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There is nothing that I love more than exploring new places around the state, so when an opportunity came up to visit St. Augustine I was all in. I'm a huge fan of taking daycations from Tampa --since I've been there done that with a lot of our best attractions-- so, now on my weekends, I like to prioritize finding towns and to-dos within a couple hours of the city. And while I've been all over the state, from Miami to Jacksonville and many places in between, I didn't know I was missing out on so much until I spent a day in the nation's oldest town, St. Augustine.
There were some upsides to the trip and some downsides, namely that I went on Mother's Day weekend so the town and everything in it was absolutely packed, but I'd say all-in-all it was an exceptionally successful trip that I enjoyed so much that I'm now questioning if I should move there. But before I get too off-topic, here's my review of my "day" trip to St. Augustine.
It was only a 3 hour drive from Tampa, which makes it a great spot for a day trip (if you get up early, unlike me). I spent overall less than 24-hours in the area, but because I got up late on Saturday and didn't want to get up early on Sunday either, I chose to book a hotel for the evening. Hotels in the area were crazy expensive that weekend as well, like $250 for a night, so I chose to stay just outside of Jacksonville instead --it was only a 35 minute drive into town. Well worth it for more than half of the cost in my opinion!
My boyfriend and I, and our dogs, arrived on Saturday evening just before sunset, giving us just enough time to check out the lighthouse and one of the neighboring beaches. The lighthouse was closed by the time we had arrived, but you can still get a good view of it from outside of the gates --so that's what I did. Then I walked over to the small pier across the road, where many people were fishing, and I happened to see a sea turtle swimming around! This was the first time I had seen a sea turtle in the wild in person, so I thought that was pretty spectacular.
The pier, turtle and lighthouse are pictured below for reference!
After checking out the lighthouse and admiring the turtle, we decided it was time to check out one of the beaches since they were less than 10 minutes away. One thing I really liked about St. Augustine was that they allow dogs on most of their beaches.
I typed in St. Augustine Beach on my phone and my GPS took me to a very well-kept residential neighborhood, which I originally thought was a very strange spot for it to bring us, however, after driving around for a moment I noticed there were two small lots hidden between some of the residences that were public beach parking! It was free and hardly anyone else was parked there (for anyone wondering, the parking was on "D Street") and it was only a couple of blocks to the Atlantic from there.
The beach was exceptionally wide and spanned for miles. I noticed that the sand was colorful and grainer than I'm used to with the Gulf Coast, but it was nothing short of stunning. We spent the rest of the evening waiting for sundown while we traversed the sandy oasis. There we watched the sun slowly sink below the dunes in a beautiful display.
On our trip back to the hotel we drove through the town and saw it bustling with nightlife, and as much as I wanted to join in, since we had the dogs and were unfamiliar with the area, we decided to wait until daytime to make it back to town.
The next morning (Mother's Day) after we had checked out of the hotel, we headed to the main strip of St. Augustine. We parked at the town's parking garage for $15 (all day parking), which I thought was fair enough since anywhere that was free was already taken. My first thought when we walked into town was "wow, some of these buildings look like they're straight from the Wild West!"
Cobblestone roads, wooden buildings, historic sites and an array of colonial-themed craft vendors made certain that the entire town really fit the "old and historic" theme, which was an aspect that I fell in love with immediately. Since most of Florida is so built-up and modern, it was a welcoming change. I compared the town to a set up similar to a Renaissance festival (but colonial!)
By the time we arrived at 11a.m. the streets, cafes and shops were already packed full of tourists and locals. Many of the shops allowed us to bring our dogs inside to browse, and most of the eateries had outside eating for people with animals.
We grabbed a bite at Burger Buckets then made our way over to main street to check out the dozens of shops before meandering across the street to the old fort. We could have easily spent an entire day going in and out of the stores, but we wanted to try and fit as much sightseeing in as possible.
Because the town was in such close proximity to the area's best attractions, it made sightseeing in a day very easy!
Now that I've scoped out the town, I know that next time I go back (without dogs) I will definitely want to hit up some of the area's museums (Ripley's Believe It or Not!, the Medieval Torture Museum) and of course, take at least one of the tours --the trolly, ghost, horse-drawn carriage or lighthouse tour would be my idea of fun!
Furthermore, we didn't have a chance to stop at the famed Fountain of Youth park, but I would like to do that next time too.
Overall experience; 10/10 highly recommend. I can't say enough good things about how charming St. Augustine was during my visit, and anyone who enjoys the Renaissance festival-type of atmosphere would surely appreciate a trip to America's oldest city!