Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and educator. He lives an hour away from St Augustine and has visited the city numerous times.
Certainly one of the most interesting facts about St Augustine, FL is that it is the oldest continuously occupied city in the continental USA, having being founded by the Spanish explorer and admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565.
This place has history in abundance, as well as plenty of leisure and tourist attractions, places to eat and drink, and, of course, easy access to glorious sunny beaches.
There is plenty to occupy and entertain, whatever your age or tastes. Below is my top 20 list for the best things to do.
20 St. Augustine Things to Do
- The Castillo de San Marcos
- Take a Trolley Tour of St. Augustine
- The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse
- The Lightner Museum
- Potter's Wax Museum
- Fountain of Youth Discovery Park
- St. Augustine Wild Reserve
- Ripley's Believe It or Not!
- St. Augustine Lighthouse
- St. Augustine Alligator Farm
- St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
- Take a Ghost Tour
- Fort Matanzas National Monument
- The Old Jail
- St. Augustine Distillery
- Memorial Presbyterian Church
- Basilica Cathedral
- Colonial Quarter
- Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center
I'll give more details regarding my choices below.
1. The Castillo de San Marcos
The oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, the Castillo de San Marcos is a must-see for sure! Built by the Spanish from 1672-1695, the fort offers spectacular views of the Mantanzas River.
Re-enactors and park rangers will relate to you the fort's rich history and provide historic weaponry demonstrations, such as firing off the cannons.
2. Take a Trolley Tour of St. Augustine
There are regular sightseeing tours that highlight the oldest and best of St. Augustine. The distinctive trolleys provide a relaxing fun and functional way of seeing the city, combining transportation, education, and entertainment. The conductors narrate the tour with trivia and stories.
3. The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse
Dating from the 1700s, this original colonial home was made into a classroom for Minorcans.
Visitors to the Old School can experience school life as it was for those in 1864, view antiques and historical artifacts, as well as explore the colonial kitchen, drinking well and the “privy”.
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4. Lightner Museum
The museum occupies three floors of the former Hotel Alcazar, which was commissioned by entrepreneur, Henry M. Flagler to appeal to wealthy travelers who came south for the winter on his railroad.
The Lightner houses many relics of America's Gilded Age, such as elegant costumes, furnishings, mechanical musical instruments and other artifacts.
As well as gaining a glimpse into 19th century daily life, the museum's collection has some impressive examples of cut glass, Victorian art glass and the stained glass work.
One of my personal favorites is Rota the lion, a gift to Sir Winston Churchill, who somehow ended up stuffed and sent to Florida.
5. Potter's Wax Museum
Located at 31 Orange Street, the Potter's Wax Museum houses more than 160 wax sculptures of famous people, both fictional and real, including political leaders, entertainers, horror characters, historical figures, and sports stars.
The first wax museum in the USA, it was founded in 1948 by George L. Potter.
6. Fountain of Youth Discovery Park
Informative and entertaining, the Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is actually the original site of the nation's oldest city.
Here you can peruse the exhibits, replicas and scenery, and drink from the famous springs that legend has it will restore youth.
7. St. Augustine Wild Reserve
The St. Augustine Wild Reserve is a great place to visit for those who wish to see exotic wild life close up.
Especially impressive are the wild reserve's big cats, including a young, female golden tabby tiger named "Sitarra".
Tours of the reserve are available on an appointment basis.
8. Ripley's Believe It or Not!
Robert Ripley was fascinated by the strange and bizarre and he founded his first museum in St. Augustine.
It is housed in Castle Warden, built in 1887, and has been home to the first permanent Ripley's collection since 1950.
Ripley was a prolific traveler and the collection includes many unbelievable souvenirs and bizarre artifacts from far flung areas of the world.
9. St. Augustine Lighthouse
Offering spectacular views of the city and surrounding area from the top, the lighthouse is an iconic St. Augustine structure that is well worth a visit.
Constructed in 1874, there are tours available, and you can visit the light keeper's house, the museum store, or just relax in the attractive grounds.
The museum opens daily at 9:00am. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
This being Florida, there are always plenty of beautiful and sunny beaches nearby, and the area around St. Augustine has some exceptional ones to visit.
Beaches nearby include: Crescent Beach, St. Augustine Beach, Vilano Beach, North (Usina) Beach, and South Ponte Vedra Beach.
11. St. Augustine Alligator Farm
The Sunshine State is abundant when it comes to alligators and the alligator farm zoological park is one of Florida's longest continuously running attractions, having first opened in 1893.
The alligator farm has an impressive 23 different species of crocodilians, as well as a wide variety of other reptiles, mammals, and birds.
There are exhibits, animal performances and educational demonstrations to keep you informed and entertained.
12. St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
This museum celebrates the Golden Age of Piracy with 48 exhibit areas to display artifacts from the period.
Advertised as the biggest and most authentic collection of pirate artifacts in the world, the exhibits include Blackbeard's blunderbuss, pieces of gold from his warship the Queen Anne's Revenge, one of only three surviving authentic Jolly Roger flags in the world, and Thomas Tew's actual treasure chest.
13. Take a Ghost Tour
Given the city's long and rich history, it won't surprise you to hear that St. Augustine is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the USA and there are many claims of ghost sightings.
There are a range of regular ghost tours available, with multiple travel options including walking, riding, or even boating. There is even a haunted pub crawl.
14. Fort Matanzas National Monument
A US National Monument since 1924, at its heart is a 1740 Spanish fort named Fort Matanzas, built to protect the southern mouth of the Matanzas River, which could be accessed as an alternative route into of St. Augustine.
Surrounding the fort are 100 acres of salt marsh and barrier islands along the Matanzas River.
15. The Old Jail
For those who like their history, the Old Jail is a must-see. It served the city from 1891-1953 and held some fascinating inmates.
Visitors can take tours of the jail with guides in period dress to show them through the women’s cells, men’s cells, and the maximum security cells.
16. St. Augustine Distillery
Learn about the making of vodka, gin and bourbon and sample some of the delicious drinks that are made on site by the distillery.
A small business that is a ecologically friendly, the distillery is open seven days a week, opening times are Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm and Sunday 11am-6pm.
17. Memorial Presbyterian Church
Constructed in 1889 by business tycoon, Henry Morrison Flagler, the church was built in honor of his daughter Jennie Louise Benedict, who died died very young.
This impressive building was designed by a New York architectural firm and inspired by St Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy.
The body of Henry Flagler, who died in 1913, is interred in a marble mausoleum inside the church beside other members of the Flagler family.
18. Basilica Cathedral
As well as being an historic cathedral, the basilica is also seat of the Catholic Bishop of St. Augustine.
It is situated at Cathedral Street between Charlotte and St. George Streets and is the oldest church in Florida, having being constructed over five years (1793–1797).
19. Colonial Quarter
The Colonial Quarter is a separate section bordering St. George St and Castillo Drive, consisting of 10 buildings which exhibit how Spanish people lived in the 1740's.
There is a leatherworker store, blacksmith, candlemaker, tavern, and scribe, with costumed people dressed in authentic period dress, who relate the times and life of residents to visitors.
The Colonial Quarter opens 9-5:30 daily.
20. Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center
The St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement played a pivotal role in the wider movement during the 1960s and has a rich African American history.
Exhibits at the Excelsior Museum include:
- The history of Lincolnville, founded as a gathering of plantation squatter shacks that went on to become a neighborhood of Victorian homes
- The history of the runaway slaves who constructed Fort Mose
- Kat Twine's Freedom Hat, the signboard from the now demolished Monson Motor Lodge, where Martin Luther King was refused entry.
FAQs About Visiting St Augustine
Is it worth visiting St Augustine?
If you love history, don't mind doing a little walking, and like old buildings, then the answer is yes.
What is the best time of year to visit?
I would recommend going in March, April, or May. The weather is sunny, but not too hot and humid, and it's not too crowded. It's also less expensive than going in the summer months. The evening/night temperature can drop to the 40s in the coldest months (December, January and February).
How many days should I spend in St Augustine?
I would recommend staying for 2 or 3 days. One day may feel a little rushed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Paul Goodman