It’s the oldest city in the United States. St. Augustine, Florida was already a thriving town 150 years before the British founded Jamestown, Virginia. It was a city, however, with a long history of colonization. The Spanish were the first to discover the town and for a long time remained under their control until the British came and took over. In addition to its deeply rooted history, it’s also a city with a small town feel. Most of the city center is accessible by foot, particularly in the historic center. Boutique shops line St. George’s Street and dozens of lively bars and excellent locally owned restaurants are scattered around the city.
St Augustine Florida Top Attractions
St. Augustine is a popular long weekend destination for many Floridians. You’ll also see a number of day trippers from nearby southeast Georgia, who come for the city’s beaches and thriving nightlife. Should you find yourself staying in Florida for a day or more, check out as many of these St Augustine Florida top attractions.
St. Augustine Beach
Start your day off with watching the sunrise from the miles and miles of beaches that encompass St. Augustine’s beaches. They stretch from Vilano Beach from the north to Crescent Beach in the south. The beaches offer a variety of options starting with seaside trail hikes from the unspoiled Anastasia State Park, gentle waves that are perfect for boogie boarding and surfing further south, and seafood shacks and bars that are only a block or two away from the sandy shores.
St. Augustine Lighthouse
The restored lighthouse and keeper’s house is one of the top St. Augustine site and attractions in the city. It provides visitors with great insight about life in the city during the 19th and 20th centuries. Around the grounds are exhibits on the archeological artifacts found within the vicinity while up the 219 steps to the top of the St. Augustine lighthouse are spectacular views of the Matanzas Bay, Anastasia Island, and the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
Castillo de San Marcos
Castillo de San Marcos is considered the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States and also the oldest structure in the city of St. Augustine. The national monument is now part and operated by the National Park Services and showcases some very interesting stories on the city’s history. It also has an impressive gun deck displaying more than a dozen cannons from the 17 and 1800s. Volunteers at the park offer cannon firing demonstrations every couple of hours, weather permitting.
Once a hotel built by real estate magnate Henry Flagler, this exquisite, yet now small private residential college located right smack in the middle of historic St. Augustine is well worth a visit. The imposing entrance gates will remind you of medieval castles. The college’s well-manicured gardens coupled with the contrasting hues of red and yellow brick buildings will provide you with a sense of cheerfulness and then calm but the best feature of this Spanish style architecture building is its stunning stained glass ceiling. Flagler College also offers tours for a fee of the classrooms and grounds should you choose to explore the college further.
Basilica of St. Augustine
It’s not very large by basilica standards, but the Basilica of St. Augustine is a very beautiful place of worship and certainly ranks among the top St. Augustine sites and attractions. Its architecture was modeled after the Spanish Colonial style representative of the city’s Spanish roots. The church’s history in the New World is also represented among murals within the basilica. The church conducts tours and is open to the public except during times when masses are in service.
This small, family-owned and run restaurant on Anastasia Island is what my favorite type of eatery. The food is fresh and delicious, the service is friendly and prompt, and the atmosphere is buzzing all the time. Osteen’s Restaurant was recommended to me by some of the young locals I met while touring the lighthouse. It’s famous for its fried shrimp and daily specials, which are mostly Southern-inspired. The restaurant has been a favorite by locals for 50 years and they can’t seem to stop coming back. Bring cash since credit and debit cards are not accepted and come during off-hours so you don’t have to wait too long.
Old Town Square and St. George’s Street
The charms of St. Augustine begin in the old market square and extend onto St. George’s Street. Remnants of European settlements from the time the Spanish came to this seaside town to the time Florida was annexed and became part of the United States are visible in the charming structures that now house boutique shops and excellent eateries. Stop by Whetstone Chocolates for some ice cream or grab a cup of coffee and a savory pie at Kookaburra.