From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
When asked which is the oldest city in America, you might be tempted to say “Jamestown” or “Plymouth.” But as it turns out, both of those answers would be incorrect. Sorry, history buffs!
St. Augustine, Florida bears the distinction of being the oldest continually-run European settlement in America — though because it was settled by the Spanish, rather than the British, you may not have heard about it in your high school history class. That said, this unlikely north Florida gem is just that: a total diamond in the rough, filled with so much to see, do, explore and experience.
With a legacy dating back to 1565 combined with uniquely modern sensibilities, St. Augustine is a one-of-a-kind city to live in, visit, and explore. Read on to learn about our favorite activities and options!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
St. Augustine is a worthy place to explore for many reasons, but one of the best? Its unique combination of outdoor and indoor adventure. From sprawling sand dunes to romantic oak canopies, here are some of the best state and national parks and preserved in the St. Augustine, FL area.
About 15 miles south of St. Augustine, just past the Matanzas State Forest (outlined below), Faver-Dykes State Park offers opportunities for hiking, picnicking, fishing, boating, camping, and canoeing — and is, in fact, a designated state canoe trail. Visitors are also lucky enough to enjoy the pristine estuarine tidal marshes that characterize this landscape, boasting some of the most abundant and unique flora and fauna on the entire Atlantic coast.
While those who visit downtown will find it hard to miss Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Mose Historic State Park is just as worthy — and a bit further off the beaten path. The historic site of one of the first free-slave settlements in the country, Fort Mose is more than just an outdoor recreation site: it’s an important piece of history and opportunity for education.
Covering more than seven square miles and offering hiking, biking, horseback riding, birding, and campground facilities, Matanzas State Forest surrounds and protects the last remaining undisturbed salt marsh within the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. About 75% pine forest and 25% wetlands, this is a great space to explore what locals will tell you is the real Florida.
Head to Anastasia State Park for a natural getaway and take in the Florida scenery. The park boasts 1,600 acres of beach, marsh, trails, and dunes; hike the trails or surf, kayak, or paddleboard – the park has endless options for those who are into the sun, sand, and surf. Located on The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, it also provides a great opportunity for avid bird-watchers – you might spot a roseate spoonbill, osprey, or eagle. If you’re here to escape the city life, the park has 139 campsites available for those who’d like to stay a while.
While Florida might not be as well-known for hiking as, say, Colorado or Oregon, make no mistake about it: there are some incredible places to meander. Here are some of the best hiking trails in and around St. Augustine, Florida.
Tucked into the Moses Creek Conservation Area, Moses Creek White Trail measures about four miles in total length and sees very little elevation gain (it is Florida, after all) — meaning it’s a great option for someone who’s looking for an easy-to-moderate outdoor adventure. This trail is also frequented by horseback riders and equestrians!
Just under three miles in length and pretty much flat, the Twelve Mile Swamp Conservation Area trail is popular — particularly thanks to its abundant wildflowers. This trail is accessible year-round and dog friendly, but keep in mind that dogs must be leashed at all times!
Running about six miles in length and seeing a whopping 16 feet in elevation gain, the Matanzas State Forest Loop Trail is good for all skill levels and long enough to give you some room to stretch your legs (or take a shorter adventure if you’re running low on time or energy). Pine forests tower over the gravel and dirt paths that wind through the area, and this place is also dog friendly.
The Guana Tolomato Matanzas Marine Estuarine Research Reserve — or GTM, as it’s known to locals — is a popular spot for hiking and wildlife viewing. The Guana, Timucuan, and South Point Loop Trail is just one of the many combinations that can be created using the park’s network of footpaths, and this one runs almost 10 miles — perfect for a long, leisurely adventure.
Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park is a bit of a drive from St. Augustine — but given that it takes less than an hour, we think it’s very worth checking out. You can see the remind of an old sugar mill and plantation by meandering along the Bulow Mill Trail, which is short but fascinating, and connected to a variety of other great north Florida hiking options.
You’re gonna have to stop for a meal at some point — and the good news is, St. Augustine has some incredible options when your appetite comes calling. Here are some of the best restaurants in St. Augustine, no matter what kind of cuisine you’re craving.
Widely considered one of the best Mexican restaurants in St. Augustine (and there are a quite a few to pick from), Casa Maya is a popular enough spot that it’s not unlikely to see a line waiting. That said, if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll be rewarded: fresh, authentic flavors, house-made hot sauce, and a tequila bar with a wide variety of offerings all draw regulars and repeat customers.
Okay, we’ll fess up: this one’s technically a chain, although with less than ten restaurants, all of which are in the state of Florida, it doesn’t feel right to say so. While the original is in Tampa, St. Augustine’s Columbia Restaurant is a great pick for lunch, brunch or dinner: it’s earned awards for its cuisine as well as its atmosphere and ambiance, and all of the ingredients are deliciously fresh. (We highly recommend sharing a jug of the Sangria de Cava and a plate of the Gambas Al Ajillo to start. The Cuban’s not bad either!)
If you’re looking for the best Asian restaurant in St. Augustine, Green Papaya Thai & Sushi Cuisine is a good bet: as its name implies, it has you covered no matter whether you’re craving pad see ew or a delicious piece of sashimi. Open until 10:30 on weekends, this is also a great option for a post-bar bite.
As well-known for its hand-crafted cocktails as its delicious roster of edibles, The Ice Plant is a beloved local institution… and also home to one of the very first craft distilleries in all of the state of Florida. Even non-drinkers will enjoy the fresh, farm-to-table dinner and brunch offers, but if you are into spirits, this one can’t be missed. Everything on the menu is a hit!
Ask any local where they take their out-of-town guests for dinner, and the answer will almost always be The Floridian. Pineapples, alligators, and flamingos abound on the walls to amplify the restaurant’s kitschy, vintage feel. In addition to the fun and casual atmosphere, the food is fantastic. It’s hearty, Southern-style fare made with locally sourced ingredients (including plenty of vegan and gluten-free options). The bartenders here are known for crafting a delicious new cocktail menu every season. I highly recommend saving room for dessert – particularly the Kentucky Derby Pie, which is the love child of a chocolate chip cookie and pecan pie.
Located just over the Bridge of Lions on Anastasia Island is fun and casual Osprey Tacos and next-door neighbor Old Coast Ales. Grab some fresh tacos from Osprey and a local brew from the Old Coast and take in the island breeze – they share an outdoor space. Osprey offers creative taco combos sourced from local ingredients, among them plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as taco bowls if you want to skip the tortilla. Added bonus: this spot is kid- and dog-friendly. The Old Coast taproom provides 12 rotating brews on taps (ranging from stouts to lagers and everything in between), wine, and all-natural soda and kombucha. This is a great afternoon or dinner spot before or after the beach on your way back into town!
Once you’ve supped and gotten some sunshine, you’ve just started! There are so many incredible things to see and do in St. Augustine — and you’re almost certain to run into someone offering tours and activities. Here are just a few options not to miss out on.
America’s Oldest City is a great spot for explorers of all ages! Here are some of our favorite things to do in St. Augustine with kiddos.
Helping provide safe passage to sailors for decades, the St. Augustine Lighthouse is still a working navigation aid seaside — and a fascinating maritime museum for those exploring from ashore. Along with learning more about the lives of the folks who’ve kept the lantern running historically, visitors can climb the building’s 219 steps to reach an incredible viewpoint from the observation deck. (Climbers do need to be at least 44 inches tall, so the smallest members of your party might have to stay at sea level!)
Arrr, matey — if ye be interested in the pirates who once sailed the seven seas, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum is where ye want to be! Offering viewers of all ages unique artifacts and insights into this swashbuckling lifestyle, the museum also offers private tours to give you the insider scoop.
St. Augustine is a pretty small town… but that doesn’t mean the sidewalks roll up come nighttime. Once you’re set on things to do during the daytime, check out these following options after night falls.
San Sebastian Winery is a must-visit for anyone who likes to imbibe: during daylight hours, they offer fascinating tours with multiple wine tasting absolutely free of charge. Of course, a taste is unlikely to be enough, and the on-site rooftop bar, The Cellar Upstairs, offers live music on the regular. It’s a great place to see the sunset and linger until the stars come out.
A historic theater that’s been a beloved destination for locals for decades, El Corazon Cinema and Cafe screens both popular and independent films, as well as offering event space for local groups and organizations. If you visit at the right time, you can even catch stand-up comedy or open mic poetry! El Corazon also serves up some delicious sandwiches, salads, and pizzas, as well as beer and wine to help make the movie go down that much smoother.
Don’t get us wrong: it’s definitely easy to spend more than you meant to in St. Augustine. But you can certainly see town without taking out a second mortgage! Here are some of our favorite cheap things to do in the nation’s oldest city.
Locals might lovingly(ish) call this place “Credit Card Alley,” so yes, you might find yourself spending some money if you meander down St. George Street. But town’s main shopping thoroughfare is also a great spot for people watching or grabbing some delicious fudge or ice cream, and smaller souvenirs don’t cost too much!
You may end up gritting your teeth, but the history of medicine is undoubtedly fascinating… and enough to make you very grateful to be born in our day and age. The Spanish Military Hospital offers tours back in time (and scientific advances) that start at about $10 for adults and $6 for children. Plus, it’s a pet friendly museum!
It’s true: there are some options to get you out on the town that are absolutely, 100% free of charge. Here are our top picks.
While it’ll cost you to get inside the Castillo de San Marcos, the historic fort that protected this settlement during its cantankerous history, meandering along the seawall is completely free — and popular amongst locals for exactly that reason. Bring a beach towel and a book and call it an afternoon!
Hey, it’s east-coast Florida. If you’re really in need of something free to do, there’s always the beach… and St. Augustine has several lovely options! St. Augustine Beach is popular and offers soft sands and a beautiful pier, but we also recommend Vilano, particularly for surfers.
Treat yo self! Here are some of the best spots in St. Augustine for those times when you just need a little TLC.
Have you heard about the healing power of salt? If not — or even if so! — you can experience it for yourself at Salt Spa St. Augustine. Along with the tranquil and transformative salt cave, Salt Spa clients can also enjoy float tanks, massage services, yoga and special events, chiropractic and acupuncture. In short, you’re bound to leave feeling better than you did when you walked in.
Tucked into the spectacular Casa Monica Resort, Poseidon Spa is the perfect place to “soothe your restless spirit” (and look great while you’re at it). Offering a full range of day spa and salon services, such as massage, skincare, mani/pedis, hairstyling and more, this is a must-visit whether or not you patronize the hotel.
Staying in shape is about more than your “beach body” — it’s about how your body carries you through the world (and the confidence in that brain it carries around, too!). Here are some of the best gyms and yoga studios in St. Augustine for those looking to get in physical and mental shape.
A beloved local gym offering all the equipment you need — as well as the personal trainers that can teach (and motivate!) you to actually use it — Anastasia Fitness is affordable, thorough, and community-minded. In other words, it’s a great place to get in shape.
Run by a long-time St. Augustine local and devoted ygi, Hot Spot Yoga STA will give you a whole new understanding of hot yoga in a friendly, welcoming environment where your personal comfort and safety are always prioritized. Along with traditional 26&2 hot classes, this studio also offers vinyasa, yin, and other flows. Buti yoga is an especially fun experience for those looking to kick it up a few notches!
As you can tell from this guide, there’s plenty to do in St. Augustine itself… but there are also some amazing places to see within an easy drive! Here are some of our favorite day trips in the St. Augustine area.
Just an hour north, you can find yourself in one of the coolest and most underrated cities in America. Along with being the largest town by land area in the states, Jacksonville is also home to some beautiful beaches, epic dining opportunities, and fun downtown areas. We highly recommend Sun-Ray Cinema and the Five Points area in general! Check out our Jacksonville guide, here!
Home to the University of Florida, Gainesville has more than its fair share of cultural attractions, cute boutiques, bookstores, and dining… and it’s also a great gateway town for some of the springs and rivers that characterize the center of the state.
Who doesn’t love a trip to Disney World? That said, even if you stay far from the theme parks, Orlando is chock full of fun things to see, do, and experience — including a lively nightlife scene as well as plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities. Psst - we have an Orlando guide, too!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in St. Augustine that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in St. Augustine? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.