Hispanic heritage is one of the pillars of Floridian culture, and nowhere is this better shown off than in the city of St. Augustine — the birthplace of Hispanic influence in the United States. Recently named one of the top 50 Best Small Towns in the South by Southern Living, and perched along Florida’s northern coast, St. Augustine was basking in Spanish influence four decades before the first English settlement was ever established in continental North America.
The Spanish influence of St. Augustine began in 1565 when the city was founded by explorer Pedro Menedez de Aviles. Today, visitors to St. Augustine can step back in time and see the evolution of Hispanic influence and culture throughout the city. Some of the most impressive heritage sites include:
- The Castillo de San Marcos fortress, one of the oldest masonry fortifications on the continent.
- Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological park, where visitors can actually sip from the legendary fountain.
- St. Augustine Historic District and Aviles Street, the oldest street in the United States.
- Fort Matanzas, the fort that protects St. Augustine along the Matanzas River.
- Mission Nombre De Dios, the first Catholic parish in the United States.
But St. Augustine’s Hispanic influence extends much further than historic landmarks. Modern-day St. Augustine is a veritable spotlight on Hispanic culture. The sounds and flavors of the city are deeply rooted in Latin American traditions. Some of St. Augustine’s most iconic and beloved restaurants take their culinary direction from Hispanic kitchens.
Columbia Restaurant, for example, offers diners a traditional Spanish setting in the city’s historic district. The restaurant is more than 100 years old and has a menu of award-winning Spanish and Cuban cuisine.
Other top Latin American restaurants in St. Augustine include Asado Life with Argentinian meats, Leon La Cocina, serving Latin, Colombian, Spanish, and South American dishes, Casa Maya Restaurant for Mexican cuisine, Llama Restaurant highlights Peruvian cuisine, and Casa Reina Taqueria & Tequila, for a fusion of Mexican, Latin and Cuban flavors. Also not to be missed is Michael’s Tasting Room for a modern take on Latin American staples.
Visit St. Augustine during the annual St. Augustine Spanish Food & Wine Festival to celebrate all of the Spanish influences in the city’s most iconic kitchens. The event features tapas, wine and spirits, as well as a Cava Dinner Reception, and a Grand Tasting. More than 100 Spanish Wines are available to taste throughout the three-day event, including Spanish-inspired cuisine prepared by St. Augustine chefs.
The celebration of St. Augustine’s food and wine continues at the city’s premiere culinary event, the St. Augustine Food + Wine Festival, held every May. Showcasing culinary, beverage, and culture, the annual event highlights celebrity guest chefs, winemakers, local chefs, artisans, and local craft spirits and beer.
Latin American food, music, and dance come together at another beloved annual St. Augustine tradition — Unidos en la Musica: A Latin American Festival. This yearly event celebrates the wide variety of Latin American music, and pairs beat perfectly with authentic dance, food, and games.
The celebration of St. Augustine’s Hispanic heritage continues during its end-of-year Nights of Lights celebration. Locals and visitors love to watch the city light up with millions of tiny white lights, a practice inspired by the Spanish tradition of lighting candles in the windows during the holiday season.
Overall, St. Augustine is one of the best cities in the nation for honoring and celebrating the Hispanic and Latin American influence that is such a vital part of the fabric of Florida and the United States. Taste, listen, see, and feel where it all began in the oldest city in the country.
About St. Augustine: St. Augustine is found along Florida’s northern coast between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville. It is one of the most important stops on Florida’s Historic Coast, which includes the city itself, as well as the 42 miles of Atlantic beachfront. Visitors can access St. Augustine through Daytona Beach International (DAB) and Jacksonville International (JAX) airports.