You’ve saved all year for your St. Augustine vacation, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money once you get here!
Some of our favorite things to do in town are free. In fact, I think the best part of any visit to St. Augustine is just walking up and down our beautiful streets. I love the little Juliet balconies, the hanging baskets of flowers, and the old brick streets. I love window shopping, and people watching.
It’s easy to walk around town–our inn is within walking distance of tons of restaurants, more than 15 museums, and over 20 art galleries. I didn’t even include walking around town in my list, because I wanted to come up with some things that you might not think of yourself. (If walking is something you want to do, just let us know–we’re happy to share our favorite walks around town, as well as our copy of Walking St. Augustine by Barbara Gordon. It’s a great illustrated guide to some of the best walks in town!)
Here’s my list of seven free, fun things to do in St. Augustine–hopefully a few that you wouldn’t think of yourself!
1. Enjoy the grounds of the Castillo de San Marco.
Our 350 year old fort is a spectacular site, owned by the National Park System. While there is a fee to tour the fort itself, you can enjoy the grounds for free. Need to chill out? Watch the clouds while laying in the grass. It’s one of the most relaxing things you can do, and that’s why you’re on vacation, right? Don’t want to sit still that long? If you’re a planner, take along a Frisbee or a kite. If you’re not, ask us to borrow a bocci or croquet set–we’d be happy to loan you one! (We’re not much on sitting still ourselves). Just give us a little notice–the bocci or croquet could easily be at our house!
2. Walk the beach and look for shark’s teeth.
When you’re at home, you can walk somewhere while looking down at your phone. How much more peaceful is it to take that same walk on the sand, looking down to find shark’s teeth? The best beach for shark’s teeth is Vilano. You can find tiny ones, but we’ve seen people find some really large Megalodon teeth as well!
3. Tour a cemetery (or two).
The St. Augustine National Cemetery is less than 3 blocks from the inn. As you turn the curve on Avenida Menendez (walking towards our parking lot), you’ll go right past the St. Francis Barracks, which is the state headquarters of the National Guard. Walk down the left side sidewalk (staying on Marine Street), and see a tribute to St. Augustine residents killed in war. After walking past the officers’ quarters, you’ll come to the National Cemetery on the right. It’s open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM every day. While walking the grounds, check out the three coquina pyramids at the back of the cemetery–they are the Dade Monument, erected in 1824 after the end of the Seminole Wars. Almost 1500 soldiers are buried beneath the pyramids.
It’s a little longer walk to 14 Cordova Street, across from Mojo’s BBQ, but it’s worth it to find the Tolomato cemetery behind a wrought iron fence. It is open the third Saturday of every month, and it’s the final resting place of many of the original Minorcan families from St. Augustine. Volunteers staff the cemetery when it’s open; they will give you a map for a self-guided tour or you can use one of their docents. The docent-led tour takes 20 minutes to an hour. (Note: while the cemetery is free, it is a nice gesture to leave a tip! It’s how the cemetery is kept up).
4. Bike around Lake Sanchez.
Henry Flagler made this lake to drain the area so he could build his fabulous hotels. Today, it’s the scene of some pretty fab bungalows…be sure to look for the ones that have porch posts made out of palm trees. You’ll also get a great view of downtown. We have bikes and helmets for our guests–if you’d like to borrow them, just let us know!
5. Marvel at the architecture of the old hotels in town.
Speaking of Henry Flagler’s fabulous hotels, the old Ponce de Leon was *the* place for the rich and famous at the end of the 19th century. Today, it’s known as Flagler College. You can tour the college at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm for a fee, but you can walk into the lobby at any time for free.
Whenever I visit the lobby, I see something new. Sometimes it’s a detail in the painting on the huge dome above us, sometimes it’s a carving in one of the pillars. Then there’s the beautiful staircase, and the big doors, and the decorative woodwork, and the mosaic floor. Seriously–there is so much to see in that lobby, it’s one of my favorite places in town to chill out.
Speaking of Flager’s hotels, just across King Street is the Casa Monica Hotel. The lobby is a stunning display of Moroccan majesty–arches and over-the-top furniture and dark wood and gold leaf. Be sure to walk out of the lobby through the double doors at the east end of the room. You’ll come to a beautiful outside staircase, and if you’re lucky, the Casa Monica will have one of their beautifully restored vintage cars parked on site.
6. Feed the fish in the Lightner courtyard.
The Lightner Museum is another one of those Victorian hotels that is still stunning us, 140 years after it was first built as the Alcazar Hotel. Contractors built the old hotel with a large open courtyard in the center of the building. Today, that courtyard is a beautifully landscaped oasis–complete with piped in music, stone benches, a rustic rock bridge, and a twisting pond full of friendly koi. There are fish food stations at each end of the bridge–for 25 cents you’ll get a handful of treats you can throw to the fish.
Take lots of pictures in this gorgeous setting–but don’t take any professional photos (like engagement shots or modeling views). You need a permit for professional shots.
7. Find inspiration in our art galleries.
St. Augustine was an artist community in the 70s, and that creative focus is still evident. If you walk north on Marine Street, you’ll pass the St. Augustine art association. Stop inside to see their current show–they feature an incredible variety of artists, from students to plein air painters to photographers. From Marine Street, head over to Aviles Street. Aviles is the oldest street in the country, and it’s lined with galleries, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on the first Saturday of the month, you can enjoy our city-wide celebration of Artwalk. Galleries serve drinks and appetizers, live bands are on almost every corner, and there’s a general happy feeling amongst tourists and locals alike.
There are about 50 galleries throughout the downtown area, the King Street corridor, and Anastasia Island–ask one of our innkeepers for a complete list so you don’t miss out on any of them!
If you miss Artwalk, there’s always Uptown Saturday Night on the fourth Saturday of the month. The boutiques, stores, and eateries on San Marco throw out the welcome mat, along with tasty treats, special promotions, and oftentimes live bands.
The good news? You’ve saved so much money during your vacation, you can afford to splurge on a beautiful reminder of your trip to St. Augustine! So visit our boutiques, stores, and eateries, treat yourself!
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