By Erin Gifford
St. Augustine is rich in history and old-world charm thanks largely to famed Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. He came ashore in 1513 during his search of Bimini in the Bahamas. This fated landing led to the founding of historic St. Augustine, the country’s oldest continuously inhabited city.
Old City History
Begin your stay by soaking in nearly five centuries of history with a guide-narrated sightseeing tour with Old Town Trolley Tours. This open-air tram tour is a relaxing way to spend a morning and firm up what to do next as you navigate the Spanish colonial architectural style buildings across the 144-block historic district.
The cobblestone streets in the Old City are lined with quaint boutiques, art galleries and historic buildings. A pedestrian-only walkway on St. George Street affords visitors a laid-back stroll that’s refreshingly free of car or bicycle traffic. The famed Castillo de San Marcos dominates the northeast corner of the Old City. It’s the oldest masonry fortress in the continental United States.
In the evening, spine-tingling ghost tours dramatically bring to light the darker side of St. Augustine. The Old Jail, for one, is widely considered one of the most haunted buildings in town. Paranormal investigators from Travel Channel’s Kindred Spirits recently dedicated a full episode to it.
More than 42 miles of beautiful beaches make St. Augustine a paradise for sun-seekers. Crescent Beach is an idyllic stretch of coastline that lends itself to bike rides thanks to hard-packed sand. This unspoiled coastal section sees fewer crowds than celebrated St. Augustine Beach, making it a popular destination for beachcombers in search of the perfect shells.
The white quartz sand is the siren’s call of the beaches at Anastasia State Park. This pristine coastline beckons visitors to explore its 1,600 coastal acres. Bike along the four miles of sandy beaches and park roads or bring a set of binoculars to observe such bird species as wood storks and roseate spoonbills.
Enjoy an afternoon at Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. Sample the restorative water from inside the Spring House, then wander the grounds in search of colorful peacocks that roam the 15-acre property.
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Farm is home to plenty of alligators, as well as all 24 species of crocodiles. Daily wildlife shows introduce guests to exotic birds, reptiles and other animals. Thrilling treetop ziplines and ropes courses send guests mere feet over live alligators.
Don’t miss the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Climb 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse for sweeping views across Matanzas Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Peek in the keeper’s house next door for an insider’s look into daily life at an active light station.
Stays across St. Augustine range from offbeat motels steps from the beach to charming inns tucked away in the historic Old City. Consider the well-appointed Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort. Set on St. Augustine Beach, this upscale hotel wows with free made-to-order breakfast, as well as poolside cabanas and drink service.
For a kid-free stay, look to The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens, a charming property set in the heart of the historic district. Guests enjoy bike rentals, a free continental breakfast and docent-led historical property tours.
BOOK IT: Let your AAA Travel Agent manage all the details of your St. Augustine vacation. Call 800-374-2865 or visit AAA.com/GoTravel today!