The oldest city in the US, St Augustine is romantic, vibrant, captivating. It’s saturated with layers of history and culture. Old Town St Augustine has a European feel, with narrow, cobblestone streets, and shoulder-to-shoulder shops, eateries, and lodging. The beach is just over the causeway. St Augustine Florida is perfect for a no-drive getaway.
No-Drive Exploring – St Augustine is made for exploration. There are hundreds of historic buildings, a Spanish fort, an iconic lighthouse, boating, wildlife, water sports, and miles of sand on St Augustine Beach. Old Town is history-dense. It’s also a challenging place to drive and park.
Instead of driving, buy Old Town Trolley tickets. The tram covers all the sights in a regular loop, even the beach. You’ll have unlimited hop-on-hop-off access. You can be spontaneous, jumping off here and there without a plan or plan a tour using trolley stops.
Leave your car at your hotel. Ride the trolley for the complete route to get an overview of places you’d like to explore. The trolley is covered with open-air sides. The trolley driver narrates as you roll along. The driver’s combination of history, folklore, and local visitor information, provides a quick St Augustine overview. After a full-circle tour, take the tram back to your favorite attractions.
Sleeping, Relaxing – Stay at St Francis Inn. St Augustine’s oldest inn was established in 1791. In the heart of old town, St Francis is two blocks from the waterfront and four blocks from A1A.
Located in a residential area, tucked back from busy streets, but in the middle of it all, you can park your car and forget it. Walk to numerous points of interest, or take the trolley. Your Trolley-stop, #17, is one block away at the Oldest House Museum.
St Francis serves complimentary breakfast for guests, the posted menu is different each day. I gobbled-up the Baked French Toast and sausage. Yum. Breakfast is served in the dining room.
Enjoy happy hour in the courtyard surrounded by wrought iron furniture, a tinkling fountain, lush foliage, and songbirds. Afternoon snacks, happy hour, and evening dessert is offered daily. Everything served is house-made and over-the-top scrumptious.
St Francis Inn’s customer care is 5-star. The property is an inviting gem with true old Florida vibe.
Historic St Augustine – If you want to start with history, Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is the place to go (Trolley-stop #23). Located on the original site of America’s oldest city, the park brings history to life through re-enactments, village re-construction, demonstrations, and tours. Explore the park’s wetlands from the wood walkways dotted with benches. Wildlife viewing is outstanding presenting flora, fauna, and waterway photo ops in the middle of the city.
Golden age hotels – were built in the late 1800s by wealthy American businessmen. They became winter playgrounds for snowbirds; people escaping winter weather in the northeast.
Today, two of these American palaces are a museum and a college. Lightner Museum and Flagler College are in old town, just across the plaza from one another. Both are beautifully maintained. Both will transport you to a golden era.
See Flagler College with a guided tour, led and narrated by students.
Lightner Museum is self-guided. Check the website for special docent-led tours and new exhibits.
Legal bourbon & chocolate tasting– The tram will take you to St Augustine Distillery, stop #12. Florida’s first legal bourbon distillery where you can tour, taste, and learn to make cocktails.
Across the street stop into Whetstone Chocolates for their choc-o-licious tasting tour.
Eating – It’s hard to make a wrong step in a city that has centuries-old food culture from Minorcan, Spanish, French, English, and Timucua societies. If you love seafood, St Augustine is sea-foodie bliss. It comes in fresh every day and is proudly served all over town. My personal favorites—grouper or jumbo prawns. Well heck, why not both?
You absolutely must try St Augustine’s secret food, the datil pepper. The little firecracker is often called the Minorcan pepper. It was brought to St Augustine by Minorcan immigrants aboard Spanish ships. It’s rare to find it growing outside this area. It’s been a part of St Augustine agriculture and food-culture for 400-years.
Try Minorcan Clam Chowder, it’s served in most eateries and has a secret ingredient – datil peppers. The Great Chowder Debate is held in November each year. Local restaurants compete for the coveted title – Best Minorcan Clam Chowder.
Breakfast – St Francis Inn for guest.
Hot Shot Bakery, Trolley-stop #8 puts you within 3-blocks. Breakfast served all day, hot and cold sandwiches, house-made pickles, bakery desserts, beer, wine, and coffee. The best story here is Sherry Stoppelbein, chef, owner, and Duchess of Datil. She’s 5-time winner of Best Minorcan Clam Chowder, and creator of addictive datil pepper condiments, available at Hot Shot. For an authentic taste of St Augustine, take one of Sherry’s cooking classes.
Lunch – Five Flags Café in Fountain of Youth Park, farm-to-table, sustainable and chef-driven. You’ll be happily surprised. Try their Cuban sandwich with creamy black beans—heavenly. Park entry fee is not required when eating at Five Flags. Fountain of Youth Park is Trolley-stop #23.
Columbia is called the gem of Spanish restaurants. The restaurant has been owned and operated by the same family for over 100-years. Serving lunch and dinner, be sure to ask for a table in the interior courtyard, the brightly-colored Spanish architecture, fountains, and tile work is dazzling. The menu has tapas, soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees, and desserts. All with a Spanish flair. A full-service bar features Spanish wine, Sangria, local beer, and cocktails. Trolley-stop #8.
Dinner – Before dinner, stroll from St Francis Inn the short walk to the Bridge of Lions. Have a glass of champagne aboard Victory III. They board next to the bridge. Watch the sunset behind St Augustine’s distinct skyline.
Head to O.C. White’s across the street from Victory III, for dinner. If grouper is on the menu, go for it. Located on the water with indoor and outdoor seating, this is the place for local seafood. OC’s serves lunch, dinner, and Sunday Brunch. Try one of their frozen drinks, made with all-natural ingredients. Their Mojitos are the best in town.
Dine at the beach at Salt Life Food Shack. Bright, buzzy and casual. Flip-flops and shorts are formalwear here. Seafood, sushi, tacos, and bowls are paired with beer, wine, and cocktails. Inside table or bar seating inside and out. Salt Life often has live music on the dog-friendly deck. Take the beach trolley. Once you’ve been to St Augustine, you’ll return. It has a European sophistication, with southern charm. History is deep, food even deeper, and St Augustinian’s warm and welcoming. Enjoy a no-drive weekend, take the trolley.
See a schedule for St Augustine food events, art, music and more at Florida’s Historic Coast, St. Augustine & Ponte Vedra Beach.
All photos by Mary Charlebois