Summer is coming, and we’ve been getting lots of requests for an expert guide to a great St. Augustine beach vacation. We *love* slipping away to enjoy the beach for an afternoon, and we’re happy to share our suggestions and insider tips for a great St. Augustine beach vacation!
St. Augustine has so much history and culture, it’s easy to forget that we also have 42 miles of beaches in St. Johns County. There are beaches for everyone–some with kid-friendly splash parks (like St. Augustine Beach), some with lots of sand and wide beaches great for sunbathing (Crescent Beach), a good number of surfing beaches, as well as beaches where you can relax and enjoy nature (Anastasia Island National Park).
First, a couple of notes about St. Augustine beaches and the geography of our city. The downtown historic district is on the water, but there is no beach. Downtown is next to the Matanzas Bay, and while it’s a great place for boating, there isn’t a place for swimming or sunbathing. When you’re at our St. Augustine inn, you have a great view of the bay, and you can easily see the Bridge of Lions and St. Augustine Lighthouse as well.
Barrier Islands: Anastasia and Vilano
There are two barrier islands next to the Matanzas Bay–Anastasia Island and Vilano Beach (little known fact–Vilano Beach is actually Vilano Island). Anastasia is the larger of the two, and you access it by driving across the Bridge of Lions. Anastasia has a large number of beaches: all of the beaches listed above–kid-friendly St. Augustine Beach, pristine Crescent Beach and the National Park–are located on Anastasia Island. Anastasia Island feels more like a “traditional” beach town to me–there are lots of big hotels, and tons of restaurants. It also has more chain restaurants–like Salt Life, and Rita’s Ice–which is probably why I consider it more of a traditional beach town.
Some of my favorite restaurants on Anasastia Island include Mango Mangos, the Beachcomber, and the Sunset Grille.
All these restaurants don’t mean Anastasia doesn’t have any history–the St. Augustine lighthouse was built in the 1870s and has great exhibits on the lighthouse keepers over the years, as well as the marine exploration that the lighthouse staff of underwater divers do to this day. Fort Matanzas is to the south of the island, and is a well preserved fort. To get to it, there’s a free boat ride, making it a great place to visit during your St. Augustine vacation.
Vilano Beach (Island)
Of course, our favorite beach in St. Augustine is Vilano Beach. It’s a very private beach, it’s quiet, and it’s the best place in the area for searching for shells and shark’s teeth.
Vilano Beach used to have a drawbridge that connected it to downtown St. Augustine. That bridge was destroyed, and the remaining section of it was turned into a beautiful pier. The pier is great for fishing, walking, even just sitting and watching the water! Plus, the pier is guarded by the Bluebird of Happiness, a kitschy little piece of roadside Florida from the 50s.
Consider the Bluebird of Happiness a must for your Instagram.
Things to Do in Vilano
If you go to the main entrance to Vilano beach, you can drive directly on the sand. But we prefer to go to the section of beach in front of our St. Augustine beach cottages–the Beachcomber Cottages on Vilano!! It’s a little quieter in our section because there are no cars allowed on the beach, and there are very few houses there (and no hotels or motels). We provide all of our guests access to beach towels, umbrellas, and chairs–everything you need for a St. Augustine beach vacation!
Vilano is also one of our favorite places to eat–we love Cap’s on the Water, The Reef, and Benedettos. And if you want to know where locals hang out, try the 180 Grill just down from the Publix shopping center. We love the blackened fish sandwich, the hamburger (it’s our favorite hamburger in St. Augustine), and their pizza is great as well.
Insider’s Tip: There is a wonderful app in the Apple Store or Android Marketplace that lists information on all the beaches, including directions, hours, maps, rules, and information on vehicle access. Search for ‘St Johns County Beaches’ to find it and download.
If you haven’t picked a place to stay yet, you know we’re going to suggest our Beachcomber Cottages! I know we’re biased, but I really do think it’s the best place for a beach vacation in St. Augustine. They work well for families as well as couples, and even work for large family reunions. (To see how many people sleep in each unit, see our blog about family friendly beach vacations in St. Augustine).
Here are a few reasons to stay at our Beachcomber Cottages for your St. Augustine Beach Vacation:
It’s the best of both worlds!
Maybe you love the sound of the ocean, but your SO wants to stay downtown. You both win!! (And you can do it without separate vacations!) You can stay at the beach, enjoying the calming sound of the waves, but you ALSO get the benefits of downtown–including a parking space in our lot, which lets you come and enjoy the city whenever you would like.
You are welcome downtown for breakfast and happy hour.
If you prefer to hang out at the cottage, we also offer a beach basket option, delivered right to your door. Wake up, have a cup of coffee (each of our beach rooms has a Keurig coffee maker and we restock the pods daily), and enjoy some yummy homemade treats. Breakfast baskets include fresh fruit, two slices of a freshly baked bread (like banana bread), and two muffins (like our best blueberry muffins or Sandy’s shoo fly pie muffins.)
Rooms with a view.
Sometimes beach rooms are just that–they’re near the beach and they have beachy décor. Not here! You can see the ocean from all of our rooms except the Saltwater Suite, and we’ve made up for that by providing a small private pool. All of our rooms have been freshly renovated, and we’ve used lots of luxury touches in designing them–tiled showers with body jets, hardwood floors (some reclaimed from an old warehouse in Georgia), jetted tubs. Each room is different, and all are sophisticated–see the amenities in each room here.
Great staff and daily housekeeping.
We have a friendly innkeeper on the property from 8:00 am til at least 2:00 pm (and usually to 5:00 pm). If you need anything in the off hours, you can simply call the front desk at the Bayfront Marin House. We’re happy to help with anything you need!
Our largest suites are at the beach: like the Lagoon Cottage, which sleeps 5. And if you’re traveling with your pup, let us know. The Oceanview Cottage is dog friendly. (It is the only pet friendly unit at this time).
As we said earlier, Vilano is a nice quiet beach. What we didn’t say earlier is that we have very deep dunes at our section of beach, and very high dunes that drop down to the water. What’s the benefit of that? When you’re in some of our units, and you look out at the water, you don’t see anyone! If someone is very tall, or they’re walking near the dunes, you might see them. But a lot of times it seems like you’re all alone.
Vilano is a shell-fished beach. It is our favorite place to find shark teeth. And even if you don’t find any treasures, it’s a great place to listen to the waves!
The possibility of a pool.
Both the Lagoon Cottage and the Saltwater Suite have private pools, reserved just for your room. These are the only pool options at any of our properties.
All this being said, our beach cottages are not for everyone. And we want you to choose the room right for you!! Here are a few reasons our St. Augustine beach rentals may not be for you:
Most of our beach cottages are raised to protect them from the surf (and to give you the very best views!!) If mobility is an issue for you, check out our Sandpiper Suite. It has some features that can help with accessibility–including a first floor entrance, a roll under sink, a tilting mirror, and a roll in shower. If you use a scooter or a wheelchair, please call us so we can give you the dimensions of all the doors in the unit, and make sure the room will work for you. Our Saltwater Suite is also on the ground floor, if steps are a problem for you. It does not have a roll under sink or a roll in shower, and there is one step into the unit.
You don’t want to use your car.
The reason that our beach is so quiet is because it’s in a quiet area, without a lot of commercial businesses. While you can walk to about 80 restaurants from our downtown location, you can walk to 5 on Vilano Beach (180 Grill, Benedettos, Beaches, Pucchini’s Pizza and China Wok, the latter of which is takeout only). Plus, you’ll need a car to come downtown–it’s about 3 miles to our inn from the beach cottages. And the trip can take 15-20 minutes somedays when there’s a lot of traffic (the worst traffic is Friday and Saturday–and of course any holiday period).
You don’t like cats.
Our beach cottages are in a quiet, residential area. Our neighbor has several outdoor cats. Obviously, they are never in our rooms, but they are occasionally on our outdoor furniture (the warm sun, a view of the water–actually, I can’t really blame them!) We clean the outdoor furniture between each guest, but if you have an extreme allergy to cats, you may want to be aware of our four legged friends. If you don’t have an allergy, just ask us about the kitties–we can introduce you to all of them!
We hope this has helped you start to plan your St. Augustine Beach Vacation! Our beach cottages book up very quickly for the summer months, so if you want to reserve yours now, call 904.824.4301 or go to www.bayfrontmarinhouse.com. See you this summer!