Augustine—the St. Augustine WWII memorial.
At the northeast corner of Plaza de la Constitución in downtown St. Augustine you’ll find a small memorial to those from St. John’s County, Florida who gave their lives while serving during World War II. The plaque is not on any maps and it’s very easy to miss. (I’ve added it to the map at the top of this post so you can easily find it.)
The memorial was presented to the city in 1946.
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum
The highlight of all the WWII sites in St. Augustine would have to be the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. Besides being one of the city’s top attractions, it boasts a lot of World War II history.
The St. Augustine lighthouse you can visit today was built between 1871 and 1874, though the original was first lit in 1824. At the site you can visit the working lighthouse, the not-for-profit maritime museum, walk some cool nature trails, and much more.
During World War II, the Coast Guard used the lighthouse to watch for German U-boats attempting to attack cargo ships carrying important supplies across the Atlantic. From the lighthouse’s observation deck, the Coast Guard could see the 14 miles to the horizon.
As far as WWII sites in St. Augustine go, here at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum you can still visit some of the WWII barracks, the old Jeep repair garage from 1936 that serves as a small WWII exhibit, and even have lunch at the Tin Pickle—the site’s WWII-themed eatery.
You can also still climb to the lighthouse’s observation deck and check out a much more comprehensive museum on the history of the lighthouse in the lighthouse keeper’s house.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse will be opening a brand new World War II exhibit in the summer of 2020.
Where to stay when visiting the WWII sites in St. Augustine
Given that there’s so much more to see in America’s oldest city besides just the WWII sites in St. Augustine, it’s understandable you should want to spend a few days. Start here with these suggestions:
Villa 1565 is rated as the best-selling hotel in St. Augustine, Florida on booking.com (my favorite booking site). It’s located in a prime spot just around the corner from the Fountain of Youth (yes, that one) and Magnolia Avenue, called one of the 10 most beautiful streets in America by National Geographic.
It has a pool, free WiFi, and plenty of on-site parking. And right there in the center of Villa 1565’s courtyard is a local celebrity, the Old Senator, a 600-year-old Live Oak tree.
Hotel La Quinta
Located on Anastasia Island (just a few minutes from the St. Augustine Lighthouse), this beautiful property has the highest user rating of all hotels in St. Augustine, Florida. It offers free parking, free WiFi, is in a great location, and most of the reviews mention how clean it is.
Historic Sevilla House
For something a little more cozy, check out the Historic Sevilla House, an adults-only bed and breakfast outside the main center.
This property offers free private parking and free Wifi as well as breakfast each morning, all in a historic St. Augustine property.
More info for visiting WWII sites in St. Augustine
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