The Ultimate Guide To St. Augustine, Florida

Known as the Ancient City, St. Augustine features centuries-old architecture, iconic cultural sites, and unspoiled beaches.

View of St. Augustine Riverfront
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The Fountain of Youth is calling your name—just like it called to the Spanish explorers more than 500 years ago. Maybe it's those gorgeous beaches, or maybe it is something in the water. Either way, there is lots to explore in this charming city on Florida's Atlantic coast. Check out this travel guide for St. Augustine before your next Florida trip.

Florida's Historic Coast

Most people don't realize St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States. (It was preceded by Puerto Rican colonies; Pensacola, which was destroyed in 1559; and Fort Caroline in Jacksonville, Florida, destroyed in 1565.) Ponce de León claimed "La Florida" for Spain in 1513, decades before the Jamestown colony of Virginia, and long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Over the centuries, many cultures have called the city on Florida's Historic Coast home, including Native American, Spanish, British, French, and African.

Castillo and Matanzas Bay
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Historical Icons

One of the city's most architecturally significant structures, and also the oldest masonry fort in the country, the waterfront Castillo de San Marcos is truly a sight to behold. Built in the 17th century, the national monument is made of native coquina stones, which absorbed or deflected enemy projectiles, giving the Spanish an advantage. Climb to the top of the fort to see the incredible views of the city and waterfront.

Just two miles north of Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Mose Historic State Park is the location of the first free African settlement in North America. Learn about this important 40-acre historical site and stick around to spot bald eagles and blue herons.

Take a sip from the legendary fountain at Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which tells about the birth of St. Augustine, as well as the Timucuan people who preceded the Spanish by thousands of years. Walk through the lushly landscaped park (dogs are also allowed) to sample water from the bubbling fountains.

St George Street stores in downtown Florida city famous historic Spanish city, sunny day summer, people tourists walking
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History comes alive in the Colonial Quarter in St. Augustine's historic district along St. George Street. Journey through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries to learn about blacksmithing, watch a live musket demo, and climb the 35-foot watchtower for panoramic views of St. Augustine's bayfront and the historic Castillo de San Marcos.

Fast forward to the early 20th century, when oil tycoon Henry Flagler developed St. Augustine into one of the country's first winter resort destinations. Paying homage to the city's past, the millionaire developer built the stunning Hotel Ponce de Leon (now Flagler College), with its opulent 80-foot domed ceiling and Spanish Renaissance architecture.

Aerial view of Saint Augustine Lighthouse at Anastasia Island in Florida

Things to Do

Explore St. Augustine by a horse-drawn carriage ride, historic walking tour, or hop-on-and-off trolley ride. Many tour operators can craft an experience to fit any taste, whether culinary, historic, or even paranormal (yes, we're talking ghosts). Legend has it that St. Augustine is one of the most haunted cities in America. Whether you're a believer or a skeptic, be entertained (and maybe a little frightened) on Ripley's Haunted Castle Tour, Old Town Trolley's Ghost & Gravestones Tour, or Ghost Tours of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine Lighthouse is rumored to be haunted too, but during the day it's a perfectly ghost-free (they only come out at night, right?) and gorgeous site to see. Halfway between downtown St. Augustine and the beaches of Anastasia Island, it's the oldest navigational site in North America and home to a maritime museum. Climb 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse for incredible views.

Enjoy the sea and year-round balmy weather. Help hoist the sails of the Schooner Freedom, a massive topsail schooner captained by John and Sarah Zaruba. If you'd like to try your luck with a rod and reel, get offshore or on the flats on a fishing excursion with professional guides like Sea Love Charters or Drum Man Fishing Charters.

For live music in the oldest city, walk along the downtown streets where a variety of restaurants host live bands. The St. Augustine Seafood Company hosts free concerts at its on-site Colonial Oak Music Park. Known as The Amp, the 4,000-seat St. Augustine Amphitheatre hosts ticketed live music performances. A little farther north, the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall is another popular performing arts venue.

Boardwalk crossing over sand dune leading too the beach of the south atlantic ocean at "crescent beach" St.Augustine FL
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The Best Beaches

While Florida's Historic Coast is most famous for its storied past, leave plenty of time to kick back on the area's unspoiled beaches. Home to the popular St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier, St. Augustine Beach offers a large oceanfront pavilion, splash and play park, sand volleyball courts, and plenty of seaside restaurants like Salt Life Food Shack.

Just north of St. Augustine Beach, Anastasia State Park is a pristine stretch of sand with abundant wildlife and natural tidal marshes. There's a coquina quarry where laborers mined stones to build the majestic Castillo de San Marcos and other historic structures downtown.

In northern St. Johns County, Ponte Vedra Beach is famous for its historic and luxurious resort town feel. It's also the site where, according to navigational records, Ponce de Leon first set foot on Florida sand. View the exact spot at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, with more than 76,000 acres of protected coastal dunes, tidal lagoons, and forests. It's a gorgeous location to hike, bike, fish, kayak, picnic, and ride horseback. There are over nine miles of nature trails, as well as a prehistoric earthen burial mound, and 60 additional archaeological sites.

Caps on the Water restaurant in Vilano Beach, Florida
courtesy of Florida’s Historic Coast

Where to Eat

There are plenty of options to taste the local flavors along Florida's Historic Coast. Culinary tours allow you to sample cuisine from the many destinations that have influenced the city's history, including Spain, France, Italy, Asia, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Check out The Tasting Tours and City Walks Food and Wine Tours. And you'll want to tour the St. Augustine Distillery, where you can sample small batch spirits in a restored ice plant dating back to 1907.

Two crowd favorites equally famous for their water views and oyster bars are Meehan's Irish Pub & Seafood House in the heart of the historic district and Cap's On The Water in Vilano Beach, which has killer sunset views of the Intracoastal Waterway to the west. The waterfront Aunt Kate's is a family-owned eatery with a tradition of serving Menorcan dishes, fresh seafood, and famous clam chowder for more than 100 years. The family's history dates back to Menorca island residents brought to New Smyrna as indentured servants. They fled the failed English Colony to safety in St. Augustine in 1768. And while the original restaurant succumbed to fire, the new building serves up the same great recipes on the water.

And, of course, delectable Southern-style cooking is what many foodies have grown to know and love about St. Augustine. Supporting local growers and producers, The Floridian features a regional take on traditional fare like fried green tomatoes, peppered shrimp, barbecue pulled pork and waffles, and the "Dixie" burger. Another local favorite, Catch 27 serves up hefty helpings of from-scratch blackened chicken, grits, and deviled eggs.

For an artisan-style after dinner treat, head to Hyppo Gourmet Ice-Pops or Peace Pie in the historic district, or nearby Whetstone Chocolates of St. Augustine, which offers a chocolate tasting tour.

Where to Stay

Blending romance and history seamlessly, The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens is a high-end bed and breakfast with the ambiance of a luxury boutique hotel. Located in the heart of downtown St. Augustine, the inn features elegant guest rooms and suites that have been completely restored inside nine vintage structures—the oldest dating back to 1790. A Colonial Revival residence built in 1909 once welcomed visitors like Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis.

A waterfront gem located within walking distance of historic downtown sites, the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront hotel offers great views of the Bridge of Lions and Matanzas River.

For a lavish beachside escape, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is a AAA Five-Diamond stunner that originally opened in 1928 and has been attracting the who's who of well-heeled guests for nearly a century. A major perk is the resort's 36 holes of serene seaside golf. And there's tennis, kid's activities, a beautiful spa, and lots to do on the beach.

Nestled between the St. Augustine Beach Pier Park and the 1,600-acre Anastasia State Park, Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort provides many opportunities for water sports, nature hikes, and access to miles of pristine undeveloped beaches.

Flagler College, St. Augustine Florida
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When to Visit

Since Pedro Menéndez and the first European settlers arrived in St. Augustine more than 450 years ago carrying loads of wine from Spain, the historic city has become known as America's Spanish wine capital. Celebrating this unique heritage, the St. Augustine Spanish Wine Festival features a series of special events that feature Spanish wine, cuisine, and culture. And all proceeds from the festival benefit local charities.

Let the rhythm move you at the annual Sing Out Loud Festival throughout September. Including big-name headliners and local talent and songwriters, the event features live music performances at venues around the city. The best part? It's the largest free music festival in Florida.

St. Augustine transforms during the holidays for the annual Nights of Lights celebration. Wander through the historic district and witness magical displays of millions of Christmas lights. Enjoy Luminary Night, the beer-infused Nights of Pints, Villa Zorayda's annual Candlelight Tour, holiday concerts, craft festivals, boat parades, and more. The festival kicks off the Saturday before Thanksgiving and continues nightly through January.

Whether you stroll through the brick streets of Old Town or kick back on the beach, Florida's Historic Coast is a great place for a family vacation.

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