The United States may be a young country compared to others worldwide but the state of Florida celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2014. With its rich history, there are many surprising things for families to discover here (other than Walt Disney World). Our Traveling Mom discovers why now is the ideal time to visit Florida’s most historic city, St. Augustine.
St. Augustine, Florida – A Lesson in History That Kids Will Love
Located only about an hour and a half from the Orlando theme parks, St. Augustine appeals to families looking for an entertaining yet relaxing vacation. If you don’t have the time for an overnight. the 90 minute drive is worth the day trip when you’re looking for an authentic historical experience. The city is gorgeous and embraces its Spanish heritage while offering plenty of family friendly attractions. Stroll the authentic brick-lined streets, where all major downtown attractions are within easy walking distance. From living museums, a theater and a unique beach, even the kids will soak up all that St. Augustine has to offer.
St. Augustine Colonial Quarter
The Colonial Quarter is a must-see, a living history museum that spans the 16th through 18th centuries where blacksmiths, leather makers, candle makers and boatwrights reenact that old way of life. Costumed historical figures discuss with guests the meals they are cooking or show other day-to-day activities from that time period. There are also musket drills and a watchtower that you can climb up to look over the bay front and the Castillo de San Marcos. Don’t miss the 50 foot caravel, a sailing vessel similar to the one navigated by Ponce De Leon in 1513, being built on site. This is history made fun, with engaging, interactive elements for kids of all ages. Learn more about the St. Augustine Colonial Quarter from our Gringa TravelingMom.
There is a theater show that sneaks in education between laughs. The musical Colonial Crew Revue is a hilarious and entertaining way to learn about Florida’s history. End the day with bangers & mash at the Bull & Crown Publick House, an authentic British pub where nefarious townspeople like the Governor have been known to pay a visit.
Built in 1888 and housed in a former hotel, the stunning Lightner Museum features an eclectic collection from the 19th century, from a mummy and shrunken heads to Tiffany glass and fine art paintings. Families can enjoy the displays of costumes, mechanical musical instruments, chandeliers and toys that are displayed throughout the four floors of the museum. Children can touch three goblets to help them understand the difference between crystal and ordinary glass. Instead of being stuffy, the museum lets people wander and view the broad assortment on display. Kids won’t get bored looking at rooms and rooms of paintings or Egyptian statues because there’s an interesting new discovery in every room.
More to Explore
There are more living history exhibits at Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, an archaeological park that offers both musket and cannon firing. Drink from the Fountain of Youth and explore a Timucuan village that is older than the pyramids, where again history is brought to life.
Teens 16 and over can sign up for the cannon shooting class at Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the US, made of coquina, and dating from 1672. They learn how to shoot a real cannon at the fort; younger ones can participate in the Junior Ranger program.
Beach and Marina
The beach here is particularly rich in shells and shark teeth, so you can collect free souvenirs. And the shark teeth are remarkably easy to find. On my recent trip to St. Augustine, my tour guide found three teeth in rapid succession.
I stayed at the kitschy Inn at Camachee Harbor, which has a great view of the marina. The small waterfront hotel has 19 suites, some of which are pet-friendly. Included in the room rate is a complimentary breakfast. You could also rent a beach house, as our Driving TravelingMom did with her family.
I flew into Jacksonville and once I was in downtown St. Augustine, I never needed a car. All the attractions are within walking distance. However you will be hoofing it on real brick streets so pack practical shoes because heels will not cut it!
And if you don’t want to walk, The Old Town Trolley Tours offer open air rides throughout the historic sites. You can take the transportation a bit farther from the downtown for more exploration including the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Alligator Farm. There are also many free experiences in St. Augustine as well.