Steeped in history, this beach destination offers families more than just a stunning shoreline.
There is a great sense of pride in this historical city. It’s that unique history that sets this city apart from any other. As you meander down the miles of brick-paved roads visiting the quaint cafes and eclectic shops, it’s hard not to wonder what conquerors and explorers may have tread upon these very same bricks. Horse-drawn carriages, centuries-old architecture, and hidden courtyards add to the ambiance that attracts honeymooners and families alike. All of this combined with year-round, near-perfect weather and over 40 miles of stunning beach shoreline make this a perfect destination.
What to do?
A great way to get acclimated to the area is to jump aboard one of the many trolley tours. Among the best are Old Town Trolley Tours and Red Train Tours. Both are reasonably priced, allow you to get on and off throughout the day, offer a three-day consecutive pass, and feature lively tour guides that don’t stick to scripts. Cost: Youth (under 6) Free; Youth (6-12) $10; Adults $25; discounts online.
KidTripster Tip: On your first day, ride the trolley for its entire duration, and then for the remainder of your stay, jump on and off for quick and easy transportation.
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine has more than just a few historical sites to see. Your best bet is to start at the Visitor Information Center. The center and its very helpful staff give guests a thorough lesson on how this city came to be. Native Americans, Spanish settlers, British soldiers, and pirates all have footprints here, and their culture is very well preserved. Most of the major historical sites are located within a few blocks of the Visitor Information Center.
One of our 5-year old’s favorite parts of the trip was our visit to the Alligator Farm Zoological Park. If you’ve ever wanted to safely wander around alligators in their natural habitat, this is the place for you. Stroll on your own or attend one of the many informative, zoologist-led demonstrations. The feeding sessions were our favorite. Imagine a congregation of hundreds of alligators in a native swampland being tossed a variety of tasty treats. The Alligator Farm even offers a zip line experience - perfect for those brave teenagers wanting to fly through the park with live alligators right below their toes! But this park is about more than just alligators. One of the most memorable parts of our experience was the wading bird rookery. Thousands of native herons, spoonbills, storks, and egrets use the trees above the alligator swamp to live, nest, and raise their young. Why is this such a popular place for birds to nest? (Don’t worry, I didn’t know either!) It’s because the birds recognize that with the alligators below, they are free from tree-climbing predators. Smart! Cost: Youth (3-12) $13; Adults $24.
KidTripster Tip: Do not forget your camera for this destination. You will have magnificent up-close and personal views of baby birds in their nests.
St. Augustine boasts some of Florida’s most pristine beaches. Paddle boarders, windsurfers, fishermen, sunbathers, divers, and sandcastle builders have a lot of options here. Vilano Beach on the north side of town boasts many waterfront restaurants, a boardwalk, and shops. St. Augustine Beach has ample parking, a pier for fishing, a bait shop, a shaded pavilion for picnicking, and a splash park for the little ones. Crescent Beach is a short drive to the south, offers a less-crowded, wildlife refuge setting, and even has RV and camping facilities. Whichever beach you choose, just be mindful of the many federally-protected sea turtles who nest on the shore.
Where to eat?
For a great sampling of southern barbecue, try Mojo BBQ Old City. This place has a bustling, energetic vibe (If your little one has a meltdown, no one will notice!); come during the evening for live music. Whether you sit on the front patio, in the eclectically-decorated main room, or out in the back garden, you are sure to receive great service. Don’t leave without trying the “burnt ends.” You’ll be glad you did.
Located along the cobblestone paths of historic downtown is Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar. This sweet snack site will please the entire family. A gourmet waffle with candied pecans, bacon, and bourbon whipped cream - a more perfect combination there could not be! Devour it in the picnic-table courtyard or take with you and enjoy as you stroll downtown. The unique milkshakes are served very cold and make a perfect treat on a hot day. Our little one gives the Electric Jellyfish two thumbs up!
One must not leave St. Augustine without visiting Gas Full Service Restaurant. The retro gas station motif is fun and unique, and the food is amazing. What sets this restaurant apart though is its superior service. From the moment you enter the door, you feel welcomed here. Our server seamlessly showed up with a little bag of crackers the moment our 10-month old started to “lose focus” and provided enough “peek-a-boos” every time she walked by that mom and dad could actually enjoy their meal. And, our 5-year old literally told us seven times, “My chicken is delicious!” What better review could there be? We will be back.
Where to stay?
There is no better location for a hotel in St. Augustine than that of the St. George Inn. Located in the heart of historic Old Town, directly next to the nation’s oldest wooden schoolhouse and across the street from Castillo de San Marco, this is the perfect spot to call home during your St. Augustine adventure. Leave your car parked in the parking garage, because everything is within walking distance from this spot. Rooms are spacious and elegant, and the complimentary breakfast will be the perfect start to your day. Rooms start at $179/night.
KidTripster Tip: There are no elevators here and toting the stroller and baby gear up flights of stairs can become a bit tiresome, so be sure to ask for a low floor.
Anastasia State Park offers accommodations for tent campers and RVs (up to 70 feet). There are even a limited number of cabins available to reserve. Campsites are located within a beautiful maritime hammock and just a short walk to the beach. The campground features a bedtime story-lending library for junior campers (ages 4 to 9). Rates begin at $47/night.
St. Augustine is located on the Atlantic coast of northeastern Florida, approximately 1-1/2-hours north of Orlando and 45 minutes south of Jacksonville by car.
Greg Bailey lives in the Tampa area with his wife and two sons. Born and raised in Michigan, he has happily traded in his winter parka, snow shovel, and gloves for the beach, sunny skies, and gentle breezes of the Gulf Coast of Florida.
This writer received a complimentary stay plus some complimentary activities and meals for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely his own.