Have you ever visited the oldeset city in the United States? St. Augustine is located on Florida’s Atlantic coast, but can feel more like a trip to Europe than the Sunshine State. It’s one of our favorite places in Florida. Founded in 1565, there’s been plenty of time for unique adventures in St. Augustine to abound!
The area is full of unusual activities, alongside beautiful Florida nature. We want to share both unique and outdoor adventures here, some of which coincide!
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Perhaps the most iconic landmark in St. Augstine, it’s one you can’t miss! Ok, quite literally, you can’t miss it. The Castillo de San Marcos dominates the harbor. It was built by the Spanish in 1695 and looks alot like the two forts in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Tours are self guided, with firearm demonstrations, varying between muskets and cannons, on the weekends.
Since this a ‘walk in’ national monument, there is a $15 per person entry fee. However, an America the Beautiful pass, along with the military and senior passes, will allow up to 4 people to enter free of charge.
Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth area is the site of thousands of years of history. Beginning with the Timucua native tribes, it was later the site of Ponce de Leon’s first landing in 1513, and the location of St. Augustine’s founding in 1565. Today, it’s claim to fame is the small spring that bubbles up here, preportedly the famed Fountain of Youth for which Ponce de Leon was searching. Sample the water and see how you feel!
Aside from the spring, there’s a planetarium with shows on how the Spanish explorers navigated, a historical village recreation, active excavations, and perhaps my favorite, the peacocks! There are dozens of them around the park and they’ll eat right from your hand.
The Lightner Museum began as the Alcazar Hotel, built in 1888. It houses an antique museum, along with some changing exhibits, a beautiful courtyard garden that is free to access, and the Alcazar Cafe. The cafe is one of the most unique places to eat lunch in St. Augustine! It’s located in the former hotel’s pool! Open from 11am-3pm, they serve fresh, homemade dishes, with live museum on the weekends.
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St. George Street
The main street through the historic district, St. Geroge has countless restaurants, bars and shops, along with a variety of unusual museums, from the Oldest Wooden School House to the Medieval Torture Museum. There’s something for every taste!
Be sure to stroll St George, but be prepared for crowds on the weekends and holidays. The street is one of the most European looking spots in the US, complete with its cobblestones and historic city walls!
Mission of Nombre de Dios
The mission was founded over 400 years ago, and today you can visit the museum, shrine and view the Great Cross. It’s over 200 feet tall and weighs more than 70 tons.
The mission sits on the salt marshes, making it a good place to spot wildlife. It’s a quiet area for a stroll or a picnic, and it’s also a free place to park. They do lock the gates at dusk, so be sure you’re out before then!
Anastasia State Park
Anastasia State Park is a true escape for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Stretching across 1,600 acres, this stunning park offers a diverse range of ecosystems, including pristine beaches, ancient sand dunes, marshes, and maritime hammocks. The park is home to an abundance of wildlife, from dolphins playing in the surf to a variety of bird species soaring above. Visitors can enjoy a plethora of recreational activities, such as swimming, fishing, hiking, and camping. With its tranquil atmosphere, breathtaking scenery, and ample opportunities for exploration, Anastasia State Park is a haven from the busy downtown.
Vilano Beach is a short drive across the bridge from St. Augustine. It’s hidden gem that offers a unique blend of natural beauty and coastal charm. With long stretches of beach, it’s mainly a residential community, lacking the busy tourism of other areas. There are number of eateries to choose from, as well as kayak and paddleboard rentals.
Its breathtaking sunrises, which paint the sky with vibrant hues, provide a picturesque backdrop for early morning walks or yoga sessions.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
This is as Florida as it gets! The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is home to countless alligators and crocodiles, over 24 species! They hold various shows throughout the day, and you can book several up close animal experiences, including a sloth encounter and participate in feeding a 15 foot crocodile. Looking for more excitement? Zipline over the gator enclosures!
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Fort Matanzas National Monument truly is a hidden gem. I lived in Florida for 24 years and didn’t know about it until we started RVing in Florida for the winter.
First off, it’s free! The historical fort is located on an island in the Matanzas River, accessible only by boat. The park service runs a free ferry on the hour between 9:30am and 3:30pm, Wednesday thru Sunday. The boat ride lasts about 10 minutes, where a ranger will then give a tour of the fort. Built in the 17th century by the Spanish, it guarded the southern entrance to St. Augustine. Explore the rooms and climb the ladder to the lookout point for great views.
Look for wildlife too, we saw multiple dolphins and a sea turtle!
Marineland opened in the 1940s as a roadside attraction along A1A. Today, the aquarium primarily focuses on dolphin programs, from swim with the dolphins to Trainer for a Day. If you’re not into that, you can still visit for some aquarium views and shows/talks.
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The St. Augustine bayfront is a perfect stroll, from the Bridge of Lions to the Castillo de San Marcos. Admire the fancy anchored boats and imagine a sailing trip. If the boats have you longing to get out on the water, try a tikiboat tour for a fun and unique experience!
Two Unique ‘Secrets’
A city as old as St. Augustine has its share of oddities, and here are two spots worthy of a trivia question.
Within the Flagler College Courtyard, find the fountain. It’s surrounded by stone frogs, which actually make up a sundial! If you didn’t know it, you would just assume it decoration. The fountain was built in 1888, when the college was a hotel. It reminds me of Hogwarts!
The second oddity is a small section of Treasury Street. The street crosses St. George, but if you follow it to the bayfront, it narrows to just under 7 feet wide. Why? Allegedly, it was built to be just wide enough for 2 men to carry a money chest from the harbor to the Treasury building. No room for robbers!
Bonus: Nights of Lights
During Christmas, St. Augustine comes alive with over 3 million lights! It’s been recognized on countless travel shows as one of the best holiday festivals in the US. It’s the busiest time to visit St. Augustine, but the holiday cheer is everywhere!
Favorite Outdoor Dining
The Conch House is a must on St. Augustine Beach! Their Caribbean themed menu and drinks are excellent, and you can’t beat the deck seating on a sunny day. They have a few ‘crow’s nest tiki tables’, but be prepared to wait if you want one. They don’t take reservations and they’re the most popular tables!
Harry’s is a chain, but I love their St. Augustine location! It’s right off the bayfront with a beautiful courtyard. The service is always stellar, and their Louisiana style menu is delicious!
Where to Stay
There is no shortage of lodging options in St. Augustine. From the luxurious Casa Monica Resort to numerous bed and breakfasts in the historic area, to beach resorts, you have your pick!
There are many AirBnB and Vrbo rentals in St. Augustine, but over Christmas, this one was perfect for our family. It’s the cutest house, and with 5 beds there’s room for everyone. It’s so clean and close to everything.
There’s also quite a few RV parks right in St. Augustine, but we opted for Shell Harbour, about 40 minutes away. It’s more reasonably priced, had availability at the last minute, and is waterfront! For some Old Florida charm and great fishing, I definitely recommend this park!
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