We spent 4 months in St Augustine, FL from October 2017 through January 2018. These are things we all liked the most.
Best Places to Park:
The historical parts of St Augustine are all about walking which means you have to put the car somewhere and leave it. Parking spaces on the streets marked with a city crest are free from 5pm – 5am everyday or all day on Sundays and holidays. These are highly coveted spots and even when the meters are running can be hard to get.
There were two general lots that we used frequently – on on the south side of town and the other on the north. The south lot was behind the Villa Zorayda Museum on King Street. It’s marked with a sign like “All Day Parking $10″… price depending on the day. It’s kind of confusing, you pull around the back of the museum and park behind or around the lot south of the building. All the spots are marked authorized vehicles only, which makes you feel like you shouldn’t be there. There’s an attendant that walks around at takes payment and he assured me the signs were to scare off the college kids. This lot is local to the winery, distillery and shops along King street. You can head north from here through the historic district.
On the north side is the historic downtown parking facility which is located on West Castillio Drive between US 101 and A1A. This is a large multilevel parking garage which does fill up. When it’s full they have overflow parking further north on 101. It’s the most expensive, but easiest parking solution in town. It also has a visitor center right next door and is a station for many of the tours (red train, carriage, etc.) that go through town. The historic district is right across the street to the south.
RV Parking is just west of the parking parking garage. If you turn onto West Castillio Drive off of 101 you’ll want to make the first right onto Riberta Street – there should be signs directing you. RV parking is down that street on the left.
There are several public lots within the historic district but I would highly recommend parking at one of the bigger lots and walking the area first. The roads are super narrow with lots of pedestrian traffic. Many roads are one way and others are closed to vehicles all together. These smaller lots are cheaper and closer to the action but getting to them can be a challenge requiring patience and care.
One thing to note about St Augustine in general and the historic areas in particular. They are not big vehicle friendly. I drive an Excursion and I felt even the Home Depot and Lowes lots were very cramped. We went to restaurants in the business area of town where the parking lots required 5 point turns to get out in an Explorer. I parked at the Post office off of King Street and a guy in a Ram 3500 dually parked next to me. His rear wheel wells were within 2” of my doors and the guy on the other side as well.
Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grill.
46 Avenida Menendez, St Augustine, FL 32084
This gem on the waterfront servers up fantastic “New Orleans Style” food with a level of service and an atmosphere that can’t be beat. We ate here twice, being seated outside for dinner in the evening and the experience was the same both times – amazing.
Everyone else knows about this place too so come early, or plan to wait. We are a group of 6 so we learned a long time ago to go early (big tables eat last). We got there both times around 5 and didn’t have to wait to be seated outside. By the time we left, the line was very long.
Runner up – none. Not that there are no other good restaurants. In fact, there’s a lot, but none of them really stand out. Solid choices would include the A1A Ale Works (killer shrimp and grits), the Prohibition Kitchen, Pizza Time, Thia House and Sushi Bar and Catch 27 (best Minorcan Clam Chowder)
Horse Drawn Carriage Tours starting in the North Bound lanes of A1a between the Bridge of Lions and the Castillio De San Marcos. What better way to tour a historical city then by horse drawn carriage? These tours are about an hour long and provide a slow paced look at the key parts of the historic district. Our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, providing both historical insight to the many landmarks along the route as well as tips on local hot spots for dining and shopping. He even had some interesting stories about some sights that were not on the route but could be seen nearby like the lighthouse. It was probably the most memorable thing for the whole family that we did in St Augustine.
Tip: If you go in the evening, bring bug spray and check the weather. We went at sunset and the mosquitoes were out in full force. It also got pretty chilly pretty fast so bring a sweater or jacket if the forecast calls for it.
Runner Up: Red Train.
Best Historical Site:
Castillio De San Marcos:
When it comes to history, the oldest city in america is full of it so it’s kind of hard to single out a best historical site (other then just saying … “The whole area”). However, the Castillio De San Marco which was key to the city’s survival for all these years does stand at the top of the list. This national park owned property is fairly large and makes for a very interesting tour. There is an entrance fee which is included under the “America the Beautiful” or “Interagency” pass if you have one. It’s also covered by the 4th grader free pass. There are a number of ranger led tours, a daily firing of the cannon and of course, you’re free to explore the grounds on your own if you so choose.
Parking can be a bummer. There is a small lot on site but it fills up quickly and usually has about 10 cars playing duck duck goose for the next spot that opens up. If the lot is full, you’ll probably be able to drive to the city parking garage on West Castillio (see places to park above) do the short walk over, see the Castillio, leave and get back to your car before you get lucky enough to get a spot here.
Runner’s up – St Augustine Lighthouse. Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine.
Best Ice Cream:
938 Santa Maria Blvd, St Augustine, FL 32086
Yeah, it’s a bit of drive down 101 south from downtown but it’s totally worth it. Our kids are ice cream freaks and I can’t tell you how many times we ended up here. It’s a small locally owned shop. Almost all hard serve in about a gazillion flavors. It’s not super busy and the staff is fantastic – we love this place.
Runner up: Tedi’s Olde Tyme Ice Cream
The Prohibition Kitchen
119 St George St, St Augustine, FL 32084
Very neat old time restaurant/bar on St George St. Great atmosphere and the milk shakes are to die for.
One Twenty Three Burger House
123 King St, St Augustine, FL 32084
This is a great family friendly place to drop in for a fantastic burger. Great food, service and priced right, what more could you ask for?
Best RV Park:
Compass RV Park
1505 State Rd 207, St Augustine, FL 32086
Our home for 4 months. During that time we stayed in multiple sites throughout the park, including their brand new “Oasis” section in the back. Of all the RV parks we’ve stayed in this one was one the best run. The office is always staffed during business hours, the maintenance crew was on top of issues quickly and they whole place ran like a well oiled machine. It’s gated, quiet and management was very conscientious about making sure everyone had a pleasant environment in which to live. They also had weekend entertainment including live music.
The best feature though was probably location. It’s only about 10 minutes to downtown, and 5 minutes from I 95. You’d never guess it though. It was quiet (particularly in the back Oasis section) and away from the big city lights.
Since we were there, Sun RV Resorts has taken over management. I don’t know if/how it will affect the park but from our experience it was a great place to stay.
It’s about a 20 – 30 minute drive south of St Augustine depending on how you go but it’s totally worth it. The beach is wide with plenty of space even during high tide. Pets are allowed and there’s a section on the north side where you can even drive your car on the beach. We were there several times and there were never a lot of other people. Best of all, it has that classic “beach” feel. From the parking lot, you cross a sea oat covered dune on a boardwalk which end with stairs down to the beach. No urban sea wall here … just nature at it’s finest.
In comparison St Augustine Beach by the St Johns County Pier doesn’t allow pets (we don’t have one anyways but I know a lot you out there do), is more crowded and is a narrower stretch of sand. At high tide, only about 20 – 30 yards between the sea wall and the water. It does widen out as you walk south. There are other public parking lots and access points to those wider southern areas, but we didn’t visit any of those. Regardless, its all in a much higher population area so it has much more of an “urban” beach feel. On the plus side, there is a spray ground there for the little kids between the parking lot and the beach.
Best Family Night Out:
Nights of Lights
Late November – January 31st.
If you’re not familiar with the St Augustine Nights of Lights then you’re in for a treat. Each year the historic area of St Augustine puts up millions of white lights for the holidays. It’s a beautiful display which is often ranked as one of the best holiday displays in the world. What makes it truly magical is the atmosphere. The city is this historic space with all these people walking about the old stone streets under these lights in the fresh fall air by the ocean.
Of course, it’s one big party too which adds a lot. All the bars/night spots are hopping and you can hear music in the streets. It truly is a unique experience that everyone should do at least once in their lives.
Needless to say, this is a crazy busy time of the year in the city. People come from all around just to experience it. Weekends are the busiest so if you can come during the week you can avoid some of the crowds.