St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest European settlement in the United States and it is a fantastic place to spend a weekend. There are so many things to do that’s it hard to pick a favorite but I’ll run through some of the best ways to spend your weekend…in no particular order.
1) Take a drive down the A-1A – Depending on where you are coming from to get to St. Augustine, this may not be a feasible option but if an entry to the A-1A is not too far of a detour, it’s a nice drive. The A-1A is a state route that follows the eastern coastline.
There are many excellent ocean views and beautiful homes to see as you drive along it. Since it’s a state route, its going to slow you down a little but if you have time to kill, it’s a nice distraction.
2) Walk around St. George Street and the surrounding shops – You can easily spend an afternoon strolling downtown St. Augustine and taking in the many different eclectic shops. There are a lot of nice restaurants and bars along the way, many have live music to enjoy while you relax. My favorite restaurant in the area is Scarlett O’Hara’s on Hypolita Street. They have a large menu of many southern favorite dishes at reasonable prices.
3) The Old Jail – I’ve been to Old Jail many times and it has always been worth the stop. The jail was in operation from the late 1800’s until the early 1950’s. The tour guide (typically playing the role of a deputy or an inmate) will take through the sheriff’s living quarters, the kitchen, the cells and the gallows where your guide will tell you about the hangings that once took place here. The tour is family friendly and our kids enjoyed the chance to get a photo op inside the cells or in the giant birdcage out back.
4) St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum – If you have never been inside a lighthouse, this is a fun stop. Be warned there are 219 narrow steps to the top so if you don’t think you can make the walk, you should pass and enjoy the beautiful flowers and visit the museum on the grounds. The walk to the top can be tiring but you be rewarded with a beautiful ocean view and a newfound sense of a appreciation for the men and women who would have to make the climb to the top carrying supplies for the lighthouse. The museum tour gives you a glimpse of what life was like living and working at the lighthouse as well as a general history of the area.
5) Ripley’s Believe It or Not – I enjoy really enjoy these museums, if you’ve never been to a Ripley’s then you should stop in (you should easily be able to find discount coupons either online or in various tourist magazines). If you’ve been to one in a different area there’s probably no compelling reason to spend your money. Inside you will find exhibits about the world’s tallest man, a mummified cat, writings on a piece of rice and other oddities. This is a very kid friendly tour and our kids want to visit a Ripley’s every time they see one in the area.
6) St. Augustine Alligator Farm – Across from the lighthouse is the Alligator Farm. This is a good stop if you are traveling with kids. You will see every crocodile species in the world (something you won’t find anywhere else) as well as a wide range of birds, lemurs, and alligators (even an albino alligator). If you are feeling particularly adventurous you can zip line across the park.
7) Castillo de San Marcos – This fort was originally built by the Spanish in 1672 and it changed hands many times over the years through treaties but it was never captured. Now part of the National Park system, its an educational stop for kids and interesting way to spend a couple hours for all ages. Inside you will learn about the history of the park through a self-guided tour. There are also demonstrations of the canons by actors dressed in period clothing throughout the day.
8) The beach – Florida is known for its beautiful beaches and St. Augustine is no exception. I would recommend Anatasia State Park which is a short drive from downtown St. Augustine. The park offers beautiful beaches, hiking, trails, and a campground.
9) Trolley Tour – There are a couple different trolley tours available in St. Augustine. I took the Old Town Trolley tour and really enjoyed it. If you have never been to St. Augustine, a trolley ride is a good idea because they will show you all of the highlights of the city and give you some history. I had been to St. Augustine many times and still learned about new sights by taking the tour. You can also get on and off the stops all day so it’s a great way to get around town. They also offer discounts to attractions if you buy them with your trolley ticket so do your homework on what you would like to see before you spend your money.