What to Do in St. Augustine

We live in Saint Augustine and this is information we share with guests at our second house, also in Saint Augustine and a short-term rental. It's a beautiful renovated home built in 1900 and can be found on both AirBnB and Vrbo. We are only sharing about things we have personally experienced, so it is by no means exhaustive. OK, there's a thing or two that our kids have told us about and we're waiting to go.

Who This Information is For

Different people have different tastes, and we won't presume to decide what interests people who are wildly different than ourselves. So this is really focused on middle-aged people and beyond, mostly empty nesters, probably in town to get to know St. Augustine, eat good food, and have fun with old friends. I'm personally very interested in history, so naturally you will find things like that here.

We live in the Uptown area, which is a short walk north from the historic downtown of Saint Augustine. It's close to Ripley's. We're less familiar with St. Augustine Beach and will leave that to others who are more qualified.

Facts About St. Augustine

Throughout this page we'll also show interesting facts about the area, things that 99 out of 100 visitors never learn and of which many local residents are unaware. As an example, here's the first one:

Why it's Called Saint Augustine - The ships of Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés first sighted land in Florida August 28, 1565, the feast day of St. Augustine. So he named it San Agustín.

On the Water in St. Augustine

One of the best things about St. Augustine is that there is water all around: Atlantic Ocean, Matanzas River, San Sebastian River, with several beach options.

Dolphin Cruise – there are several but this one is definitely good and probably less expensive. We’ve done it and our kids went back for more. Saw plenty of dolphins.

The two main beaches here are Vilano Beach and St. Augustine Beach.

Vilano Beach - In the olden days it was called "North Beach." We'll tell you about "South Beach" in a minute. Vilano is on the north side of the inlet from the Atlantic Ocean to Matanzas Bay. You get there by following A1A north from town the roundabout by Dunkin Donuts, then right and over the bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway (Tolomato River at that point). Then at the light you can go right, the left toward beach parking. Before that last left you are passing Publix on your right in case you want to stop and pick anything up.

If you go left after the bridge there are a couple of parking areas on both sides about half a mile up with beach access, Surfside Park on the right, followed by Nease Beachfront Park and North Beach Park on the left.

was on northern Anastasia Island near the lighthouse but since the mid-20th century shifting sands has caused the light to shine across the northern part of Anastasia State Park.

St. Augustine Beach is (at times) a wider beach than Vilano, with softer sand, There is also a splashpad for kids, a fishing pier, and more parking that definitely fills up, but people are constantly arriving and leaving.

Map showing the area around The Pink Door in Saint Augustine relative to the beaches and downtown

ABOUT DRIVING TO AND FROM ANASTASIA ISLAND - During daylight hours The Bridge of Lions opens every half hour (here's the exact schedule). It's still the best route if going to Osprey Tacos or the Alligator Farm but for Saint Augustine Beach, 312 may be better during high-traffic times as when the bridge goes up you may be waiting for 10 minutes or more.

PS – It’s common to find ancient shark teeth on the local beaches (10,000 years old or so we’ve read). They are usually black and shiny. If in the water and still attached to a fish, do not attempt collection... 

Is There a South Beach? Years ago St. Augustinians went to South Beach north of the lighthouse. They got there over a wooden bridge that was 30-40 feet south of the Bridge of Lions location (opened in 1927). This bridge has a trolley that was mule-drawn at first, was later electrified, and went all the way across Anastasia Island to South Beach.

South Beach and the lighthouse were on the Atlantic Ocean, but in the middle of the 20th century shifting sands created what is now the northern part of Anastasia State Park. The light now shines across Salt Run, essentially a wide creek, and across the park to the ocean.

 

One last beachy thing. About 10 miles south of St. Augustine Beach is Matanzas Inlet, just north of Marineland. We really like the layout down there, on both sides of A1A, and it is definitely less crowded.

Shopping in St. Augustine

Christmas Shop – At San Marco (A1A) and Mulberry in Uptown, two short blocks north of Ripley's and on the same side, it's all Christmas all the time! Our grandkids love it. There’s a “major award” in the upstairs window.

Drinks in St. Augustine

San Sebastian Winery – Take a free tour, tasting wines along the way. You end up on the roof, where there’s a bar and a restaurant with charcuterie, other light fare (here's the menu), and often live music. Old Town Trolley stop #12

Saint Augustine Distillery – We want to do it soon but our kids have and liked it. Free samples.

City Gate Spirits - On Avenida Menendez but get to it from St. George Street just before the "LikIt Dole Whip" hut, they have lots of free samples of standard whiskey, rum, and vodka but also oddities such as Apple Pie Moonshine, Smoked Maple Whiskey, Pineapple Rum, and Sweet Tea Vodka. A fun experience - and free!

Spinster Abbott's - This is a relatively new neighborhood hangout in Uptown with  a bar, couches, art on the walls, and an all-around friendly atmosphere. There's no hard liquor for sale (not yet, at least), just craft beers, cider, and wine. Expect to find mostly locals here.

Amphitheatre Farmers Market – Saturday mornings 8:30-12:30, over toward St. Augustine Beach; maybe go there and then on to the beach. info

 

Art in St. Augustine

There are several galleries on or close to the Plaza (focus on the north side) and we will leave it to the more cultured to talk about those, but we highly recommend visiting the Governor's House at the north end of the Plaza. There is a large space with many old paintings of St. Augustine through the years. Ask the guard questions - when we last visited we found Eugene to be very knowledgeable about both the paintings and St. Augustine in general.

The Plaza de la Constitución is named in honor of the Spanish Constitution of 1812. This was 29 years into the second Spanish period and just about 10 years before Spain left for good and East Florida became a US territory. The 1812 constitution was enacted in defiance of the ruling French (Napoleon had made his brother king of Spain) and was quashed by them in 1814 but restored in 1820. It supported the Spanish monarchy but also called for significant voting rights and freedom of the press. more

What was the plaza called before it became Plaza de la Constitución? A 1769 (British period) map has it labeled "The Parade." For now that's all we've been able to figure out for sure. Probably just "La Plaza."

 

Spanish History

 

  • Fort Matanzas – there’s a free short ferry ride across a river to the small fort. Haven’t done it yet (have seen it from kayaks) but surely some good local history is conveyed. And it’s free. 30 minutes away; perhaps a good choice before or after activities in Saint Augustine Beach/Anastasia
  • Alligator Farm – Really a smaller zoo with a focus on reptiles but also lots of birds and some mammals. There's a children's play area. Less walking and more shade than most larger zoos. FYI if you are a member of another Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) zoo you should get in for half price.
  • Spanish Main Antiques - If you are at all interested in nautical antiques, including coins, pirate pistols, and lots more, we highly recommend a visit to this little shop just 2 blocks north on US-1 (an easy walk). You could pay to get into lots of places with less "loot" than this, and the people who work there really know their stuff. 1080 N. Ponce de Leon (go to US-1 and it's in the block just before the McDonald's.
  • San Sebastian Winery – take a free tour, tasting wines along the way. You end up on the roof, where there’s a bar, a restaurant with lunch-type foods and appetizers, and often live music. Highly recommended and your free bottle of wine is from San Sebastian. Old Town Trolley stop #12
  • Castillo de San Marcos - Just 0.7 miles away, we think the best way to walk there is to cross San Marco Avenue then turn right on Water Street, which brings you to the north side of the fort - a larger grassy area. Then walk along the water on the back side of the fort. The sure-footed can even walk on the sea wall. Since the Castillo is managed by the National Parks Service, you will get in free if you have a National Parks Pass. If you don't have one, are 62 or older, and think you'll ever go to another park, you might consider buying one now for long-term savings (we did).

The last two ideas are pretty slow-paced so children and teens looking for action may get a little restless, however both offer plenty of room to run around.

  • Fountain of Youth – took us almost 6 years to check it out, but we liked it. A large area, mostly outdoors, with displays and demonstrations about the early indigenous culture of the area and the first Spanish settlers. Old Town Trolley stop #22
  • Fort Mose – some interesting local history. Very casual and nobody knows about it.

What About English History in St. Augustine? There's not so much to see in this realm, but here are a few nuggets:

  • When the Seven Years’ War (or the French and Indian War, as it was called in America) ended in 1763, Florida was part of what Spain (allied with France) had to give up to England.
  • Many if not most of the Spanish residents of St. Augustine moved to Cuba during the British period.
  • The Castillo became Fort St. Mark during the British period (1764-1784)
  • Calle Jorge became "George Street" (the transformation of mad King George III into a saint came later - still researching that one!)
  • The population of St. Augustine nearly doubled and old Spanish houses were renovated and expanded, most notably with second stories being added (almost all construction had been single-story).
  • Florida remained a loyalist stronghold throughout the American Revolution. Florida locals also took up arms against the rebelling colonists.
  • After the Revolution, Britain had little interest in keeping Florida. Florida was ceded Florida back to Spanish control in exchange for the Bahaman Islands. Most of the population, who owned businesses and plantations in Florida, did not leave.

 

Things We Haven't Done Yet

These are things we've heard friends and our guests speak highly of, and for that reason we hope to get to them ourselves but haven't yet.

Getting Around

First of all: unless you flew into Daytona or are coming from farther south in Florida, you'll be coming south on US-1. Turn left onto Rohde a few blocks past McDonalds and we are the 3rd house on the right. If you accidentally shoot past Rohde.. ouch, we would turn left on Castillo (the next light) then a quick left onto Riberia (if you can), then right onto Grove, left on Loring, then left onto Rohde.

Definitely do not drive downtown unless someone in your party has trouble walking or tires very easily. There's no reason to deal with the parking if you don't have to!

This section was valid when written, but times change from time to time so be sure to verify on the Old Town Trolley web site - If you’ll be around for a few days, you might consider starting your first day early with the Old Town Trolley which has its stop #2 close by on Castillo Drive. Walk to the east end of Rohde then go right 2 blocks to Castillo. Cross then go right; the stop is on Castillo just before the parking garage. First trolley leaves that stop at 9:07AM, but verify here in case it changes. It costs about $36 but you can get on and off all day and also hear about Saint Augustine. Suggestion: Catch it at stop #2 and ride all the way to the last stop (#22, Fountain Of Youth). You’ll see all of Saint Augustine and learn about the history and attractions. Visit the Fountain, then take the trolley back to wherever you want. Remember, you can get on and off all day. To return home from the Fountain, go back to stop #2. To return home from downtown without going all the way back to the Fountain of Youth, get off at stop #19.


Eating Out

Again, we are not attempting to replace the many popular lists. Just our own ideas and experiences and those of some of our guests. Also, we've been using a facebook group called "Auggie's Fresh or Frightening Food Reviews" a lot of tips on what to try. If you are on facebook you might want to join (over 41K members).

Breakfast

Our first choice: Georgie's

  • Georgie’s Diner – 100 Malaga Street. Also for lunch but our best experiences have been breakfasts. A real old-style diner. Large portions. Map says 0.7 miles - feels longer but once there it's an easy walk east on King St. toward downtown.
  • The Blue Hen – most famous breakfast spot here and it actually is very good. Go early to avoid lines. Too far for most to walk.
  • Mary’s Harborview Cafe – small local joint that we liked; across from the water at 16 Avenida Menendez (walkable, toward downtown)
  • Beachside Diner – St. Augustine Beach (7 miles). Good for breakfast or brunch. 50s décor; kid-friendly; generous portions
  • Island Donuts – a previous guest went nuts over this place. Suggestion: take the beach chairs (and an umbrella since the sun is low to the east in the morning) pick up donuts and walk out onto St. Augustine beach to enjoy them. Update... there's a new donut place in the same general area which we liked better: Parlor Donuts (yes, it's a chain)
  • The Spot - many locals go there regularly and many great reviews. Just did not care for their pancakes. Breakfast skillets are a specialty. Just 2 miles up US-1 on the right.

Lunch (or Dinner)

  • One Twenty Three Burgers on King Street – better burgers, in our opinion, than many higher-priced options. Good fries. They have some parking of their own.
  • Burrito Works on St. George Street – nothing fancy and a good value lunch. The original is at St. Aug beach but we prefer this one. Recommend the “UFO”
  • Smokin’ D’s BBQ – about ¼ mile back up US-1 on the other side, so go past and do a yoo-ey. Bring home or sit outside at their picnic tables (a bit breezy at times). You can walk there if you are OK crossing US-1 and walking just under 1/2 mile each way.
  • De Léon Latin Cocina – between Zaxby’s and Smokin’ D’s on US-1 (an easy walk, just be careful crossing US-1). Colombia-inspired food; not sure we saw any other gringos when we went (a good sign!).
  • Osprey Tacos - over the Bridge of Lions on Anastasia Island. Similar "specialty taco" places are Taco Libre just north on US-1 on the right before you get to SR-16, and Mojo's Tacos (2 locations). You may have a very long wait at Osprey during peak hours - ordering online before going will not help; they may prioritize walk-ins over online orders.
  • Juniper Market – Very close-by. Walk to San Marco/A1A, hang a right and you are there.
  • Gaufres and Goods - A Greek & Polish restaurant in Saint Augustine! On Charlotte Street just south of the plaza, with nice Mediterranean music, good food, and great AC. They also have waffles, so try them for breakfast too.


Dinner (or Lunch)

  • Saint Augustine Fish Camp - nice restaurant on Riberia Street. Not walkable. Inside and outside seating right on the San Sebasitan River.
  • The Raintree – right here in Uptown and an easy walk to San Marco/A1A, then left 3 blocks. We’ve only had the excellent prime rib (Friday and Saturday and only while it lasts) but the entire menu looks great although definitely high end.
  • Cap’s on the Water – this is a really nice seafood restaurant overlooking the intracoastal. Go left after the big bridge to Vilano then look for their sign on the left after about 1-1/2 miles. Guest after guest reports they love Cap’s!
  • Harry’s - if you can get a seat outside on the patio. Live music, good crabcakes. Unless you don't mind long waits, go early.
  • Collage – newer, haven’t been there yet but friends have raved about it. Expensive... but maybe for a special celebration (same for Michael's below). Walkable but you MUST have reservations.
  • Mango-Mango - A1A Beach and A Street in Saint Augustine Beach. A Street ends at the beach a short walk from the restaurant. Easy to bring beach chairs, buy dinner, and then eat on the beach. We’ve done it!
  • Woodpeckers Backyard BBQ – drive a bit (21 miles!) and have a unique BBQ experience out in the country. Google Maps has it right: 4930 State Road 13 N, St. Augustine, FL. If after 1PM, call first to make sure they haven’t run out: 904-531-5670. Expect to wait at peak times.
  • Safe Harbor Crescent Beach - We just discovered this one. It's connected to Safe Harbor up in Mayport (wonderful). We split a plate with grilled shrimp, scallops, and snapper. All wonderful - the snapper was more like eating a tender steak than a piece of fish. Google Maps says 21 minutes away - may take longer if you go the Bridge of Lions route, especially if the drawbridge is up. Very casual dress; seemed to be mostly locals. Limited parking but there's a huge public parking area right next to it.
  • Elk House Eatery in Crescent Beach - This sounds like some weird joint that would serve raccoon and possum but it's not at all, although there are "Elk Tips" on the menu and they are excellent. Great food and not super-expensive.
  • OC White's - A great choice for the downtown area but away from the bustle of St. George Street. Previous guests appreciated the recommendation. Good crab cakes. They have their own large parking lot so a good choice if it's raining or you need to drive.
  • OK, this last one, Michael’s at 25 Cuna Street, is expensive but our kids took us there and it had some amazing food. The pork chop really does deserve the reviews you can find – it was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Sandy had the ribeye and found it to be too fatty. So get the pork chop! Walkable but probably need a reservation.

If you are on Facebook, check out this Saint Augustine restaurants group: St. Augustine's Fresh or Frightening Food ReviewsFlavatown- Food Reviews St. Augustine

Dessert

Everything here is walkable.

  • The Saint Augustine Scoop – mentioned first because this local ice cream shop is an easy walk to San Marco/A1A, then left 2 blocks. A great place to take the kiddos. Tell Tessa that Steve and Sandy sent you. Open 1-9PM; closed Tuesdays. You'll find 10%-off coupons on a shelf near the coffee.
  • Columbia Restaurant on St. George Street – Probably belongs in the lunch/dinner lists as well. Definitely a Saint Augustine tradition, known for its "1905 Salad" and Cuban fare in general, but the bread pudding is to die for, and definitely large enough to share. Go for coffee and split a bread pudding.
  • Bar Harbor Cheesecake Company – next to Potter’s Wax Museum. Get a sampling of 3 (out of 40) gourmet cheesecakes for $5. You can also go for a charcuterie board dinner then have the cheesecakes.
  • Luli’s Cupcakes - people into cupcakes love this. Here in Uptown - walk east to San Marco Blvd then left 1-1/2 blocks

Potentially Useful Web Sites

Visit Saint Augustine Trip Advisor
Historic City News Weather Underground

 

Food Shopping

Note: Due to construction and traffic in general, we don’t recommend going south from here on US-1 or coming back the same way from about 10AM-6PM. Focus your food shopping on Publix at Vilano Beach or Winn-Dixie a mile or so north on US-1.

  • Publix Cobblestone Village (11-12 min) – lots of other stores and restaurants in that area but US-1 can get pretty backed up in either direction between about 11AM and 6PM. Turn right on 312 then left at the next light.
  • Publix Vilano Beach (7-8 min) – just be careful as the bridge back over the intracoastal can get backed up.

WHEN RETURNING FROM VILANO IN GENERAL... when you get to the roundabout at San Marco Avenue, get into the leftmost turn lane. The middle one is for getting over to US-1. After the turn, stay in your lane heading south. You want to come down San Marco i.e. remain on A1A..

  • Winn Dixie – about 7 min. either way on US-1 (Publix is definitely nicer)
  • ALDI – About 8 min south (left) on US-1. It’s on the right but you can’t see it until you are right there. Turn right just after Moe’s and PNC Bank.
  • Diane’s Natural Market: south (left) on US-1 about 8 minutes, on the left just after Tijuana Flats
  • WAL-MART: south (left) on US-1 about a mile past 312 where Publix Cobblestone is.

Recommendation – do your food shopping early the day after you arrive. Publix opens at 7AM. If you have Kroger Delivery, use it (we do).

Going to the Beach

You have two main options: Vilano Beach or Saint Augustine Beach

You can be at Vilano in as little as 5 minutes. There’s a Publix nearby if you need to pick up “Pub Subs,” other food, drinks, or lotion. Take Rohde down to San Marco/A1A and turn left. Once you get to the light and roundabout just past Dunkin Donuts go right/east. At the light past the bridge, you can go left less than a mile to Surfside Park (which has parking and bathrooms) on the right or to multiple other parking areas on the left with beach access across A1A. OR go right after the bridge, then left, to the main Vilano Beach area. At this location one can drive onto the beach, which you may or may not like (can't drive on at Surfside). Parking is limited, so go early.

Saint Augustine Beach is farther, but it’s a wider beach with (in our opinion) better and softer sand and there’s a splashpad for kids; it’s right where the pier is – plenty of parking (it fills up, but people are constantly arriving and leaving).

Map showing the area around The Pink Door in Saint Augustine relative to the beaches and downtown

ABOUT DRIVING TO AND FROM ANASTASIA ISLAND - During daylight hours The Bridge of Lions opens every half hour (here's the exact schedule). It's still the best route if going to Osprey Tacos or the Alligator Farm but for Saint Augustine Beach, 312 may be better during high-traffic times as when the bridge goes up you may be waiting for 10 minutes or more.

PS – It’s common to find ancient shark teeth on the local beaches (10,000 years old or so we’ve read). They are usually black and shiny. If in the water and still attached to a fish, do not attempt collection...

 

Excursion Ideas

We know this info is long enough already, but since you've got some travel time to get here, we wanted to take a crack at how you might tie things together into how you might spend a day or a half day during your visit. We'll add more over time.

Anastasia Island

Anastasia is everything the other side of the Bridge or Lions. The island land mass actually extends all the way down to New Smyrna Beach. So since Saint Augustine Beach is nice and there other things to do down there, here we go:

Head over early and don't forget the beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels. Have breakfast at the Beachside Diner, then head to the beach OR pick up donuts at Island Donuts or Parlor Donuts and take them to the beach with you. Park in the large lot near the pier at 350 A1A Beach Blvd, St. Augustine Beach. Enjoy the wide beach and splashpad (for the kids) and walk on the pier if you wish ($2 to get on, children under 6 are free). After a few hours drive down to take the Fort Matanzas ferry over to the fort. It's free and will get you moving again after the beach. Then come back north for lunch or "linner" at Safe Harbor in Crescent Beach before heading back to The Pink Door.

More to Come...

 

Getting Here by Air

Most people fly into JAX, however although Daytona Beach is a few more miles, it's probably the same amount of time to get here and definitely less prone to traffic issues. This map shows the distances. But fewer flight options and sometimes more expensive.

Obviously many people fly into Orlando (MCO) which is about 2-1/4 hours away by car. Gainesville is closer but always expensive.

Amtrak comes into Palatka (30 minutes away) if you want to risk it.