St. Augustine’s 11 Best Things To Do
Ancient City, with a nickname like that, is full of historical sights. While you may not have enough time to see them all, there is no way to leave St. Augustine without seeing the Old Jail and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Visit St. Augustine Beach and the St. Augustine Wild Reserve if you love nature. There are even a few unconventional activities nearby, such as ghost tours of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum and cannon and musket firing demonstrations in the Colonial Quarter.
St. George Street
You can find antiquities, historical attractions, and delectable cuisine on St. George Street, the city’s central pedestrian thoroughfare. At the northern end of the street, visitors can explore boutiques such as Sunburst Crystal and Tillie’s Bath Cottage, as well as historical sites such as the Old City Gates and the Oldest Wooden School House. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum are a short walk away; as you move south, you’ll find additional shops and cafes, plus art galleries and the Colonial Quarter.
Visitors seeking Southern charm will enjoy St. George Street. You’ll find unique shops and some of the best ice cream in the area, according to past visitors. The area is also a great place to pick up souvenirs in some of the shops.
St. George Street’s pedestrian section extends from Orange Street to Cathedral Place in St. Augustine’s historic city center. You can visit the area for free, but if you want to do more than window shop, you will need a wallet. Boutique and eatery hours vary. There is limited parking at the visitor center, but you can park in the visitor center’s parking garage, located a few blocks northeast of Orange Street, for $12. In addition, Old Town Trolley Tours offers two stops along St. George Street – No. 5 and 8.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Fort San Marcos served as a fort for more than 205 years. Between 1672 and 1695, it protected the newly established territory of Spanish Florida from the British and pirates. It is the oldest masonry fortification in the U.S. as well as the only surviving 17th-century military site. Additionally, it is one of only two forts in the world made from coquina, a semi-rare limestone composed of shell fragments. Although the Castillo de San Marcos was controlled by the Spanish for most of its historical existence, it was used by both the British during the American Revolution and by Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. In 1900, the fort became a national monument.
Recent visitors have praised the monument as a well-preserved and interesting piece of American history. When visiting on a humid, sunny day, try to arrive when the museum opens (8:45 a.m.) or just before final Admission at 5 p.m. Before you leave, you can watch a cannon firing demonstration.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is located in St. Augustine’s historic city center near the Colonial Quarter. From downtown, you can reach the fort by trolley or on foot. There is no on-site parking, but drivers can park at the adjacent parking lot or the visitor center, which is within walking distance. The fort is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) between 8:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Visitors are admitted until 5 p.m.
For adults 16 and older, Admission is $10, while kids 15 and younger and visitors with National Parks Passes enter for free. All tickets are valid for seven consecutive days. There is also a recreation area, restrooms, and a bookstore at the monument.
St.Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum displays shipwreck artifacts, a wooden boat building exhibit, and a 165-foot-tall lighthouse. This lighthouse was built between 1871 and 1874 and had 219 steps. It is the oldest brick structure in St. Augustine. Some believe the lighthouse is also haunted by former lighthouse keepers and two young girls who died there in the late 1800s (which may be part of the reason why the site is included on many of the city’s ghost tours).
The best part of visiting the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is climbing to the top of the lighthouse. You’ll see breathtaking views of Salt Run lagoon and St. Augustine from the top. Some caution, however, that less active visitors may have difficulty climbing the lighthouse.
On Anastasia Island, 2 miles southeast of St. Augustine’s historic city center, you’ll find the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. The lighthouse and museum are open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., with extended hours on holidays and during the summer. The attraction has a museum, a lighthouse, a boat-building shed, a children’s playground, restrooms, a cafe, and several nature trails in addition to the lighthouse, lighthouse, and boat building shed. The property cannot be accessed by public transportation or on foot from downtown, but free parking is available on the property.
General admission tickets cost $12.95 for adults and $10.95 for seniors and children 12 and under. The tickets include participation in kids’ archeological activities and guided property tours. Standard tours are offered every hour between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Colonial Quarter offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century residents on St. George Street in downtown St. Augustine. The living museum is divided into four sections: the 16th Century Spanish First City, the 17th Century Spanish Fortified Town, the 18th Century Spanish Garrison Town, and the 18th Century British The 14th Colony. Visitors can see shipbuilding demonstrations, musket drills, leatherworking, and cannon firing in each section.
History buffs and families will enjoy exploring the Colonial Quarter. Previous visitors have praised the guided Historical Adventure Tour, which is included in the ticket price. It is possible to explore the property on your own, but tour guides offer interesting historical tidbits that give you a better understanding of life in colonial St. Augustine.
Colonial Quarter is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General Admission is $12.99 for adults and $6.99 for children ages 5 to 12. Online ticket purchases are discounted, and children four and under are free.
Just south of Flagler College, near St. Augustine’s historic city center, is the eclectic Lightner Museum. An impressive collection of 19th-century art is housed within the former Alcazar Hotel, built by Henry Flagler in 1888. Unique exhibits include shrunken heads, salt and pepper shakers, and cigar labels. Additionally, you will find Tiffany & Co. glass and antique furniture along with traditional art pieces.
Recent visitors said the museum’s architecture and collections more than justify its entrance fee. There are four floors of exhibits on the property, so you can easily spend several hours there. In the museum’s cafe, you can grab a bite to eat if you’re hungry. It’s only open for lunch, but visitors say the food is delicious.
Adults will have to pay $10 to visit the Lightner Museum. Children aged 12 to 18 can visit for $5, while children 11 and under are free. Students and active military personnel are eligible for reduced rates, and select trolley tour packages include admission fees. Restrooms and a gift shop are also available. There are daily hours of operation (except on Christmas) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with music demonstrations at 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. Guided tours are not included in admission fees, but specialty tours can be arranged. The attraction is accessible via the trolley stop No. 11 or by car. There is limited street parking nearby.
Fort Mose Historic State Park
Visitors to St. Augustine are familiar with the town’s history as a Spanish colony from 1565 to 1750, but few are aware of its role in America’s Black history. The first free African settlement in the United States was established here in 1738 – specifically at Fort Mose Historic State Park.
Florida was governed by the Spanish at this time, who owned slaves for a long time. But slavery in Spain and its colonies looked very different from slavery in Britain’s colonies. Spain viewed slavery primarily as a political tool, so its views on slavery were flexible. Because of this, Spanish slaves generally had some legal rights, including the ability to ultimately buy their freedom.
Spain encouraged British slaves to escape to Florida starting in the late 1600s in an attempt to gain an advantage over the British, who owned slaves in several nearby colonies. As a result of their loyalty to Spain and conversion to Catholicism, those who fled British-owned plantations in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina were promised freedom and protection from the British. Former British slaves were not freed until 1737, one year before Fort Mose was established. The Spanish abandoned the site in 1740 but rebuilt it in 1752 on the land where the state park stands today.
Fort Mose Historic State Park is a National Historic Landmark that is a part of Florida’s Black Heritage Trail and the precursor site of the Underground Railroad, even though the original fort no longer stands. Additionally, the park offers opportunities for birding, kayaking, and geocaching, among other outdoor activities. Great blue herons, bald eagles, and white ibis are among some of the wildlife visitors may see on site.
The interesting displays and friendly staff were cited by visitors as highlights of this little-known piece of American history. Guests strolled along the property’s boardwalks and set up picnics in one of the park’s two picnic areas. Families with history-loving children should plan a visit on the first Saturday of any month when the park offers musket firing demonstrations and kids militia training sessions.
Fort Mose is located about 3 miles northwest of downtown St. Augustine. It is free to visit the park every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but a $2 entrance fee applies to the visitor center, where exhibits about the fort’s history are displayed. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are closed at the park’s visitor center, which has the park’s only restrooms.
Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is where St. Augustine’s original settlement was located. In addition to the Fountain of Youth, which is believed to have anti-aging properties, the park contains a planetarium, a blacksmith shop, and a replica of Timucua village. The park’s grounds are home to a number of white and blue peacocks (nearly 30 reside there).
Travelers found the attraction to be lackluster and not worth the entrance fee, but most said it was an important archeological site. Some of the park’s highlights include drinking from the Fountain of Youth and watching a cannon firing demonstration. This spring contains sulfur water, which emits an unpleasant rotten egg smell.
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park sits more than a mile north of the historic downtown area of St. Augustine, so you’ll need to drive or take the trolley to get to it. Visitors can park for free on-site and at the trolley’s stop. No. 23 drops them off and picks them up at the entrance to the attraction. Daily hours are 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., but same-day tickets must be purchased by 5 p.m. Tickets cost $15 at the box office or $14 online, and senior citizens and children 6 to 12 receive discounts. Kids 5 and younger are free to enter the attraction. In addition to exhibits and demonstrations, restrooms, a cafe, and a gift shop are included with all tickets.
St. Augustine Beach
Located five miles southeast of St. Augustine’s historic district, St. Augustine Beach offers roughly two miles of white sand beach and clear water. With its kid-friendly splash pad, the beach is popular with families. St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier, located at the north end of the beach, is a great place to go fishing or to relax.
Visitors praised St. Augustine Beach’s scenery and uncrowded atmosphere in the past. On most days, the ocean offers small waves that are suitable for children, but on windy days, larger waves are ideal for surfing and bodyboarding.
You can reach St. Augustine Beach by trolley, bus, or car (though parking is limited at this beach, so you’ll want to arrive early if you plan on driving). Old Town Trolley Tours’ beach shuttle – which departs from the trolley stop No. 16 – is free for passengers with trolley passes. Furthermore, the Sunshine Bus Company stops at Anastasia Publix near the south end of the beach. Access to the beach’s pier is $1, but the beach is free to visit. There are also restrooms, volleyball courts, a covered pavilion, and outdoor showers near the kids’ splash pad. Parking is available from 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. from May 1 to October 31 is turtle nesting season. Seasonally, lifeguards are also posted at various points along the beach.
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St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum
St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum hosts a collection of pirate artifacts, including the oldest “Wanted” poster in the world, the only pirate treasure chest in the world, and one of two 17th-century Jolly Roger flags (that familiar black flag with a skull and crossbones). Visitors can climb aboard a replica pirate ship with a helm and cannons in the center of the museum.
Recent museum visitors raved about the attraction. Take a free guided tour with Captain Mayhem (the museum’s resident pirate and tour guide) and search for the hidden treasure clues.
St. Augustine’s Pirate & Treasure Museum is located across the street from Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in the city’s historic downtown area. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tickets cost $12.99 for adults and $5.99 for children ages 5-12. Children under 4 are free, and tickets purchased online offer discounts. The combined St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum and Colonial Quarter ticket costs $21.99 for adults and $11.99 for children. Old Town Trolley Tours’ Explorer Package includes Admission to the museum. Tickets include a one-hour group tour, access to the museum’s exhibits, restrooms, and a gift shop. Parking is not available on the property, but there are two trolley stops, a public parking lot, and a parking garage nearby. Trolley passes and parking are extra.
The Old Jail in St. Augustine was built in 1891 to house the city’s criminals. The jail was designed to blend in with the rest of the Ancient City and features Romanesque Revival architecture. It was financed by railroad magnate Henry Flagler. The property was reopened as a historical attraction in 1954, a year after it closed as a jail. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Visitors have praised the Old Jail’s tours, which are conducted by guides dressed in period attire. The tours are not only informative but also offer insight into the conditions prisoners encounter in the jail. Travelers recommend taking the Ghosts & Gravestones tour, which includes a night tour of the Old Jail, along with the Old Drug Store and Potter’s Wax Museum.
The Old Jail can be found one mile northwest of downtown’s historic district near the Florida Heritage Museum and Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Visitors can drive or ride the trolley to the No. 1 trolley stop to get to the jail. In addition to free parking, there are restrooms and a gift shop on site. Daily hours are 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Admission costs $9.54 for adults and $5.30 for children 6-12. Children 5 and under receive free Admission, and reduced rates are available when tickets are booked in advance on Old Town Trolley Tours’ website. Ghosts & Gravestones tour tickets and Old Town Trolley Tours’ attraction packages include free Admission to the jail.
St. Augustine Wild Reserve
St. Augustine Wild Reserve offers an up-close look at exotic animals. In 1995, this nonprofit sanctuary was founded to care for rescued and unwanted exotic animals. Among the animals housed here are mountain lions, bears, ligers, and leopards. Residents include five arctic wolves and an African lion that once belonged to Michael Jackson.
Visitors have praised the St. Augustine Wild Reserve’s treatment of animals and informative volunteers. You may wish to take pictures of the animals, but leave your camera at your hotel since photography (including cellphone photography) is not permitted at the property.
Located 16 miles northwest of St. Augustine, the St. Augustine Wild Reserve provides free parking on-site. Visitors must reserve a tour on the property’s website in order to tour the facility. Most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays at 2 p.m., tours last about two hours. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for children ages 6 to 10. Children under 5 are free. Entrance fees include a walk of the reserve and a CD with photos of the animals. Visitors are provided with cold water and wet towels on hot days. A nine-seat golf cart is also available for guests with disabilities.