People have been travelling to Florida in search of eternal youth since Spanish explorers conquered the state in the 1500s.
Juan Ponce de Leon, who named
the peninsula La Florida in 1513, was most likely the first European to
encounter the area, already home to Native American groups including the
Timucua and the Ais. After the conquistador’s death, records indicated that his
expedition was motivated by the promise of a fountain of youth within Florida’s
The story is a legend at best,
but in 1535, historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo wrote that Ponce de Leon was vainly seeking
curative waters in order to reverse his sexual impotence. Subsequent
Spanish historians, intrigued by the existence of a fountain of youth in the
New World, kept the story
Fast forward to the Florida
of today, where many aging Americans go to live out their retirement in style.
From Tallahassee in the north all the way to Naples in the south, elderly communities
attempt to recapture the youthful energy of their past. With its sunny beaches,
vast system of freshwater springs and enticingly storied history, it is no
wonder the myth of eternal youth lives on in the Sunshine State.
Visitors can delve into this
historical lore at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological
Park in St Augustine, where the United States’ first permanent European
settlement was founded in 1565. Drink from the park’s “Legendary
Spring”, which has been a tourist attraction since 1904 when female
gold rusher Dr Louella Day McConnell bought the
surrounding land and charged admission to anyone wanting to sip from the
Other park attractions
include a Timucua Village exhibition, focused on the Native Americans who had been living in St Augustine for about 4,000
years when the Spanish conquistadors reached Florida’s shores; a Spanish cannon
exhibit, featuring firing demonstrations; and a planetarium, where park goers
can see the stars that guided explorers in the 1500s.
1990s, it was widely believed that explorer Ponce de Leon first set foot in
St Augustine when he arrived in Florida – which is why the city is associated
with the fountain of youth. However, historians now believe that Ponce de
Leon landed near Melbourne Beach, about 150 miles south. Located on the Space
Coast (72 miles of coastline famous for the Kennedy Space Center), Melbourne offers plenty
of opportunities to pump youthful energy back into your veins. World-class
surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and beach camping are just a few fun
In between St Augustine and
Melbourne lies De Leon
Springs, marketed to the public in the 1880s as “a fountain of
youth impregnated with a deliciously healthy combination of soda and sulfur”. About
30 minutes west of present-day Daytona, the park area (named, of course, after
Ponce de Leon) offers swimming in the 72F spring, a wildlife refuge and a sugar-mill-turned-restaurant where you can
make your own pancakes.
De Leon Springs is not to be
confused with Ponce de Leon
Springs, a 68F “fountain of youth” 350 miles away in the town of
Ponce de Leon, just south of the Alabama border.