Looking for the playbook for a visit to St. Augustine, Florida? Florida Culture’s got you covered. This year marks our seventh (or eighth?) visit to the oldest town in the U.S., with our annual pilgrimage taking place on a recent blazing hot weekend. Despite the heat, we always enjoy our time in St. Augustine. Our collective experience has led us to share some insider tips to help guide you on your next visit to St. Augustine.
1. Ghost hunting. If you’re walking around downtown St. Augustine, you’re essentially walking over dead bodies. The city has had its massive share of strife and bloodshed since its founding in 1513, and all of that violent history makes for some popular ghost hunting. Even if you’re a skeptic, you still may get some amusement out of the city’s many ghost tours tours.
Insider’s tip: Know what kind of tour you want. For family-friendly, we recommend any of the nighttime trolley tours, but especially the Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure that allows you to enter the Haunted Ripley Castle. If you want history mixed with a workout, sign up for the St. Augustine Lighthouse’s Dark of the Moon Tour, which takes you up and down a vertigo-inducing staircase (219 steps each way) for an ultimately awesome view of the area. Do wear comfy shoes and bring water if you choose the latter. The former lighthouse keeper and his family members are said to haunt the lighthouse. There also are tours where guides dress in period costumes and tours geared more toward adults such as the Haunted Pub Tour.
2. Go beyond downtown. Downtown St. Augustine and the main pedestrian walkway of St. George Street is where many tourists will congregate, but there’s so much to see beyond there.
Insider’s tip: Consider the following additional destinations for fun beyond the shopping around St. George Street: St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum (a real workout going up the lighthouse stairs but worth it for the view), St. Augustine Alligator Farm (nature lovers, don’t miss the bird rookery), Adventure Landing (great if you’re with kids and need an arcade-type experience), Potter’s Wax Museum, St. Augustine Premium Outlets, the Fountain of Youth, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and beautiful Flagler College. One of our favorite personal destinations is free, but you’ve got to get up early: It’s a sunrise walk along St. Augustine Beach, near the pier.
3. Where to stay. There’s no shortage of lodging choices in St. Augustine, from older or newer hotels to bed and breakfasts. Like many people, you’ll probably use Trip Advisor along with the amount of dinero in your wallet to make your choice, but consider our suggestions below as well.
Insider’s tip: There are some new hotels right on the beach in St. Augustine Beach, including Embassy Suites. Beachfront and barely used? Sounds enticing. That said, there’s the charm of places like La Fiesta Ocean Inn and Suites, with friendly staff who deliver scones to your room every morning. Downtown, we hear great things about the Peace and Plenty Inn. Our fave non-downtown place to stay is the St. Augustine Beach KOA, which has RV, tent, and “kamping kabin” sites. Use the pool, rent a a banana bike, or simply take in the calm of its pond….and you’re just five minutes from the beach.
4. Eating. Much like the lodging situation, there’s no shortage of great food in America’s Oldest City.
Insider’s tip: Although there is a food tour in St. Augustine, someone suggested to us a DIY food tour. Pick out a handful of restaurants or bars that you think look yummy, and plan with your travel companions to visit each one and try an appetizer or two. Some possible to include that we like: Harry’s Restaurant (oreo beignets? OK!!), the Tiny Martini Bar at the said-to-be-haunted Casablanca Inn, San Sebastian Winery (its upstairs restaurant is The Cellar Upstairs), St. Augustine Distillery, and The Floridian.
Some final insider’s tips:
- Make use of Groupon or those tourist guides you’ll find scattered throughout the city. Whether you like the online option or low-tech paper options, there are savings to be had. Although some of the coupons may save only a couple of bucks, it adds up over time.
- Most people make it to Castillo de San Marcos, a 1600s fort in downtown that’s run by the National Park Service. It’s definitely worth a visit and has some great angles for picture-taking. In addition to your standard visit, find out when they do re-enactments of a cannon launch, complete with costumed re-enactors speaking Spanglish. San Marco also is said to be haunted, so another option is walking around the perimeter at night (the inside will be closed) and take pictures to try and capture spirits or orbs. The same recommendation holds if you’re walking the interior of San Marco during the day—if you’re into ghosts, take a few shots, and you never know what spooky images you’ll find…
- St. Augustine has two trolley tours—Old Town Trolleys and Red Train Tours. We’re a big fan of Old Town as we’ve also used it in other cities, but take whichever trolley line is convenient for you. They both are great and often offer discounts when visiting other area attractions.
- Find some of our previous St. Augustine stories here, here (the latter two stories for the Canadian publication Dreamscapes), and here, from our blog.