Editor’s note: TravelQ, a series that documents travel through the eyes of stylish queers, returns this week with a new feature by Caroline and Erin, web designers, freelance photographers and writers for the travel blog Authentic Asheville.
St. Augustine is the oldest continually occupied European port city in the continental United States. It’s also a gorgeous city with tons of architectural appeal, great food, wonderful art, a thriving music scene and oh did we mention the beach?! If you’re looking for a small town feel with big city cultural appeal, give St. Augustine a look.
The Best Places to Stay in St. Augustine
At Journey’s End Bed & Breakfast | 89 Cedar Street
You can’t beat the location of this bed and breakfast which is in the downtown historic district on “Bed and Breakfast Row.” Just a short walk away are some of the best things to see, do and eat in St. Augustine, like the Lightner Museum and the waterfront. And Tim, the owner of At Journey’s End, is a wonderful resource. He’s also super friendly, makes an incredible gourmet breakfast and really goes out of his way to make sure you have a great experience. In addition to the free parking, free wi-fi, complimentary beer and wine, warm cookies and brownies we had a really comfortable room with the softest sheets, a gorgeous porch and a bathroom with it’s own steam shower!
The Guy Harvey Resort | 860 A1A Beach Boulevard
Conservationist and artist Guy Harvey has opened up a resort on St. Augustine Beach and it is awesome. We stayed in a room on the fifth floor that comes with a newly remodeled bathroom and renovated room complete with modern furniture, a new king sized bed, a large flat screen TV, and of course unique artwork by Guy. There’s also a large picture window overlooking the ocean and a door that opens up onto a private balcony so you can experience the beach without even leaving your room. There’s also a pool for those of you who don’t like salt water. If you’re looking for a place that’s literally on the water and with close proximity to historic downtown, this is it. Oh and if marriage is in your future, you can do that here, too! The Guy Harvey Resort has an on-site Director of Romance who has worked with the Rainbow Wedding Network and is ready to help you plan your special day.
The Best Things to Do in St. Augustine
Tour the Castillo de San Marcos | 1 South Castillo Drive
History comes alive at the Castillo de San Marcos. Built in the 17th century, this is the oldest masonry fortress in the United States. It’s the closest thing to a castle that we’ve ever seen and cooler than we expected. If you like history, you will be fascinated with this place. There are old cannons still in place on the roof, a powder room for you to crawl into (you literally have to get on your hands and knees to enter it), etchings on the walls from prisoners, and of course park rangers on hand to answer any questions you might have.
Tour the Pirate and Treasure Museum | 12 South Castillo Drive
This museum is interactive and fun. It’s also just across the street from the Castillo de San Marcos (you can visit both in about 2-3 hours). You can steer a ship’s wheel and “fire” a cannon and even lift a gold bar (it was heavier than it looked.) In addition, there are some really cool exhibits to see: an actual pirates treasure chest, one of the last remaining pirate flags, and even some Hollywood pirate memorabilia. Though it’s definitely kid-friendly, we had a good time in there and enjoyed learning through discovery with their hands-on exhibits.
Ghosts and Gravestones Tour | 27 San Marcos Avenue
We took this tour after dinner and it was a fun way to end the night. You’ll start the tour on a trolley and wind your way through the city checking out a graveyard, stopping at the Potter’s Wax Museum’s Chamber of Horrors and even stopping at the Old Jail. Our “Ghost Host” aka our tour guide, was dressed in period clothing and eager to share his knowledge about the spooky local scene. Overall the tour is more entertaining than it is scary.
Anastasia State Park | 300 Anastasia Park Road
We’ve been to a lot of state parks but this has to be one of the best. It’s got great access to the beach, a nice boardwalk overlook that’s handicap accessible, several great campsites with beautiful live oaks and palm trees that make each site feel private, clean bathrooms with hot showers and even a nice nature trail with rolling single track. Though the trail is only .8 of a mile, it is sure to delight even the most avid trail runner. On the night we visited, we were treated to free live music from some local musicians and a lovely starlit sky. It’s best to make reservations ahead of time if you plan to camp. Otherwise, set aside at least half a day for exploring the park.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park | 999 Anastasia Boulevard
We saw some big alligators in the Everglades, but we were not expecting to see a massive nearly 16 feet long alligator here. The farm is true to its advertising, there are 24 species of crocodiles and many other animals to see as well. Lemurs, pythons, birds of Africa, albino alligators (they had babies about 18 inches long!), macaws, marmosets, and more. There are also two different zipline courses you can challenge yourself with that crisscross over the park!
St. Augustine Lighthouse Museum and Maritime Museum | 81 Lighthouse Avenue
It’s 219 steps to the top of this historic lighthouse and it’s worth the effort because you’ll get a great view of the city. (The spiral staircase is also a cool photo for those of you who love Instagram.) There’s also guided tours every hour on the hour from 11am – 4pm that are free with your admission. If you have a fear of heights, no worries, you can still explore the Lightkeeper’s office as well as the Lightkeeper’s house.
Tour the St. Augustine Distillery | 112 Riberia Street
This was one of the best distillery tours that we’ve ever gone on. Brian, our guide, was funny, thorough and quick with a joke. The tour was about 30 minutes long and ended up in what felt like a throwback to the days of Prohibition and speakeasys. Brian demonstrated how to make several different cocktails and then gave us a taste of each. Our favorite was the gin and tonic and the Florida mule (a take on the Moscow mule.) It’s not enough to get you wasted but it’s enough to whet your whistle. Pick up a bottle to take home as you pass through the gift shop but not until you’ve done a second round of tastings upstairs!
St. Augustine Eco Tours | 111 Avenida Menendez
We’d heard a lot of great things about our guide Zach and he more than lived up to his reputation as a friendly, easy-going guy who loves to share his passion for the water. He was telling stories and making jokes from the moment we met him. Our adventure began right on time and we saw dolphins almost as soon as we got on the boat. Zach even had an underwater microphone and speaker that allowed us to hear some things underwater which was cool. He also pointed out and told us a little bit about every bird we saw as well as things about the plants and land that we passed in the estuary. The whole eco-tour was about an hour and a half long and we came away with a richer understand of the environment in and around St. Augustine, as well as a newfound love of dolphins. We would go back out on this tour again without question.
Tour Flagler College | 74 King Street
Flagler is a small (about 2,500 students attend Flagler) private, liberal arts college with 29 majors and 34 minors. Though it was only founded in 1968, it’s campus includes buildings like the Ponce de Leon Hotel that were constructed back in 1888. Tours are offered and will give you some insight into the man, Henry Morrison Flagler, who had a huge impact on St. Augustine as well as a glimpse at some beautiful architecture, a clock made by Thomas Edison and even some one-of-a-kind Tiffany’s chandeliers.
The Lightner Museum | 75 King Street
The museum is located in what used to be the Alcazar Hotel. It was built in 1888 and today houses some one of the coolest collections we’ve ever seen. The museum has a shrunken head, a mummy, rare seashells, a piece of a meteor, cigar labels and even human hair art. We were fascinated by the things we saw on every floor and fell in love with one of the docents, 85 year old Margo, who made the pieces in her care come alive with storytelling. If you only have time to do one or two things while you’re in St. Augustine, be sure to make this one of them.
Drifters Beach and Bike Rentals | (904) 315-6150 to Reserve
One of our favorite ways to explore a new place is on bike. If that sounds like you, too, we recommend going with Drifters. They’ll deliver a really sharp looking ride with classic lines and a brand new paint job to your hotel or bed and breakfast which means you have more time for fun. In 24 hours, we took our bikes on two different adventures: one from St. Augustine Beach all the way into downtown for a sunset drink and back and another the next morning on the hard-packed sand at low tide. Our bikes came equipped with lights, helmets and even a lock which made the whole experience super easy and one we’d do again in a heartbeat. They were also without the typical signs on them that scream “tourist”. We loved riding around on them and hope you will too. Want more than just bikes? Drifters rents chairs, coolers, toys and even shade tents.
The Fountain of Youth | 11 Magnolia Avenue
Even if you don’t believe in the healing powers of the water coming up out of this artesian spring, you can still enjoy some of the living history reenactments, check out the Planetarium and even enter some re-created Spanish and Timucuan Indian buildings that are on the property. We filled up our water bottle and then explored a good bit of the 15 acres at this Archeological Park. The grounds are lovely, the peacocks, too. Just be sure to brace yourself for the random cannon firings – they startled us twice while we were there!
The Best Places to Eat in St. Augustine
A1A Ale Works Restaurant and Taproom | 1 King Street
Local beers, an extensive menu, an excellent location and a gorgeous view of the water … we recommend heading here for at least one of your meals in St. Augustine. We both ordered lobster tacos and they was delicious. We also ordered a flight of Florida beers and they too were delicious. You can’t go wrong with this local and tourist favorite. When in St. Augustine … you know what do.
Catch 27 | 40 Charlotte Street
Our experience at Catch 27 was absolutely wonderful. We started the evening with a round of creative, hand-crafted cocktails and a deviled egg BLT with southern fried oysters appetizer. There were so many things we wanted to try but ended up going with the Blackened Fish (Mahi served with trinity risotto, sherry cream sauce, aged parmesan and red vine sorrel) and Fish Tacos (you can choose between chipotle sauce, garlic aioli or cumin-lime crema – we went for the cumin-lime crema and it was sooo good.) We highly recommend getting a reservation at this restaurant since indoor seating is limited and it’s favorite with both locals and tourists.
The Floridian | 72 Spanish Street
Set inside a green wooden house is the Floridian. You’ll know you’ve arrived by the number of scooters parked outside from all of the locals who’ve come to dine. The food from it’s kitchen is fresh, local and so good that it’s easily one of our favorite places in St. Augustine. It’s the kind of restaurant where you can be yourself and just relax. If we lived here, we’d find any old excuse to visit: work, meeting up with friends, even just by ourselves. We think it would suit just about any occasion. Must-trys include the Pepper Pickled Shrimp which was served cold in a short, squat glass jar with a delicious lemony-brine with red bell peppers, capers, lemon zest and onions. It was paired with a warm, buttered split baguette and the whole presentation was so pretty we didn’t want to touch it. Also go for the Spring Salad and add some blackened fish. On the day we ate there the fresh catch was Mahi and it was sooooo good. Oh and if you think you might not have enough room for dessert, consider having it first! We ordered the Sea Salt Caramel Brownie which was gluten free and it was super rich, with a deep chocolate flavor that was moist without being fudgy. In other words: amazing.
Relamplago | 74 Spanish Street
Sometimes, we need decaf. It’s not that we don’t love a caffeine buzz. It’s just that life, anxiety, stress, etc. means we need decaf. But the struggle is real. Most decaf out there is terrible. Not so at Relamplago. If you’re in need of a really, really good cup of coffee, get yourself on over to this coffee shop. We promise they’ll take good care of you. And if you want to linger, make sure to head out back where they have an open and spacious deck. PS. get a bag of coffee to go. They roast their own beans and we can vouch for the freshness and the taste.
Odd Birds | 33 Charlotte Street
Got a thing for creative cocktails? Us too. And you’ll find them here, that’s for sure. What you won’t find, however, is pretension. Odd Bird’s is down to earth and cool. It’s located in the heart of downtown and is the perfect place to go for drinks before or after dinner. The patio outside is nice with comfortable seating, various cacti and succulents and even a view of the Castillo de San Marcos. The inside is a little on the small and cozy side, the vibe is friendly and the bartenders are fun and easy to chat with. If you go, we hope it’s on a night when Kelly is working. He has a flair for entertainment (want a little smoke and fire with your drink?) and can think up something unique just for you if you tell him what you like. If all the drinking makes you you hungry, no worries. Odd Birds has got you covered with some arepas which are tasty and filling enough to make a whole meal out of.
Ice Plant | 110 Riberia Street
If the building’s cool exterior doesn’t draw you in (yes, it’s an old Ice Plant built back in the 1920’s), the smells coming from the kitchen surely will. But don’t just order food. Try at least one of their signature cocktails made with ice: shaved ice, 1” rocks, 2” rocks, spheres, long rocks and even pebbled ice. When the temps start to pick up, we suggest you head on over to the Ice Plant and let them help cool you down and fill you up. Start with a drink called Another Roadside Attraction. I’d go into details but I won’t. You just need to try it for yourself. The menu offered a bit of everything: super fresh fish, a burger, pork belly, two very different salads and all of it done really well. Nothing came out that wasn’t beautiful and also perfectly seasoned. More than one local suggested Ice Plant to us and after dining there, it’s no wonder why!
St. Augustine Recap
Located on the east coast of Florida, south of Jacksonville and north of Daytona, St. Augustine is unique unto itself. Not only does it have a ton of historical attractions, it’s also right on the water, has a ton of great places to eat and drink, and a music and arts scene that rivals that of much larger cities. (We didn’t have time, but be sure to check out who’s playing at the St. Augustine Amphitheater if you go. They get a ton of great bands!) We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, felt comfortable and safe the entire time we were there, and are already wondering when and how we can return.
About the authors: Caroline and Erin are freelance web designers, photographers and writers for the travel blog Authentic Asheville. When they’re not on the road, they hang their hats in Asheville, North Carolina. Follow their adventures on Instagram at @e.mcgrady + @carolineperdue + @authenticasheville