Orlando gets top billing in most discussions of best family vacation destinations in Florida. St. Augustine is more often cast as a desirable destination for lovers of golf, history and ostentatious Tiffany glass.
But make no mistake—the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States offers plenty of delightful attractions to share with your children. You could easily fill a family-fun vacation itinerary with things to do in St. Augustine.
1. Play on the Beach
Beach goers enjoy miles and miles of oceanfront sands and a variety of beach amenities up and down the barrier landforms. Beaches north of St. Augustine Inlet, especially Vilano Beach, are tranquil and unspoiled. Anastasia Island to the south includes a beachfront portion of the ecologically diverse Anastasia State Park, where you can kayak in a lagoon, picnic and hike, and as St. Augustine Beach, known for iconic Ocean Pier and amenities like a pavilion, showers and a playground.
2. Swim with Dolphins
Introduce your kids to dolphin preservation awareness while they have fun by driving them to Marineland® Dolphin Adventure 20 miles south of St. Augustine. Visitors age 3 and up get to interact with bottlenose dolphins in a variety of age-appropriate programs from Touch & Feed for the littlest ones to The Immersion for the slightly older. Along the way they’ll learn to respect dolphins and all aquatic life. Marineland Dolphin Center is a preservation and education center where dolphins receive compassionate and expert care, and have for decades. In fact, it’s where the first dolphin was born outside an ocean environment, in 1947.
3. Treat Them to a Ghost Tour at the Lighthouse
It’s fun enough in the daytime for kids who meet the minimum height requirement (44 inches) to climb from the lighthouse base to the observation deck—counting their way up the 200 steps, then gazing out at views they won’t forget. It’s a completely different experience at night, on the “Dark of the Moon” paranormal tour of a lighthouse considered the hottest hotspot in the whole famously haunted city.
4. Explore the World of Pirates
St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of authentic pirate artifacts. You’ll enjoy touring its 48 exhibits as much as your kids. Displays include a 400-year-old treasure chest and 265-year-old Jolly Roger flag; telescopes, sextants and other navigation equipment; and all kinds of knives and firearms, including a Blunderbuss, or early shotgun, fired by Edward Teach aka Blackbeard. Many displays are interactive, including an “immersive” Port Royal, Jamaica, exhibit designed by Disney®. You’ll also have fun teaming with your kids on the Discovery Drawers treasure hunt throughout the museum.
5. Tour Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
It figures that the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States is where you’d find the oldest masonry fort. That’s Castillo de San Marcos, overlooking Matanzas Bay, which was completed in 1695, 23 years after construction commenced. It was built of a limestone-like substance of crushed shells, called coquina, in response to English pirate Richard Searle’s deadly attack on Spanish-held St. Augustine in 1668 and the British settlement and inhabitation of nearby Charleston two years later. Today visitors can tour the fort and learn its remarkable history from U.S. Park Service rangers and historical re-enactors. Don’t miss the cannon demonstrations.
6. Take Them to the IMAX®
There are less than 400 iMAX® theaters in the United States, and unless you live near or visit large cities, the experience probably is still a rare treat. In St. Augustine, take the kids to the World Golf Hall of Fame iMAX Theater to enjoy their favorite blockbuster on a 70-foot-wide, five-story-tall screen, the largest in north Florida.
7. Take Them to the Colonial Quarter
A visit to the Colonial Quarter will give your kids an appreciation of history—not just of St. Augustine, but of the rival forces across the Atlantic that combined to shape not only this lovely city but the entire United States. This living museum will be a true vacation highlight for everyone. Proceed along the tour route and watch St. Augustine evolve from a primitive city to fortress and change from Spanish control to French. Authentic artifacts and history re-enactors dramatize the city’s journey.
8. Sign Them Up for Golf Lessons
If you love golf, you already can’t conceive a St. Augustine vacation that excludes it. Get your kids excited about learning the game, or getting better at it, by booking high-level instruction for them at PGA Tour Golf Academy, located in World Golf Village. The Lite Training program includes them in personalized small-group, half-day instruction sessions for one, two or three days—only three pupils per instructor.
9. Take Them to Drink From the Fountain of Youth
No St. Augustine vacation with children is complete without taking them to the place some say it all began. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park on the Matanzas River is the spot where many believe the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first landed in Florida. An archaeological dig at the site in the 1990s produced many historically relevant artifacts. On a stroll though the park you’ll encounter beautiful gardens, Spanish and native Timucuan dwelling, history re-enactors, free-roaming peacocks, and a drinkable mineral spring—the park’s focal point—that has drawn visitors recorded in a guest book as far back as 1868.