Saint Augustine is a small town located in Northeast Florida just south of Jacksonville and about 1.5 hrs. south of the Florida/Georgia Stateline. It is believed to be the oldest city in the United States. It was first discovered and claimed for Spain by Ponce de Leon in 1513 who named it La Florida , but things did not work out for Ponce de Leon as he planned. It was later rediscovered and renamed St. Augustine, by Juan Mendez Aviles in 1565.
It took me about 5 hours to drive from South Florida to Saint Augustine via I-95, stopping twice. Once for a bathroom break and the next to get gas. The hotel where I was staying was just off the 95, easy to find. I stayed at the Smart Stay Inn, a two story hotel with an adequate amount of rooms and parking. It has a gym, a pool, hot tub, and laundry room, and serves up very good breakfast choices that includes scrambled eggs, sausages, slice bread, bagel, make your own waffles, orange juice, milk, coffee, tea, fruits and cereal. Maybe not the finest, but better than a granola bar and a bottle of water that we were offered at another hotel.
The hotel is close to the Saint Augustine Outlets and although it’s not in the downtown area it was not a very long drive. Even Though it wasn’t my first choice, I didn’t mind it at all. I was actually more pleased with the choice when I went into town and saw that parking at those hotels seemed a bit tight. That is definitely something to keep in mind when looking for somewhere to stay.
There are other hotels in the area like the Comfort Inn which is right next door, Quality Inn, Red Roof Inn, Holiday Inn and more. You can also find gas stations and lots of places to eat nearby.
What to Expect
The Downtown area is where most attractions are. I came into town on a Friday afternoon, went to check-in at the hotel and then visited the Saint Augustine Outlets. After visiting the Outlets I wanted to go to an attraction, but when I checked the attractions, most of them were already closed. By the way, most attractions in Saint Augustine closes between at 5:00 and 5:30 PM. I saw one, the Pirate and Treasure Museum, that was open until 7:00 PM and decided I would go.
After driving into the Downtown area the Pirate and Treasure Museum was no longer on my mind. I decided I was going to go to the Castillo de San Marcos national Monument instead because there was something so captivating about the whole scenery, with the blue waters of the Matanzas River in the backdrop. The Pirate and Treasure Museum was literally across the street but that was for another day.
I needed to try and find somewhere to park and I noticed that the left lane was starting to back up as some people were trying to get into a nearby parking lot while others were in a line waiting to go over the Bridge of Lions which takes you to A1A. I came out of the line and went into the right lane in hopes I could find somewhere to park. I ended up on a street that took me right into what I thought was the parking lot of a hotel, but as I drove in I noticed the parking spaces all marked reserved. Later I realized I was at the back of Flagler College.
I parked for a bit and got out and took a few pictures because it had a lovely architectural design. After pulling out of the college, just across the street was a $10 parking lot. I immediately pulled in and paid the attendant, it was a good thing too because it was starting to fill up. There are numerous parking around, but you have to drive around to find cheap parking. The parking closest to the main street, Avenida Menendez, are more expensive. You may be able to get some free parking at some of the attractions with your ticket purchase, like Ripley’s Believe it or Not offered a 3 hours parking pass with the purchase of the entrance ticket. I was able to tour the attraction and afterwards leave the car there for a bit and came back in time to take off.
After parking, I walked a little ways, not too far through the back streets and on to the main but before getting there I couldn’t help but look around to see what was going on those back streets. I soon realize that St. George street is where everything was happening. It is lined with shops, eateries, and entertainment. I was able to stop at Tedi’s Olde Tyme Ice Cream and purchase a pistachio cup. After leaving Tedi’s just on the side at the corner of Cuna and St. George there was a man who had snakes on display, $10 to hold or pose with a one of them for a single person and $15 for a group. That wasn’t going to be me, I am not a big fan of snakes, so I kind of hurried pass there and went on to my destination.
When I came to the Castillo de San Marcos I was not able to go on the inside because it was closed by that time, but I was still able to tour the outside. I was able to walk around it and observe the cannons that were lined off in one area and read articles about its history. Even though it was not open at the time, it was still a beautiful place to relax because the sun was still up and the breeze that was blowing in from the Matanzas River felt so good. You can sit on any of the seats onsite or on the nice and lush lawn. The only thing is that the lawn is not facing the water so it may not have the same effect as sitting on the waterfront.
Things To DO
There are many things to do in Saint Augustine, despite me thinking there may not have been a lot to do there. I will not go into much details about them here because I have an article that list things to do in St. Augustine, you can click here to find it, but I will go ahead and list some of the places to visit/things to do;
- Lightner Museum
- Ripley’s Believe it or Not
- Potter’s Wax Museum
- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
- Alligator Farm
- The Torture Museum
- St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
- Fountain of Youth
- The Old Jail
- Saint Augustine outlets for some shopping
- Do your own self walking tour and admire the architecture of some places like Flagler College and the churches
- Visit The Plaza de La Constitucion park
Getting around town in St. Augustine isn’t hard because most places are close by and easy to get to with your own car or by Uber. If you happen to get a hotel in or near downtown, it’s an easy walk because everything is right there, except for the beaches and alligator farm. Then there is also the trolley tours.
There are two types of trollies in St. Augustine, there is the Old Town Trolley Tours and Red Train Tours. The Old Town Trolley offers shuttles that picks you up from your hotel and takes you to the trolley depot, from there you can buy your trolley tickets (as well as attraction tickets at a discount) and get on to a trolley. You can choose to ride the trolley all day around town or hop on and off as you wish. The Old Town Trolley tours sells one day as well as two day tickets.
The Red Train Tours is a part of Ripley’s Believe it or Not and also offers guided tours around town allowing you to hop on and off all day. You will be able to get the train from the Ripley’s location. The Red Train Tours offers an all day hop on or off experience as well as the Red Train Express experience which is a one hour guided tour that takes you to certain sites.
There is an upside and a downside to taking the trollies. The upside is that you don’t have to worry about driving your own car to each location and having to worry about parking or taking a Uber, and the drivers are very knowledgeable about the history of the city. The downside in my opinion is, depending on how far apart the stops are you can spend a lot of time on the trolley getting to the next attraction. For example, I spent almost 2 hours on the trolley trying to get to my last attraction because of traffic and also because it was the last stop, stop number 22, only to find out that the park was only about a 5 minute walk from the trolley depot.
Places To Eat
Along the waterfront you can find restaurants such as Meehans’s Iris Pub and Seafood, River & Fort Restaurant and Roof Top Lounge as well as Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille, just to name a few. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to dine at any of those on the waterfront, but there are a lot of places around that you can find to eat. Along the back streets you can find small restaurants tucked away, like the Raintree or Drake’s Bistro on San Marco Ave, and St. George Tavern on St. George Street. Then there is always fast food restaurants like Bojangles, which by the way had some tasty chicken wings, Zaxby’s, Burger King, and more, if you want to get it quickly and go.
What I like the most about Saint Augustine is that even though it’s a small city, it holds a big history and It’s great for solo travelers and even more so for families. I would definitely visit again and I have found out that the best time to visit is during Christmas when the whole city is decorated with lights.