Looking over a low wall at the coquina stone wall and tower of the Castillo de San Marcos with colonial style buildings and palm trees in the background

8 Terrific Things to do in St. Augustine | America’s Oldest City

Saint Augustine Florida is full of history, food and fun. If you're planning a visit or just wondering if it's worth visiting, use our guide to plan the perfect itinerary in America's oldest city.

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St. Augustine is certainly an historically significant mark on the map. It is, after all, best known as the oldest city in America, founded by Spanish explorers in 1565. It’s also full of modern appeals, with a vibrant food scene, and stretches of beautiful coastline and waterways. History buffs will be just as satisfied with St. Augustine as foodies and beach-goers.

We’ve spent some time getting to know the city, admiring its signature Spanish colonial architecture, strolling along the pristine beaches, and learning what makes it such a charming destination. St. Augustine is absolutely worth a visit and we’ve put together our thoughts on how you should spend a day or, even better, several days there. 

The Best Things to do in St. Augustine

Learn the Story of Castillo de San Marcos

It’s not often you find a structure in America that’s been around for almost 350 years. St. Augustine was burned to the ground more than once, but since 1695 the Castillo de San Marcos has stood guard along the western bank of the Matanzas River.

Though the city and its defenses have traded hands numerous times, the fort itself was never successfully taken in battle. It has protected Spanish trade interests, functioned as a military prison, and even as an entry point for former slaves fleeing the British colonies.

Now, as a National Monument, it’s one of St. Augustine’s most popular attractions.

As you walk across the moat and through the fortified sally port, you’ll get a close up view of its coquina walls, a unique type of rock made up of tiny seashells, quarried just across the bay. Spread about the upper gun deck of its four bastions are a variety of cannon, large and small, bearing the intricate and decorative marks of their makers. 

These walls are the kind that you wish could talk. As you walk from room to room and around the perimeter, you can only imagine all the things the Castillo has seen and heard.

 

A woman stands on the gun deck of the historic stone Castillo de San Marcos overlooking the water and palm trees in Saint Augustine FloridaA green patinated mortar from the 17th century with intricate decoration sitting on display on the gun deck of the Castillo de San Marcos

Get Some Sun at The Beach & Pier

A visit to Florida wouldn’t be complete without at least one day at the beach and St. Augustine has plenty of real estate to satisfy that need. In fact, there are 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beachfront stretching from Vilano Beach in the north down to southernmost Crescent Beach. But the central and most conveniently located is St. Augustine Beach. You can access it from several public parking areas spread out along the shore.

Stop in at the St. John’s County Ocean Pier and, for a small fee, take a walk to the end of the pier or go fishing. If you enjoy people watching as much as we do, you can just sit back and relax as the waves crash in, drawing a crowd of local surfers.

Afterwards, head down onto the sand and try your hand at finding shark teeth. We’ve been unlucky in all our attempts so far, but we’re told it's one of the best stretches of coastline to find them, especially after a recent storm.

Looking down onto the sandy beach and waves at Saint Augustine Beach, with the fishing pier stretching far out into the ocean

Climb to the top of the Lighthouse

Nestled in the middle of St. Augustine is a picture perfect lighthouse, black and white bands spiraling up its sides, capped by a red lantern.

While it’s been historically preserved and maintained, it’s still a working navigation beacon. The surrounding grounds are home to the St. Augustine Maritime Museum, which offers guided tours and hands-on exhibits. 

For a $14.95 entry fee you can climb all 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy the panoramic view. It will, literally, take your appreciation for the beauty of St. Augustine to a new level.

A woman in the foreground out of focus looking out over a bright red metal railing on the top of Saint Augustine Lighthouse at the surrounding area, filled with trees and buildings, leading out to the water
The red brick wall with symmetrical windows and chimneys at the Saint Augustine Maritime MuseumThe towering Saint Augustine lighthouse with black and white lines spiraling up to a bright red lantern on top

Enjoy some Recreation in Anastasia State Park

Anastasia State Park, known locally as ‘South Beach’, has it all. A white sand beach runs four miles, open to swimmers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Anastasia Watersports is open seven days a week and offers equipment rental for just about every activity you could dream up. Paddlers can check out kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards. Experienced sailors can take a boat out for the day. Surfboards and boogie boards are available for catching waves. And, if you’d prefer to stay dry, you can cruise along the beach on a rented bicycle, or relax under an umbrella.

The Ancient Dunes Trail is an easy, 0.7 mile walk through a forested maritime hammock, which makes for a quiet and shaded stroll in the afternoon. 

If you’re looking to spend more time on Anastasia Island, the campground is open to RVs and tent campers year-round. It makes a great, centrally located home base for seeing all of St. Augustine. 

Looking down a wooden boardwalk with two people walking away from the camera into a bright sunset. The boardwalk turns sharply to the left through grass covered sand dunes

Walk the Historic District

St. Augustine’s dense historic center makes it a very walkable city. In fact, the ideal way to get around and see the best parts of America’s oldest city is on foot.

Depending on your length of stay, there are a few parking options available, so you can leave the car behind, meander through the heart of St. Augustine and take in the sights. Arrive early enough and you can claim a spot on the street. This is our preference, since the morning comes with much cooler temperatures and smaller crowds. Check the signs, as hours are enforced depending on location, and may be limited to four hours.

If you plan to spend the entire day in the historic district, you might opt for the city’s parking garage, located on Cordova Street, not far from the Castillo. There’s a $15 fee for the entire day and it will provide shade for your vehicle.

There are both city managed and privately owned surface lots throughout the area. For RVers or fellow vanlifers who can’t squeeze into smaller spaces or a parking garage, there is a free, oversized vehicle lot at 3 Riberia Street.

Looking up at the tall pinnacle of a Spanish colonial style structure in the historic district of Saint Augustine Florida with a tree branch poking into the upper left cornerA woman in a white dress stepping down the front steps of a historic colonial style stone building in Saint Augustine Florida

There are countless streets to wander and intentionally get lost along. Where you go first is simply a matter of preference. History lovers can head straight to the water, making their way to the Castillo, then down the bayfront wall to the Bridge of Lions, built in 1927. Heading west will take you to King Street, a wide thoroughfare roughly bisecting the historic district.

If you prefer a quiet stroll, where you can take in the colonial architecture, continue south along the river to the less commercialized neighborhoods. Soak in the blend of Spanish, British and French architectural styles. Brick walls wear cracked and weathered plaster coats, red clay tiles adorn rooftops, and upper balconies are wrapped with decorative turned posts. The oldest building in the city, the González-Alvarez House, can be found on St. Francis Street.

Whichever direction you wander, returning to King Street will bring you back to the vibrant heart of St. Augustine. From here you’re a short stroll from attractions like the Cathedral Basilica, Flagler College, and all the shops and restaurants along St. George Street.  

A woman walking down the middle of a historic street in a residential area of Saint Augustine Florida with a red brick colonial style building across the streetClose up on an antique mailbox mounted to a yellow plastered wall with an old door frame partially in view on the left

Window Shop on Saint George Street

Running north-south for eleven blocks, from King Street to Orange Street, St. George is the main artery of shopping in the historic district. Here you’ll find clothing stores, sweet shops, and art gallery storefronts decorating the front of historic buildings.

Before shops open their doors around 10 AM, grab a coffee to enjoy the walk in solitude. Or, join in the afternoon hustle and bustle as shoppers bounce from one open doorway to the next.

Some of St. Augustine’s most appealing eateries are within just a block or two from St. George Street, so time your visit with lunch or dinner to make the most of it.

Looking down the center of Saint George Street in Saint Augustine Florida with historic building converted to modern day shops and signs lining both sides of the street

Visit Flagler College

As a college, founded in 1968, Flagler may be a relative newcomer in a city where other institutions date back hundreds of years. Its campus, however, was built around the Ponce de León Hotel, which was built in 1888 by the industrialist Henry Morrison Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil.

Flagler envisioned St. Augustine as an American Riviera. To that end, he had the hotel designed and built, sparing no expense. It stands as a prime example of both Spanish Revival architecture and the opulence of the Industrial era. Tiffany & Co. stained glass windows, crystal chandeliers, and ornately carved wood and plaster moldings boasted a level of grandeur that would influence other architecture in Florida for decades to come. The hotel was also the first to be constructed using poured concrete and one of the first in the nation to be wired for electricity.

Tours of the former hotel, now a female student dormitory, are offered twice daily. Whether or not you opt to go inside, take time to walk the college grounds. The Ponce de León is the centerpiece of a 19 acre campus brimming with beautiful architecture, manicured landscapes, and towering palm trees.

The front archway of the opulent Spanish Revival style Ponce de Leon Hotel now bearing the name Flagler with a statue of the founder in frontA woman in a white dress stands on a paved path through overhanging tree branches covered in moss leading toward a red brick pavilion at Flagler College
One towering spire of the Spanish Revival style Ponce de Leon Hotel at Flagler College with red clay roof tiles, light colored stone and red accents. Tall palm trees are neatly spaced all along the buildings front.

Taste the Spirit of Florida on a Distillery Tour

Less than a half mile walk from the city center you’ll find the St. Augustine Distillery, housed along with a bar and restaurant in the old Ice Plant factory.

Not only is the distillery tour ranked one of the best in the country, it’s one of the best free things to do in St. Augustine. Yes, the self guided tour, offered seven days a week, is free. And yes, it includes a tasting of four signature cocktails. 

Looking up at the side of a stucco building into a bright sun flare with a sign that says 'St. Augustine Distillery'

You’ll learn about and see firsthand the distilling process that produces ‘The Spirit of Florida’, walking away with an appreciation for not only their whiskey, but also rum, vodka, and gin.

Twenty local families came together to found the distillery in 2013. During the tour you’ll also see evidence of their passion for community, sustainability, and preservation. Ingredients are sourced from local Florida farmers, several green initiatives are central to their distilling process, and the FP&L commercial ice complex, dating back to 1905, has been lovingly preserved.

When you’ve finished the tour, step over to the other side of the building and take a seat in the Ice Plant Bar, which serves up farm-to-table dishes and, of course, more craft cocktails.

The inside workings of Saint Augustine Distillery with several large copper pots and a man on a ladder looking down into one. Floor to ceiling windows on the back wall allow lots of light into the room.

The Best Places to Eat in St. Augustine

St. Augustine’s food scene offers a blend of cuisines to satisfy every craving. You’ll find, as expected, delicious seafood, Southern comfort dishes and fine European. But the whole gamut ranges from tacos to Mediterranean as well. 

It may be difficult to name with certainty the best places to dine - the list would run too long. Below are some of our favorites to get you started.

The interior of an eclectic restaurant with wooden chairs, a chandelier hanging over a table, and a large piece of art of an alligator on the wallClose up on a wall covered with liquor bottles behind a bar at The Ice Plant in Saint Augustine Florida

The Floridian | Topping our list is this eclectic spot with a kitschy vibe. The menu is characterized by creative Southern comfort dishes and locally sourced ingredients.

Harry’s Seafood | An institution of fresh, cajun and creole style seafood. The outdoor patio, illuminated with string lights and lamp posts, makes for a cozy experience.

The Ice Plant | Drop in after taking the distillery tour and sample more cocktails, or enjoy a bite anytime from brunch through dinner. The historic factory setting is one of the most unique in St. Augustine.

Mojo’s Tacos | An unassuming spot for incredible tacos and burritos. Just plain good. Their vegan and vegetarian options get excellent reviews as well. 

Mayday Ice Cream | If walking the city has stirred up your sweet tooth, take a break with some handcrafted dessert. Make sure to order one of their fresh homemade waffle cones or cookies and feel free to add some complimentary, made-in-house sprinkles.

Island Donuts | Speaking of sprinkles, this beachy donut shop is the perfect place to grab a bite in the morning. They’re open early, so come in for coffee, a breakfast sandwich and something sweet before taking a morning stroll down on the sand.

Close up on a man's hand as he scoops up ice cream from a bowl with two different flavors and a waffle cookie

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A woman in a white dress stands on a paved path through overhanging tree branches covered in moss with text overlay that says 'The Best Things to do in Saint Augustine Florida'

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