Playing Tourist in St. Augustine

Before we headed out for our “tourist day” in St. Augustine, we took a look at Lonely Planet's top picks and then TripAdvisor.3 for 2 on all Books, eBooks and Digital Chapters

They agreed on several sights to see although I was a bit perplexed that TA's #1 pick was the St. Augustine Distillery. We loaded our free MapsWithMe for the city and headed out mid-morning to play tourist. Tickets and boarding for the Red Train are just in front of the marina and since we were playing tourist, we rode the foolish-looking red train to get a feel for the town's sights. David assured me that disguises were unnecessary as no one would recognize or ever see us again.

tickets and train in st. augustine florida

There was no way we'd see everything in one day, but the tour included 20+ stops around town and would familiarize us with the city. The tour was interesting as the goofy red train wended its way through narrow streets and alleys and past all the tourist hotspots. The ongoing commentary was informational and we were provided with a good overview of places we might like to visit … and the ones we planned to avoid. Lightner Museum and Castillo de San Marcos … yes! Fountain of Youth and Wax Museum ... probably no. Although, you never know what will appeal to us on a given day.

Like many tourist destinations, we've noted that most everything in St. Augustine has a price tag. Some attractions are expensive, some moderate, but not many appeared to be free. Even the self-guided walking tour is a $4.95 download. Being on a budget, this made it imperative to select wisely those attractions we wanted to visit and encouraged me to check further for free things to do in the St. Augustine area. I'm sure there are several, I just need to find them.

The 1-1/2 hour tour seemed to last much longer because the train seats were hard and uncomfortable... despite my ample natural bum padding. After one trip around, we got off at the distillery because it was one of the few places that offered a free tour as well as tastings of their award-winning spirits … and we were hot and thirsty and it was #1 on TA's to-do list. The tour was interesting. The tastings were refreshing (vodka, gin and rum drinks). As good as they might be, however (and we're certainly not connoisseurs), the purchase of their “hand-made” spirits was way beyond of our budget (e.g. rum = $45/bottle). Another day we'd visit the San Sebastian Winery.

st. augustine florida distillery

It seems St. Augustine is a city of “firsts” and “oldests”. There's the oldest wooden schoolhouse in America and the oldest street (Aviles Street) in America. St. Augustine is considered the “first port” in America. Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. The area is steeped in history and its Spanish roots are evident in everything from the architecture to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine taking its place across from the city plaza. At the end of the plaza stands the old slave market, now home to craftsmen.

old slave market

Nearby, Ponce de Leon's statue stands proudly in its own little square across from the Bridge of Lions.

ponce de leon statue st. augustine, florida

We wandered along historic Aviles Street relishing the feel of the brick-paving blocks beneath our feet and the care taken to preserve the historic feel of the city. This part of the city is called Old Town. We found an inviting little sidewalk cafe for lunch. Sitting at at an umbrella table, we relaxed and ate and took it all in. Restaurants, cafes, galleries, boutiques and antique shops abound and provide lots of eye candy for the casual, unhurried tourist. This city is absolutely charming.

shop on aviles street st. augustine, florida

We walked up the the Spanish Quarter and admired the old city gate, preserved and still standing opposite the fort. Its coquina pillars built in 1808 were a first line of defense for the Spanish against invaders.

old city gate st. augustine, florida

Within the old Spanish Quarter, there are museums and shops ad infinitum. St. George Street is a pedestrian mall, crowded beyond belief on the weekends and a pleasant place to stroll on a weekday. We stopped for an iced coffee and enjoyed some people watching.

st. george pedestrian mall st. augustine. florida

As we walked back towards the marina, we could hear the pleasant clip-clop of hooves as horse-drawn carriages shuttled tourists along the city's street towards the scenic waterfront.

horse drawn carriage st. augustine, florida

We ended the day with a rousing 18 holes of mini-golf which we haven't played since the kids were in grade school. I'm obviously out of practice and lost by four strokes. David crowed and I sulked until he bought me a pint of beer (works every time!).

mini golf winner st. augustine, florida

There are old cemeteries to explore, forts, alleys, narrow cobble-stoned streets, cathedrals and ivy-covered gates leading to secret gardens. We're just getting started and I know we won't have the chance to see it all, but we plan to give it a go.