I consider myself so lucky to have lived in St. Augustine! For those who don’t know, I went to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, so I was a local for a few years in this Ancient City. Now, I’m sharing my St. Augustine day trip guide since this is my favorite town in the Sunshine State.
Believe it or not (and most don’t), St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. It was founded in 1565, so that makes it over 450 years old. I would know because I was there for the 450th!
Walking the streets of St. Augustine feels unlike anywhere else in the U.S. in my opinion. It’s like wandering the streets of Europe, but with a little bit of Florida beach-town charm mixed it.
The best part about St. Augustine, Florida is that it makes the perfect day trip from Orlando or any other big city in Florida. Whether you’re coming for just a day or the whole weekend (or longer!), here is a local’s St. Augustine day trip guide.
About St. Augustine, Florida
Before you visit, it pays to learn a bit about St. Augustine. It’s called the Ancient City for a reason! St. Augustine is on the northeast coast of Florida, and it’s best known for its beaches, the Castillo de San Marcos, and its Spanish colonial architecture.
Here are some other St. Augustine facts tourists should know:
- St. Augustine was founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565 (you’ll see his name all around town so keep an eye out!)
- You’ll find the narrowest street in the U.S. in St. Augustine (Aviles Street in downtown)
- The Castillo Fort has changed possession 6 times but never be taken by force!
- This is one of the most haunted cities in the U.S.
- St. Augustine is rumored to be home to Juan Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth (you can even visit yourself)
- St. Augustine was once the holiday spot for the rich and famous in the 1800s and 1900s
Consider this your St. Augustine crash course! Now let’s start the St. Augustine day trip guide.
What to Do
There’s a lot to do in St. Augustine, so if you’re only staying for a day, you’ll need to make some choices. At the end of this post I have a full itinerary with suggested must-dos, but here’s a full list of my best picks.
Note that a lot of St. Augustine “must-dos” you’ll find in guide books are actually expensive tourist attractions. They’re not always historically accurate or worth it! These are my picks as a local.
Castillo de San Marcos
This is a 17th-century fortress and a real sight to behold. It’s hard to miss, located right in the heart of downtown and on the intercoastal. It’s easy to see how this fort protected the city in its early days.
You can explore the inside of the fort which is a part of the National Park Service, but it does cost a small fee. If you’d rather not tour the inside, you can walk around the outside sea wall and take in the sights. Pro tip: there are almost always dolphins in the harbor, just keep an eye out!
I’d personally recommend taking the time to tour the Castillo at least once. It’s really cool! They also filmed an episode of Ghost Adventures here, so keep an eye out for spirits.
I went my first 2 years in St. Augustine without ever visiting the Lightner Museum! Boy, do I regret it! This is a gorgeous little museum that’s well worth a visit. The entry fee is small, but there are a lot of antiques from the Gilded Age inside.
The building itself is a real masterpiece! It’s the historic Hotel Alcazar, built in 1887. It was the first hotel to have an indoor Olympic sized swimming pool, and this pool is now a cute cafe today.
If you’d rather not tour the museum, definitely take a walk through the courtyard. There’s a cafe, vintage shops, and a cute koi pond.
This wouldn’t be a day trip guide to St. Augustine without my beloved Flagler College! You’ll easily see why it’s named one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. Previously known as the Hotel Ponce de Leon, this was the leading St. Augustine hotel for the wealthy elite.
Built by railroad and oil tycoon Henry Flagler, the hotel was built in 1888. Not only is the main hotel building beautifully done, but it was also one of the first buildings in the country wired for electricity. The wiring was installed by none other than Thomas Edison! His original clock is still on display in the Flagler Room.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit biased, but Flagler is a jewel. You can still visit the main building, Ponce Hall, as a tourist. There are tours hosted daily, and they’re so worth it.
St. George Street
St. George Street is the main shopping street in St. Augustine. It looks a bit touristy because it is, but it’s still worth a stroll. Window shop at the cute boutiques and touristy places. Take in the old colonial architecture.
Believe it or not, many of these buildings have been around for hundreds of years. I know because I used to work in a few!
The Old Jail
The Oil Jail is what it sounds like…an old jail. It’s where just about every student in Florida takes a field trip at one point or another, but it’s totally worth a visit. This historical jail was built in 1891 by Henry Flagler, and it still looks as it did over a century ago.
This jail served the city from 1891 – 1953. Today, you can tour the grounds to learn about the prisoners and the local town.
St. Augustine Lighthouse
If you have time to take a trip to Anastasia Island, visit the St. Augustine lighthouse. Built between 1871 and 1874, this lighthouse is still active today. Standing at over 165 feet, you can’t beat the view from the top! Just be ready for a lot of stairs.
If you do visit, be sure to ask about the resident ghosts. This is rumored to be one of the most haunted spots in St. Augustine.
It’s not possible to pack everything into a day trip to St. Augustine, so here are some extras to fit in the next time you visit.
What to do in St. Augustine:
- Vilano beach – You probably won’t find Vilano beach on any guidebook, but it’s the best beach in North Florida. Located just North of St. Augustine, drive along A1A until you find the right strip of beach. Or, take your car and get a beach-driving pass at the Vilano Beach lot.
- Fountain of youth – I personally don’t think the Fountain of Youth attraction is worth it, but the peacocks are very pretty.
- Pirate and Treasure Museum – This is a pretty cool museum, but it’s more of a tourist attraction than anything else. It’s also very small, but it could be worth a few hours.
- Museum of Medieval Torture – This actually is new, but I visited a similar museum in Croatia. I love it! It’s small but very interesting. Beware, it’s not suitable for little kids or the faint of heart.
- Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse – This was another place I visited in school as a kid. It’s very small, but it is pretty cool to see how the oldest wooden schoolhouse looks inside. This is suitable for kids more than adults.
- Ximenez-Fatio House Museum – Supposedly the oldest house in St. Augustine (this is debated), this is a pretty cool place to tour if you have the time.
Where to Eat in St. Augustine
St. Augustine has so many amazing places to eat. It’s hard to limit the list to my favorites, but I’ll try. With so many cultures represented here, it’s hard not to fall in love with a new cuisine.
Where to eat in St. Augustine:
- The Floridian – A St. Augustine classic, this Florida-style eatery is AMAZING. You’ll want to make reservations in advance, if possible. It gets crowded!
- Collage – For upscale dining, Collage is your place. It’s easy to miss Collage in the historic district, but this fine dining place is really top of the line. You’ll need a reservation!
- Ice Plant – Ice Plant is a bar, restaurant, and distillery all in one. Located in a historic ice plant, this is a great place to dine.
- Taco Shop – For a more “local” experience, stop by Taco Shop (technically called AIA Burrito Works, but nobody calls it that). There’s a location on St. George Street, but I personally prefer the one on Anastasia Island. Get the UFO!
- Back 40 Urban Cafe – If you’re not afraid to drive a bit from downtown, Back 40 Urban is a hidden gem. The best thing on the menu is the wet burrito!
- Gaufres and Goods – You probably wouldn’t find this on a map, but this little Polish place is worth exploring for. Get a crispy waffle!
- Aunt Kates – Located on Vilano, Aunt Kates is old Florida at its finest. Sit on the River and take in the sunset! Gator is even on the menu!
- Cousteau’s – Perfect for dessert and located right off St. George St.
This wouldn’t be one of my day guides without some coffee recommendations! St. Augustine’s coffee culture rivals Europe. Here are my college-caffeine-addiction-inspired favorites.
Where to get coffee in St. Augustine:
- The Kookaburra – Known to locals as “the Kook,” this is an Australian coffee shop and bakery right in the heart of downtown.
- City Perks Coffee Co. – Now in a new, bigger location, City Perks is still one of my favorites. I used to stop in here every afternoon to get my discount for working on St. George St. They have great specialty coffees!
- Relampago Coffee Lab – Located just off of St. George Street, Relampago has one of my favorite backyard courtyards of any coffee shop ever.
- Juniper Market – Juniper is new, but I would have died if it existed while I was in college. It’s airy, it’s light, it has an art studio on the property! Amazing!
This also wouldn’t be one of my guides without some bar recommendations. Here are the best drinking spots in St. Augustine.
Where to drink in St. Augustine:
- No Name – Yes, this is really the name. Located right in front of the fort, this no-frills bar is my favorite hole-in-the-wall. Plus, there’s almost always live reggae music!
- Stogies – This cigar bar is more classy than you think. Grab a pint and sit by one of the outdoor fire pits, or head upstairs for a more intimate setting.
- Meehan’s Tropical Backyard Bar – Behind Meehan’s Irish Pub is the Backyard Tiki Bar. This is where you can get the infamous fishbowl drink! Note: it’s best for sharing.
- Dos Gatos – I’m only listing this because it was a Flagler College classic. They do have great cocktails though, not that I’ve ever tried one.
- Ancient City Brewing Taproom – I love Ancient City beers! They recently opened a taproom downtown and I’m so jealous that it wasn’t there sooner.
St. Augustine Day Trip Itinerary
Now here’s my St. Augustine day trip guide now that you know the best things to do, best places to eat, and so on. Here’s what I would recommend a single day in St. Augustine look like:
St. Augustine Day Itinerary
9:00 AM – Arrive in St. Augustine. Depending on the time of year, it can be really hot and crowded. You’ll want a head start! If you’re driving, park in the city garage or look for street parking.
Start your day by grabbing breakfast. A number of places are open on or near St. George Street like the Spanish Bakery and Maple Street Biscuit Company.
10:00 AM – Tour Flagler College. Tours are just about every day at 10 AM and 2 PM, but check online before your trip. If tours are closed due to the time of year, you can still walk through the courtyard and Ponce Hall.
11:00 AM – Visit the Lightener Museum. Spend a few minutes walking through the courtyard, then make your way into the museum. It’s $15 per person (less for students, veterans, seniors, and children).
I’d recommend spending an hour and a half wandering through the museum. I highly recommend checking out the fancy bathroom/spa on display! I remember this being my favorite part of the exhibit! Before you leave, walk through the Alcazar cafe to see the vintage shop and see just how big the pool area is. This is also a great time to wander along Aviles Street.
12:30 PM – Time for lunch! Pick one of my favorite restaurants above. If you want to stay downtown, I’d recommend The Floridian or Taco Shop. They’re all within easy walking distance of the Lightener Museum.
2:00 PM – Stroll down St. George Street. Time to check out the shops and other cute finds! Don’t forget to stop for a coffee or a drink along the way!
3:00 PM – Walk along the waterfront on U.S. 1. This is where you can take in the fort, the harbor, and the Bridge of Lions. Take your time and look for dolphins!
3:30 PM – Visit the Castillo de San Marco and explore the inside. There are guided tours, but you can also visit on your own. Enjoy the view from the top! I’d recommend spending about an hour here.
If you’d rather skip the fort, walk a bit north down U.S. 1 to Uptown. This is where you’ll find the cutest boutiques, shops, and vintage stores. It’s also home to the Juniper market!
4:30 PM – Time for an afternoon cocktail! Head over to No Name bar for some live music if you’re visiting on the weekends, or pop into Stogies for a favorite brew.
For a boozy tour, make your way to the St. Augustine Distillery (at the Ice Plant) for a distillery Tour. Tours run every 30 minutes, and the last one is at 5 pm.
6:00 PM – Dinner time! Again, check out one of my favorites above. For dinner, I especially recommend Collage or Aunt Kates. If you head to Aunt Kates, be sure to get an outdoor table to see the sunset over the river.
8:00 PM – Go back downtown to check out the nightlife or grab some dessert. There’s always something happening in St. Augustine when the sun goes down! Check out my other bar recommendations, or head to a coffee shop for a late-night java fix.
If you’re looking for a night tour, try one of the haunted ghost tours you’ll find around the city. Otherwise, make your own bar crawl or call it an early night.
Visit St. Augustine, Florida
Are you visiting St. Augustine? Here’s what you should do on a day trip. There’s so much to pack into your St. Augustine experience, it was hard to give my top recommendations. Still, I feel confident that this is the best possible representation of the St. Augustine I know and love.
This St. Augustine day trip guide is for all types of travelers. Whether you’re looking to learn about St. Augustine’s history, do some window shopping, or just take it easy, there’s something for everyone.
I hope you have the best time in the Ancient City! For more Florida inspiration, check out my guide to the best day trips from Orlando.