In the last couple of years, we’ve started doing a lot of family travel. We’ve brought the kids to Washington, D.C., Colorado, and most recently New York. But even with all our adventures, one of our favorite places to visit is right in our own backyard – St. Augustine, Florida.
What makes St. Augustine unique for us is that we’ve gotten to know it as both locals and tourists. Our kids go to school in St. Augustine, and most of their friends (and ours) live there, so we’ve been let in on some of the local secrets & spots. But I still feel like a tourist every time I go downtown (or really anywhere beyond Target & Chick-Fil-A). I’m not sure if it’s even possible to walk through the historic district without feeling like a tourist. Not when you’re just as likely to run into a pirate as you are your next door neighbor.
St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest city and is rich with history. But alongside centuries-old buildings and statues, you’ll find an eclectic mix of tourist attractions, trendy boutiques, tiny coffee shops, and restaurant chains. And that’s just downtown.
We’ve put together a list of our personal favorite places to visit in St. Augustine – all are pretty inexpensive or free, and many offer discounts to residents of St. Johns County.
St. George Street
When you think of St. Augustine, you can’t help but think of St. George Street. This pedestrian-only street was once the town’s main thoroughfare, and it remains a bustling highlight for both locals and tourists. It’s fun to walk down the street and window shop – you’ll find everything from jewelry & gifts made by local artisans to cheap & tacky souvenirs.
My favorite store is House of Z, where you’ll find gorgeous handmade sea glass jewelry and gifts. It’s a tiny little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shop, but I could spend hours there. It’s a must-see for any sea glass lover. Just make sure you call or check the website first, because they’re only open a few days a week for a few hours at a time.
There are plenty of great restaurants, but our favorite quick bite is pizza by-the-slice from Pizza Time. It’s fantastic and well worth the occasional wait. It’s cash-only, so don’t forget to stop by the ATM first. They’ve got gelato for dessert, but we prefer to walk next door for ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s.
If you’re looking for a treat with a little more local flavor, stop by The Hyppo for a gourmet ice pops. They’re made on-site with fresh fruits & spices, and they come in delicious flavors like Strawberry Basil, Pineapple Guanabana, and Mango Habanero. So good you’ll want seconds.
Castillo de San Marcos
Admission to The Fort is free for kids under 16 and $10 per adult. There’s lots to explore – barracks & gunpowder rooms, tour guides in colonial dress, and scheduled cannon firings. Plus it offers spectacular views of the city and the river. It’s something you should see at least once.
We’ve only been inside The Fort a couple of times, but we love to play on the huge lawn surrounding it. It’s a great place to have a picnic (there aren’t any tables, so bring blankets), to fly kites, and to just let the kids run around in open space. If you happen to be in the area on the 4th of July, this is also a popular spot to watch fireworks.
Tip: The Fort is across the street from the Visitors Center. You can stop there to use the restroom and water fountain, look in the gift shop, and see local exhibits.
Museums & Tours
As you can probably guess, St. Augustine has lots of museums. A few are free, some are free or discounted for locals, and most offer discounts for students, active military members, and kids. While not the cheapest attractions in town, keep in mind that they do offer an hour or two of air conditioned respite from the Florida heat. Check online for coupons before you go – you can often find a discount code or a package deal.
Memorial Presbyterian Church is historically fascinating and visually stunning. If you have a photography buff in the family, you’ll want to make a stop here. Admission is free (but donations are accepted). There isn’t much to see here for younger kids, but it’s worth a look if you think they can handle it. We haven’t brought the kids here (at 8 and 11, they still don’t have a firm grasp of “look with your eyes, not with your hands”), but Vic & I have been here a couple of times on our own, and it’s lovely. Tour hours vary (it’s still an active church, and tours are conducted outside of regular worship hours) so check the schedule before you go.
Flagler College is gorgeous and has a wonderful history, although it’s another stop that’s probably best suited for adults and older kids. Regular admission is $10 for adults and $1 for kids, but it’s free for St. Johns County residents.
If you’re looking for something more kid-friendly, try the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. We haven’t been there (pirates aren’t our thing), but it’s pretty popular with the locals. Adult tickets are $13.99, kids 5-12 are $6.99, and 4 and under are free.
Another fun stop for kids is Potter’s Wax Museum. I suppose some kids might find it scary or weird, but my kids find it fascinating. We especially love the Harry Potter and the Star Wars collections, but there’s so much more – historical figures, politicians, and celebrities galore. It’s not a huge museum, so I wouldn’t plan on spending more than an hour here. Adult tickets are $10, kids 6-12 are $6.70, and 5 and under are free.
The beach is my happy place, so of course it’s on this list! Each stretch of beach in NE Florida has its own “flavor,” so ask yourself what type of experience you’re looking for, and choose your beach accordingly. First, check out this list of the main public beach access locations in St. Johns County. (Double check before you go, since there are ongoing beach restoration projects.) And here are some of our favorites:
If you’re looking for a popular, kid-filled beach with full facilities, St. Augustine Beach may be the spot for you. It has a pavilion, picnic tables, and a fishing pier. And it even has a splash water park that will be a huge hit with younger kids. Parking is free (but can be tricky on extra busy days).
We’re big fans of driving & parking on the beach – for us, it makes a day at the beach exponentially more manageable. There are a few vehicle access ramps in the area (again, check before you go because some of the ramps are closed because of Hurricane Matthew). Our favorite is Dondanville Road, just a few miles south of the St. Augustine Pier. A daily pass is required from March – September ($6 for residents, $7 for non-residents. Season passes are also available). During the off-season, it’s free to drive & park on the area beaches.
If you’re looking for outdoor sports & adventures, I’d recommend Anastasia State Park. Bring your bike or hiking boots and check out the beautiful nature trails. Or you can rent surfboards, canoes, paddleboards, and kayaks for a fun day on the water. There’s even a little restaurant in the park. Admission is $8 per vehicle with up to 8 people, $4 per vehicle with one occupant, and $2 for pedestrians/bicyclists.
For my fellow beachcombers, Porpoise Point in Vilano Beach is a good place to start. If you go at low tide, you’re likely to walk away with a pocket full of shark teeth and other treasures. You can’t access Vilano Beach from A1A in St. Augustine, so you’ll have to take the Vilano Beach Causeway (the Usina Bridge) to get there. It’s worth the drive. Just use extra caution in the water – our beaches are notorious for their strong rip currents.
If you need more info, the St. Augustine Locals Guide has great info about our beaches, including access point maps and average ocean temperatures.
Parks & Playgrounds
I don’t know about you, but anytime we travel, we do our best to locate the closest parks and playgrounds. That might sound weird – I mean, surely we don’t spend hours in a car or on an airplane to play in a park that’s identical to the one down the street from our house.
But we’ve found (through much trial & error) that even just a quick playground break has this magic-like power to stop a meltdown in its tracks. It gives us all a chance to reset. The kids can run around & play without being told to “use their indoor voices” or to “NOT TOUCH ANYTHING.” If we’re lucky, there will be other kids at the park, which will give our girls the chance to interact with someone besides each other. If we’re even luckier, there will be benches in the shade, where Vic & I can sit quietly, strategize for the rest of the day, and check Facebook.
There are lots of parks in St. Augustine, but these two are right in the downtown area.
Davenport Park is a local favorite. It’s got swings and monkey bars and slides – equipment that’s fun for tots AND big kids. Plus there’s a good amount of shade, lots of benches & picnic tables, and plenty of space to run and play. But the absolute highlight of Davenport Park is the full-size antique carousel that kids (and adults!) can ride for just $1.
The public library’s Main Branch is right next door to the park, and it has a large children’s section. It’s a great place to take a break from the sun, browse through some books, or even just use the restroom and water fountain.
Tip: Bring plenty of bottled water and don’t rely on water fountains. Our non-filtered water tastes terrible. If you forget your water, you can buy some at the Dunkin Donuts across the street from the carousel.
SWING Park might be a better option if you have older kids (my 11 year old prefers it to Davenport Park). SWING, which stands for “St. Augustine’s Wish for Its Next Generation,” is located right across from the downtown parking garage. It has a huge wooden play space, complete with tubes, towers, a fort, and its own mini lighthouse. There’s a separate play area for younger kids and a large shaded pavilion for mom and dad.
Come for a Visit!
St. Augustine is wonderful and weird. Where else can you find horse-drawn carriages, peacocks crossing residential streets, and an 18-foot tall marble replica of Michelangelo’s “David” (hidden by bushes for modesty, of course) all within a couple of miles?
I love sharing my favorite spots with you, but these are just a few of them! What are your favorite things to do in St. Augustine – or what’s on your St. Augustine must-see list?