Cool, happy, and fun things to do in St Augustine FL include experiencing history, architecture, and outdoor activities and savoring a growing culinary and craft cocktail scene.
St Augustine is USA’s oldest city and the longest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States.
How old is St Augustine FL?
San Agustin was first populated by non-natives in 1513 when Ponce de Leon (sent by King Ferdinand of Spain) explored the New World. Ponce de Leon named the land La Florida because they arrived during the Easter season (Pascua Florida). La Florida represented everything from Key West to Labrador, Canada.
Ponce de Leon also noticed the rapid currents near Saint Augustine (the Atlantic Gulf Stream), which served as a guide to explorers. St Augustine itself was named by Admiral General Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles on August 25, 1565, the Feast of St Augustine. Menendez sailing for King Phillip was ordered to reclaim all La Florida for Spain and he was tracking French when he sailed into the St Augustine inlet.
Drake’s map from the 1580s is the first map to include St Augustine, more than 30 years before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts. Aviles Street in St Augustine is the oldest European street in America, 100 years older than Philadelphia’s oldest street.
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8 Great Things to do in St Augustine Florida
1. Castillo de San Marcos
The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the United States and the only surviving 17th century military structure. The Castillo was painted red and white to warn others that it was Spanish territory and faint remnants of red paint can still be seen on the exterior walls. After several prior wooden forts were destroyed by raids, the Spanish spent 23 years (1672-1695) building Castillo de San Marcos out of coquina (sea shell) as a stalwart defense to protect St Augustine.
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Our timing was nice in #StAugustine #Florida and we caught the Spanish portrayers cleaning the cannon. The cannon boomed earlier but they were shutting it down for the day. St Augustine is called Ancient City or First City, claiming to be the oldest European settlement in USA. Have you been?
2. St Augustine Alligator Farm
The St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park celebrated its 125 anniversary in 2018 and is the only place in the world where you can see every member of the crocodilian family. View rare albino alligators, African birds, and Florida reptiles. Zip line over crocs if you dare.
The rookery at St Augustine Alligator Farm is absolutely amazing where thousands of migratory tropical birds return each year. It is a safe place for them because there are no ground predators. Check out the Live cam from the bird rookery. Florida’s Birding & Photo Fest, every April, brings together top professional wildlife photographers and passionate amateur birders.
3. St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
The St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum property features four distinct operations: the lighthouse, keeper’s residence, LAMP marine archaeology, and traditional wood boat building. The lighthouse is the main draw and be sure you climb the 219 steps to the top for remarkable views. Please watch my video from the top of the St Augustine Lighthouse below—it was a windy day. The keeper’s residence is unique because it is brick, Victorian style, a duplex, and has a basement. All four of these features were rare in Florida homes before 1900. The Wrecked! exhibit acknowledges the area’s role in the Revolutionary War with shipwreck finds, including the world’s second oldest known cannon (1782).
4. Ponce de Leon Hotel – Flagler College
Historic Ponce de Leon hotel opened in January 1888 after a quick but incredibly lavish 18 month construction period. Thomas Edison oversaw the electricity system and installed a clock encased in the largest piece of white onyx in the western hemisphere. Take the fascinating student-led tour to learn the clock’s secret. The hotel property is now Flagler College, which has been selected as USA’s most beautiful college.
McCool Travel tip: Also visit the Lightner Museum across the street, formerly the Alcazar Hotel, home of the world’s largest indoor pool. These two ultra-luxury hotels built by Henry Flagler, charged guests the equivalent of $75,000 today for a three month stay. Spend time exploring the eclectic collections and see what the pool area looks like today.
5. St Augustine Red Train Tours
One way to get an overview of Ancient City is on the Red Train Trolley Tours. A train appears every 15 to 20 minutes and a full circuit lasts 90 minutes. Riders can get off at any of the 22 stops and catch a later train. Check the Red Train website for special deals.
Allow time to explore various stops along the way if time allows. We enjoy St Augustine history and particularly love the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park—especially with its photogenic white peacocks.
6. St. Augustine Eco Tours
See St Augustine from the water and learn more on a St Augustine Eco Tours sailing. The tour highlight was undoubtedly watching two separate groups of dolphins playing right in front of the boat. St Augustine Eco Tours educate visitors about wildlife and habitat and our captain is an Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin researcher. So, not only did we watch the dolphins play but we learned insights into the hows and whys of the dolphin lifestyle. During the nearly three hour tour, we learned a lot about St Augustine history, especially as related to the water features.
7. St Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
Located directly across the street from the Castillo, St Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum displays historic pirate artifacts, including the oldest Jolly Roger flag, oldest wanted poster, and only surviving pirate treasure chest. The family-friendly attraction offers a treasure hunt for children of all ages and the gift shop is a favorite draw.
8. Ghosts & Gravestones Tour
Hopefully you can appreciate the USA’s oldest city having countless ghost stories to share. St Augustine Ghosts & Gravestones Tour transports guests on a themed trolley and makes three stops—at the Old City Jail, Potter’s General Store (oldest wax museum), and a cemetery.
Where to Eat in St Augustine
Catch 27—named for the fresh seafood catches and for Florida being the 27th state—serves amazingly fresh seafood (of course) and creative cocktails. Columbia Restaurant is in a convenient central location in the Old City and is an upscale outpost of the classic Tampa flagship.
Mojo’s Tacos is a fantastic lunch stop near the Alligator Farm or Lighthouse; they also have a food stand at St Augustine Amphitheatre if you catch a show there (we saw Willie Nelson!). The Reef is a rare oceanfront dining experience and serves fresh seafood and produce (try their orange cake). A sticky bun from The Bunnery is a sweet way to start any day. Rype & Readi Farm Market offers hyperlocal fresh local produce, baked goods, crafts, and prepared foods, and is across the street from the St Augustine Distillery.
Rype and Readi is currently closed while they seek a new location.
Where to Stay in St Augustine
Next to St George Inn main lobby is Bin 39, serving highly rated wines by the glass.
A nice St Augustine hotel property a bit outside the historic district is The Flagler Inn (formerly Jaybord’s Inn). The Flager Inn is located in Uptown St Augustine, right behind the main station for the Red Train Tour (mentioned above). Guests can choose between a complimentary continental breakfast or full service in the onsite restaurant. Rooms are spacious, smartly designed and decorate, with updated modern bathrooms.
Getting to St Augustine: the small St Augustine airport is served by direct flights from Charlotte, North Carolina twice a week. Distance from other major Florida airports include one hour drive from Jacksonville or Daytona Beach and 2 hour drive from Orlando.
For more information about Florida road trips, please see 7 Scenic Drives in Florida and Ultimate US Coastal Scenic Drives Resource Guide and also our article about USA’s oldest building. Here is another article with St Augustine travel tips.
Do you have any favorite things to do in St Augustine Florida?
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