In the early 1880s, Henry M. Flagler, an American industrialist and founder of Standard Oil, visited St. Augustine with his new wife, Ida. The businessman became enamored with the city, but found the hotel facilities and transportation systems inadequate. So like any proper entrepreneur, Flagler set to turn St. Augustine into one of the most exclusive resorts of its day.
Today, Flagler College remains a landmark of St. Augustine. Read this guide of must-do activities before setting out on a tour of the campus and surrounding area.
An Exquisite Sight
What better place to study Liberal Arts than inside an oasis of architectural beauty? Flagler College, situated on the grounds of the original Ponce de Leon Hotel, offers students four-year degrees in several dozen areas of study. The hotel was built in 1888 and was known for its opulent setting and luxurious amenities - among them a grand lobby with a 68-foot domed ceiling and a dining room with 79 Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows.
Learning and Admiring
Many millions of dollars have been spent renovating and restoring the historic buildings; and visitors as well as students spend many hours just enjoying the ambiance. Today, more than 2,000 students come to engage in educational pursuits ranging from the fine arts to accounting and business and many in between.
Things to Do Nearby
After visitors have explored the Gilded Age as envisioned by Flagler, they may also venture to nearby attractions such as the Lightner Museum and Villa Zorayda Museum. Guided tours are available at Whetstone Chocolates, San Sebastian Winery and St. Augustine Distillery.
Elegance and history, grace and sophistication all come together in the glorious rooms, walkways and exhibits at the Lightner Museum. Originally The Hotel Alcazar, the landmark was built by Henry Flagler and is a magnificent example of Spanish Renaissance architecture. Browse through costumes, furnishings, mechanical musical instruments and collections that bring back the grand Gilded Age, a marvelous period in the 19th century. See beautiful works of cut glass, Victorian art glass and the celebrated work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tour the museum and take a historical journey that will not soon be forgotten.
Dow Museum of Historic Homes
Take a tour of the Dow Museum of Historic Homes to see the rich past of the city spanning more than two centuries. It’s a nostalgic walk as you see nine historic houses that date back to the late 1700s.
When Flagler first came to St. Augustine, eccentric Boston millionaire Franklin W. Smith had just finished building Villa Zorayda, a house on King Street inspired by the 12-century Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Flagler tried to purchase the new architectural wonder from Smith, but he declined.
Today, Villa Zorayda is a museum open to the public and features a wide array of antiques including a 2,400-year-old rug made from woven cat fur. Self-guided audio tours are offered seven days a week in English, Spanish and French.
San Sebastian Winery
A quick walk from Flagler College is one of St. Augustine’s most popular corridors showcasing guided tours of a chocolate factory, winery and craft distillery. Start at the San Sebastian Winery, which is located on King Street in one of Henry Flagler’s old East Coast Railway buildings just a few blocks from historic downtown. The winery offers complimentary tours and wine tastings seven days a week with full retail store and rooftop bar.
St. Augustine Distillery
Next, head to the St. Augustine Distillery for a free tour and tasting as you learn about the facility’s handcrafted, small-batch rum, vodka, gin and bourbon whiskey production. The Distillery is located next door to Ice Plant Bar, a craft cocktail destination and upscale dining locale.
Finally, end your day with something sweet with Whetstone Chocolates’ tasting tour. Here you’ll discover the secrets behind the longtime, family-owned and operated confectioner’s dark, milk and white chocolate lines.
St. Augustine offers a selection of Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts.
Since the time of Flagler’s Gilded Age through today’s role as one of the top tourist destinations in the Southeastern United States, St. Augustine continues to amaze and inspire. Tour the Nation’s Oldest City as Henry Flagler had intended. This historical journey is one that you’ll remember forever!