St Augustine Florida is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States. Founded in 1565, it’s a stunning coastal city filled with a fascinating history. Therefore, it’s not surprising that there are plenty of unique things to do in St Augustine.
Intrigued by the city’s old-world charm and Spanish influence, I will admit, it was the ability to drink from Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth that made St Augustine a must-see for me.
Over time, St Augustine’s been under many flags, it has a military history, tasty treats, beaches, and intriguing ghost stories.
There is a definite tourist element with places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, but there are also plenty of unique things to do in St Augustine that you won’t find anywhere else. Some of our highlights included seeing an original pirate flag, alligators and crocodiles (an unusual combination), forts, coastal views, beaches, and plenty of museums.
Don’t let its small appearance on the map fool you, this is a city you will want to stop and explore. Stay a night, or better still, a few.
St Augustine is also one of the most haunted cities in the United States means there are plenty of opportunities to mingle with the ghosts. So many in fact, that we gave the haunted locations their own page.
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Unique things to do in St Augustine, Florida: One of a kind
One thing we can promise, you won’t be bored in this city. You can find everything from tourist destinations to historical interests. However, if you are like us, it will be some of the unique things in St Augustine that you never knew existed, that will make your visit truly memorable.
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
We have all heard of Ponce de Leon and his search for the fountain of youth. Now, I have drunk from it, along with hundreds of others every day.
Instantly, I looked and felt younger. Well, maybe not, but drinking from the spring discovered by Ponce de Leon is one of the many unique things to do in St Augustine. (Oddly, I previously drank from a fountain of youth in Norway.)
(Of course, like all good legends, there is some question as to its validity.)
Either way, the archaeological park is a fun visit. It’s located at the site of Timucua Village of Seloy, the first settlement of St Augustine.
There is more than just the spring water here. It’s a place to discover some of the histories of the early explorers.
Included in our entry price is a presentation of the explorer’s routes to and from the new world on a huge 30ft high globe (this was similar to the NOAA globe we saw on American Samoa). Also, there is a watchtower, old church, blacksmith shop, and live demonstrations of crossbow and cannon firings.
St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
As far as unique things to do in St Augustine goes, this one has to be pretty high on the list. Imagine every species of Crocodilian in one place, and you have the St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park.
The park has grown quite a bit over the years, but its two original structures represent one of Florida’s oldest private zoos. In 1937, they built the current main building and alligator pen. The park’s expansion includes lemurs and exotic birds.
While I have seen both alligators and crocodiles in the past, never together and never so many in one spot. Viewed safely from boardwalks, the animals are in large swamps and waterways underfoot. However, if you are brave, you can zip line over the park.
Castillo de San Marcos
Whether you visit this 17-century fort for its fascinating history, its coastal views, its colorful staff reenacting the past, or its ghost stories, you won’t be disappointed. In its short history, the fort has flown the flags of five different countries.
Open for self-guided tours during the day, Castillo de San Marcos is a United States park service national monument.
Inside, we walked the rooms, climbed to the parapets, and enjoyed a live cannon firing demonstration by participants reenacting the days of the Spanish occupation while wearing replica clothing that weighed upwards of 30 pounds.
If you haven’t been to St Augustine, but are getting a sense of déjà vu as you read this, perhaps it’s because you have seen it on the Travel Channel as part of their Ghost Adventure series.
Colonial Quarter and the oldest wooden schoolhouse
Like a living history tour, we went through the Colonial Quarter far too quickly as our time was limited. Inside we found a home, print shop, shipyard, blacksmith shop, sentry watchtower, and gunsmith with a musket firing demonstration.
We also visited the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the USA, located in the historic district of St. Augustine near the Colonial Quarter. It’s virtually untouched from its original format. The one-room schoolhouse was constructed during the first Spanish occupation. When we visited, life-sized mannequins filled the classroom, while mirrors allowed us a peek into the upper level where the teacher lived.
Unique things to do in St Augustine: Museums
St Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
With over 800 items, the St Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum boasts the largest collection of pirate artifacts in the world. Included amongst the treasures are one of the world’s three remaining authentic Jolly Roger flags and the only known surviving pirate treasure chest. (Check out other pirate flags.)
Best of all, it’s an interesting museum for both adults and children. While many of the exhibits have a criminal element to them, there is plenty to keep kids busy. In fact, successfully completing the museum’s treasure hunt will render you an ‘honorary pirate’ with a piece of treasure to take home. Get tickets in advance.
Potter’s Wax Museum
Potter’s is the oldest wax museum in the USA, opening in 1949. Amongst its over 160 wax sculptures are historic figures including Albert Einstein, Ponce de Leon, and Princess Diana. In addition, you will find modern figures like Harry Potter and Micheal Jordon.
Don’t forget to bring your camera, and take your photo with the wax figures. Get advance tickets and transport
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum
Located in a former castle, the building itself is half the fun of this Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. Inside, we found over 800 exhibits of the unusual.
Spanish Military Hospital Museum
This old military hospital highlights medical practices from the Second Spanish Period. The guided tour lets visitors “witness” surgeries and the creation of apothecary medicines. While these were cutting edge in the late 18th century, they will feel a bit off today.
The building itself is a reconstruction of the military hospital that stood on the site.
St Augustine Old Jail Museum
The old jail was built in 1891 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours take you into the cell blocks, sheriff’s quarters, men’s and women’s quarters, and maximum security, as well as viewing the gallows and a collection of weapons.
Like so many old places, it’s the stories shared by the guide that make it such a great place to visit. Take a guided tour of the Old Jail
St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
An active lighthouse, visitors can climb the 219 steps to the observation deck where they can look into the lens room or enjoy lovely views of Saint Augustine. Visitors can also enjoy the maritime museum exhibits and see wooden boat building in progress.
Tips for visiting St Augustine
- Pro Tip: Head straight to the St Augustine historic district when you arrive.
- While there seems to be plenty of public car parking, it fills quickly and finding a parking spot is often difficult. We recommend getting an early start as we found parking before 10 am to be pretty easy.
- If you can stay in the historic district, you will be able to walk to most of the venues recommended on this page.
- The Old Town Trolley Tours look like a fun way to get around town.
- If you are on a budget, choose your activities carefully. Nearly all of the things to do in St Augustine come with a price tag.
- Try a caramel apple.
Where is St Augustine Florida
Located along the Atlantic coast of northern Florida, St Augustine is a city in the Southeastern United States. It’s about 40 miles (65 km) south of Jacksonville, and 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Orlando.
We visited St. Augustine as part of a larger USA road trip from southern Florida to Chicago.
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Disclaimer: We worked with Florida Historic Coast, the local tourism board. Also, we were provided with many complimentary entrances, tours, sample items, or media rates to assist in the writing of this review. The opinions expressed here are strictly our own.