Today I’d like spotlight a place close to my heart, St. Augustine, Florida! I grew up in Florida, and St. Augustine is a super popular school field trip destination for Florida schools because of it’s historical significance (it’s one of the oldest cities in the country!). I first visited St. Augustine when I was around 9 or 10 years old, and continued to go back on occasional family vacations and school trips throughout my childhood.
I recently visited again for the first time in about 8 years and was surprised to find that it had hardly changed at all. Parts of it did strike me as being a bit more over-the-top touristy than they did as a kid, but I still think it makes a really fun little weekend or day trip, if you happen to be in the area!
Since this was just a short trip, we only had time to visit a few locations, so I made sure to pick my favorites!
First of all was the Lightner Museum:
The Lightner Musuem used to be a hotel called the Hotel Alcazar. The building itself is beautiful and is actually on the National Register of Historic Places. The musuem is named for Otto C. Lightner, who was a collector who traveled the world and collected all sorts of things, so the contents of the museum are pretty diverse. There are rooms dedicated to antique musical instruments, stain glass windows, cut glass, paintings, sculptures, furniture, and lots of other very old things from all over the world.
It’s a fun place to explore and wander around in. My favorite part is the ballroom, which overlooks the old swimming pool. On the floor of the swimming pool, there’s actually now a nice little cafe, which is where I ate my birthday lunch. If you’re lucky, there might be someone playing the grand piano there, as there was the day I visited.
After exploring the museum and eating lunch, we headed over to St. George Street, the main hub for touristy and novelty shopping, as well as cafes and eateries and all that kind of fun stuff. It’s a pedestrian-only street, and can be pretty crowded during the day, but it’s worth visiting. We met up with my friend and her mom at Cruiser’s Grill, which is at the north end of the street.
After our french fries there, we went for something sweet, with some ice cream and a caramel apple from Kilwin’s. Kilwin’s is a chain of dessert shops, but they’re SO good. The smell of the store alone is enough to make you drool…
After that, we decided to hop onto the Old Town Trolley Tour (that’s the green trolleys). I love these trolley tours but I couldn’t help but feel that the tickets were madly overpriced. A ticket for one person is $25! Next time I might opt for their competitor, the Red Train Trolley Tours, which seem just as good, and are a little bit cheaper.
Either way, I can’t deny that the tours are one of my favorite things about St. Augustine. They take you to every single place of interest around the city (as well as some that are not even interesting..) and you can hop on and off as many times as you want, and in the meantime the tour guides tell you all about the history of the city. It’s a bit cheesy but it’s fun and I always enjoy it.
We didn’t get off at many stops this time around, since we were short on time and I’ve been to them before. But a couple I would recommend are the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church (closed for construction when we were there, but it’s gorgeous), and the Castillo de San Marcos (Don’t bother to pay for the tour inside, but walking around the grounds is free, and really nice). Aside from those, if you’re into weird/fun/quirky museums, Ripley’s Believe It or Not is fun, but it’s a bit costly, and kind of something you only need to visit once.
For dinner we went to one of my favorite restaurant’s in St. Augustine, Harry’s Seafood, Bar and Grille. The restaurant is in a cool old building with a courtyard and a beautiful view of the bay from the 2nd floor. The staff is always nice and the food was just as good as I remembered from when I was a kid. Unfortunately they didn’t have the dish I used to order, but the mushroom pasta I got this time was good, as was the mojito I got. They also gave me some free key lime pie for my birthday!! And luckily didn’t insist on singing some embarrassing song to me in exchange for it…
In the morning, we got breakfast at, again, one of my old childhood favorites, The Bunnery Bakery and Cafe. I shared a plate of eggs and potatoes with my mom and it was delicious and affordable!
After a bit more strolling around, we decided we would try something new that we’d never done before — a free wine tasting at San Sebastian Winery! We had done the tour there when I was younger, but me not being 21 at that time, had obviously passed on the tasting. But since I am now completely of legal age, we decided to give it a try. My mom had also never been to a tasting before, so it was new for both of us.
I’m not a huge wine lover, but it was honestly really fun (and completely free)! They give you a bunch of different wines to try, with descriptions of all of them, and you have a pamphlet that you can mark which ones you like best. I actually liked the port and the sherry the best, more than the wines. Whether you’re a wine lover or not, it’s definitely a fun little thing to do. And if you prefer something a little stronger, the nearby St. Augustine Distillery Company also apparently offers free tastings.
For our very last destination, we made an extremely quick stop at the Mission Nombre de Dios. I would have loved to stay a little longer to take some pictures, but it started raining almost right after we arrived. The good thing about that is I at least got some nice pictures of the storm approaching! Anyway, if you are visiting on a day with nicer weather, it’s a beautiful place to take a stroll around (and also completely free).
It also features “The Great Cross” which is basically what it sounds like – a huge cross made of 208 feet (~63 meters) of stainless steel. I’m not religious but I still like going to see it because it’s such an interesting sight.
And that concludes my short birthday trip to St. Augustine. Despite it’s slightly cheesy/touristy vibe, it’s a cute and interesting place to visit and explore, and you can learn a bit about Florida’s history in the process!