During my family’s recent trip to Florida, we drove from the Daytona Beach area to St. Augustine, Florida, twice. St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States, founded in 1565. Prior to our vacation, I had read so many good things about visiting St. Augustine. Since we were just a little over an hour away, we had to check out this historical city.
Because there are so many things to do in St. Augustine, we decided to break our visit into two separate day trips. We managed to fill two whole days in the city, and we still didn’t see everything.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm
Although the alligator farm is fairly small, there is a lot to see there. We started out in the main alligator viewing area. The alligators there are huge! We listened to an alligator show there and later returned for an alligator feeding.
The alligator farm had different areas with alligators and crocodiles from all over the world. We also saw reptiles and a panoramic bird area.
Lunch at the farm was surprisingly affordable compared to many tourist attractions. The farm also had a playground area for kids with shaded seating for parents. In total, we were there about three hours and still hadn’t watched all the shows.
Note: This is not one of those alligator parks where people ride alligators or get them to do tricks a la Gator Boys tv show. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm is a zoo that focuses on conservation and education.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium
My family had never been to a Ripley’s Odditorium before, even though there is one in the DFW area. I had a coupon for this, and it seemed like it would be entertaining. Located inside the historical Castle Warden, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorum in St. Augustine is the original location of this chain of attractions.
I’m not even sure I can adequately describe what’s inside the Odditorium. The displays are odd collections of unusual or record-setting things. We saw skulls of two-headed animals, artwork made from gum wrappers, a space room, a Star Wars section…there were too many oddities to count.
My family was skeptical going in, but we all left thinking it was cooler than we expected.
St. George Street
On our second visit to St. Augustine, we wanted to see the historical sites. Since the downtown area is crowded with narrow streets, we decided to park at the Visitor Information Center’s parking garage and walk. (Many visitors buy tickets to hop on/hop off trains that make multiple stops).
St. George Street is the main historical street in the city. It is narrow and closed off to everything except pedestrian traffic. On a summer weekday, the street and city were very crowded (and hot!)
My husband and kids spent some time in the St. Augustine Pirate Treasure Museum. They reported it was a decent museum with real artifacts.
While they were at the pirate museum, my sister and I walked down St. George Street to enter the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. It is a very beautiful church, and free to tour.
Next, we walked to Flagler College, which used to be a grand hotel. Current students give free tours to the public. We didn’t have time for the full tour, but we did walk around to admire the details on the architecture. Gorgeous!
St. George Street was loaded with small shops, ice cream stores and restaurants. We ate lunch in a small café and later had some ice cream while a local band played at a small outdoor stage.
Castillo de San Marcos
All of us walked across the street to tour the Castillo de San Marcos. The castle has a fascinating history which we discovered by watching a movie inside and reading the displays throughout the castle.
The fort has a unique star shape and is made of coquina, a limestone/seashell mix. It was incredible to see seashells in the walls.
On the day we visited, park rangers helped people make various crafts from an earlier time period. Visitors could also dress up in period costumes. In addition, kids could earn a National Park Service Junior Ranger Badge.
As fascinating as it was to be in the castle, it was very hot outside and we were glad to leave the castle to find someplace cooler.
The Old Jail
By this point in our visit, my oldest son was begging for us to leave the city and return to our condo in Daytona Beach Shores. We were melting. However, there was one more place I wanted to visit on this trip: the Old Jail. The old jail is located a mile from the downtown area, so we got back in our car to get there.
The tour was very entertaining, as the guides treated us like we were new prisoners and stayed in character for the duration of the tour. The style of the tour kept everyone engaged, even my kids. We got to go into multiple jail cells and see the area where the sheriff lived.
Behind the jail, we learned about the hangings that took place. There were also several fun photo ops.
It turns out that the Old Jail was worth the extra stop before heading out of town.
Things We Missed in St. Augustine
There is a lot more to do and see in St. Augustine that we didn’t have time for in two days. I’m sure it’s possible to spend a week in St. Augustine.
I’m glad we had the chance to visit St. Augustine while we were so close. It was definitely one of the most touristy places we visited during our Florida vacation (aside from Disney World of course). It was much more crowded than I anticipated. Every attraction charged a separate admission price, so I’m glad we picked out in advance our list of must-dos.
Have you visited St. Augustine?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.