St. Augustine is a city with a rich and fascinating history. It is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European and African-American origin in the United States, founded by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. He named it San Agustín, after the saint whose feast day it was when he saw the land on August 28.
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St. Augustine History
St. Augustine was not the first attempt by the Spanish to colonize Florida, but it was the most successful and enduring one. Before Menéndez arrived, several other expeditions had failed to establish a permanent settlement. The French also tried to claim Florida and built a fort near the St. Johns River, but they posed a threat to the Spanish treasure fleets that sailed along the coast.
What is St. Augustine known for?
St. Augustine’s architecture reflects its Spanish origins and colonial past. The town plan was laid out by Governor Gonzalo Méndez de Canzo in the late sixteenth century, and many of the buildings have balconies, courtyards, and red-tiled roofs that are typical of the Spanish style. The Castillo de San Marcos, completed in 1695, is the oldest masonry fort in North America and a symbol of St. Augustine’s resilience. It survived several attacks by British forces and pirates and protected the city from invaders.
St. Augustine is a place where history comes alive. You can walk along the narrow streets, visit the historic landmarks, and learn about the people who shaped this city over four centuries. St. Augustine is not only a museum of the past but also a vibrant and charming destination for today’s visitors.
Why you should visit St. Augustine?
If you’re looking for a fun and relaxing vacation with a touch of history and culture, look no further than St. Augustine, Florida. St. Augustine is a charming city and the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States.
I went for a little getaway before my birthday and found it to be so different than when I went for my fourth-grade vacation. Here are some of the best things to do in St. Augustine, Florida.
Explore the Castillo de San Marcos
This impressive fort was built by the Spanish in the 17th century to protect their colony from pirates and invaders. It’s the oldest masonry fort in North America, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can take a fascinating guided tour, watch historical reenactments, or just admire the stunning architecture and views of the bay. If you have a national park pass you can use this to bring you and three guests for free! Otherwise, admission is USD 15.
My favorite was learning about the dry moat that was filled with cows instead of alligators!
Pastime Tours with a Model T
If you want a unique way to explore the sights, history, and learn from a local in style this is the historical tour of St. Augustine you need to take! Pastime Tours is a local business run by a father and son duo creating tours in their Model T vehicles powered by electricity! I have been to St. Augustine a few times, but I learned so much more by taking this tour about the city than I even knew was possible. It was a highlight and everyone waved hi to us as we drove in style through the historic streets of St. Augustine.
Visit the Lightner Museum
The Lightner Museum is located in the former Alcazar Hotel. The Alcazar hotel was a lavish resort built by Henry Flagler in 1888. The museum showcases a variety of collections, from fine art and furniture to musical instruments and natural history specimens. You can also enjoy the beautiful gardens and courtyard cafe.
There is also an Alcazar cafe located in the historic Hotel Alcazar (listed in the National Register of Historic Places). The cafe is located in what used to be the largest indoor pool of its time.
Stroll along St. George Street
This pedestrian-only street is the heart of the historic district, and it’s lined with quaint shops, cozy restaurants, eclectic galleries, and interesting museums. You can find everything from souvenirs and antiques to handmade jewelry and local art. You can also stop by some of the oldest buildings in the city, such as the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse and the Cathedral Basilica (the oldest church in the USA).
St. Augustine Tour Pass
If you are going to be doing a lot of activities on this list, I suggest getting the St Augustine attraction pass here on GETYOURGUIDE . This will get you into 27 attractions.
Some of my favorite stores and restaurants on St. George Street:
The Burrito Works Taco Shop– Try the UFO. It is a round burrito and a glorious invention here. It was exactly what I needed after a long day touring the city.
Favorite clothing shop- Earthbound loves some of their laid-back clothing styles and finds some shorts with crop tops perfect for the hot days in Florida.
The Spanish Bakery is perfect for a quick snack and is located in the historic setting of the courtyard of the Salcedo house.
Bull and Crown English Pub and fare located on St George Street also offers some good food at a reasonable price. There is a nice outdoor patio as well.
Where I stayed? I stayed at a vacation home rental in the Salcedo House, but check out See America Tours because the owner is opening another vacation rental as well as a museum located nearby and by one of my favorite coffee shops!
Ghost Tour in St Augustine with The Night Watchman Ghost Walking Tour
If you’re looking for a thrilling and fun way to explore St. Augustine, you should try a ghost tour! St. Augustine is one of the oldest and most haunted cities in America, and many tours will take you to the most spooky and historic places in town. I took The Night Watchman Ghost Walking tour, which was great. It created an atmosphere and made the stories come to life. You’ll hear stories of pirates, murderers, ghosts, and more, and maybe even encounter some paranormal activity yourself. Don’t miss this chance to experience the dark side of this beautiful city! USE CODE SARAHFAY10 FOR 10 PERCENT OFF
See America Tours – Key to the City Scavenger Hunt
Another great way to explore the city of St. Augustine is by scavenger hunt. I love the digital version of See America’s Key to the City Scavenger Hunt. It puts together interesting facts, and covers a lot of St. Augustine is a fun way to spend the morning or afternoon exploring on your own.
The owner is also great and full of energy. I love supporting businesses with owners that have an affinity for the history and places they share with travelers. USE CODE SARAHFAY10 FOR 10 PERCENT OFF
Experience the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
The Fountain of Youth park is the site of the original Spanish settlement. The Spanish settlement was established by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. The park covers the history and culture of the first European colonists and the native Timucua people. There are even some archaeological artifacts like the coquina cross that was made when Ponce De Leon landed. With my birthday around the corner, your best bet I tried some of the water of the Fountain of Youth. The water of the Fountain of Youth comes from a natural spring, believed to have rejuvenating properties.
Flagler College History Tour
When I found out that they hosted tours at the historic Flagler College where you can see what was once the hotel that welcomed the elite society of the United States. Flagler college was once the Hotel Ponce De Leon and was built in 1888 by Henry Flagler. Henry Flagler was one of the richest men in the USA and he built the hotel because his first wife ailing health. They were told the weather in Florida was better for her. This was the first hotel of its’ time to have electricity! It was installed by Mr. Edison himself.
The hotel was a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture and featured Tiffany stained glass windows, murals by George Maynard, and a 79-foot domed ceiling. Today, the hotel is a National Historic Landmark and the main campus of Flagler College, a liberal arts institution with about 2,500 students. You can take a guided tour of the former hotel and admire its beauty and elegance, as well as learn about its history and significance. There are a few tours that leave daily one at 10 am, 11 am , 1pm , and 2 pm lasting about 1 hour.
Enjoy the beach and water sports
St. Augustine has miles of sandy beaches and clear blue water for you to enjoy. You can relax on the shore, swim, surf, kayak, fish, or take a boat tour. You can also visit Anastasia State Park, a natural preserve with hiking trails, wildlife, and a historic lighthouse.
St Augustine Lighthouse
If you’re looking for a fun and fascinating destination in Florida, you should visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse. This historic landmark is not only a beautiful sight but also a rich source of stories and secrets. You can climb the 219 steps to the top and enjoy the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the city. You can also explore the museum and learn about the history and legends of the lighthouse. If you are feeling adventurous take a ghost tour of the lighthouse and discover why the lighthouse is considered one of the most haunted places in America. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience the St. Augustine Lighthouse for yourself!
Cruisin Tikis St Augustine Tiki Hut Boat Tour
Want to explore the sights of St. Augustine by water in a fun and unique way? Take St Augustine’s cool tiki hut boat tour and see the fort, Bridge of Lions, and more historical landmarks as well as wildlife like dolphins, manatees, and more.
I was so happy I got to see manatees and dolphins on this tour. This tour is BYOB, although they do bring water for guests. It is just a fun time cruising and listening to music with an intimate group. They do a 90-minute tour and a 3-hour tour. The 3-hour tour takes you to a spot to swim as well.
St Augustine Kayaking
Kayaking in Florida is such a unique experience and Kayaking St Augustine offers eco-tours to places like Salt Run where you can usually see dolphins, and a lot of different types of birds, and have a great view of the St. Augustine Lighthouse from the water. I did the Salt Run tour, but they also have a historical tour as well by kayak that sounded interesting. If you are looking for dolphin tours in St. Augustine
The Tasting Tours St. Augustine Food Tour
If you love food, learning about the history as well as the cuisine of a city, and want to experience a fulfilling adventure. Not only that our guide was so knowledgeable creating an amazing experience for all. I love when I go on a tour with someone like Jessica who brought us around the city by electric golf cart to five locations. I found another amazing local business owner in St Augustine at Grower’s Alliance. This coffee shop revitalized a historic gas station, and the owner gets her coffee beans from farms in her local village in Kenya.
We also went to Old City House Inn and Restaurant, which was so nice to try a range of restaurants and cafes. This one had the best dish preparation and plating I have ever seen on a food tour! Book here!
If you have more time…
St Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
The pirate museum is a fun museum to learn more about the days of piracy in the Americas and Caribbean. I loved learning about some of the female pirates that would pose as men to explore or be with their lovers. Also, the treasures here are amazing from recent treasure hunter finds to seeing one of the only last known pirate treasure chests. The museum takes about 1 hour and a half to see the exhibits. It is great to stay cool or escape the rainy afternoons.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
I was highly intrigued to visit Ripley’s Believe it or Not since this was the first one ever! This was the first Ripleu’s Museum and it opened in 1950. The museum is housed in a castle that used to be a former hotel. It was actually in the opening credits of the tv series. Ripley traveled the world and wanted a museum to house his artifacts. Book your experience at the first Ripley’s here.
The Old Jail Museum
If you are looking for a unique and fascinating attraction in St. Augustine, you should visit the Old Jail Museum. This historic building was once a real prison that housed some of Florida’s most notorious criminals. You can take a guided tour and learn about the jail’s history, architecture, and daily life of the inmates. You can also see authentic artifacts, such as weapons, tools, and mugshots. The Old Jail Museum is a great place to experience a different side of St. Augustine’s rich heritage and have some fun along the way.
Fort Matanzas is a historic site that preserves the memory of the Spanish colonial era in Florida. It was built in 1742 to protect the city of St. Augustine from British attacks. You can visit Fort Matanzas by taking a free ferry ride from the visitor center, where you can also learn more about the history and nature of the area. Fort Matanzas is a great place to explore, enjoy the scenery, and appreciate the past.
Get here first thing in the morning as there are only 6 ferries per day and it is a popular activity in the area. This is also a part of the National Park Service.
Mickler’s Landing Best Shark Tooth Finding Beach in Florida
Not far from St. Augustine is Mickler’s Landing one of the best beaches for finding shark teeth. I decided to take a ride here to check out the beach, have a beautiful drive along A1A, and look for shark teeth. While I did not find any, I did meet one woman who found 4!
Where to eat in St Augustine, Florida ?
I ate at a few spots that I enjoyed including:
The Floridian if you want a cool, quaint restaurant with modern southern food fare look no further.
Relampago Cafe for breakfast and coffee. Also, the coffee shop is so cute.
Cafe Alcazar for a unique dining experience
Bull and Crown Publik House for something quick in the old town, and outdoor patio.
St Augustine Seafood Company is another quick stop on St. George Street with fresh fish. Try the Po boy.
Colombia Restaurant is a Florida institution with amazing food with a Spanish flare.
Schmagel’s Bagels for amazing bagel breakfast sandwiches! Get here early because they close when they sell out and they sometimes sell out early!
Are you ready to plan your St Augustine City Break?
St. Augustine is a wonderful destination for anyone who loves history, culture, nature, and fun. It’s a place where you can experience the past and the present in harmony, and where you can create lasting memories with your family and friends. Don’t miss this gem of Florida!
Where to stay in St. Augustine?
If you can find a cool historic house to rent I highly suggest it. I was lucky to stay at one of See America Tours vacation home rentals, but if his are booked check out these. If you want to stay in the middle of all of the best things to do in St. Augustine, Florida stay in the historic center.
Also, if you are more of a hotel-going traveler there are a few interesting luxurious properties or Bed and Breakfasts.
Here are a few options if you don’t choose to VRBO
Luxury option – Renaissance hotel
Boutique hotel option- Bayfront Marin House
Budget option- Holiday Inn Historic District
Map of St. Augustine
Want to explore more of Florida?
Check out my guide to Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beaches.
Or if you are looking for some amazing things to do in Florida outdoors check out Crystal River and my guide to a long weekend there.