When we think of old American cities, names like Jamestown and Plymouth often spring to mind. While all those cities are pretty old, only Florida’s St. Augustine can claim to be the oldest in America. Colonized by the Spanish in 1565, St. Augustine was around long before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Although centuries have passed, most of this northeastern city’s historic structures remain intact. This makes St. Augustine the best way to tour Old Spain without stepping out of the New World.
Even if you slept through American history class, you’ll find plenty of things to do on a trip to St. Augustine. In fact, you’ll soon discover it’s impossible to squeeze all of St. Augustine’s blockbuster attractions into just one vacation. To help you plan your trip to this historic city, check out our list of the 13 best things to do while in St. Augustine, Florida:
- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
- St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum
- St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park
- St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
- Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
- Lightner Museum
- The Old St. Augustine Jail
- The Colonial Quarter
- St. George Street
- Fort Mose Historic State Park
- The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
- The Bridge of Lions
- St. Augustine Distillery Tour
If you’re interested in learning how to get the most out of your St. Augustine experience, then you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading this post to discover all the essential tips on visiting America’s oldest city.
Why You Should Visit St. Augustine, Florida
The most obvious reason St. Augustine should be on your bucket list is because of its history. Literally anywhere you go in this city you’ll find America’s “oldest” something a few blocks away… and how cool is that?
With all of its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and European architecture, it’s no wonder St. Augustine is now one of America’s premier romantic destinations. Couples who want a Spanish getaway without leaving North America can’t do better than to book a trip to San Agustín.
Another nice feature of St. Augustine is its convenient location between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. From St. Augustine, you’re only a 1-hour drive from either of these equally famous cities.
What Is The Best Time To Go To St. Augustine, Florida?
Most tourist experts recommend visiting St. Augustine in the spring. Why? Well, springtime visitors enjoy low humidity, low rain chances, and mild temps in the mid-50s F. You’ll also find that spring is less crowded than summer season, provided you avoid spring break.
If you’re a budget traveler, however, then consider visiting St. Augustine in the winter. Most people avoid St. Augustine in the winter due to its surprisingly chilly temps, which means guests enjoy deep discounts and virtually no tourist crowds.
Autumn travel isn’t as highly recommended as spring mainly because of hurricane season. The worst season to visit, however, is the summer with its high fees, large crowds, and humid weather.
Is St. Augustine Walkable?
Yes, St. Augustine is an extremely walkable city in the main Historic District. If you want to venture out to other noteworthy sites, however, you’ll need to look into the city’s trolley services.
Using a hop-on-hop-off service will save you a lot of steps and frustration getting around St. Augustine’s major tourist stops. You can learn more about this trolley service by visiting the Old Town Trolley Tours’ website.
13 Things To Do In St. Augustine, Florida
On top of its world-famous historic attractions, St. Augustine boasts many interactive museums, family-friendly zoos, and even its own spirits distillery. Take a look at our 13 best things to do in St. Augustine while planning your travel itinerary.
1. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Built in the 17th century, the limestone Castillo de San Marcos was intended as a defense against British attack. Now under the care of the US Park Service, this 320-acre complex welcomes tourists interested in its long past.
On your tour, you’ll learn more about what daily life must’ve been like for soldiers here. Depending on when you visit, you might also see a live (and loud) cannon demonstration.
The Castillo is open between 9 AM – 5 PM every day and tickets cost $15 per adult. To discover more about this National Monument, be sure to visit Castillo de San Marcos’s NPS webpage.
2. St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum
Buccaneers of any age should schedule a stop at the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. At this highly interactive attraction, guests can climb aboard a replica ship, meet a pirate tour guide, and even go on their own treasure hunt.
St. Augustine’s Pirate Museum is open between 10 AM – 7 PM every day and tickets cost $15 per adult and $8 per child. To better plan your visit to this fun attraction, be sure to visit the official Pirate & Treasure Museum website.
3. St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park
With a history of over 100 years, you’d better believe the St. Augustine Alligator Farm knows how to handle gators. Considered one of the longest-running attractions in Florida, this farm has almost 25 different crocodile species of varying sizes that simply love the limelight.
Freaked out by reptiles? No worries; the Zoological Park also has plenty of lovely lemurs, slow-moving sloths, and beautiful birds to check out.
Tickets to the Alligator Farm cost about $26 per adult and $15 per child, but there are special discounts for seniors and the military. Usually St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm is open between 9 AM – 5 PM every day. For more details, visit the Alligator and Zoological Park’s webpage.
4. St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
Just a short drive from the Alligator Farm you’ll find another iconic attraction: the 165-foot tall St. Augustine Lighthouse. Built in the 1870s, this lighthouse offers guests unparalleled views of the surrounding area…if you could make it up those draining 219 steps.
Typically the St. Augustine Lighthouse is open between 9 AM – 6 PM every day and tickets for adults cost $13 per person. For more details on specific ticket prices, private tours, and special events, visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse’s main webpage.
5. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
OK, nobody’s sure where Ponce de Leon landed on his first voyage to Florida, but that doesn’t mean the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is all fantasy. Spanish settlers did colonize this region early in Florida’s history, and you can find traces from archeological digs on park property.
At this waterfront attraction, you’ll also get to see recreations of Spanish settlements and Native American dwellings. And, of course, you could take a sip from the “Fountain of Youth” spring—but there’s no guarantee it will make you any younger.
Tickets to the Fountain of Youth are $18 for adults and $10 for children, but AAA, military, and senior discounts apply. Normal operating hours at this park are from 9 AM – 6 PM and parking is free. Need more info? Please visit the Fountain of Youth’s website.
6. Lightner Museum
Formerly a hotel for the upper crust, the Lightner Museum is now St. Augustine’s premier art museum specializing in 19th-century statues, glasswork, and paintings. But it’s not just art on display at the Lightner Museum. A few oddities you’ll find on a tour of this museum include shrunken heads, vintage cigars, and even a mummy.
The Lightner Museum is open seven days a week from 9 AM – 5 PM and general admission for adults costs $15 per person. There are, however, special discounts for seniors, college students, active military, and children. Visit the Lightner Museum’s official website for special events details.
7. The Old St. Augustine Jail
Designed in 1891, the Old St. Augustine Jail housed some of the area’s most dangerous criminals for about 60 years. Today, the only way to get into this jail is as a “new inmate” on a fantastic guided tour.
St. Augustine’s Old Jail is usually open 9 AM – 5 PM seven days a week and tickets cost about $13 for adults and $7 for children. You can find out more about the Old Jail on this website.
8. The Colonial Quarter
In the center of St. Augustine’s Historic District you’ll find the immersive Colonial Quarter museum. Created not too long ago, the Colonial Quarter has four districts each depicting life under Spanish or British rule. On your journey, you can talk with shipbuilders, welders, tanners, and even watch a group of soldiers fire off muskets.
St. Augustine’s Colonial Quarter is open between 10 AM – 5 PM every day. According to the Colonial Quarter’s official website, you must inquire about tickets at 43 St. George Street.
9. St. George Street
Cutting through the historic center of town, St. George Street is St. Augustine’s premier pedestrian path. Here you’ll find access to all of St. Augustine’s top attractions as well as the best boutiques and restaurants in town. This is definitely the ideal spot for anyone interested in a romantic stroll or souvenir shopping.
By the way, St. George Street is also a well-known haunt for local ghosts. Not scared? Well, why not go on one of the many nighttime ghost tours through the historic district one night?
10. Fort Mose Historic State Park
Only a 15-minute drive north of St. Augustine’s center is a fascinating National Historic Park known as Fort Mose. Interestingly, the Spanish created this 24-acre area as a safe zone for runaway slaves. In exchange for allegiance to the Catholic Church, the Spanish granted African slaves freedom in this territory.
You can learn more about the unique history surrounding Fort Mose on a free guided tour. The park is usually open between 9 AM – 5 PM every day, but you can find out more details on this Fort Mose webpage.
11. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
Completed in 1797, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is considered the oldest Catholic church in the USA. Visitors will instantly see the fantastic Spanish-inspired artistry and architecture as they walk around this historic house of worship.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is usually open to visitors every day between 7 AM – 5 PM, but check the official website for Mass times.
12. The Bridge of Lions
St. Augustine’s Bridge of Lions connects the mainland to Anastasia Island and often ranks as one of America’s most picturesque bridges. Definitely stop at the front (near the Cathedral Basilica) to take a few pics with the famous lion statues.
Yes, there sidewalks on the side of the Bridge of Lions, but be extra careful. Unfortunately, Florida has the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the nation.
13. St. Augustine Distillery Tour
After all that St. Augustine exploring, how about relaxing with a cold drink at the city distillery. Initially used an ice plant, the St. Augustine Distillery now creates handcrafted spirits and welcomes visitors on a complimentary tour.
Per the St. Augustine Distillery’s website, regular operating hours are 10 AM – 6 PM Mondays through Saturdays and 10 AM – 5 PM on Sunday, and tours start every 30 minutes.
Where To Stay In St. Augustine, Florida
Most of St. Augustine’s hotels are concentrated around the Historic District, however, you can find more budget-friendly options a bit farther out. Below are two highly reviewed hotels ideal for different price points.
Casa Monica Resort & Spa
Tourists who don’t mind splurging should research the 4-star Casa Monica Resort & Spa. Conveniently located beside Flagler College, this spacious resort is known for its colonial-inspired décor and amenities like a fitness center, beach club, and award-winning restaurants.
Smart Stay Inn
Those interested in saving money should investigate St. Augustine’s well-reviewed Smart Stay Inn. Although this 2-star hotel is a 10-minute drive from the city’s historic center, guests enjoy perks like continental breakfast, pool access, and proximity to outlet malls and the city’s aquarium.