Best Things To Do in St. Augustine
With a nickname like the Ancient City, you better believe this seaside destination is filled with historic sights. Though you may not have time to see them all, you cannot leave St. Augustine without visiting the Old Jail and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. If you're a nature lover, check out St. Augustine Beach and the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. There are even a few unconventional activities nearby, such as ghost tours of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and cannon and musket firing demonstrations at the Colonial Quarter.
Updated August 15, 2016
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Antiquities, historic attractions and delectable cuisine are just a few of the things you'll find on St. George Street, the city's central pedestrian thoroughfare. At the northern end of the street, visitors can explore boutiques like Sunburst Crystal and Tillie's Bath Cottage, as well as historic sites like the Old City Gates and the Oldest Wooden School House. The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum are within walking distance; as you travel south, you'll see additional shops and cafes, plus art galleries and the Colonial Quarter.
Visitors in search of Southern charm will appreciate St. George Street. According to past travelers, you'll find unique shops and some of the best ice cream in the area. The area is also a great spot to stop in some shops to pick up souvenirs.
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Castillo de San Marcos served as a fort for more than 205 years. Built between 1672 and 1695 by the Spanish, it protected the newly established territory of Spanish Florida from the British and pirates. It's the oldest masonry fortification in the U.S., as well as the only surviving 17th-century military site in the country. Additionally, it is one of only two forts in the world constructed from coquina, a semi-rare limestone composed of shell fragments. Though the Spanish maintained control of the Castillo de San Marcos for most of its military career, it was used by the British during the American Revolution and by Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. The fort became a national monument in 1900.
According to recent travelers, the monument is a well-preserved and interesting piece of American history. To avoid the heat when visiting on a humid, sunny day, arrive when it opens (8:45 a.m.) or shortly before final admission at 5 p.m. Before you leave, stop to watch one of the cannon firing demonstrations that are offered multiple times a day.
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The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum features shipwreck artifacts, a wooden boat building exhibit and a 165-foot-tall lighthouse. The lighthouse, which was built between 1871 and 1874, is the oldest surviving brick structure in St. Augustine and has 219 steps. Some also believe the site is haunted by several formal lighthouse keepers and two young girls who died on-site in the late 1800s.
Recent travelers said the best part of visiting the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is climbing to the top of the lighthouse. Bring a camera, since you'll find breathtaking views of Salt Run lagoon and St. Augustine at the top. However, a few people caution that climbing the lighthouse may not be easy for less active visitors.
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The eclectic Lightner Museum is located just south of Flagler College near St. Augustine's historic city center. Housed within the former Alcazar Hotel, which was built by Henry Flagler in 1888, the museum features an impressive collection of 19th-century art. Notable exhibits include unconventional items like shrunken heads, salt and pepper shakers, human hair and cigar labels. You'll also find traditional art pieces and collections with Tiffany & Co. glass and antique furniture.
Recent travelers said the museum's architecture and collections more than justify the attraction's entrance fee. With four floors of exhibits, you can easily spend several hours exploring the property. And if you're hungry, grab a bite in the museum's cafe. Although it's only open for lunch, visitors say the food is delicious.
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Located on St. George Street in downtown St. Augustine's historic district, the Colonial Quarter offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century residents. The living museum is divided into four areas: the 16th Century Spanish First City, the 17th Century Spanish Fortified Town, the 18th Century Spanish Garrison Town and the 18th Century British The 14th Colony. In each section, travelers can witness activities like the construction of a ship, musket drills, leatherworking and cannon firing demonstrations.
Families and history buffs will enjoy exploring the Colonial Quarter. Previous visitors praised the guided Historic Adventure Tour, which is included in ticket prices. Though you can explore the property on your own, the tour guides offer interesting historical tidbits that help you fully understand what life was like in colonial St. Augustine.
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Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is the site of St. Augustine's original settlement. The Fountain of Youth, a mythical spring believed to have anti-aging properties, can be found in the park, as well as a planetarium, a blacksmith shop and a replica Timucua village. On the park's grounds, visitors will find several white and blue peacocks (nearly 30 reside within the park).
Though some travelers found the attraction to be lackluster and not worth the entrance fee, most said it's an important archeological site worth checking out. Must-do components of the park include drinking from the Fountain of Youth and watching a cannon firing demonstration. Keep in mind that this spring has sulfur water, which exudes a rotten egg odor.
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Situated 5 miles southeast of St. Augustine's historic district, St. Augustine Beach features roughly 2 miles of white-sand beach and clear water. The beach is popular with families, thanks to its kid-friendly splash pad. If fishing or a relaxing stroll is what you're after, visit the St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier, which sits at the north end of the beach.
Past visitors praised St. Augustine Beach's scenery and uncrowded atmosphere. Most days, the ocean offers small waves that are suitable for children, though windy days will bring larger waves that are ideal for surfing and bodyboarding.
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As its name suggests, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum displays a variety of pirate artifacts, including the world's oldest "Wanted" poster, the world's only pirate treasure chest, and one of two surviving 17th-century Jolly Roger flags (that familiar black flag featuring a skull and crossbones). At the center of the museum, travelers can climb aboard a replica pirate ship with a helm and cannons.
Recent museumgoers raved about the attraction. Must-do activities include taking a free guided tour with Captain Mayhem (the museum's resident pirate and tour guide) and searching for the museum's hidden treasure clues.
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St. Augustine's Old Jail was built in 1891 to accommodate the city's criminals. Financed by railroad magnate Henry Flagler, the jail was designed to blend in with the rest of the Ancient City's buildings and features Romanesque Revival-style architecture. In 1954, a year after the jail closed, the property reopened as a historic attraction. The facility was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Past visitors praised the Old Jail's tours, which are led by guides dressed up in period attire. Tours are not only informative, but also offer a glimpse into the conditions prisoners encountered in the jail. If you have an interest in the paranormal, travelers recommended taking the multi-attraction Ghosts & Gravestones tour, which includes a night tour of the Old Jail, along with the Old Drug Store and Potter's Wax Museum.
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For an up-close look at exotic animals, check out the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. This nonprofit sanctuary was established in 1995 as a care center for rescued and unwanted exotic animals. Mountain lions, bears, ligers and leopards are just some of the animals housed here. Notable residents include five arctic wolves and an African lion that once belonged to Michael Jackson.
Previous visitors praised the St. Augustine Wild Reserve for its treatment of the animals and informative volunteers. Though you may want to take pictures of the animals, leave the camera at your hotel since photography (including cellphone photography) is not allowed at the property.
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