Just outside the city of St. Augustine, but still within St. Johns County are two unique attractions you won’t want to miss, Fort Matanzas and Marineland Dolphin Adventure.
Both are located in the same vicinity, about 30 minutes south of the city itself, and make for a great morning or afternoon excursion when you’re looking to explore more areas of this beautiful county.
Fort Matanzas sits on the Matanzas River, a name which literally translates to “massacre”. The name comes from an atrocity that took place in 1565 when the Spanish army executed 111 French Huguenots in cold blood. The Fort itself was built to protect the mouth of the river, a backdoor entry point that leads to the valuable St. Augustine port 12 miles to the north.
This was our favorite fort to visit among many. It’s set across the river in an area you can only get to by boat. You have to board a small ferry where park rangers will take you across and give you a tour. It’s a very small fort which was only used as an outpost and early warning system, and not a full scale fortification.
I think it was the size and scope of the whole experience that made us like it so much. It was easier to wrap our heads around all of the info we needed for a full story, creating a very comprehensive experience around the fort and its history.
Something about the boat ride and relatively small number of people that enter the fort at any given time further lend itself to the experience.
The whole tour takes about one hour, from the time you get on the ferry to the time you get off to go back to your car. The experience is free, but you still need to check in at the Fort Matanzas visitor center and get passes. Everyone in your party needs a pass.
Check the parks’ website for the ferry schedule. When we visited the park was open from 9AM to 5:30PM. The ferry runs every hour on the half hour from 9:30AM to 4:30PM. If you get there early enough, 45 minutes to an hour from ferry time, you can pick up your tickets and then explore the .6 mile nature boardwalk or walk the shoreline of the estuary.
The Fort Matanzas Visitor Center is located at 8635 A1A South Saint Augustine, FL 32080.
Marineland Dolphin Adventure
The Marineland Dolphin Adventure is an aquatic center that’s been a landmark in Florida since 1938. Opening as Marine Studios, it was known as the world’s first “oceanarium” and was originally deigned as a place to capture underwater film footage for the motion picture industry. Feature films shot here include The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Secrets of the Reef, and most recently Bernie the Dolphin.
The facility soon opened its doors to the public as a place for crowds to view live, trained animal shows. Over the years Marineland became much more than that. Recently acquired by the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, they’ve shifted focus from large shows to individual, more personal encounters with an emphasis on conservation.
You can tour the park on your own but we recommend that you sign up for the Behind the Seas Tour, which will give you a great tour of the facility to include turtle feeding, a shark feeding and viewing live dolphin training sessions. For extra fees you can add numerous other experiences to include Dolphin In Water Touch & Play, Dolphin Designs where you and a dolphin create painted art, and Trainer for a Day, where you’ll spend an entire day with a Dolphin Trainer.
Disclosure: Thank you to St. Augustine for hosting us. Opinions here are all own, as always.
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