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 let the kids 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
St. Augustine's first lighthouse was actually a watchtower built by the settlement's founder, Pedro Menendez, in 1565. Since that time, the lighthouse has been rebuilt and additions made to suit the seafaring needs of the day. Today it is a stunning black and white spiral structure with a red top that towers 165 feet above the ground. Over 200 steps lead visiting families to an observation deck that affords some awesome views of the area. Maritime exhibits tell the story of the lighthouse's history both in the lighthouse, visitor's center and keeper's house.
We all know wax museums are a little hokey, but that's why they are so much fun. And now in the age of the selfie, Potter's offers some good opportunities to get some serious likes on FaceBook and Instagram. Figures include Star Wars characters, pop stars such as Michael Jackson and Britney Spears, plus famous historic people like Henry VIII and Abraham Lincoln. And, you may actually learn a thing or two. Most of the historic figures and scenes are complimented by a quick biography and some fun facts to keep you interested.
With the purchase of "The Buccaneers of America," a book by Alexander Exquemelin, museum founder Pat Croce's passion for pirates was ignited. His passion turned into collecting real pirate paraphernalia. The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum now houses one of the world's largest collections of pirate artifacts in the world. Besides artifacts such as a real Jolly Roger flag and a treasure chest, the museum's "Port Royal, Jamaica" exhibit plants you and the family into a swashbuckling past with an immersion experience designed by Disney's Imagineers. Both kids and adults will get into the Discovery Drawers museum map which turns the tour into a treasure hunt.
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.
What kid could resist a gaggle of toothy 'gators? One of Florida's oldest visitor attractions, The St. Augustine Alligator Park is more than 100 years old. The park has a magnificent display of fearsome alligators and crocodiles, as well as native Florida birds such as egrets, heron and other interesting creatures that occupy the Zoological Park. Programs, including two daily feedings to see those powerful jaws in action, will please both young and old alike. Kids can take home a alligator-themed souvenir from the gift shop and get an icy slushy drink from the convenient Tucan Tina snack bar.
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.
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.
There is no way families 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.
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). If you can get a sitter in the evening, tucked inside Colonial Quarter is a romantic courtyard and stage area where acclaimed touring bands such as Buckwheat Zydeco, Southern Culture on the Skids and Della Mae play frequently.