St. Augustine Florida: A Warm, Historic Playground For Kids & Families
The nation’s true oldest city is not located in New England. It is sunny St. Augustine, FL –founded by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. That’s over 40 years before the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, and almost 60 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.
There is a ton of things for a family to see and discover in this town. You will feel like group of buccaneers on an adventure of a lifetime!
One of the newest attractions is the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum.
Pirates have played a major role in the cultural and historical development of St. Augustine.
Through the city’s archaeological evidence, it is clear that pirates were more than just legends. They possess one of the rarest and most comprehensive pirate collections in the world.
Some of their highlights include:
- Captain Thomas Tew’s Treasure Chest ~ Captain Thomas Tew’s 17th century treasure chest is the only authentic pirate treasure chest in the world. With its intricate exterior carvings and an elaborate hidden lock mechanism, this 400- year-old chest is a hefty 150 lbs. empty.
- The Jolly Roger Flag ~ The Jolly Roger flag is the larger of only two surviving Jolly Rogers in the world. This intimidating flag from the mid-19th century actually flapped in violent sea air and harkens back to the days when buccaneers flew these flags to frighten prey to speedy surrender.
- One of the only surviving pirate wanted posters in the world ~ This original poster from the King of England dates back to 1696 and demands the capture of pirate Henry Every. The 300+-year-old poster offered 500 pounds for his capture, but he disappeared with his treasures, never to be seen again.
- High Tech Pirate Experience Below Deck ~ This spine-tingling surround-sound chamber designed by Disney Imagineers takes wary visitors. Below Deck to experience Blackbeard’s last battle and breath. Feel the explosions, cannon shot, and his breath in your ear.
- Book of Pirates ~ This award-winning touch-screen exhibit has been described as one of the most exciting interactive journeys in American museums. It carries visitors on a technological adventure that brings to life the most notorious pirates of the Golden Age through secret clues and hidden treasure maps.
- Fire in the Hole! ~ Visitors can fire real cannons on the Gun Deck in the throes of pirate battle. Grab the electronic match and light the fuse.
Another great place to visit while there is the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park.
Founded in 1893, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm is one of Florida’s oldest zoological attractions. Visitors will be lured by the presence of alligators, birds, turtles and other animals. Older kids should check out the Crocodile Crossing Adventure. It is an aerial ride in the tree tops above the zoo and an obstacle course with more than 50 different challenges, including 7 zips over the zoo.
This is really a great chance to get a birds-eye-view above crocodiles, caiman, and alligators!
A must-see while in St. Augustine is the Castillo de San Marcos. It is a monument of stone, mortar, and human endurance. The Castillo symbolizes the clash between cultures which ultimately resulted in a uniquely unified nation. The self-guided walking tour is recommended among these grounds.
The Castillo was built to protect and defend Spain’s claims in the New World – and it was never defeated in battle. Its scarred walls still stand witness to over 300 years of history. Fort Marion (aka Castillo de San Marcos) was designated as a National Monument in 1924.
The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is something you won’t want to miss. This attraction provides a history of the Timucuan Indians and Spanish exploration. Sprawling over 15 acres is Seloy (which was the name of the Timucua Village, before the arrival of the Spanish in 1513 and Ponce de Leon’s claim of possession for the Spanish King). It is within the boundaries of this property that the oldest continuously occupied European settlement within the continental United States was formed.
Over the last 100 years, many thousands of guests have visited to sip the world famous waters and hear the history behind it all. Don’t forget to check out the Discovery Globe, Navigator’s Planetarium, Indian Burial Grounds, and the Shipwreck Exhibit. The cannon’s firing and native peacocks are cool sights, too!
Get a chance to observe the life of a light keeper at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. This original watchtower became Florida’s first lighthouse in 1824. In 1876, a brick light keeper’s house was added to the site.
The attraction is dedicated to discovering, preserving, presenting and keeping alive the story of the nation’s oldest port. A Spanish watchtower built in the late 1500’s was the predecessor of the present St. Augustine Lighthouse – the site of the oldest aid to navigation in North America.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse is 165 feet above sea level and has 219 steps. Its lens consists of 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape. Definitely a sight to see!
Nighttime in St. Augustine is a spooky, yet exciting time for kids and parents. Ghost Tours of St. Augustine was developed in 1994 by Sandy Craig, a native resident of St. Augustine. Walking by cemeteries was never so much fun!
Their tour is based on legends of ghosts and other strange experiences that occurred in St. Augustine. All of their stories are researched through records from historical libraries, church documents, personal diaries and personal interviews.
This award winning tour, which has been featured on the Discovery and Travel Channels, is held every night of the year, including all holidays. They also have seasonal and private tours available.
Don’t forget to sample the scrumptious food St. Augustine has to offer. Seafood and BBQ is the name of the game in this city. A1A, St. George Street, and Avenida Menendez provide great options. A local favorite is Saltwater Cowboys. The restaurant is perched above wildlife-laden salt marshes flanking the Intracoastal Waterway. For over 30 years, the restaurant has been serving up their own brand of fresh seafood, BBQ ribs, chicken, steaks, gator tail and frog legs to locals and tourists alike.
Open seven days a week, Saltwater Cowboys is adorned with handmade willow twig furniture, old wooden floors, and rusted tin ceilings. On a nice day, elect outdoor seating and munch on either the “3 Way Shrimp” meal or one of their signature dishes such as the “Cowboy’s Baby Back Ribs.”
Though visitors will be likely to spend most of their time outdoors, staying in St. Augustine is a breeze if you’re checked in at the historic St. Augustine Hilton Hotel.
Southern hospitality and generous hotel amenities can be found at the historic hotel. The hotel overlooks the calm waters of the Matanzas Bay, with a view through the inlet to the Atlantic Ocean.
The elegant 72-room hotel has fine dining (try their breakfast buffet at the Aviles Restaurant), a pool, a jacuzzi, and high-speed Internet access. Best of all, it is a short walk to major attractions (really!).
*Thank you to the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau for hosting & sponsoring us during our trip!*