Castillo de San Marcos National Monument: A Time Machine on the Water

Castillo de San Marcos St. Augustine FL
The Castillo de San Marcos is the only 17th Century fort in the United States

What: Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Where: 1 South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32084
When: Anytime (but weekends they shoot off the cannons)
Cost: $6 per person, Under 15 FREE
Photos: For additional Photos of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, visit Field Trips with Sue on Facebook

While passing through St. Augustine, along the main route A1A, we happen to pass a rather large stone fort, or castle – it’s kind of a bit of both. My son, recognizing it from his social studies books, informed us that it was the only 17th Century fort still in existence in the United States. Well, of course we had to stop.

Castillo de San Marcos
Investigating holes in the coquina from past battles.

The Castillo de San Marcos was built by the Spanish. It took more than 80 years to erect the fort which at the time, was quite innovative. The walls are thick and graduated to withstand cannons and gun fire rather than tall and thin to block arrows and catapults. A limestone mixture of shell, sand and calcite called ‘coquina’ was used for the bricks and proved to be quite good at absorbing shot from guns and cannons. A sewer system used the natural tides to wash out waste helping keep the fort sanitary.

Costumed interpreter at the Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine FL
Costumed interpreter at the Castillo de San Marcos

The fort was used by various occupants since the 1600’s. That’s a lot of history to cover. We listened to a costumed Ranger talk in the Plaza as he brought us through several hundred years and gave us an idea of what daily life was like for soldiers and other occupants. It was a story of greed, pirates, imprisonment and daily routine. Even my 7-year-old was quietly listening.

Junior Ranger Program at the Castillo De San Marcos St. Augustine FL
Working through the Jr. Ranger Booklet, which is available free at the gift shop.

To engage the youngest even more, we requested a free Junior Ranger book on the Castillo. The booklet is a great way to engage kids in the fort and guide discussions about the many time periods covered in a single place. It’s also a great way for adults to learn about the fort.

The Castillo seems to have strong programming with a variety of events at various times. Had we been there a day later, we would have seen them shooting the cannons (something my boys have asked to go back to see). Several Foursquare tips also mention that the Fort is amazing at night (and one says a bit spooky). To make it even better, the staff we encountered were enthusiastic, helpful and obviously enjoy what they do.

We went on a cool October day, but remember this is Florida, so summers can be quite hot, bring lots of sunscreen and stay hydrated. There is limited metered parking in front of the Castillo. It’s central Downtown location is also a great home base for a tour of St. Augustine. On our list for next time, in addition to a return visit to the Castillo, is the Pirate Museum, Gator Zoo and the Government House Museum.

Cannons at the Castillo de San Marcos St. Augustine FL
The view out to sea from the top deck.

5 Comments on Castillo de San Marcos National Monument: A Time Machine on the Water

  1. I love the Castillo! Just wanted to point out though that coquina rock is a quarried, natural stone, not a mixture made by humans — not sure how you meant it, but it reads like a man-made mixture in the post. There is lots of it in FL, we had a huge fireplace of it when I was growing up.

  2. In Ponte Vedra as our home base. We went to St Augustine yesterday and Marineland. We topped off the day with a sunset kayak tour. We are nowhere done with st Augustine, so after enjoying a relaxing day, we will return!

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