I never thought that ANY city in the United States would top Charleston, SC as my favorite. I had visited Boston a couple of times and loved that city as well, but it still didn’t compare to the Holy City in my own home state.
Then I visited St. Augustine. And Charleston, you have some competition.
I don’t know if St. A has completely displaced Chuck Town, but they are running neck and neck for sure. We knew friends who had visited St. Augustine and had seen pictures and done research so we decided to give it a shot last November. We completely fell in love.
There are so many things to do, but nothing to do if that’s what you prefer. Great restaurants, beautiful scenery, interesting sites. It actually reminded me a lot of Charleston in so many ways, but one thing that is better about St. Augustine is that everything is so close together. You are pretty much within a 10-minute drive of anywhere you would want to go at all times.
We enjoyed our visit to this beautiful city so much that we decided to take our family vacation there again this November, and stay a little longer and closer to the beach. There are some things we will do again and we will do a few new things, but I’ve put together a list of things we HAVE done that I would recommend for anyone visiting the Oldest City.
This beautiful monument is the oldest masonry fort in the United States and sits right on the waterfront, providing spectacular views at its peak. It also contains many old artifacts showing the rich history of the fort that dates back more than 300 years. It is one of only two fortifications in the world made from a semi-rare limestone called coquina (which you will hear a lot about in St. Augustine). The other fort made from coquina is Fort Mantazas, just 14 miles away. If you are taking young ones, they can sign up for the Junior Ranger program, and veterans (like my husband) can get in free.
One of my favorite things to do in St. Augustine was to stroll down St. George Street right downtown, during the day or at night. It’s a pedestrian-only street with many shops and restaurants and gives the downtown area a cozy feel. It also contains or is within walking distance of many historical sites and other things to do, so it’s easy to spend hours here and knock a lot off of your to-do list. We spent a lot of time here and plan to do so again this year.
This restaurant, featured on Food Network’s Guilty Pleasures, has one of the best burgers I’ve ever put in my mouth, as well as spectacular homemade potato chips. It’s a neat, off-beat place near St. Augustine Beach that you will hit just before you get to the Bridge of Lions. The service was wonderful and when we left we knew immediately that we would be back on our next trip. It’s that good.
Now, I can’t tell you which one is better, because we’ve only done the red train, but we plan on trying the trolley this time. (Visit the links above to compare the two.) These are on/off tours that will give you a history of the city via a narrator and allow you to jump off anytime you see something you would like to explore. It was a great way for us to get accustomed to the city and learn more about what we were seeing.
There are many pizza restaurants in St. Augustine and we only ate at two of them, but this is the one we would definitely recommend. It’s very cost efficient because the slices are only around $4-5, depending on what you get, and are big enough for me to share one with my son. Try the garlic rolls! *cue mouth-watering*
There is little my son enjoys more than playing on the beach. We took one day to visit St. Augustine Beach last year and plan to do more beach days this year (which should be easy since we will be staying close this time). It’s an easy way to pass time and save money, especially if you take a picnic lunch, which we are planning this year. There are other beautiful beaches nearby as well, including Vilano Beach and Crescent Beach, or you could take a jaunt up to Jacksonville, which is about 40 miles away.
Hyppo is a gourmet ice pop place that has several locations, including two right downtown in the St. George Street area. Their amazing flavors (which vary by day and location) include such eclectic offerings as avocado cream, beet orange mango, and Mexican hot chocolate, as well as more tame choices such as raspberry lemonade, peaches and cream, and, my personal favorite, peanut butter pie. (It really does taste like peanut butter pie!!) We somehow managed to stop here three or four times during our last trip. We just might beat that this time.
This place was one of my son’s favorites, even at only four years old at the time. It is conveniently located downtown across from the Castillo de San Marcos and doesn’t look like much from the outside but once you walk through the gate, it’s like stepping back in time. There is a sandbox where young ones can search for hidden treasure and a tower that gives a great view over the wall of St. Augustine. Tours are given regularly which include a blacksmith demonstration and a musket drill. It’s educational, but fun for kids, too.
Another of my son’s favorite adventures was the Kids Krew Tour with a real live pirate! Pirate Scott takes kids through the city and feeds them historical information on their level. They get to “raid” places in the city for treasure and see authentic pirate artifacts and make a stop at the Pirate Museum. The tour ends with the discovery of a treasure chest. It’s fun for kids and adults alike.
My son loves parks at home, and they are a great way to burn energy and give him the sensory input he needs, so I researched parks ahead of our vacation and I’m glad I did. We visited Davenport Park mainly for the $1 carousel ride. The park itself isn’t anything spectacular but the carousel is a lot of fun. (The operator even let me ride for free to supervise my son.) A better park experience is at the SWING playground closer to downtown. It is the biggest park I’ve ever seen (which can be scary when you’re trying to keep up with an energetic little one), and is a place you could spend hours if you needed to do so.
There are so many other things we did that I could add to this list (The Fountain of Youth, The Pirate Museum, seafood at one of many great places, playing mini golf, lunch at the Bull & Crown, etc.), as well as some things we haven’t done that are on our list to do this time or in the future (The Oldest Schoolhouse, The Old Jail, Columbia Restaurant, Whetstone Chocolate Factory, Fort Mantanzas), but these are the things we have done that we are likely to repeat on this trip.
If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend a visit to this beautiful city. It’s even within driving distance of that other big tourist city where the mouse lives if you would want to take a day trip there or do a combo trip to the two places.
Don’t worry, Charleston, we still love you.