Visiting St. Augustine: The Nation’s Oldest City
St. Augustine is one of Florida’s most beloved destinations as well as our nation’s oldest city. There are many things to consider when vacationing or visiting the area, including where to stay, what to eat, and what attractions to visit. Here is the itinerary that worked for my family and allowed us to burn up some timeshare points in the meantime. Beware, you may fall in love visiting St.Augustine.
Where We Played
The Alligator Farm Is So Much More
St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm was our first tour of the trip and it did not disappoint. The name is certainly misleading as this park has shows, activities, birds, reptiles, and museum-like displays; basically the works. I was expecting to see only alligators, but this is a sophisticated 7-acre menagerie and fun-filled adventure park.
The park was originally founded in 1893 and is one of the oldest zoos in the country. Special offerings include 23 species of crocodiles from four different countries. My favorite parts of the park were the hornbills, watching the gator feeding, and the Gomek display. Gomek is an 18 feet long, 2,000-pound crocodile that was found in Papua New Guinea. His remains were donated to the Alligator Farm. Kids flocked to the live feedings at the lagoon, Galapagos tortoises, and lemurs. For a nominal fee, you can zip-line through the trees on the Climb, Clip, Zip! aerial course.
Old Town Trolley’s Featured Tour
Any historic city deserves a trip aboard Old Town Trolley’s city and historic tours. With 23 locations to hop on/hop off, simply buy your ticket, step aboard, and ride as long as you’d like. Impressively, the trolley ticket is good for three days. Two of the stops on the tour offers free parking.
Our guide shared valuable information about the city, its people, legends, and the history of St. Augustine. The most popular destinations were San Sebastian Winery, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and City Gates for St. George Street, a pedestrian-only historic area packed with shops, restaurants, and bars. Riding the trolley is the most cost-effective way of seeing St. Augustine as well as exploring all the fun stops along the way. It takes 80 minutes to ride the entire loop.
A Fun-Filled Ghost Tour
A second option when purchasing your Old Town Trolley ticket is to add the Ghosts and Gravestones Trolley tour ticket. St. Augustine’s many supernatural happenings have been featured on the Discovery and Travel Channel. We boarded the cleverly decorated and candle-lit Ghosts and Gravestones trolley and set out to explore designated dark areas of St. Augustine such as the Old Jail, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, and the St. Augustine Light.
At the Old Jail, inmate Charlie Parker tells his account of the horrific conditions that he lived through in jail. It was built in 1891 and was operational for 60 years. A lot of unexplained activity has been recorded at the lighthouse, which may have resulted in the orbs that appear on my pictures hours after taking them. In St. Augustine, “we don’t know why these strange things happen here; but they do.” Nuff said. The tour lasts around 80 minutes. (the itinerary may have changed)
What We Did
Tasted St. Augustine
My favorite tour on our vacation was the City Walks Savory Food Faire walking and history tour. Our guide led us on a walking tour through downtown St. Augustine to eat and drink from six different places. Starting at Old City House Inn and Restaurant, we were treated to lamb atop cabbage risotto in a beautiful outdoor courtyard. We sampled Greek gyros and flaming cheese at Athena, nibbled Mediterranean goodies at Costa Brava at 95 Cordova, chowed down on Escargot and a Hummus platter at Cafe Alcazar (inside the Lightner Museum), and concluded with ice cream and chocolates from Claude’s Chocolates. There were a few bonus stops along the way. While we walked, our guide entertained us with some interesting history lessons. I highly recommend this tour as we were treated like VIP’s at each stop and the portions were more than satisfactory.
Drinking from the Fountain of Youth
St. Augustine, America’s first colony, was founded by Ponce de Leon. The most popular and oldest attraction is visiting the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Ponce de Leon believed this spring was the sought-after fountain of youth. The journey begins with a sip of spring water (yuck!) and then exploring the 15-acre park’s exhibits and educational seminars that encompass 500 years of history.
Special presentations are held in the Discovery Globe, Navigator’s Planetarium, and Spring House. Our favorite part of the Fountain of Youth was watching the period weapons and cannon demonstration. The cannon actually gets fired so be prepared; it is loud! The grounds are beautiful and we saw dozens of peacocks strutting around the property. We found the waterfront of Matanzas Bay (translates to Slaughter Bay) was a great place for photo ops.
Where We Ate
Delicious Dining in St. Augustine
My family had two noteworthy meals in St. Augustine. Cantina Louie, an eclectic pink and purple restaurant, was our choice for Mexican fare. They served really good Guacamole, creamy Queso Dip, designer margaritas, and a wide variety of tasty street tacos. The service was on point.
Our classic Italian favorite dishes were enjoyed at top-rated Amici’s, where we feasted on Veal Parmigiana, Tortellini in a delicate basil-cream sauce, pizza, and some of the best Chicken Alfredo I have ever eaten. Don’t miss the house salad because the dressing is amazing. Amici’s service was impeccable. I found their prices to be reasonable.
My husband, Eddie, and I (sans family) had an al fresco lunch at the amazing Michael’s Tasting Room in the pedestrian-friendly St. George neighborhood. Service was stellar and the chef stopped by twice to make sure our food was up to standards. It was, and in a big way. The Caesar Salad that we started with was so delicious. A piece of mouthwatering crispy serrano ham topped the salad. I ordered the MTR Burger as my main course and it came out sheer perfection. I added a side of the tomato jam to the burger and boy did it put it over the top. Yum! Eddie tried the Shrimp and grits; again, a home run.
Where We Stayed
Our family chose to stay at the Grande Villas at Golf World Village in St. Augustine, only a short drive from the I-95 interstate. We arrived at our resort to find beautifully manicured grounds, a super-easy check-in, and a modern two-bedroom, two-bath condo waiting for us. The Grande Villas has an arcade, swimming pool, hot tub, and play area for children but unfortunately no on-site restaurant, which was a negative for us.
What’s Not To Love About St. Augustine
St. Augustine provided a great family trip for us and the weather was nearly perfect. There was something for all of us in the activities listed above. I recommend driving across the Bridge of Lions for a nice photo-op before you leave the city. Crossing over the bridge will take you to Anastasia State Park, home of the Alligator Farm and the St. Augustine Light and Museum. If you are headed to the Florida beaches, why not stop here for a day or two and explore something new?
Other Points of Interest in St. Augustine:
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Florida’s Space Coast