St. Augustine, the longest continually-inhabited European-founded city in the US, is one place that everybody loves, has been to, dreams of going to, or has a feeling about, one way or another. The “Nation’s Oldest City” is where you will find unique history, gorgeous waterfront views, and, most recently, sensational restaurants. There’s not much you won’t find in this favorite Florida city. Here is a travel guide for St. Augustine, on Florida’s prestigious Historic Coast.
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Explore the Sites
The Lightner Museum is one of the most photographed sites in St. Augustine and one of the most stately. Originally a health center and hotel for the rich and famous in 1887, Lightner had the largest freshwater swimming pool for its time. Henry Flagler built it, a name synonymous with St. Augustine, and is now a National Historic Landmark, with stunning Tiffany windows, incredible murals, and jaw-dropping architecture.
And speaking of Flagler, St. Augustine’s Flagler College is one of the most beautiful in the state and a lovely spot for strolling the grounds and taking photographs.
One of my top picks for visiting St. Augustine is St. George Street, a pedestrian-only historic area full of shops, restaurants, and bars. There is always something extraordinary to see and it’s a great place for people-watching, too. You’ll find a handful of historical attractions here, also.
St. Augustine Attractions
America’s first colony, St. Augustine, was founded by Ponce de Leon. The most popular and oldest attraction is 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. Don’t miss the period weapons and cannon demonstration.
On the Matanzas Bay waterfront, 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.
A touristy but incredibly appealing attraction in St. Augustine is Potter’s Wax Museum. Not only can you stroll through historical, pop culture, Presidential, and famous wax-made true-to-size figures, but you can also watch a master artist making heads and body parts for the museum. There are almost 150 wax figures to admire. A few of our faves were Harry Potter, Henry VIII (and wives), and the Founding Fathers.
Dive into the Food and Drink Scene
St. Augustine has a stellar list of restaurants to choose from, running the gamut from affordable to high dollar, international to hot dogs, and chef-inspired to mom and pop. Amongst the trendy eateries are The Floridian, serving delectable Southern cuisine, from pimento cheese to pulled pork BBQ waffles. Catch 27 is a seafood-heavy restaurant with great tacos and perfect margaritas.
A third foodie-approved spot is Michael’s Tasting Room, a chic dining spot with gourmet burgers, charcuterie boards, and a killer wine selection.
The city’s historic restaurants include the Columbia Restaurant, one of Florida’s most famous Cuban eateries, where the mojitos, Cuban sandwiches, and 1905 Salad will transport you to Cuba. Old City House Inn & Restaurant is an 1873 historical gem with a gorgeous, flower-filled courtyard and an utterly mouthwatering risotto and lamb dish.
St. Augustine might be one of the most revered cities in Florida for international eats. Get your Greek fix at Athena, the premier Greek tavern with amazing Saganaki (flaming goat cheese). Margaritas, chips and salsa, and street tacos are all the rage at the fun Cantina Louie Mexican restaurant. Enjoy pasta dishes with a decadent red sauce and affordable prices at Amici. The Tortellini with a basil cream sauce is spectacular, as is the billowy bread.
Pick your poison with a glass of vino from the San Sebastian Winery or a sampling of locally made artisanal spirits (rum, vodka, gin, and whiskey) at the St. Augustine Distillery (a cool restored ice plant). Pair these with Whetstone Chocolates, a local favorite with a chocolate factory tour, too.
The Alligator Farm Zoological Park is so much more than the name suggests. Yes, there are a few hundred alligators to admire, learn about, and watch the feeding. Still, the birds, reptiles, Galapagos tortoises, lemurs, and everything else on the 7-mile menagerie are equally impressive. Alligator Farm was initially founded in 1893 and is one of the oldest zoos in the country. Unique offerings include 23 species of crocodiles from four different countries. You can also zip-line through the trees on the Climb, Clip, Zip! aerial course.
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What kid wouldn’t love the weird and eccentric things showcased at Ripley’s Believe It or Not? Or playing a round of mini-golf at Fiesta Falls with a 65-foot Spanish ship and 18 holes of fun. Another fun choice, and excellent rain activity, is the St. Augustine Aquarium, with over 200 Florida reef fish and touch tanks for petting the rays. You can also feed sharks, touch horseshoe crabs, and snorkel at this fun attraction.
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, the Alligator Farm, and the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. At the lighthouse, climb the 219 steps to the top for sweeping views. There is also a children’s play area and nature trails on the property.
If you are headed to the Florida beaches, why not stop here for a day or two and explore something new? St. Augustine has beaches, though they aren’t as talked about as the rest of the city’s major attractions. You’ll find plenty of space to enjoy the salty sea breeze and fabulous Florida weather.
Downtown St. Augustine
There is always a buzz around downtown St. Augustine, and the streets are filled with travelers and tourists enjoying the boutique shopping, sidewalk cafes, beautiful architecture, and a huge park. The Andrew Young Crossing is a memorial site dedicated to a tragedy that happened in St. Augustine, and shouldn’t be missed. Also, the war cannons and monuments throughout town are noteworthy and make great photo-ops.
While you are in the area, be sure to indulge in a gourmet ice cream sandwich from Peace Pie, with yummy flavor combinations like Pumpkin Latte, Bananas Foster, and (of course) Key Lime Pie. Forgotten Tonic, next door, offers a more powerful punch in the form of handcrafted cocktails and wine.
As always in bigger cities, beware of pick-pockets and keep your belongings close to you at all times.
Take a Tour
One of the best food tours I’ve been on in the whole country is the Savory Faire Food Tour (part of CityWalks tours) in St. Augustine. The three-hour award-winning tour included six stops for decent sized portions from local restaurants and had a short walking tour with loads of educational data and stories. It was all enjoyable and tasty, from hummus, pita bread, and olives at Cafe Alcazar and charcuterie platter at Costa Brava, to Claude’s Chocolates for ice cream and a caramel sea-salt bon-bon and well worth the cost.
A great way to see many of the above-listed places in St. Augustine (and way more) is to buy a ticket for the Old Town Trolley Tours. This allows you to hop on and off as much as you want. Learn about the city through a narrated tour on a clean, sanitized, and socially-distanced open-air bus, also a great way to take pictures. There are 22 stops on the route, and the loop takes 80 minutes.
Included with your ticket is admission to the St. Augustine History Museum and complimentary shuttle ride to the Alligator Farm and the beach.
Another Old Town Trolley experience is Ghosts and Gravestones, a candle-lit ghost tour sharing stories, scares, and history behind the city’s legendary ghost scene. St. Augustine’s supernatural tales have been featured on the Discovery and Travel Channels for years. Some of the places you’ll visit are the Old Jail (est. 1891), Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, and the lighthouse. The Haunted Evening Stroll has been voted Florida’s #1 guided tour in the past.
Money-Saving Tip: Two stops on the Old Town Trolley tour offer free parking, so consider starting your experience from there.
St. Augustine’s Art and Shopping
Lost Art Gallery, on historic George Street, is a place we never miss when in St. Augustine. This fine-art gallery has treasures from around the world, with an awe-inspiring selection. A few of my favorite pieces were by Mary Stevenson Cassatt, Rory Wagner, and Fritz Henle.
Next door, owned by the same family, is Sea Spirits Gallery & Gifts, a store with jewelry and gifts inspired by the sea. Stunning glass creations, sculptures, world-class artwork, and stained glass are some of the incredible selection you will see in this magazine-worthy shop.
Where to Stay
Why not make your visit to St. Augustine even more memorable by staying in the oldest inn in America in the oldest city? The St. Francis Inn is a delightful place to call home on historic St. George Street, within walking distance to almost everything in the town. It offers a variety of accommodations and price ranges.
The St. Francis Inn property is gorgeous, loaded with fragrant blooms, picturesque gardens, a heated swimming pool, an enticing courtyard, and dozens of amenities. A tasty breakfast, all-day coffee, water, and tea, an evening social hour, use of bicycles, and dessert are included in your stay.
If you prefer to stay outside of the hustle and bustle of St. Augustine, there is Grande Villas at Golf World Village, a short drive from I-95. The grounds are perfectly manicured, and it offers an easy check-in. Our tastefully-decorated, modern room had two bedrooms and two baths. Grande Villas has a great arcade, swimming pool, hot tub, and play area for children, but unfortunately, no on-site restaurant.
St. Augustine Photo Gallery
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