I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
April 1, 2022
Looking for ideas on things to do in St. Augustine? This post is all you need!
Growing up, beach trips were a time honored family tradition. Every summer, we’d load up our Grand Wagoneer and make the long drive from Atlanta to Florida for a week-long vacation. The beaches and rentals changed from year to year, but the itinerary remained the same — Days were spent lazing on the beach while nights were reserved for greasy fried dinners at crowded seafood houses. And other than the occasional fishing charter or souvenir shop outing, that was pretty much it.
Now that I’m a parent myself, I’ve kept the beach trip tradition going — but I soon discovered that lazing on the beach all day, every day isn’t something my family really enjoys. After an hour or two on the sand, we’re all bored/hot/burned and ready to move on to other activities. That’s why I’ve had to retool my thinking when it comes to choosing a beach town for our annual trips. The softness of the sand and brilliance of the water matters far less now than the number of hiking trails, great restaurants, and fun things to do in the area. And when it comes to all of these things, St. Augustine seemed like a natural choice for our most recent beach vacation.
St. Augustine has some truly lovely beaches, but it’s also the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States. It predates the Mayflower and the Jamestown Colony and its sizable historic district gives off distinct Savannah/Charleston vibes. Whether you love immersing yourself in history, eating fantastic food, communing with nature, or simply relaxing on the beach, you can do it all in and around St. Augustine. We spent a week experiencing all St. Augustine had to offer — Here are our top picks on what to eat, what to do, and where to stay on your St. Augustine vacation.
You don’t even have to have a plan to enjoy historic St. Augustine. Stroll down St. George and Aviles Streets in the historic district and you’ll find plenty to do and see — However, parking can be expensive and hard to find! Luckily, we were always able to find plenty of free street parking on Malaga Street, near the St. Augustine Fire Department. From there, it’s a short walk through the gorgeous Flagler College campus into the heart of the historic area.
St. Augustine has lots of popular local beaches, whether you’re looking for big waves, natural beauty, or a family-friendly environment. We got our bodyboarding fix at Vilano Beach, which is thought to be the best surfing beach in the area, and the best place to find shells. The waves were, indeed, rather large. Anastasia State Park has a full four miles of protected beaches in its wildlife preserve, as well as a nature trail. Here, dolphin and other wildlife sightings are common. The amenities are what make St. Augustine Beach a favorite — They include a kids’ splash pad, volleyball courts, a shaded pavilion, and pier fishing. Shark tooth seekers have the best luck at Mickler’s Landing and Vilano Beach. White sands and few people make nearby Crescent Beach a favorite with locals, while St. Augustine’s North Beach is the area’s best beach for swimming and a great option for families.
There’s not much I love more than an eccentric millionaire, particularly one who opens a pirate museum in downtown St. Augustine so that he can share his private collection with the world. That’s exactly what Pat Croce did, and his museum is absolutely worth visiting. Croce has had a wild life – He was owner of the Philadelphia 76ers for a while before writing a bestselling memoir, starring in his own syndicated TV show, opening multiple bars and restaurants in Key West, and discovering Sir Francis Drake’s shipwreck in 2011. The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum opened in 2010 and includes more than 800 authentic pirate artifacts, like Captain Thomas Tew’s treasure chest, which happens to be the only pirate chest left in the world, one of only two existing Jolly Roger flags, and lots of fabulous treasure rescued from sunken ships. My entire family loved this interactive museum — Give yourself about an hour to go through it.
Trust me when I tell you this is no ordinary alligator farm — If you have kids, or heck, even if you don’t, consider this a must-visit during your St. Augustine trip. Founded in 1893, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm is the only place in the world where you can see all 24 crocodilian species. You’ll also see exhibits containing birds, snakes, lemurs, sloths, fossils, and more. The lush landscape here is a pleasure to explore and we were surprised by how much we enjoyed our time at this nationally accredited zoo. As a family travel writer, I’ve been to a LOT of alligator farms and zoos over the years, and this truly is one of the best.
In the heart of historic St. Augustine, you’ll find the Colonial Quarter — a two-acre living history attraction that immerses visitors in the sights and sounds of three centuries of St. Augustine history. Take a Historic Adventure Tour with a costumed guide and see what St. Augustine was like as a Spanish city in the 16th century, a Spanish garrison in the 18th century, and a British colony in the 19th century. You can look at artifacts, participate in musket drills, climb a watchtower, and even dine in period Spanish and British restaurants. Visitors especially love the tour and say it’s worth the ticket price.
No visit to St. Augustine is complete without a visit to The Lightner Museum, an absolutely extraordinary museum inside a stunning former grand hotel that was commissioned in 1888 by Henry Flagler. The same architects who built the hotel would later build the New York Public Library. Today, the museum is filled with all kinds of unique collections that mostly date from the American Gilded Age, including lamps made by Louis Comfort Tiffany, porcelain from Sèvres, Victorian musical instruments, and more. It’s hard to say which is more fulfilling — looking at the art and artifacts or simply wandering through the museum and enjoying its amazing architecture, which includes a three-story ballroom, Turkish baths, and a massive, drained indoor swimming pool. (That pool, now the location of the highly-regarded Café Alcazar, was the world’s largest swimming pool when it was built!) And if you time it right, curator tours of the museum are offered on the first Wednesday of every month at 10am.
Small children won’t like this museum — There’s not much for them to do here. However, you can make your way through it in about an hour and if you’ve got to bring the kids along, I suggest you bribe them with the promise of a delicious lunch afterward at Bantam Chef, which is right around the corner.
Want some exercise? You can climb 219 steps to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse, enjoy fabulous views of St. Augustine and its beaches, and receive a certificate for your efforts! Below, you’ll find museum exhibits in four historic structures and the Maritime Education Center, hands-on demonstrations, and a special play area for kids. The St. Augustine Lighthouse is one of the most popular attractions in town and visitors say those 219 steps are well worth climbing thanks to the extraordinary view from the top.
I was intrigued by this stunning historic church when we passed it while walking to downtown St. Augustine and I’m so glad I looked it up online afterward. Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church was built by Henry Flagler in 1889 as a memorial to his daughter, Jenny, who died shortly after giving birth, and includes a mausoleum where she and her newborn daughter are buried, as well as Flagler himself — He died in 1913. Because of its symbolism, no expense was spared in the church’s design. The church’s construction includes hand-carved Santo Domingo mahogany, Italian marble floors, a baptismal font that was carved from a single block of Siena marble, terra cotta friezes installed by Italian artists, and a massive copper dome. Tours are available at the church on Saturdays between 11am and 3:30pm — Just show up and a docent will walk you through the church. I’m determined to take the tour the next time we visit and can’t wait to see the inside of this exquisite structure.
Honestly, I think this totally retro tourist attraction (it will remind you of the field trip destinations of your childhood) is worth visiting purely because you can drink from the actual Fountain of Youth, discovered here by Juan Ponce de Leon back in 1513 — That experience alone made it worth my time. Beyond that, if the weather’s nice and the crowds aren’t too bad, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is an entirely pleasurable way to spend an hour in St. Augustine. The oldest European settlement in the U.S. was founded here by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565, 55 years before the Mayflower made it to Plymouth Rock. Today, you can stroll around the park see how the colonists lived, worked, played, and um, died, way back when. Costumed interpreters help make things even more authentic with their blasting of cannons and enthusiastic blacksmithing (is that a verb?) and if you’re feeling hungry during your visit, be of good cheer — the park’s popular counter-service restaurant, Smoked Southern BBQ, is manned by a James Beard Award-nominated chef whose menu is entirely locally sourced.
You’re sure to notice Castillo de San Marcos the moment you cross the Bridge of Lions and enter historic St. Augustine. Built by the Spanish to defend Florida and the Atlantic trade route, this 450-year-old imposing national monument is the oldest masonry fort in the US. There’s lots to explore inside these fortified walls and a ranger-led tour will help explain what you’re seeing. If you don’t opt for an official tour, I highly recommend you check out the Castillo de San Marcos website ahead of time to learn about what you’re going to see — It’s full of interpretive videos, printable brochures, a virtual tour, and a treasure trove of background information — I wish I’d looked at it before my visit!
The GTM Research Reserve (I’m not typing all that out again) consists of 73,000 acres of protected coastal dunes from Ponte Vedra Beach to the Palm Coast. In addition to beaches, the reserve also has tidal lagoons, archaeological sites, a prehistoric burial mound, forests, and miles of hiking and biking trails. 200,000 visitors a year can’t be wrong — This is THE place to go if you’re vacationing in the area and love hiking and biking. The Reserve offers lots of guided hikes for visitors and I highly recommend signing up for one if it fits into your schedule. They’re a great way to learn about more about everything from seashells and fish to local Native American lore.
This historic home-turned-museum was an unexpected treat — Filled with Victorian-era surprises, it just might be my favorite historic site in St. Augustine. Built in 1883 with poured concrete and coquina shell, Villa Zorayda originally was the winter home of Franklin Webster Smith, who drew his architectural inspiration from the Alhambra Palace in Spain. The home launched the popularity of both concrete and coquina structures (a method Smith pioneered) and Moorish Spanish Revival-style architecture in St. Augustine — You can see examples of each throughout the city. Two years after Smith’s death in 1911, the home and part of its contents were sold to Abraham Mussallem, a rug and antiquities expert from Syria; it has remained in the same family ever since and now operates solely as a museum, although over the years it served as a hotel, casino, restaurant, and speakeasy.
Once you arrive, grab an audio tour at the front desk and you can wander through the home at your leisure, listening to fascinating stories about the interior and all the antiques and Egyptian artifacts inside, which come from the collections of both Smith and Mussallem. If audio tours aren’t your thing, ask for a printed copy of the tour at the front desk — You’ll definitely want one or the other, since the house won’t make much sense without them. Throughout the home, there’s so much to look at — My head was spinning! I think our favorite artifact was the 2400-year-old Sacred Cat Rug, made from the hairs of ancient cats that roamed the Nile River. The rug is said to be cursed, but you’ll just have to visit the Villa to hear that story! Expect the self-guided tour to take 45-minutes to an hour. I think older kids would enjoy it.
St. Augustine’s food scene is definitely one of its biggest draws — Unlike most beach towns, it’s a true foodie paradise, with diverse options for every taste and budget. Below, you’ll find casual counter service restaurants, classic seafood houses, gorgeous sunset water view dining, and sophisticated international cuisine, as well as a few hip and imaginative bars. If you’re not dying to visit after reading this list, then my friend, you have no taste…buds.
Do not leave St. Augustine without picking up tacos from Osprey Tacos! Located on the ‘island’ side of St. Augustine just across the Bridge of Lions, this casual taco joint has an incredible reputation that’s absolutely justified — I could have eaten lunch here every single day during our vacation and gone home happy. The menu is filled with inventive taco options like The Sprout (crispy fried brussels sprouts, black bean puree, pickled onions, Cotija cheese) and The Boise (crispy fried potatoes, scallions, cheddar cheese) and we wanted to try all of them — but the tacos we chose on our first visit were so amazing (the San Diego had skirt steak, crispy fries, avocado, onion and salsa verde, the St. Augustine had fresh fried shrimp, pickled onion, cabbage, house-made datl, and pink sauce) that we ended up ordering the same tacos every time we ate there. I recommend ordering online on your way there — That way, you won’t have to wait.
We visited nearby Hammock Beach for several consecutive summers when the kids were small and while we were there, we always had lunch at least once at a place called Bantam Chef in nearby Bunnell. We went for their famous, gigantic fish sandwich, crispy clam strips, and delicious french fries, but according to locals, everything on the menu was wonderful, from the burgers and wings to the oysters and broccoli bites.
So you can imagine our surprise and delight to find that Bantam Chef has opened another restaurant in a lovely old house in downtown St. Augustine. It’s every bit as scrumptious as the original Bantam Chef but better, because it’s air conditioned! The restaurant is super casual and an absolute must for lunch when you’re in downtown St. Augustine. It’s also right around the corner from the Lightner Museum, so you might consider pairing the two.
We give a hearty thumbs-up to Cap’s on the Water in Vilano Beach, which has both a phenomenal menu and extraordinary sunset views from the restaurant’s deck along the Intracoastal Waterway. Cap’s doesn’t take reservations, so the wait is often long, but it’s definitely worth it — Lucky for us, we opted to go late, about 30 minutes before closing, and were seated immediately. The menu is large and my family had trouble narrowing down our options, finally choosing several small plates to share. We oohed and aahed over everything, from the phenomenal smoked fish dip and stunning Vilano shrimp (Mayport shrimp tossed in a spicy Thai chili sauce with olives and Parmesan) to the addictive truffle Parmesan fries and classic Oysters Rockefeller. I’d call Cap’s a can’t miss restaurant.
Aunt Kate’s is another popular option in Vilano Beach. You’ll find it in a grove of Live Oaks on the banks of the Tolomoto River and it’s on our list of places to eat the next time we visit. What sets Aunt Kate’s apart from other seafood restaurants in town is its fascinating history — Back in 1900, Henry Flagler –a captain of industry who’s responsible for many of St. Augustine’s most beautiful historic structures– was out sailing when he stopped at North Beach and asked Catherine and Frank Usina to prepare roasted oysters for his party’s dinner. The couple agreed, and Flagler and his friends were so impressed with the meal that they passed a hat afterward and gave the Usinas what amounted to more than a week’s salary. From that point onward, the Usinas began serving fresh, local seafood using Menorcan recipes that dated back to their ancestors — indentured servants who came to St. Augustine in 1768. Today, the restaurant is still going strong. Diners rave about their fresh seafood, soft shell crab sandwiches, pumpkin bread, and famous clam chowder.
Typically, we try to avoid touristy restaurants — and Harry’s definitely fits that bill. Located smack dab in the middle of Saint Augustine, there’s always a line of people outside waiting to eat at the massive, New Orleans-style seafood restaurant. However, if you’re downtown and the wait isn’t too long, I have to admit Harry’s is a good option, particularly if you can get a table in the lush outdoor courtyard.
I thought the Louisiana Fondeaux with shrimp, crab, and three different cheeses was spectacular, while my husband loved the crab crusted Redfish Royale. We both thought the she crab soup was wonderful. To avoid a wait, we went an hour before the restaurant closed and were seated immediately. Harry’s was not my favorite restaurant experience, but it’s a solid option and you’re unlikely to leave disappointed.
I guess you could say we became a little obsessed with The Kookaburra during out St. Augustine visit — I’m pretty sure we went there at least once a day! The Australian coffee shop has multiple locations throughout the city; we frequented the downtown and beachside locations and both were fantastic. We quickly became addicted to the iced Mocha Nut latte, which has honey, cinnamon, and vanilla, and we became huge fans of The Kookaburra’s fantastic made-from-scratch Aussie pies. My favorite was the True Blue– egg and cheddar topped with rosemary. We liked to buy them in the afternoon, when they were half-price and heat them in the oven for breakfast the next morning. Exquisite.
Ben’s Soft Pretzels was a total guilty pleasure spot for us in downtown St. Augustine on St. George — It’s a chain, which we normally try to avoid, but in this case we just couldn’t because damn, were those pretzels good. The menu includes traditional soft pretzels and dips, as well as pretzel dogs with Swiss cheese, meatball pockets, pretzel bites, and more. This particular Ben’s stays so busy that new pretzels are constantly coming out of the oven, so I’d recommend you simply get whatever is freshest. We stopped here for snacks or lunch at least three times during our trip (teenagers, amirite?) and we especially loved the ‘secret’ courtyard out back, which Ben’s shares with Mimi’s Crepes next door. It is lush and shady and absolutely gorgeous.
Do you consider yourself sophisticated and adventurous when it comes to food? Are you looking for a romantic restaurant that doesn’t have the typical beach town, fish house vibe? Llama might be exactly what you’re seeking. This tiny restaurant on the island side of St. Augustine is helmed by an outspoken and highly trained Peruvian chef. Judging from the online reviews, you’d better be on your best behavior if you’re planning on eating at Llama, which I don’t mind because honestly sometimes, I like a side of terror with my meal — especially when the menu looks as phenomenal as this one.
From the salmon ceviche garnished with chalaca salad, quail eggs, and Ponzu leche de tigre to the Amazonian arapaima seasoned and wrapped in plantain leaves and cooked over hot coals, everything looks spectacular and innovative and if I could, I’d order the entire menu just so that I could try it all. Llama is a total foodie favorite in St. Augustine and since this popular restaurant only has a few tables, you’ll want to make your reservations well in advance.
On a night when our teenagers deigned to join us for dinner, I wanted to find a traditional seafood house that didn’t lean too heavily on fried options. Local favorite St. Augustine Fish Camp perfectly fit the bill. With a large, Southern-inspired menu that includes plenty of fresh local seafood as well as steaks and fried chicken, everything we ordered was delicious and most main courses could easily be shared by two people. We especially enjoyed the grouper bites (a special on the menu), the crab cakes, and the buttermilk pan fried chicken. Our blackened fresh catch (I think it was cobia) with tasso gravy was also very satisfying. The restaurant is spacious and noisy — It’s a great option if you have a large party and need a menu with a wide range of options.
Gaufre’s & Goods is another restaurant on my list of places to visit the next time we’re in St. Augustine. This family-owned Polish and Greek café gets raves from diners and food critics alike and includes delicious dishes like gaufres (fresh sugar waffles with a variety of toppings), spicy coconut soup, pyzy (meat-filled dumplings), pierogies, mussels, and spinach pie. You’ll also find coffee drinks, currant juices and imported Eastern European beer and wines.
Gaufre’s & Goods is located in downtown St. Augustine on Charlotte Street, which you can access using an alleyway on Aviles Street.
One of my favorite things to do on our beach trips is find the best seafood market in town so that I can cook fresh, local shrimp and fish at home. In St. Augustine, that place is Kyle’s Seafood Market. My advice is to keep an open mind when you visit and buy whatever is freshest — At Kyle’s, you might find local wahoo, grouper, stone crab claws, oysters, or sheepshead fish on any given day, all right off the boat. We visited Kyle’s several times and never left disappointed, particularly when the teeny tiny Heavenly Cheesecakes & Bakery was open next door — The baker there is known for his cheesecakes – and they are, indeed, delicious — but was his fresh-baked bread and cinnamon rolls that we truly found heavenly. I’m drooling right now just thinking about them!
Looking for a hip place that serves craft cocktails and delicious food? We love The Ice Plant, a sophisticated bar inside a thoughtfully-restored 1927 factory where ice was once made and cut for local shrimpers — When renovating the space, the owners went to great lengths to make customers feel like they’re walking into an old factory, and I’d say they got that vibe exactly right.
While there’s a tasty-looking menu with burgers, fried chicken, local seafood, and more, the cocktails are the true focus here, and also what’s made Ice Plant one of Florida’s best bars — Bartenders make most of the sodas, juices, and syrups themselves and use local small-batch spirits when possible. And since it is an ice plant, after all, six different kinds of cubes are carved each day for the drinks.
Across the Bridge of Lions on St. Augustine’s island side, we loved having drinks at Odd Birds, a welcoming, bird art filled bar with creative and very potent craft cocktails and a raucous blend of tourists and locals. In a town where most bars and restaurants close early, Odd Birds stays open with a late night menu until 2 am, which is exactly how we ended up there. While the food wasn’t what we’d hoped (we ordered from the late night menu), we REALLY loved the drinks. They were delicious, exotic, innovative, and strong – I particularly loved that one of the drinks I ordered was served in a takeout box! The drinks plus the crowd of locals on a night when every other place was a ghost town will definitely have me coming back for a visit the next time I’m in town.
Meehan’s Irish Pub, Catch 27, Prohibition Kitchen, and The Floridian also all get high marks from restaurant reviewers and food critics.
One of my favorite things about St. Augustine is that you can opt to stay on the beach or in the historic district and have an equally glorious vacation. The beaches are just minutes from downtown, so all you have to do is decide whether you want to wake up to an ocean view or stay in easy walking distance of scores of shops, restaurants, and historic attractions. You might even do what we did and rent a house with a private pool for a week! No matter what you decide, here are all my favorite options.
Generally, I opt for an oceanfront rental on beach trips, but because St. Augustine has so much to offer beyond the beaches, I decided to do things a little differently and book a house with a private pool and jacuzzi on Airbnb. It ended up being one of my best ideas EVER. Our house was beautiful, spacious, and well-equipped and we spent WAY more time in our pool and hot tub than we ever spend at the beach. The kids had their own bedrooms, we all had plenty of space for downtime, and I absolutely loved reading in the pool every afternoon and having drinks in the jacuzzi at night. It was also a quick drive from our house to downtown and the beaches and we could walk to several great bars and restaurants like Osprey Tacos, Odd Birds, and Llama. I can’t recommend this rental highly enough (although it books up fast, so you’ll have to make reservation several months in advance) and there are several other similar options on Airbnb if you search for houses in St. Augustine with pools.
If you’re on a romantic getaway, it’s hard to beat a stay at The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens. This upscale bed and breakfast is for ages 16 and up and it’s located on the edge of old St. Augustine, in easy walking distance of all the major attractions. On the one-acre property, you’ll find nine historic buildings containing luxurious guest rooms and suites, as well as beautiful gardens, fountains, and a lovely courtyard. Guests here have included Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, so this is definitely the perfect choice for history buffs and lovers of classic architecture.
Another option for those who want to stay near the downtown historic district is the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront Hotel. With lovely views of the Castillo de San Marcos and the Bridge of Lions, this hotel has all the amenities you’d expect from a Hilton including a pool and fitness cener and it’s in easy walking distance from all the historic attractions.
Want to stay beachfront in style? Look no further than the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, a stunning and historic beach resort built back in 1928 with golf, tennis, a spa, and kids activities. The guest rooms and public spaces are absolutely gorgeous and many of the 262 rooms offer oceanfront views.
A more affordable option is the Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort. You’ll find this oceanfront hotel right between the St. Augustine Beach Pier Park and Anastasia State Park, ten minutes from downtown. This Embassy Suites offers water sports, family-friendly activities, as well as made-to-order breakfast that’s included in your stay.
This should be enough information for you to have a fun-filled week in St. Augustine!
If you have anything you’d like to add or have questions or comments, contact me. I’d love to hear from you! And to keep up with all our adventures, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.
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