Recently, my family had the amazing pleasure of visiting St. Augustine, Florida. As some of you know already, we are huge fans of history museums and historic sights, meaning St. Augustine was the perfect destination for us.
This city in east Florida is the oldest surviving European-founded city in the United States, and the stories it has to share are fascinating.
If you are planning a trip to the Sunshine State, I highly recommend paying St. Augustine a visit. Here are my top recommendations on how to prepare for your visit, along with what to do while you’re there.
Preparing for your trip
Learning about the rich history of St. Augustine should begin well before your trip does. There is simply so much that’s fascinating about this place, no one could possibly pick it all up in a single vacation.
Instead, grab some books and movies and dive into this history beforehand. Not only will you likely have a wonderful time doing so, but going in with a foundational understanding of what has gone on in this city will give you a nice point of reference during your adventures in St. Augustine.
Castillo de San Marcos
The first stop on our St. Augustine visit was Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument run by the National Parks Service.
This centuries-old fort is well presented, featuring rangers and volunteers dressed in period costumes, cannon firing reenactments, interesting ranger talks, and exhibits set up in chronological order telling the long and rich history of the fort.
We very much enjoyed our trip to the Castillo, making a point of visiting each room and attending the cannon firing. Additionally, we chatted with a couple of different volunteers who were thrilled to share information about the fort with us.
The entrance fee for this particular NPS site is $15 per person. That said, we used our “America the Beautiful” interagency pass to get into the fort free of charge.
Colonial Quarter—located across the street from the Castillo—was on the small side for a living history museum, but was full of interesting tidbits displayed on signage, as well as some fun activities for kids.
The museum includes a working blacksmith shop as well as a replica armory and leatherworking shop. We loved climbing to the top of the watchtower, which provides stunning views of the city, and our son enjoyed the knot-tying and rope-and-pulley activities near the faux ship.
We attended a guided tour and were very glad we did. Our guide was fantastic. He really knew his stuff and was able to tell us absolutely anything we wanted to know about the history of the area.
Additionally, since we visited on a weekday, we had the guide almost entirely to ourselves—something that really made the experience feel personal.
The Pirate and Treasure Museum
Our final stop was at the Pirate and Treasure Museum, right next door to Colonial Quarter. This was another very small museum, but an incredibly well done one. In fact, it was probably one of my favorites out of all the museums we’ve ever visited.
The theming of the space is wonderfully dark and reminds you of a Disney attraction. The exhibits feature interactive portions—including a cannon that guests can “fire”, and a super cool sound show designed by Disney Imagineers—as well as a few nicely done animatronics.
Additionally, an optional treasure hunt really encourages kids to look around. These things keep younger guests interested so older guests can really enjoy the numerous artifacts and historical knowledge the museum has to share. These artifacts include such things as the last known real pirate treasure chest, one of two remaining pirate flags, and a surprising amount of treasure that was found on diving expeditions.
Topics discussed in the museum include everything from pirate healthcare and pirate dining to the pirate code of conduct and why one might have decided to take up piracy in the first place.
We definitely left knowing far more about real pirates than we ever knew before, and we had an absolute blast learning about it.
Other exciting options
Looking for even more fun ways to learn about history while in St. Augustine? Some of the options we considered—but didn’t end up experiencing—include the following:
- Trolley Tours
- St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
- Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Site
- The Old Jail
- Spanish Military Hospital Museum
- Fort Mose Historic State Park
- Medieval Torture Museum
- Oldest Store Museum
- Mission Nombre de Dios Museum
- Oldest House Museum
- St. Augustine History Museum
Clearly, St. Augustine is a city well worth visiting. Why not start planning your step back in time now? I promise you won’t regret it!