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Expert Tips

 

Explore 450 Years of Culture and Natural Wonders in St. Augustine



The old town of St. Augustine is a tight and rambling municipality with narrow city streets perfect for wandering on foot. Influences from its Spanish, British and American Colonial past are everywhere in the architecture and street design. The city's core has been active since the 1600s and the oldest house still standing dates back to the 1700s. Visitors have fun meandering the Old City, popping into artsy boutiques, jewelry stores and gift shops. Places to dine or grab a beer are also plentiful among the historical landmarks. You can't miss the Castillo San Marco on the on the waterfront, which may be one of the country's most important historical landmarks. Observing the Mantanzas River is easy along the bayfront sidewalk with rewarding views of the Bridge of Lions and sailboats breezing along. Beyond the town is St. Augustine Beach and undeveloped Anastasia State Park, both offering time for toes in the sand. The state parks also provide views Florida's native wildlife such as alligators, pink spoonbill birds and frolicking dolphins.  There is so much to see, we've narrowed down the best options for getting a sense of St. Augustine's spirit. Here are some great ways, in no particular order, to make the most of your visit. 


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Marineland
Photo courtesy of Marineland


At this accredited and scientific marine research center, guests can choose from several interactive programs that allow them to meet the resident dolphins. Packages range from simply viewing the dolphins to actually getting to swim with them. The park recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and one of its most famous dolphins, Nellie, recently passed away at the ripe old age of 61 (or 120 in human years), making her the oldest dolphins ever in human care. Also on site is the non-profit Conservation Field Station dedicated to research, rescue, rehabilitation and release of dolphins and small whales in Northeast Florida.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This accredited marine research center is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with Florida dolphins.

Shelley's expert tip: To maximize your animal encounters, you can add a guided kayak tour on the Matanzas River Estuary to your ticket.

Read more about Marineland →




There is no way you should leave this out of your St. Augustine itinerary. The impressive fort which dominates the water front of the Old City was built by the Spanish from 1672-1695 is the oldest stone fortress in the continental United States, Its walls are made from coquina, rock made from compressed seashells found along the coast. Make sure to make your way to the top of the fort for spectacular views of the Mantanzas River. Re-enactors and park rangers will tell you the fort's history and provide historic weaponry demonstrations that go off with a bang on a regular basis. Open daily from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Dec. 25.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Castillio is one of St. Augustine's most historic and iconic structures.

Shelley's expert tip: If you don't enter the fort, take a walk around the perimeter and marvel at its cool architecture and water views.

Read more about Castillo de San Marcos National Monument →


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Historic Downtown


Like many port cities, often the best way to see it is from the water. What makes the double-mast Freedom special is that it's an authentic replica of a 19th century sailboat. Master sailors guide the vessel, so those fancy sails are not just for show: wind and weather dictate the path of your journey. Guests can choose from several chartered rides including sunset, family, day or moon tours. The tours are peaceful with an emphasis on enjoying the water so you won't get a tour guides with a loudspeaker spouting of city facts as you cruise along. Save that experience on one of the city's trolley tours.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This is a real working sailboat run by expert sailors. Guests get a peaceful view of St. Augustine from the water.

Shelley's expert tip: Bring a jacket since it can get chilly on the water and feel free to bring snacks.

Read more about Schooner Freedom Charters →


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Historic Downtown


This new and award-winning distillery makes small batch spirits on the spot and has created quite a "buzz" for its excellence in craft. Their New World Gin, which just won a gold medal at the American Craft Spirits Association Competition in Austin, Tex. is aromatic with its botanical blend of juniper and citrus notes and the Florida Cane Vodka is made from Florida sugar cane. You can take a free tour of the facilities housed in a former ice plant (Florida's oldest), sample the wares and purchase bottles. Throughout the year, the distillery offers workshops such as making cocktails with fresh, seasonal ingredients or learning how to use the proper tools and techniques to craft the perfect drink.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: St. Augustine Distillery is a hot newcomer with lots of foodie buzz about it.

Shelley's expert tip: Just steps away from the distillery is the San Sebastian Winery where you can take a tour about winemaking and sample wines made from native Florida grapes.

Read more about St. Augustine Distillery →


Fountain of Youth Discovery Park
Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons


This is the site of the ancient Indian village of Seloy, but popular legend says Ponce de Leon arrived here in 1513 in search of magical waters that could keep him young and vigorous. While the story may be a myth, it's still fun to drink from the fountain at this garden-like park hoping for a miracle. Beyond the fountain, you can walk around the pretty grounds and learn about the first Indian inhabitants and see colonial re-enactors build camps and fire muskets. The peacocks that roam here add to the exotic air of the place. It is also a popular spot for outdoor weddings or to pop the question.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Fountain of Youth story is known around the world, but it's also a very pretty park and archaeological site.

Shelley's expert tip: Definitely go to the gift store to fill up souvenir glass bottles of water piped directly from the Fountain of Youth...they make great gifts.

Read more about Fountain of Youth Discovery Park →




Just south of St. Augustine, this former 1930s estate purchased by wealthy New Yorkers is now a beautiful state park that features an undeveloped beach on one side of A1A and a botanical garden on the riverside of the highway. On the riverside, a formal rose garden lies within a few hundred feet of a scenic stretch of the river where you can stroll along the bank and watch the boats go by. When you've finished wandering the grounds and visiting the gift shop, take your car across the street (A1A) and spend some time on the beach with pink-tinged sand. Large coquina sandstone rocks are fun to climb and their porous holes turn into tide pools after the tide recedes

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: River views on the west side of A1A and access to Coquina Beach to the east, is one of St. Augustine's most scenic places.

Shelley's expert tip: Pack beach gear and a picnic lunch for your afternoon of exploring.

Read more about Washington Oaks and Coquina Beach State Parks →


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Airport - Ust


The Alcazar, once one of the finest hotels in America built by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler during the late 1800s, is now home to a fascinating museum dedicated to preserving Victorian treasures. Furniture, Tiffany glassware and other objects from everyday life of the wealthy during the Gilded Age are creatively displayed in this gorgeous building. Some highlights include the curio room on the first floor with cabinets filled with oddities such as fossils and old bones, a huge collection of Tiffany lamps and glass works and fine paintings in ornate frames and sculptures are around every corner. You can also visit an area that was a part of the hotel's spa, with its interesting plumbing and elegant benches for lounging.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Lightner is a fun, eclectic museum filled with Victorian artifacts and the architecture of this former hotel from the Gilded Age is gorgeous.

Shelley's expert tip: Stay for lunch at Café Alcazar, located in what was once the hotel's decadent indoor swimming pool.

Read more about Lightner Museum →


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Historic Downtown


In the heart of St. Augustine, but blissfully located just outside of the tourist-trodden historic district, is this beautiful old mission. So old in fact the site is considered to be the spot where the first Catholic mass in North America took place. On the grounds is a tiny, ivy-covered chapel where visitors can go in to pray or light a candle. Moss-covered headstones dotted around the oak- and cedar-canopied cemetery are fascinating, and there are lots of benches just to sit for a quiet moment with views of the bay beyond.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The mission is a quiet respite from the busy downtown, perfect for wandering and views of the water.

Shelley's expert tip: After wandering the grounds, walk to the shops nearby in Uptown St. Augustine along St. George Street. You'll find boutiques, antique stores, places to grab a bite or a cup of coffee.

Read more about Mission Nombre de Dios →


Anastasia State Park


Sink your toes into four miles of white sand beaches and explore the salt marshes teeming with wildlife. Bird enthusiasts will love checking species off their life list with pink spoonbills in the marshes, bald eagles and many types of heron and gulls. Like most places in St. Augustine, you can't escape its history. This is the place where huge chunks of coquina rock were mined to build the Castillo de San Marcos fortress and visitors can check out the old quarry site here. Camping, nature trails, boating and ranger talks are all activities available to visitors. The park is open year-round.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Anastasia State Park is a spectacular swath of natural, undeveloped beach and protected wetlands.

Shelley's expert tip: Bring binoculars for wildlife viewing, particularly around the marshes where wildlife likes to lurk.

Read more about Anastasia State Park →


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Historic Downtown
Colonial Quarter
Photo courtesy of ©Colonial Quarter


This interactive museum gives kids and adults alike a view of the Colonial period--both Spanish and English. Activities include musket drills, blacksmith demonstrations, sailing ship construction and historical accounts from entertaining re-enactors. Young visitors can dig in the sand boxes searching for treasure or climb the watchtower for views of the Castillo de San Marco. A pub and eatery plus a gift shop full of Colonial-inspired souvenirs are also onsite. The Colonial Quarter also serves as music venue (tickets sold separately). Tucked inside the romantic courtyard and stage area, acclaimed touring bands such as Buckwheat Zydeco, Southern Culture on the Skids and Della Mae entertain the crowd.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Colonial Quarter is a fun and interactive way to grasp St. Augustine's 450 years of history. The attraction is educational and suitable for all ages.

Shelley's expert tip: Many school groups from around the Florida take field trips here to learn their state's history. Call ahead to see when the best time to visit might be.

Read more about Colonial Quarter →


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