St. Augustine, Florida reminds me of the South of Spain, where my two daughters were born. It’s hardly surprising, since the city was the first settlement in the United States, established in 1565 by the Spanish. It is now celebrating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Florida by Ponce de León, and will be celebrating its own 450th anniversary in 2015.
On my next visit, which will be my third, I hope to take the kids. Because although many may think of St. Augustine as a romantic getaway—which it can be, as plenty of couples tie the knot or renew their vows there—there are many kid-friendly activities that you don’t want to miss, especially if you want to explore your own Hispanic Heritage with la familia. One of the experiences I enjoyed that was unique and will not be there when you visit, was being aboard El Galeón, a replica of the 16th Century Spanish galleons, which is now on its Viva Florida 500 Voyage. One of the highlights of my trip was being able to hang out with the crew and enjoy their Andalusian accents and friendly attitudes.
Following are some of my recommendations for a kid-friendly visit to St. Augustine:
St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum is a must-see if you have tiny tots. It’s small, but cozy and interactive. Kids can not only learn about their favorite pirates, but may also do a treasure hunt in the museum, fire a cannon and experience what it was like to travel on board an old ship, through a virtual trip back in time. It’s fun for the parents too!
The newly refurbished Colonial Quarter right downtown is a living museum, where the kiddos will learn about the history of St. Augustine from Ponce de León himself, or perhaps another historical character. They can experience hands-on what the tanner used to do, visit an old Florida home and watch the blacksmith in action.
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The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park may sound like something for the grandparents to visit, but the name is deceiving. I did drink three or four glasses of water from the proverbial fountain, but that’s not the only thing you can do there. From admiring peacocks to again, learning history from characters themselves—such as the Timucua Indians, or watching a real Spanish cannon be fired—there is much for the family to enjoy together.
If you are not a Florida native, and you aren’t used to seeing alligators in your backyard (I’ve seen my fair share!)—I´d suggest you take the little ones to St. Augustine Alligator Farm. You will actually see other animals too, from lemurs to birds of Africa and a host of reptiles.
And when you exit the gator farm, drive over to the Lighthouse where the kids can watch the art of boat building or play in the playground if they don’t meet the 44” height requirement to climb to the top of the tower. The view is breathtaking, although I found myself holding tightly onto the rails to conquer my fear of heights as I climbed the 219 steps.
St. Augustine is known for being an enchanting and enchanted town … so take the kids on a Ghost Tour! These take place both during the day and at night, on foot or on a trolley, and promise sightings—especially if you hit the pub first—and a fun-filled “terrifying” experience. I have to say the graveyards seem beautiful and peaceful, but you never know, right?
And of course there is the Castillo de San Marcos, the 42 miles of beaches, and plenty of outdoor fun, such as kayak tours and ecotours.
For Mami, there are quaint shops all around the historical downtown area, and for Papi, live music and plenty of pubs. I experienced dining at its best and recommend The Floridian for a hearty family meal and The Tasting Room for the most original menu—that changes every few months and even from one day to the next—for the parents. A fun anecdote from The Floridian: they don’t serve alcohol, but you can get it yourself from the bar. Why? There is a church nearby and no alcohol may be served within 100 feet of it. But yes, you can help yourself!
I stayed at St. George Inn, which stocked more coffee in the room than I have ever seen at a hotel. Kudos just for that! The service was friendly and the chambers were beautifully and historically decadent. The best part? You step outside and you’re in the middle of it all—the beautiful, impressive and Hispanic city of St. Augustine!
For more pictures, see the following story: St. Augustine Florida in Images
Disclaimer: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau funded the writer’s trip, stay and most meals. She was not compensated by them for writing this post, and all opinions are her own.