St. Augustine is the oldest city in the nation and full of historical, unique, and unusual things to see and explore. Whether you’re a history buff, excited to explore the original Spanish settlement, or looking for a relaxing, fun beach vacation, there’s something for everyone!
We had the opportunity to spend a reasonable amount of time in St. Augustine over November and December and detailed out this list of our favorite things to do and sites to see. When we travel, we like to get into and explore our new areas, to understand the historical aspects, as well as see things that you can’t find anywhere else! Here are our top 24 things to do in St. Augustine that we think are Can’t-miss experiences!
- Castillo de San Marco
- The Fountain of Youth
- Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium
- Nights of Lights
- St. George’s Street
- Alligator Farm Zoological Park
- Matanza’s Inlet
- Anastasia State Park
- Fort Matanzas
- Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure
- Ripley’s Red Trains
- Flagler College
- Pirate & Treasure Museum
- World Golf Hall of Fame
- Lightner Museum
- San Sebastian Winery
- Colonial Quarter
- Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
- Medieval Torture Museum
- Oldest Wooden School House
- Old Jail
- Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
Castillo de San Marco
The oldest fort in the continental United States, Castillo de San Marco serves as Spain’s settlement protection in the new world. The fort today is a popular tourist destination.
Stationed on the western shore of Matanzas Bay, Castillo de San Marco is the oldest fort in the continental United States. The 315-year-old masonry fort was built to protect Spain’s settlement in the new world. Today, you can take tours of the old housing quarters, or join in on one of the walking tours that happen throughout the day and learn about the history of the Spanish settlement here in St. Augustine. They also have canon firings every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday weather permitting!
The Fountain of Youth
A photograph of the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park from its entry. It’s a very popular tourist destination in St. Augustine.
The 15-acre archeological park sits on the supposed site where Ponce de Leon landed in 1513. In 1904, Dr. Luella Day McConnell, also known as “Diamond Lil” thanks to the diamond she wore on her front tooth, returned to St. Augustine after finding tremendous wealth in the west’s gold rush and built the Fountain of Youth as a tourist attraction. Today it’s a working archeological dig site where they regularly uncover artifacts from the first European settlers of the region, as well as the Native Americans.
You can roam the grounds with the peacocks and see living history reenactments, learn about the first Spanish settlers and Native Timucuans, and of course, fill a vial from the famous “Fountain of Youth,” to receive everlasting life! While kitchy, it’s still a great way to spend a day in St. Augustine and learn about the history of the first European settlement.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium
The Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium is a must-go destination if you’re a fan of interesting artifacts, artworks and other collections that are rare to see in this world.
If you’re interested in the weird oddities that exist in our world, you have to check out Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium! Located in the historic Castle Warden, it is the original location of Ripley’s Museum of interesting artifacts that he collected throughout his life. See real shrunken heads, fantastic artwork made from barbeque sauce, and even a replica of the International Space Station made entirely out of matchsticks! We had a ton of fun here looking at all the weird things that Mr. Ripley collected throughout his lifetime.
But we were bummed we didn’t have any change to check out any of the coin-operated machines throughout the museum. You should make sure you bring some change when you go! If you’re hungry, you can purchase dried crickets for a protein-rich snack or get your fortune told from Zoltar, like in the movie Big with Tom Hanks!
Nights of Lights
The nights of lights of St. Augustine is one of the best light displays in the world. It is recognized by National Geographic as one of the top 10 light shows around the globe.
You may or may not know, but St. Augustine has one of the highest-rated holiday light displays in the world! Chosen by none other than National Geographic, St. Augustine was selected as one of the top 10 light shows in the world in both 2011 and 2012. Every holiday season, more than 3 million lights are turned on throughout the historic district to ring in the holiday season, and it’s certainly a sight!
And, believe it or not, there’s a lot of history behind these lights. St. Augustine uses only white lights and lines all the buildings on the coast. This is a nod back to the city’s history and Spanish roots, as it is a traditional Spanish practice to put a white candle in the windows Christmas. If you can visit St. Augustine between mid-November and the first week of February, the Nights of Lights is a spectacular thing to behold!
St. George’s Street
One of the busiest streets in St. Augustine is St. George Street, where visitors can see street performers, several shops, restaurants, and even tourist attractions. It is also a pedestrian-only road!
This pedestrian-only road down near Matanzas Bay starts at the Old City gates and goes to the Plaza de Constitucion. You’ll find street performers, shops, restaurants, and attractions. It’s like a step back in time, and the architecture remains as an homage to the oldest settlement in the United States. From the cobblestone streets to the courtyards with live music, it’s like a step back in time.
We enjoyed popping into the little boutique shops and exploring the sometimes maze-like alleys to find even more treasures. Check out the narrowest street in the country right off the main drag, too! It was created that way to protect the goods coming off of ships in the harbor from Pirates who may be waiting in the shadows to steal and shanghai unsuspecting porters and sailors!
Alligator Farm Zoological Park
Florida is known for being home to lots of Alligators, thanks to its nature that the gators love. Here’s a close-up photo of a large Alligator, which can be found in Florida’s Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine.
Even if you’ve never been to Florida, you probably know that alligators are all around here thanks to the warm, humid temperatures and low water table. If you happen to see an alligator hanging out in one of the many lakes around the state, you should never, ever approach them.
The safest way to see and hear about the native alligators and other wildlife in Florida is by going to the Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Here you can enjoy wildlife shows daily, including the “Realm of the Alligator,” where you can watch the trained staff feed the gators, conduct animal training demonstrations, and answer audience questions.
Not only do they have a representation of every living species of crocodile, but you’ll also get to meet Maximo – the 15’3”, 1,250lb saltwater crocodile! The park is also home to a variety of other animal demonstrations, including the Rainforest Review with a variety of brightly colored birds, and don’t forget to “catch” the slowest moving animal in the world, the Sloth, at “Sloth’s Landing!”
The Alligator Farm Zoological Park doesn’t just have demonstrations and exhibits for you to peruse, but you can also try out their zipline and fly over the entire zoo, right above the crocodiles below! Since we visited in the winter, we didn’t see any alligators in the wild, so this was the best (and safest!) way that we got to check out these amazing creatures!
Located between Flagler Beach and St. Augustine Beach, this inlet is where the Matanzas Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Here’s a look at the calm beach.
If you’re all about that “salt life,” St. Augustine is home to several gorgeous, white sand beaches that you can enjoy no matter what time of year you visit! But if you’re looking for a slightly different experience, check out Matanza’s Inlet. Located between St. Augustine Beach and Flagler Beach, the inlet is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Matanzas Estuary. The intracostal side is perfect for paddleboarding, kayaking, or a leisurely walk to hunt for seashells. You can also see the Fort Matanzas National Monument and walk over to it if it’s low tide!
Keep walking and cross under the A1A bridge to the Atlantic Ocean! Here you can enjoy excellent surf fishing, kiteboarding, and water sports! It’s really cool to start on the Intracoastal side, where we could let the dog run freely and in and out of the water, then cross under the bridge onto the beachside and look for shark’s teeth! It’s a really great walk and a beautiful place! It’s usually tranquil with not a lot of people around, so if you’re looking to have a calm beach day without too many people, the inlet is perfect!
Anastasia State Park
Anastasia State Park boasts beautiful surroundings and offers 146 tent and TV campsites, where guests can enjoy the beauty of Florida’s nature. It is a popular destination for outdoor buffs.
Boasting over 1,600 acres of pristine beaches, tidal marshes, and ancient sand dunes, Anastasia State Park is a gorgeous place to spend the day surrounded by the native Floridian landscape! You can pack a lunch and enjoy the beautiful beaches on the picnic tables, or sail your small vessels in the Salt Run! The State Park is also home to 146 tent and RV campsites, where you can genuinely surround yourself with the beauty of nature!
Enjoy fishing, kayaking, surfing, hiking, and swimming – all your favorite beautiful weather outdoor activities right here! Plus, if you’re a birding enthusiast, the park is also part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail – so don’t forget your binoculars and cameras! You’ll see blue herons, egrets, and bald eagles abound!
A look at the Fort Matanzas, an 18th-century Spanish outpost tasked to guard the inlet and inform the city of St. Augustine of approaching threat from the south. The fort is now a stunning attraction.
Right at the end (or beginning) of the Matanzas Estuary, you’ll find the ruins of one of the first Spanish forts built in the new world. Built between 1740 and 1742, Fort Matanzas was a Spanish outpost whose sole purpose was to guard the inlet and warn the city of St. Augustine of enemies approaching from the south. Today, you can tour the grounds, boardwalk, and nature trails around the fort, and learn about the history by taking a short, free boat ride across the inlet.
While it’s not the most exciting thing to see in St. Augustine, it’s fascinating to look at how the fort was built and how it still remains today. Plus, it’s now home to an entire ecosystem of its own, featuring state-protected bird nesting and plant life! We checked this out as part of our adventure to Matanzas Inlet, and thought it was really cool to see how the fort itself was built, but more interesting to learn about the gopher turtle nests and other flora and fauna in the area!
A look of the St. Augustine beach from the air. This beach is known for being one of the most pristine beaches on the east coast.
You can’t go to coastal Florida and not go to the beach! And St. Augustine is home to some of the most pristine and beautiful beaches on the east coast! You can enjoy the famous St. Augustine Beach or Flagler Beach, where you’ll find modern conveniences like bathhouses and piers, plus many open-air bars, restaurants, and surf shops right across the street. For a more chill experience with fewer people, check out Bulter Beach, where you can drive right onto the sand and park your car to watch the waves crash in! Just make sure that you have a 4-wheel drive!
It can be a little tricky getting on and off the beach because the sand is softer here. We saw multiple vehicles get stuck trying to get off the beach, and the Sheriff’s Department had to come and assist them! If you don’t have a 4-wheel drive, don’t worry! There are multiple parking lots you can also park in and make your way down any of the side streets directly to the beach! If you’re visiting in January, keep your eyes peeled for sperm whales! They come in close to the shore to calf their babies!
Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure
Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure is a must-go for visitors who enjoy thrill and horror. It offers activities such as paranormal investigations and other interesting schemes. Oh, and by the way, it is a real deal, so guests must ready themselves for the Ghost Train Adventure.
I’m a big fan of ghost hunting television shows, so when I heard about the Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure that is focused on paranormal investigations, I was 100% on board, EMF reader in hand! As the oldest city in the nation, there’s a lot of haunted history to check-out and several different gravestones and haunting tours. Ripley’s was the favorite because it mixes both the sordid history of the city with a real paranormal investigation. They give all participants a laser pointer and EMF reader, that goes off when the temperature and energy changes.
We visited 3 sites: a former slave quarters where 52 people died of starvation, the oldest cemetery in the city, home to those who lost their lives to Yellow Fever, and Castle Warden – the location of some mysterious deaths, and current home of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum. We loved learning about the darker side of St. Augustine! You’re encouraged to bring your phone or digital camera and take pictures and videos when your EMF meters go off. If you’re lucky, you’ll capture orbs, shadows, and spirits that you can’t see with the naked eye! If you’re into spooky, this is the tour for you!
Ripley’s Red Trains
Here’s a look at one of the Red Trains touring the various historical sites of St. Augustine. It is a popular choice to ride for history lovers guests!
There are several tour trains that you can purchase hop-on/hop-off tickets for in St. Augustine, and that will take you through the various historical sites in the city. Our favorite was the Ripley’s Red Trains! Since 1953, it’s the original site seeing tour of St. Augustine with 20 different stops on its route.
The conductors are incredibly knowledgable, and because they’re not scripted, you actually get a different story with each one! If you decide to do the Ripley’s Haunted Tour, the Red Trains are a great compliment! You’ll learn about the general history of the city, and then hear about the darker side at night! This is one of the best ways to see all of St. Augustine, and get around to the different historical locations to explore on your own!
Another interesting spot to go to in St. Augustine is the Cassadaga, the best place for visitors who enjoy supernatural and spiritual elements of life. Cassadaga is best known as the largest Spiritualist community in the whole USA.
If you’re looking for a day trip and are interested in the supernatural and spiritual elements of life, head south to Cassadaga! The largest Spiritualist Community in the United States is home to the most psychics and mediums in a single area. The community was founded by George Colby, who had a dream in which the Native American spirit of Seneca told him to come down to Florida and create the community, which is considered a vortex between the spiritual and physical world.
Explore the Psychic Capital of the World and get a reading, join a seance, or take a class on meditation or spirit animals at the community center. Our favorite part was walking through the magical fairy trail, where you’ll find little gnomes, fairy homes, ribbons in trees, and personal notes left by people passing through. It’s a truly magical experience, and you’ll walk away feeling like you just strolled with the fairies!
As you enter St. Augustine, you’ll quickly notice the name, Henry Flagler. There are lots of buildings and places named after the 19th-century real estate genius, one of them is the Flagler College shown in this photo above.
When you get to St. Augustine, you won’t go far without hearing the name Henry Flagler, a 19th-century real estate tycoon who had a hand in creating some of the most beautiful and identifiable buildings in St. Augustine today. He wanted to create an “American Rivera,” with stylings of the gilded age. Flagler built the Ponce De Leon Hotel as a place for the American elite to stay while visiting the city.
Today it’s Flagler College and houses the most extensive collection of Tiffany Stained Glass. The architecture and details are inspired by Old Europe, and you can take a tour through the college and see the turn of the century details. Definitely check-out the cafeteria! It’s one of the most marvelous rooms in the place, and the students of Flagler get to eat here every day! It’s quite a sight, and you’ll be glad you spent some time here!
Pirate & Treasure Museum
The Pirate & Treasure Museum in St. Augustine is the world’s best-known museum with the most extensive collection of real pirate artifacts in the globe. The museum also has interesting props from famous movies such as the sword of Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.
With the most extensive collection of pirate artifacts in the world, the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum is a fun adventure for adults and children alike! You’re greeted by costumed period guides, who will take you on a tour of the museum where you’ll see a vast array of unique things, like the Book of Pirates and one of only 2 Jolly Roger flags in the world!
Let’s not forget, though, the star of the museum – the only pirate treasure chest in the world! It’s a fascinating and interactive place, and the kids will love it! They also have props from popular movies, like Jack Sparrow’s Sword, and a Disney Imagineer-designed Blackbeard show! It’s a great time and a great way to spend an afternoon in the Historic District of St. Augustine!
World Golf Hall of Fame
The World Golf Hall of Fame is a must-go destination for golf lovers visiting St. Augustine. Here’s a look at the magnificent building.
If you’re a golf lover, you can’t come down to St. Augustine without checking out the World of Golf. Technically located in Jacksonville, it’s actually only about 20 minutes from downtown St. Augustine, and the 75,000 square-foot space houses the Golf Hall of Fame! Enjoy stories, artifacts, videos, and photographs that tell the history of the game and the greatest players ever to play.
Be sure to check out the Bob Hope Exhibit, and the Murray Brother’s Caddyshack Restaurant – an homage to the movie, and created by Bill Murray and his brothers! The food is excellent, and the decor will make you think you’re actually in the film! The 2-day admission ticket to the Golf Hall of Fame also includes an 18-hole round on the putting course, so plan accordingly!
The Lightner Museum is one of Henry Flagler’s creations and is still displaying the 19th-century art collection of Otto C. Lightner himself. Check out the property’s garden area with walkways. The sign can be seen in the photo very well.
Another of Henry Flagler’s creations, the Lightner Museum is housed in the former Alcazar Hotel, built back in 1888. It opened as a museum in 1948 with the 19th-century art collection of Otto C. Lightner. On display, you’ll see furniture, fine art, and Tiffany glassware, plus an array of fossils that have been uncovered within the city.
Definitely make sure you get a snack at the Cafe Alcazar, which is located in the old hotel pool! It’s a fascinating experience, and you’ll see some of the best examples of Spanish Renaissance Revival architecture in the country!
San Sebastian Winery
Located in St. Augustine is the award-winning San Sebastian Winery. The winery can be accessed by tourists and see The Cellar, as well as the Jazz and Blues Club.
Located in a renovated Florida East Coast Railway building just a few blocks from the St. Augustine Historic District is the award-winning San Sebastian Winery! Since 1996, San Sebastian has won more than 300 awards for its wines, created from grapes harvested from the largest vineyard in the Florida panhandle. Tours of the winery give you access to the Wine Tasting room as well as the Oak Barrel Room, where fine wines are aged to perfection.
Purchase one of the 90,000 bottles they produce each year, and then visit The Cellar Upstairs! The Jazz and Blues Club on the rooftop terrace is a popular hangout for locals, where you can take in the St. Augustine skyline and views of the Matanzas Bay while sipping on their fantastic wines made right downstairs! This is also a stop on the Ripley’s Red Train, so you can add this to your itinerary very quickly!
Located behind the busy St. George Street, the Colonial Quarter is a family-friendly destination where guests can view and learn more about blacksmiths and how they work.
St. Augustine’s Living History Tour, the Colonial Quarter is located behind St. George Street in the heart of the Historic District. They have amazing demonstrations and tell you all about the first Spanish settlers to the area, and how they created their community. It’s a family-friendly attraction, where you can learn all about blacksmithing, watch a live musket demonstration, and tour an original 270-year-old home, set up exactly how it was when the settlement was first built.
All the workers are dressed in period clothing, giving you the feeling that you’ve stepped back in time to when the first settlers started making their mark. Plus, climb the watchtower, where the founders used to stand to watch for approaching ships, and look out onto the bay and Atlantic, while also experiencing breath-taking views of St. Augustine!
Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest catholic church in the city. It boasts beautiful murals, which tell the history of the catholic church. It is a very popular destination in St. Augustine.
As the oldest catholic church in the city, Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is an impressive building that pays homage to the Spanish roots of the Oldest City in the Nation. Inside, the gorgeous murals tell the story of the catholic church’s history and development in America and stained glass windows that are hundreds of years old.
Though still an active church, and home to the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, you can take guided tours while no masses or celebrations are happening. But if you’d like to experience a Catholic Mass in the heart of the city, they are celebrated daily at 7 am! Even if churches aren’t your thing, you’ll be impressed by the massive and intricately detailed exterior and gilded artwork within!
Medieval Torture Museum
An image of a skull press torture device used in the 16th century. This can be found in St. Augustine’s Medieval Torture Museum, the first museum in the whole United States to focus on torture subjects.
For those that are looking for a different type of museum, and are interested in the macabre, the Medieval Torture Museum is the perfect attraction for you! Combining academic research and attention to detailed recreations, the museum does a fantastic job of showing how much suffering humanity can inflict in the name of justice. It’s an eye-opening (and sometimes stomach-turning) collection of several hundred pieces from the Middle Ages that were used to interrogate, hurt, and kill people in the 16th century.
It is also the first museum to focus on torture in the United States. A very interactive experience, you’ll leave the museum both grateful we don’t live in the Middle Ages anymore, and more aware of how terrible humanity can be to one another! Definitely not suggested for young children, as the scenes depicted are incredibly realistic and detailed. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Oldest Wooden School House
Visit the oldest wooden schoolhouse in St. Augustine and experience what it feels like to be a student back in the 19th century.
Experience what life was like for students in the class of 1864, as you tour this early 1700’s colonial home that has been converted into a school! The original house is located on St. Georges street, and you can take classes as the Minorcans did! View the outside kitchen, water-well, and, of course, the bathroom!
As long as you mind your manners, you won’t end up under the stairs, and you’ll receive your diploma upon graduation! The period dressed guides will bring you through a typical school day for the children of the settlement, and you can explore the grounds on your own. It’s a fun little attraction right in the center of the Historic District that you won’t even realize that there are modern shops and restaurants right outside the doors!
This old jail in St. Augustine has been restored and is offering a tour to guests accompanied by costumed inmates, which is actually amazing.
The Old Jail in St. Augustine is a restored original jail and Sheriff’s living quarters that offer tours by costumed inmates. When you enter, you’re processed by the guards as new prisoners and assigned to an inmate that tells you all about the day-to-day life of the prison, including a history of the hangings and the last remaining gallows in the city.
You’ll hear stories of Sheriff CJ Perry’s tenure, who was known for his massive stature at 6’6” and weighing over 300lbs! The guides are hilarious and informative, telling you about the history of the penal system in the city, and well worth the price of admission!
Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
St. Augustine’s Lighthouse and Maritime Museum is one of the best attractions in the city. It is rich in history and offers an amazing view of the surroundings.
Celebrating its 145th anniversary in 2019, a visit to the Lighthouse and Maritime Museum is a must-see in St. Augustine. Climb the 218 steps to the top of the 165’ tall lighthouse and see all of St. Augustine and far into the Atlantic Ocean. As the oldest, permanent aid to navigation in North America, the Lighthouse has four different historic structures on their site, which house the Maritime Museum. You can enjoy interactive, hands-on exhibits and daily demos, including boat building, sailing and navigation, and lighthouse operations.
Don’t leave without hearing about the darker side of the lighthouse! During the building of the original structure, Hezekiah Pittee, the Superintendent of the LIghthouse Construction, lost two of his daughters in a terrible construction cart accident in 1874. It’s said that people have heard children playing in the playground and running around the Lighthouse grounds in the night! Spooky!