Mothers day 2014 was a bit strange for our family. Little man and I decided to visit Fort Matanzas National Monument and give his Mom the greatest gift ever: we left the house! The Mrs. worked the night before, so we actually met up for breakfast with the entire family and let her have the house to herself to get some sleep. So little man and I were off on an adventure! We have been to St. Augustine numerous times, but never stopped to checkout Fort Matanzas National Monument, which is just a bit south of the historic city.
Fort Matanzas National Monument wasn’t difficult to find, despite Siri’s attempts to dissuade us from visiting. For some reason Siri kept thinking little man and I wanted to checkout a local in Cuba and refused to give me any further directions. Since we were being spontaneous, I just kept going North on 95 until I saw signs for Fort Matanzas National Monument. I’m a huge fan of the “brown signs” on the highway which alert us to cultural and historical stops. It seems like this stretch of I-95 has one at each exit!
After a beautiful drive, we pulled into the parking lot of Fort Matanzas National Monument. What we found was an awesome, toddler and baby friendly restroom which makes a big difference when I take little guy out. I don’t possess the diaper changing ninja skills as I wife. We noticed a sign on the way in that the ferry leaves on the half hour and we only had a few minutes so we bolted for the visitor’s center. There were quit a few people in line waiting for tickets, and thought we would need to wait another hour, but we were fortunate they were waiting on additional family members. I grabbed my wallet, and received the tickets from the clerk. Strangely enough, she didn’t ask me for any money. There was no charge for the visit! At first I thought that Fort Matanzas National Monument was FREE due to Mother’s Day, but the clerk explained there was no charge any day you visit.
Still basking in the fact that the ferry was FREE, we made our way to the dock.Fort Matanzas National Monument was literally just across the river, and was a sight to see! My little guy is no stranger to ferry rides as he has been to Disney as well as the St. John’s River Ferry, and once again he loved the ride! The river breeze really helped in the blazing Florida sun. You won’t want to forget the sunscreen, as there is no shade at the fort unless you step inside the quarters.
When we disembarked, we found ourselves on a small island with a historic military installation that reached 3 stories into the air! We ascended the wooden steps, and found ourselves on the gun deck. This main area of Fort Matanzas National Monument had some nice bench seats while we listened to a Park Ranger explain why the fort was important as well as other really interesting historical information. Let me tell you, he knew how to work the crowd! He was very animated and did a great job engaging the audience. I’ll spare you the details because I don’t want to spoil our visit to Fort Matanzas National Monument.
After a few minutes, we were given the opportunity to explore the fort on our own. Being much smaller that the Castillo de San Marcos, we were able to explore everything in about 15 minutes or so. What makes Fort Matanzas National Monument unique is the personal attention guests are given, and the ability to checkout things at your own pace. On the same level as the gun deck, we were able to checkout the general quarters, which were surprisingly cool temperature wise. The thick coquina is a great insulator coupled with the river breeze made it pleasant to explore. Up another level was the officer’s quarters as well as the food storage area. From the officer’s quarters, you could venture to the roof via a very small ladder and hatch. Apparently the Spaniards were much smaller size wise, then modern people! Because of my little man in tow, I didn’t get a chance to head up there, but everyone said the views were incredible! I can understand why the Spanish chose this location as a lookout for St. Augustine’s back door!
After a quick ferry ride back to the mainland, we walked around a bit to see if there was anything else to do or see. Located right behind the restrooms, there is a wooden boardwalk nature trail that stretches about a mile in a loop formation. Since there was no nap in my little guy’s itinerary, we decided to skip this feature. Other visitors reported though that it was worth the walk. This boardwalk is handicapped accessible, which is a nice feature. It’s important to note though that while the ferry appeared to have space for wheelchairs, Fort Matanzas National Monument itself is not handicapped accessible. While it might be a disappointment to an adult that is wheelchair dependent, it would be very difficult to explain to a youngster why they can’t explore the fort. I sincerely hope that when Fort Matanzas National Monument does refresh the steps to the fort, that they consider a wheel chair ramp. It wouldn’t detract from the experience, and would at least allow access to the main gun deck.
Before we left, we also noticed quite a few picnic tables under majestic trees which provided great shade for a picnic. There are no grills available so you’ll want to be sure to bring food that doesn’t need to be cooked. While we had a great time exploring Fort Matanzas National Monument, I wouldn’t consider this location to be an all day event. If you are looking for a quick day trip before a night out or dinner with friends, this is a good option. If you visits the Castillo de San Marcos first, this location might be a bit underwhelming. My suggestion would be to checkout Fort Matanzas National Monument one weekend, while checking out any of the other local state parks, then head to St. Augustine for another fun weekend!
Fort Matanzas National Monument Details:
|Date(s):||Closed 12/25||Time(s):||9:00am to 5:30pm|
|Address:||8635 A1A South, St. Augustine, FL 32080|
|Estimated Cost For A Family of 4:||FREE|