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St. Augustine: a historic and gastronomic gem in Florida

Located on the northeastern coast of Florida, St. Augustine is a city where time seems to have stood still, offering a blend of historical charm and modern living.

The cobblestone streets, colonial buildings, and historic sites are all witnesses to the past that tell the story of this city, while beaches and culinary delights attract visitors seeking new experiences.

Whether you’re interested in history, outdoor activities, or gastronomy, St. Augustine has something to offer everyone. And the best part is, once you’re there, you might not even need a car!

Here are the 16 best activities to do and our tips for planning your stay.

16 activities to do in St. Augustine

Exploring the Oldest City in the United States

Founded in 1565 by the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, St. Augustine is known as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States.

It boasts over 450 years of history and has been inhabited by Native Americans, Spaniards, French, British, and Americans, each leaving their mark and weaving a diverse tapestry reflected in the sites you can visit today.

1. Hop on the Trolley

One of the best ways to explore the city is by taking a trolley tour. It may be touristy, but the guide’s commentary and narration will help you get acquainted with the various neighborhoods of this small city and its significant historical moments.

During the tour, you can hop on and off as you please, especially if you want to visit a specific site. The trolley also includes access to a shuttle to the beach, which is convenient if you don’t have a car.

Historic center entrance St. Augustine

2. Visit the Historic Downtown

The historic heart of St. Augustine consists of charming little streets, colonial buildings, and small artisanal shops. It’s especially easy to explore on foot, particularly since St. George Street is pedestrian-only.

3. Learn More About the Civil Rights Struggle in St. Augustine

St. Augustine also played a crucial role in the civil rights movement. Be sure to visit Lincolnville, a historic neighborhood founded by freed slaves after the Civil War, and Fort Mose, the first legally sanctioned free black settlement in the United States.

In Lincolnville, you will find the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, which traces 450 years of African American history.

Fort Moses

Fort Mose, on the other hand, is the first free black community in the United States and welcomed freed or escaped slaves long before the Underground Railroad.

Although nothing remains of the old fort, visiting it allows you to learn more about this lesser-known chapter of history. It is important to note that Florida, having been under different occupations over the years, experienced varying concepts of slavery. Under Spanish occupation, Fort Mose welcomed runaway slaves from the American colonies and also served as a defense post against the British.

4. Visit the Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo San Marco - St. Augustine

This majestic fort, built by the Spanish in the 17th century, is the oldest masonry fort still standing in the United States. It is made of coquina, a sedimentary rock primarily composed of shell and coral fragments. A visit to the Castillo offers a spectacular view of Matanzas Bay.

5. The Fountain of Youth – It Really Exists!

The site of the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park has long been reputed for its miraculous waters. It is here that Ponce de León discovered waters with mythical properties. In addition to drinking the water from this fountain, which has a questionable taste but may bring you eternal youth, you can also visit the gardens, see the peacocks, and explore exhibitions on local history.

6. The Most Beautiful Street and the Oldest Tree in St. Augustine

Magnolia avenue in St. Augustine

The entrance to the Fountain of Youth Park is located on Magnolia Avenue, reputed to be the prettiest street in the city, and for good reason! With its majestic oak trees, it feels like you’re in Savannah, Georgia.

The Old Senator

The oldest tree in St. Augustine, The Old Senator, is located in the parking lot of the Howard Johnson hotel. While heading there from the historic downtown, you can make a quick stop to admire this majestic oak, which is over 600 years old.

Explore the Museums and Historic Buildings

7. Visit the Lightner Museum

The Lightner museum - St. Augustine

The Lightner Museum, located in the beautiful building of the former Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine, is a must-visit for art and history enthusiasts. This museum houses an extensive collection of 19th-century objects, including artworks, furniture, and musical instruments. After exploring the museum’s various collections, take a break at the Café Alcazar, situated in the hotel’s former swimming pool.

8. Historic Tour of Flagler College

Flagler College - St. Augustine

Formerly the Ponce de León Hotel, which hosted wealthy clients, this spectacular building is now a private college. You can take a guided tour to visit the dining hall with its 79 stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Flagler Room, formerly the Grand Ladies’ Parlor, featuring numerous artworks, objects, and antique furniture.

The courtyard and the grand hall, with its impressive dome, are open to the public and can be visited for free.

9. Ximenez-Fatio house Museum and “I lived here as well”

Ximenez-Fatio house Museum and "I lived here as well"

Built in 1798 by Andrez Ximenez, this three-story house became a boarding house in 1830 before being converted into a museum in 1946. Be sure to book your visit during the performances of “I Lived here As Well,” which focuses on the lives of the slaves and servants who lived in this house.

The performance is a true journey through time, where each room recreates a scene from the lives of these people at different periods. Some of the scenes are based on real people, making the experience even more touching and interesting. It is brilliantly executed, from the choice of costumes to the actors’ performances.

10. Villa Zorayda

Villa Zorayda - St. Augustine

Inspired by the Alhambra in Spain, Villa Zorayda astonishes with its choice of furniture and decoration, as well as its collection of art and antiques. The centerpiece of this collection, which sends shivers down your spine, is the Egyptian rug, over 2,400 years old and woven from cat hair. It is said that anyone who walks on it is cursed, as evidenced by the stories you can read during your visit.

11. St. Augustine Lighthouse

St. Augustine lighthouse

Not only does climbing the 219 steps of the St. Augustine Lighthouse provide a superb view of the surroundings, but you can also visit the small adjacent museum.

The exhibits cover topics such as World War II, local maritime history, and the importance of shrimp fishing in the region. After your visit, take the opportunity to enjoy some seafood at the Salt Life Sea Shack.

Outdoors and nature

12. Take Part in an Eco Tour with St. Augustine Eco Tours

Eco Tours

St. Augustine is located on the coast, so it would be a shame not to take advantage of the water. In addition to offering kayak and catamaran tours, Eco Tours provides ecological excursions to discover the local wildlife and flora.

During these sea outings, you might have the chance to see dolphins, birds, and even manatees in their natural habitat. Having had the opportunity to take such a trip with Captain Zach McKenna, we can highly recommend this activity. An excellent communicator and engaging storyteller, he will give you a new perspective on the water and the life that surrounds it. Private tours are also available.

13. Beaches

Even though St. Augustine is situated right on the waterfront, the beaches are located on the outskirts of the city. But don’t worry, there are nearly 42 miles of fine sandy beaches with crystal-clear waters. Among the most popular are Ponte Vedra Beach, Anastasia State Park, and St. Augustine Beach.

The sea in St. Augustine

14. Anastasia Island

This barrier island is a haven for nature lovers, offering hiking trails, bike paths, and wildlife-watching opportunities. You can enjoy beautiful white sandy beaches, explore Anastasia State Park with its hiking trails and picnic areas, or go kayaking and paddleboarding in the calm waters.

Gastronomic Experiences

15. Enjoy a Tasting of Spirits and Wine

A visit to the St. Augustine Distillery is definitely not to be missed. In addition to offering free tastings, you can tour the distillery either through guided tours or on your own (also free). You’ll learn about the history of this former ice plant (the oldest in Florida) turned artisanal distillery and the process of making spirits. A stop at the shop is highly recommended as their spirits are excellent, especially the gin, which has received over 40 awards, and the bourbon.

Bottle Your Own Bourbon at the St. Augustine Distillery
St. Augustine distillery. Bourbon "Urbaine city"

Fill Your Own Bottle Experience One of the unique experiences offered at the St. Augustine Distillery is the opportunity to bottle your own bourbon. This hands-on activity allows you to fill, seal, and label your own bottle, making it a memorable souvenir.

As you go through the process, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and care that goes into creating their award-winning bourbon. Having had the chance to try it, I highly recommend this experience. It’s a wonderful keepsake to take home.

On the other hand, the San Sebastian Winery offers tours and tastings of locally produced wines.

16. Join a Food Tour

Café Alcazar restaurant, visited during our food tour of St. Augustine
Café Alcazar restaurant, visited during our food tour of St. Augustine

Join a food tour to taste the culinary diversity of St. Augustine. From local dishes with Spanish, Caribbean, and American influences, your palate will be delighted by this gastronomic experience, allowing you to try different restaurants in a group setting, with a glass of wine included!

Planning your stay

St. Augustine

Where to stay

St. Augustine offers a wide range of accommodations, from historic hotels to charming bed and breakfasts. It is highly recommended to book accommodations in or near the historic downtown, especially if you don’t have a vehicle.

How to get around

Most activities and attractions are located in the historic downtown and are within walking distance. However, to explore the surrounding areas, it might be useful to rent a car.

Where to eat

St. Augustine is full of great places to eat, catering to all budgets. With such diverse gastronomy, we even wrote an article to explore the culinary specialties and restaurants of the city.

A portion of the expenses for this trip was covered by St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau. However, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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