Visitors from around the world come to Florida for the beautiful beaches and colorful culture, but locals know that our amazing state is also packed with incredible American history. Whether you come here to explore eras past, or just need a break from the sunny shores, here is a handy guide to some of the top destinations for history buffs!
With such a vast background, it would be impossible to include every single amazing place, so we’ve limited this list to three major historical locations; St. Augustine, Cape Canaveral, and Marianna. These three areas were chosen because they each have several spots to explore and could serve as an excellent day trip, weekend getaway, or whole vacation destination!
1. Castillo de San Marcos (St. Augustine)
St. Augustine is the ultimate vacation spot for history buffs. First, it is the oldest town in the United States, so naturally it is absolutely packed with historical sites. The city was founded in 1565 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
Right along the shore in the historical district in St. Augustine in the famed Castillo de San Marcos. The fort saw continuous, active military usage for 251 years until it was declared a national monument in 1924. Construction began in 1672 by the Spanish, but the British also occupied the fort in the 1700s.
The Confederacy controlled the fort during the Civil War. After the war, the fort officially changed hands 4 times: from the Spanish to the British, then to the Confederacy, and finally to the United States. Under the control of the United States, the fort was used as a prison for Native American Tribes.
The prison housed the famous Seminole war chief Osceola and members of Geronimo’s Chiricahua Apache tribe. Native American “Ledger Art” had its start at the fort when members of the Southern Cheyenne were imprisoned there. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday check out the historical weapons demonstration and see colonial-era arms in action or take a tour of the fort any time from 8:45 to 5:15.
2. Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse (St. Augustine)
Locals tout this building as the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country. While the exact date of the construction of this building is unknown, it is likely the early 1700’s, which would certainly make it one of the oldest schoolhouse buildings in the country.
If you are visiting St. Augustine, it is definitely worth a tour if you are interested in early U.S. education and living!
3. The Fountain of Youth (St. Augustine)
Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth is the original birth site of St. Augustine in 1565, originally discovered in 1513. Fifty-five years before Plymouth Rock, Colonial America started in St. Augustine and people have been visiting the Fountain of Youth as a tourist attraction dating back to 1868!
The first Mission Church of Nombre de Dios, built in 1587, can be visited on the 15-acre waterfront park.
4. St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum (St. Augustine)
If you have a little bit of pirate fever, check out the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. Directly across the street from Castillo de San Marcos, the museum features fun artifacts like the world’s oldest “wanted” poster, as well as Jack Sparrow’s sword!
5. Spanish Military Hospital Museum (St. Augustine)
For the medically inclined, the Spanish Military Hospital Museum is the perfect place. They even have the original herbs and spices growing in the backyard garden that they once used in the original hospital.
On the educational tour, visitors learn how colonial herbs worked and how they formed the basis for some of today’s most popular medicines. The tour also covers the methods that the Spanish used to achieve high survival rates despite the lack of sophisticated tools and technology.
6. Fort Matanzas National Monument (St. Augustine)
In the year preceding the fort’s construction, the French attempted to set up shop in Florida under the nose of the Spanish. A French force attempted to reach the fort to provide reinforcements to the occupying French, but their ships wrecked on the shores a few miles south of the Fort.
The Spanish confronted them and gave them an offer: convert to Catholicism or face the sword. Most chose the latter, and this is why the Fort is known as the location of the “Massacre of the French.” Today, it is a very cool, preserved fort that is worth a look if you are in the area.
7. Lightner Museum (St. Augustine)
Now this is one of the most stunning buildings in Florida. The Lightner Museum is the home of the former Alcazar Hotel built in 1888 by Henry Flagler. It peaked in popularity in the 1890s and featured the world’s largest indoor pool at the time. The Museum is packed with 19th century art and products. It is a true throwback and a must-see when history buffs visit the city.
8. “Space Coast” (Cape Canaveral)
The area around Cape Canaveral is known as the “space coast” for good reason--it is home to NASA’s most famous launch site.
Even before the NASA missions, Cape Canaveral was home to many Air Force innovations and launches. Aeronautics history nerds will be in paradise at Cape Canaveral, and don’t worry--there are plenty of beaches nearby if anyone in your cohort gets tired of hearing about flying stuff all day.
9. Air Force Space and Missile Museum (Cape Canaveral)
This place is awesome. On the outside they have a “rocket garden” set up with dozens of the most important missile systems and space vehicles in our history. On the inside, check out more rockets and some background history on the most popular rocket and space programs.
10. Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral)
The Kennedy Space Center is a place where you can experience mankind’s greatest achievement and get up close and personal with Atlantis, the retired spaceship with 33 missions under its belt. There a are ton of exhibits that educate visitors on the history of the space program.
If you time it right, you can also check out a real launch. Check out the launch calendar and plan accordingly.
11. Battle of Marianna Sites (Marianna)
The downtown of Marianna has been restored to original form and has many attractions for people that are interested in Civil War history. Marianna’s key location on the panhandle of Florida made it a town of importance during the Civil War. It was also the hometown of the vehement secessionist Florida governor John Milton. Eventually the Union forces took control of the town, but they had to retreat later due to heavy losses.
There are tours offered that will guide you through many of the significant sites from the battle, and there is a monument in town that marks the history of the event and what happened there.
12. Russ House (Marianna)
Now a government building, the Russ House is believed to be haunted by ghosts. Paranormal teams have visited the premises with mixed results. Some have reported strange electricity readings and camera exposures that seem to reveal parts of a ghostly figure.
You will have to check this house out for yourself and report back!
13. Bellamy Bridge (Marianna)
Rumor has it that the ghost of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy can be seen roaming around the swamps on foggy nights. She is the daughter of a well-known antebellum era leader and her remains are buried nearby in a family cemetery. The bridge itself is one of the oldest in Florida built in 1914.
14. Florida Caverns (Marianna)
If geologic history is your thing, you are going to want to head straight to the source at the Florida Caverns. Not only are there tremendous natural caves that reveal the thousands of years of growth and formation, there is also a Depression-era golf course on the property and equestrian trails. This is truly one of the best-kept secrets in Florida.
Obviously, this is just scratching the surface of all of the possible destinations for history buffs in Florida. Happy vacationing!