Did you know St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in the United States? It’s south of Jacksonville and north of Daytona. I’d fly into JAX for the easiest access. And if I was already in Florida, I’d make it a point to drop in because it’s a special place brimming with character and delights. I’ve been going there since I was a kid and it’s one of my fondest weekend destinations. Here are six of my favorite things to do in St. Augustine.
For a primo location and a bit of luxury, I recommend Casa Monica for hotel accommodations. It’s romantic and captures the charm of St. Augustine wonderfully. It’s right in the heart of the old part of town, within walking distance to many of the places you’ll want to go. Built in 1888, Casa Monica is one of the oldest hotels in Florida and even in the US. My second choice is Ponte Vedra Inn & Club which is beach front, and just outside St. Augustine.
Spanish and Moorish inspired architecture and décor, leather chairs, and canopy beds do a good job of capturing the mood of the town. There are big paintings of Andalusian horses and old Spanish decor, garnet red and iron. My room had a great view of the park in the center of town. Arched windows, wrought iron, and beefy leather chairs give the room character.
The King and Queen of Spain have stayed at Casa Monica, as well as Sharon Stone and Angelina Jolie. There’s a discreet underground entrance if you want to hide your celebrity. Or if you’re a civilian like most of us, and you just want to valet your car, this is where you go.
Kayaking with St. Augustine Eco Tours
St. Augustine Eco Tours is a wonderful way to see the city from a different perspective. If you like the outdoors, this is a must, it’s something active, and it’s just so fun. I can’t wait to do it again, it was the highlight of my trip. Founded by a marine biologist, these kayak tours focus on wildlife and habitat education while also teaching all about the area.
Top of the line kayaks are very comfortable and perfect for beginners. It can be intimidating those first couple of minutes in the water with big boats all around you, but you quickly get used to it once you see how stable the kayaks are, and how knowledgeable the guides are, you’re good to go. I’d recommend it for all age groups. You get up close to the pirate ship replica, mangroves, wildlife, and you get to paddle right under the Bridge of Lions.
Shopping and Strolling St. Augustine
St. Augustine is loaded with charm. It sounds so simple, but one of the best things to do here is just walk around and take in the atmosphere. You can walk all day, poking into cute little pubs, restaurants, shops, galleries and attractions, like the super kid friendly Pirate Museum. I’m not a big tourist attraction person, but the Pirate Museum is great, and they have the oldest Jolly Roger flag in the country, which is pretty cool. There are bits of history everywhere, so you learn as you go.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Over 350 years old, Castillo de San Marcos is a national monument and one of the first things you see in St. Augustine as you drive over the bridge. The Spanish built the stone fortress for protection. It’s the oldest masonry fort in the country, and it had quite a history until it was retired in 1900. Built by the Spanish, then modified while the British had it, and eventually again by Americans. You have to go check it out for the history and the glorious views.
Present Moment Cafe
My favorite place to eat in St. Augustine is The Present Moment Cafe, which is within a mile of the center of town. They have the best Collard Wraps I’ve ever had in my life. The last time I was there I picked up five to go so that I could eat them every day for a little while longer. They also have wonderful fresh cold pressed juices, salads and other healthy treats. I wouldn’t dream of going to St. Augustine without coming here.
If you are in the mood for cocktails and southern comfort food, the Ice Plant is the place to go. Known for its craft cocktails, the Ice Plant also has wonderful food and a killer modern industrial atmosphere. Located in an old ice manufacturing facility next to the St. Augustine distillery, the Ice Plant literally places emphasis on the quality of the ice in their drinks and how this affects the quality of the cocktail.
The menu utilizes locally sourced quality food. I had a delicious artisan Grilled Cheese Sandwich and unforgettable Goat Cheese and Peach Salad with candied pecans.
St. Augustine Bottom Line
St. Augustine, Florida is an excellent weekend destination. There is more than enough to keep you busy, and a bazillion places to eat, so bring your appetite. I listed a couple of my favorite places, but you can get Spanish cuisine like Paella, local fish, and a host of other goodies in St. Augustine, it’s a great place for a foodie. There’s plenty of walking to counteract indulgence. There are also a lot of tourist attractions like The Fountain of Youth, Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, Colonial Quarter, and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum among others.
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* I was a guest of the CVB and Casa Monica.