When people think of Florida, they tend to think of Disney World, right? It’s okay, everyone does. Everything is for the most part shiny and new.
But Florida is also home to St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. This beautiful city is both old and new at the same time. Preserved from centuries past and yet so exciting – and only an hour and a half from Orlando. Take a day trip to and experience some of our favorites.
1. St. George Street
A completely pedestrian street, this gem houses many of the attractions you’ll read about below like Colonial Quarter and Castillo de San Marcos. But it is also home to the oldest schoolhouse in the US, a chocolate shop to die for, and some of the most unique shops and eateries in the state. So take a stroll and discover all that the city has to offer.
2. Castillo de San Marcos Nantional Monument
America is a toddler compared to other countries in the world, but this structure is the oldest masonry fortification and the only surviving 17th-century military site. Built between 1672 and 1695 by the Spanish to protect their city, it was used in the Revolutionary War by British soldiers, and by the Confederacy during the Civil War. It’s made entirely of cocina (which is a fancy word for limestone made of seashell fragments). Take a tour, see a re-enactment, or just take in the history on your own time.
3. St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
The oldest surviving brick structure in the city, the lighthouse was built between 1871 and 1874. Take your camera and climb to the top of the 165-ft tall lighthouse for the most breathtaking views in St. Augustine, or explore the remnants of shipwrecks and maritime history in the museum. And you better believe it’s part of the ghost tours. Legend has it two young girls and a former lighthouse keeper who died on site in the 1800’s have never left.
4. Lightner Museum
Housed in the former Alcazar Hotel, this impressive museum offers exhibits of art, shrunken heads, salt and pepper shakers, human hair and cigar labels. Open daily from 9-5pm, there are music demonstrations at 11 am and 2 pm, and a cafe where you can enjoy lunch. So plan on spending the day.
5. Colonial Quarter
Located on St. George Street, this living history museum offers travelers a glimpse into the life of the colonists. It is divided into four areas: the 16th Century Spanish First City, the 17th Century Spanish Fortified Town, the 18th Century Spanish Garrison Town and the 18th Century British The 14th Colony. Visitors can witness musket drills and cannon firings, leatherworking, and even the construction of a ship. Book a tour to see the city and the Colonial Quarter through the eyes of an experienced guide!
6. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
A little more than a mile north of historic downtown St. Augustine is the site of the original settlement. And the reason for the settlement: the Fountain of Youth. Thought to give the drinker eternal youth, this is the centerpoint of the attraction. And you can drink yourself. Does it work? You’ll have to let us know.
7. St. Augustine Beach
Beautiful white sand beaches and a clear calm ocean, this is one of the most uncrowded beaches in the area. So find a spot and bask in the sun’s rays, play in the small waves, or fish off of the pier. If surfing is what you are looking for, hit the beach on a windy day, and you’ll find the waves you are after.
8. St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum
This attractions sits across the street from the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. From climbing on board a replica pirate ship to taking your picture with the world’s oldest “WANTED” poster and the ONLY treasure chest on display, you will find your inner pirate here. So be sure to book your tour now!
9. Old Jail
Built in 1891, this jail was used until 1953 to house the city’s criminals. Take a daytime tour to learn about the history of the jail, the city, and the conditions the prisoners lived in, or join a ghost tour and see things from a completely different angle. The attraction is open daily 9-4:30pm.
10. St. Augustine Wild Reserve
Established in 1995, this nonprofit sanctuary was formed as a care center for rescued and unwanted exotic animals. This reserved has been praised for its treatment of the animals it cares for. And while you may want to take photos of or with the animals, it is actually prohibited to do so. But that means you will have to use your mind’s eye to remember the beautiful adventure you will have.
11. St. Augustine Alligator Farm
One of the oldest attractions in Florida, this alligator farm was established in 1893. It was promoted by the South Beach Railway Company and soon became a booming tourist destination. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm is the only facility in the world exhibiting specimens of all 24 currently recognized species of crocodilian and is recognized nationally for the care given to its inhabitants.
12. St. Augustine Amphitheatre
One of my favorite venues in Florida, this amphitheatre is TOPS (and not just because I saw Bryan Adams here). Built in 1965 to commemortae St. Augustine’s 400th anniversary, the amphitheatre sits of 16 acres of Anastasia State Park. So it is not just a great show you will get, but a scenic one to boot! It was refurbished in 2002 and can now seat 4100 guests, has 4 concession stands, a merchandise area, a large plaza, and an elaborate arboretum of walking trails to take in the beauty of the park.
13. The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum
Built in 1798 as a merchants home and place of business, and then becoming St. Augustine’s most fashionable boarding house, this museum has been meticulously restored to show life from 1821-1861, during Florida’s first tourism boom! Guided tours are given daily.
14. Fort Matanzas National Monument
Built in 1742 to protect St. Augustine from attack, this site is now part of the National Park Service. A reenactor is onsite almost every day during the summer. To give living history demonstrations depicting the times of the early fortification. Visitors to the inlet must take a ferry to explore the Fort. The ferry ride and entry to the fort are free, but tickets must be acquired at the Ft. Matanzas visitor center.
15. Ghost Tours
What visit to a historic city is complete without a ghost tour? And St. Augustine has SO many to choose from. Ghost tours, haunted history tours, hearse tours, graveyard tours, vampire tours, pirate tours, there is literally something for everyone. Most start at dusk (for that spooky affect), but get your tickets early in the day at the kiosks around the city, or online after you’ve done your research.
Not sure where to start? Take a tour of the city, and takes notes for your next visit.