Our St Augustine Experiences:
I wanted to plan something to celebrate my husband, Bob’s, birthday. Knowing he is not a fan of parties and loves to travel, I thought a fun getaway weekend with our great friends Gary and Mary would be a perfect way to celebrate. In addition, I wanted to plan a fun, short trip to somewhere we could easily drive. A St. Augustine Experience for a weekend immediately popped into my head. Just three hours away, St. Augustine is a city we visited once before for a short overnight stop years ago. We always said we wanted to go back, so it seemed perfect.
What is St Augustine Known for?
St. Augustine is famous for being the oldest historic city in the U.S., having been discovered and settled by Spanish explorers in 1565. Notably well before the pilgrims arrived in Plymouth. St. Augustine is a quaint Spanish-style city with a fort and its famous old town district, nestled between two rivers bordering the Atlantic Ocean. It has a charming old-town vibe, great food, and lots to do in and around the city and the nearby seashore. It also is known for its access to great golf courses. Sounds perfect for our planned ST. Augustine experiences trip.
Where to Stay?
St Augustine has many options to stay when vacationing there, from well-known chain hotels on the waterfront to condos, VRBOs, and Airbnb. There are plenty of options. I always gravitate towards staying in a VRBO or Airbnb. I love staying in a home with a full kitchen, living areas, and other amenities that make our stays more comfortable. In St. Augustine, the VRBO craze is in full swing. Many older homes are being bought and restored to modern standards and designed by professionals to ensure excellent ratings from their guests. We stayed in a charming 2 bed/2 bath cottage home that was recently remodeled and was within a short walk to the old town center called the Pink Hen House. This alleviated the need to drive our car into town and find parking. The house was perfect for the four of us.
Driving Around St. Augustine:
We were unprepared for the crazy amount of traffic in the downtown area of St Augustine when we arrived Saturday afternoon around 4:30. It took us 45 minutes to travel 3 miles through the center of town. The town was hopping; cars and pedestrians were everywhere. We had planned to meet my daughter and friends who were spending the weekend on their 38’ foot boat docked at a marina near the town center. Unfortunately, parking was impossible, so we picked Danielle up at an intersection, drove to our VRBO to park, and walked back to the marina, where the boat was docked.
Fortunately, traffic improved a little on Sunday and became manageable on Monday and Tuesday.
A Sunset Cruise:
After introductions, we headed out for our evening cruise up the Matanzas River, through the famed Lions Bridge, to a fun restaurant called Beaches at Vilano. We docked the boat and enjoyed a few cocktails while waiting for our table. A musician was playing our style of old rock classics. The food was good, and the sun was setting in the western sky. What a great start to our weekend.
We headed back just as the final rays of the sun were melting from the sky, and the views were spectacular. The famed Lions Bridge was lit up, which made for amazing pictures. If you love getting out on the water for a cruise day or night, there are many options in St. Augustine. See the St. Augustine seashore section below.
St. Augustine Experiences: Tours and Attractions:
Gary and Mary love to explore new places as much as we do, so we headed out the following day with a plan to take in as much of the city as possible. After researching, we purchased tickets for the hop-on hop-off trolley on Viatour that would take us St. Augustine tour around the old town district and stop at all the places we had decided to explore. We drove down to the trolley’s main parking area. It was still a bit early on Sunday and relatively quiet.
Explore these and other great tours available in St. Augustine from Viator.
When we arrived at the trolley box office to present our Viator tickets, we were dismayed when we discovered that almost every attraction at each stop was charging its own entrance fee, which ranged from $10-$25 per person. There were many attractions, from museums to haunted old town jails. The Trolley office offered discount tickets for the various museums and attractions, but we decided to take it one step at a time and purchase tickets as we went. This way, we could be more spontaneous about what we wanted to do. We also got discounted tickets for being seniors at most locations. Old age does have a few perks.
If you are heading out with a family and want a plan to see specific things, consider trying the Discover St. Augustine pass with the Hop-On-Hop-Off, which includes the trolley and admission to The Old Town Jail, St. Augustine’s history museum, and the Old Store Museum.
The St. Augustine Trolley Experience:
We boarded the trolley at its starting stop #1 and listened as the Trolley driver/tour guide told us about the storied history of St. Augustine as we passed the Castillo de San Marcos Fort along the waterfront. Unfortunately, the trolley benches are tight and uncomfortable, so instead of making the entire loop before getting off, we jumped off at stop 10, The Lightner Museum, which was on our list of things we wanted to see.
The Lightner Museum is located in the former Alcazar with all its eclectic charm. We found ourselves constantly surprised around every corner of the museum; from the oldest mummy and wildlife artifacts to extensive collections of art décor and cut-glass crystal to a great exhibit of original bicycles dating back to the early 1800s, this museum has a little something for everyone.
The grounds of the hotel/museum are beautiful, with water features and lush Floridian landscaping.
St. Augustine Restaurants:
After leaving the museum, our stomachs told us it was lunchtime, so we headed along St George Street and then down to the waterfront to Meehan’s Irish Pub, a recommendation of the Trolley driver.
We were seated immediately and waited on by an amiable Irish waitress who was not shy about her recommendations. Gary chose the highly recommended Meehan’s Turkey Meatloaf and was delighted to find it was as good as the waitress had promised. I had the Irish Cuban sandwich, Mary had a burger with no roll as her gluten-free choice, and Bob had the fried Oysters. Our food was delicious, and we recommend it, especially if you are walking near Lion’s Bridge and want to get out of the crowds and heat to enjoy some great hearty food.
After a busy day of sightseeing, we were a little pooped and decided to order a takeout dinner for the four of us so we didn’t have to sit in a restaurant for a few hours. The guys were thinking Italian, and Mary was thinking light seafood. We found both at a little place called Nonna’s Trattoria. Bob and I had chicken parmigiana, the best we have ever eaten, even in Italy. Gary and Mary had grouper prepared perfectly, as it was delicate and tasty.
Llama’s restaurant was an unassuming small place with no more than ten tables, located over the Lions Bridge near Anastasia. We had made reservations for Monday night, which was Bob’s birthday. The online menu already had our mouths watering. We had made reservations two weeks before arriving after researching the top ten restaurants in St. Augustine.
Upon arrival, we were seated immediately. The place gave off a natural healthy vibe with its modern wood furnishing and walls. The all-male Peruvian staff was friendly and helpful, making the night fun. However, the star of the night was the food. Wow – we all decided it was in our top three restaurants worldwide. This says a lot because we have traveled around the world fairly extensively.
We shared Pulpo Octopus Carpaccio and Crab CAUSA mini crab cakes for appetizers.
For Entre’s, Mary and I chose the Arroz Con Mariscos or Seafood Risotto, Gary chose the Cordero Cusqueno or Andean-style Rack of Lamb, and Bob chose the Mar Y Tierra, which was a surf and turf entree. You’re probably saying, “OK, I have had similar dishes at other places, and they are good but not usually over the top.” However, the combination of fresh ingredients and unique Peruvian flavors cooked with love made these dishes unforgettable.
Chef and Owner Mircel Vizcarra has gotten it right when his menu says: “Touting Surprising Flavor Combinations: Taste the Unknown, Taste the Difference.” We enjoyed this wonderful experience and highly recommend you try Llama’s if you find yourself in St. Augustine. Reservations are required and need to be made well in advance. We will return for dinner the next time we are in St. Augustine.
Old Town Lunch at the Prohibition Kitchen:
Monday morning, we walked through St. Georges Street, a pedestrian-only street and the heart of the tourist center. It was a bit cooler, and the crowds were small, which made it an ideal time to stroll through the many shops and restaurants. After buying a few t-shirts as souvenirs, we headed to the Prohibition Kitchen, which had good reviews and was also recommended by Danielle, who had eaten there a few days earlier.
The Prohibition Kitchen is a relatively large bar-style restaurant famous for its hand-spun milkshakes and bar food. We skipped the milkshakes and ordered lunch with mixed results. Mary opted for the shrimp cocktail as her gluten-free meal, and Gary ordered the flounder sandwich. Unfortunately, both of these were a bust. The shrimp were small and mushy. The flounder was overcooked and tasteless. On the other side of the table, Bob ordered a mushroom and onion burger and said it may have been the best burger he had ever had, and I had the Short Rib Grilled Cheese sandwich, which was also very good. The service was just Ok, but the waiter was rushed with too many tables. Overall, depending on your menu choices, it was a good place. However, there are so many other restaurants in the area; you may be well served by choosing one of the others.
St. Augustine Tours
Old Town covers a relatively large area of downtown St Augustine and is bordered by many additional attractions. Flagler College is at the heart of Old Town and just across from the Lightner Museum. Scattered throughout the Old Town area, you’ll find numerous historic churches, such as the Grace Methodist Church and the Flagler Memorial Church, each with its own story of its beginning and subsequent restoration. Many were built by wealthy businessmen who became the founding fathers of St. Augustine, such as Henry Flagler, the founder of Standard Oil and responsible for building the East Coast Railway and bringing new settlers to the area.
The Old Town also has several unique tourist attractions, such as the old town jail, the oldest wooden schoolhouse, and the Oldest Store Museum. However, the biggest attraction is the large fort, Castillo de San Marcos, which sits atop a bluff overlooking and protecting the harbor. This national museum site was free because we had the national park’s annual pass. Otherwise, it costs $15 per person for adults. Children are free with adults.
The fort has many museum-type exhibits in its old stone rooms within its thick walls, which are fun and educational for everyone. The main attraction, however, is the re-enactment of the cannons firing, which occurs multiple times a day at the half-hour, by men dressed in period uniforms.
After a long day site seeing, it was great to hop back on the trolley to discover other sites around the town and plan the upcoming day’s adventures. As previously mentioned, the trolley drivers double as tour guides and have their history and folklore down pat, sharing historical facts about the Spanish invasion, the subsequent British takeover, and many other exciting facts. Don’t miss the Centurion Tree estimated to be over 600 years old.
The St. Augustine Seashore:
Getting out on the water is a great way to escape the crowds and heat of the town and enjoy the fresh air while seeing the city from an entirely different view.
The waterways in and around St. Augustine are often overlooked but provide some of the most exciting and fun family activities. Several fun day and evening cruises will take you around the waterways, including:
- Scenic Boat Ride for an hour or so
- Sunset Cruise of St. Augustine, which I would highly recommend.
- Adventure Boat tours to look for dolphins and other aquatic life.
- Airboat Adventure that will get your heart racing as you skim along the St. Johns River through the shallow marshes.
If you don’t want to pay for any of the provided water tours, head over one of the bridges to any number of beaches. There are more than 40 miles of beaches accessible, including Mickler’s Landing at Ponte Vedro Beach or go down to Crescent Beach. Many allow cars and dogs but may charge a fee during peak season. Check out this Florida Beach guide for a complete guide to St. Augustine beaches.
Before hitting the sand, stop at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. The entry fee is $14.95 for adults and $12.95 for kids and seniors. However, we thought it was well worth it. Climbing to the top of the lighthouse is manageable and offers 360-degree views of the greater St. Augustine area. The small but informative museum talks about the early days of the shrimping industry and one immigrant family’s hard work that turned into a successful shipbuilding business.
St. Augustine Experiences Conclusion:
Our trip to St. Augustine was fun and filled with great friends, food, and exciting places to see and explore. However, more than three days are required to experience it. A week-long family vacation would be packed with fun activities and provide enough time to see and experience the many things to do and see in St. Augustine.
We did not even mention the great golfing opportunities in the area. Bob and I will return for a golf vacation in the future.
The negatives of the tip:
- The Saturday crowds were insane. We recommend you do some research before going to avoid peak crowds.
- We felt the cost of all the exhibits and attractions was high. If you’re taking a family of four or more, research ahead to determine what you want to do and see and budget your expenses accordingly.
Click to Expand the Pictures below to view the gallery.