How to Do a Weekend in St. Augustine, Florida (with or without the Kids)

From history tours to zip lining over alligators, here are the best things to do in America's oldest city.
Castillo de San Marcos in St Augustine, Florida (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine isn’t just the oldest city in Florida—it’s also the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States. Modern-day visitors can fill a weekend in St. Augustine traveling back in time, searching for ghosts, and admiring everything from architecture to alligators. Here are the best things to do in St. Augustine, Florida.

1. Tour St. Augustine by Train, Trolley, Foot, or Boat

A sightseeing tour is a great way to get an overview of the area and decide what’s on your must-visit list for a weekend getaway in St. Augustine. You can go for an old standard like an Old Town Trolley tour, which allows you to jump on and off at 22 stops, or climb aboard the Red Train Tour at the city’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum.

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There are also lots of options for touring the city by foot and from the water. No matter what you choose, you’ll learn about the history of St. Augustine and get the lay of the land for further exploration.

2. Visit the Historic District

Stroll the pedestrian-friendly streets of the oldest part of the city, where some buildings date from the 1700s. The main drag of St. George Street can feel a bit touristy at times, so make sure to get off that well-beaten path to check out other stretches like Aviles Street (considered the oldest street in America) and brick Treasury Street, which at just six feet wide can claim to be the narrowest street in the country.

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There’s a lot of Spanish-Colonial and Spanish Renaissance architecture to admire, like the circa-1888 former Hotel Ponce de León that’s now part of Flagler College. If you’re doing a weekend getaway in St. Augustine with kids, the Oldest Wooden School House is a slightly kitschy but still fun way to see what school was like back in the 1800s, and the kiddos even get a special diploma as a souvenir of their visit.

3. Explore Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Built by the Spanish in the late 1600s, the impressive Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. The Spaniards used it to protect the city from pirates and the British, and visitors today can still see elements like the coquina-walled powder magazine and remnants of a moat during a self-guided tour of the site, widely considered one of the best things to do in St. Augustine.

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Climb up to the diamond-shaped bastions on the top level of the fort for sweeping views of the city and Matanzas Bay. And even if you don’t go into the actual fort, the lawn surrounding it is a great place for picnicking and people-watching.

4. See the City’s Spooky Side

A city that’s more than 450 years old must have some ghostly residents, and there are all kinds of ways to seek out that haunted history on a St. Augustine weekend getaway.

Walking tours like A Ghostly Encounter bring participants to creepy cemeteries and other sites where paranormal activity is said to have taken place. The Ghosts and Gravestones trolley tour bills itself as a “frightseeing adventure” that promises lots of secrets and scares, while the Original Haunted Pub Tour takes adult guests in search of spirits of all kinds at the city’s haunted bars.

5. Search for Eternal Youth 

You might expect Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park to be total schlock. And yes, you can take a sip from the spring here and see if you feel any younger. But the 15-acre waterfront site located in the area first explored by Ponce de León in 1513 also takes a look at much more of the city’s history, and visiting it is truly one of the best things to do in St. Augustine.

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Exhibits include a reconstructed Timucuan village that shows what life was like for the Native Americans already living in the area when the Spanish arrived. You can climb the park’s watchtower, catch a blacksmithing or canon-firing demonstration, and snap pictures of the peacocks that wander the site.

6. Get Your Steps In

Climb the 219 steps to reach the observation deck of the 165-foot-tall St. Augustine Lighthouse for 360-degree views of the area. (Kids have to be at least 44 inches tall to climb to the top.) The black-and-white-striped beacon was first lit in 1874, replacing another light on the site threatened by rising sea levels.

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After your climb, visit the museum’s exhibits to learn about life as a lightkeeper and see if there’s any boatbuilding in progress at the Heritage Boatworks. Then let the kids run loose at the shipyard-themed playground or stretch their legs on the site’s nature trails.

7. Walk (or Take a Zip Line) on the Wild Side

Founded back in 1893, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park now ranks as the only facility in the world exhibiting living specimens of all 24 species of crocodilian. That means you can see everything from albino alligators to the Nile crocodile here, along with residents like Maximo, a more than 15-foot, 1,250-pound saltwater crocodile who’s the largest animal at the site.

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Visitors can also spot all kinds of birds, Florida reptiles, and adorable sloths. If you’re brave enough, head to Crocodile Crossing to zip line over live alligators and crocodiles.

8. Hit the Beach

Beach options abound in the St. Augustine area. Head to St. Augustine Beach if you want a little more action, thanks to amenities like a fishing pier, beach pavilion, and splash park. For a beach that’s a little quieter and more laid-back, try spots like the white quartz sand beach at Anastasia State Park (also a great place for birdwatching) or Vilano Beach, a popular spot for surfers and kiteboarders.

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Beth Luberecki
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and teenage daughter. Visit her website at bethluberecki.com or find her on Instagram at @bethluberecki.

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