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With more than 450 years of history, it’s hard to find a rock unturned in the nation’s oldest city. But that certainly doesn’t mean St. Augustine is lacking a few hidden gems. And while all the most popular attractions should definitely be on every visitor’s itinerary, there are many special places that are local favorites, offering unique, one-of-a-kind experiences. To help make your next visit to Northeast Florida just that much better, we’ve compiled a list of the top places to visit and things to do that are a bit off the beaten path.
Because it’s the oldest city in the nation, it’s not surprising that St. Augustine is home to numerous sites and attractions that date back centuries – true gems that beckon you to explore and discover. Aviles Street is one such site. Considered the oldest public street in the country, this charming cobblestone street appears on archival maps dating as far back as the early 1570s. Today, Aviles is one of the busiest in St. Augustine. It was renovated in 2010 with wider sidewalks, additional benches and landscaping and boasts a nice mix of fine dining, historic museums and locally owned boutiques. A walk down Aviles is noteworthy itself; but there is much to do and see along this historic stretch. For art enthusiasts, Aviles delivers in a big way; in fact, many consider it to be one of St. Augustine’s most vibrant art districts. There are several galleries to enjoy, including the Plum Gallery, the Aviles Street Gallery, the Georgia Nick Gallery and several more. Also here, a myriad of great restaurants serve up various cuisines including Greek, Cuban, Polish, Italian and American. An assortment of shops offer out of the ordinary treasures that are destined to make the perfect keepsake from your St. Augustine vacation, including glass pieces, local art, leather crafts, custom jewelry, antique prints and maps.
When visiting St. Augustine, after you’ve checked out all the most popular attractions, be sure to venture off the beaten path to discover a special gem that provides not only a unique experience, but also a decadent departure from the ordinary when it comes to dining. Tucked away in the Lightner Museum in what was once designated for the largest indoor swimming pool in the world, Café Alcazar is an elegant eatery open seven days a week for lunch and once a month for dinner. Situated where the deep-end of the pool used to be, the historic Alcazar is one of St. Augustine’s most extraordinary restaurants, a true gem with an opulent ambiance that draws in diners looking for a distinctive experience. Surrounded by three floors of balconies, with the dining room on the ground floor, you’ll feel as if you’ve journeyed back in time to a bygone era as you dine on escargot, sesame shrimp skewers, crepes, soups, salads, sandwiches or one of the other mouthwatering menu options. Culminate your exquisite meal with a slice of light and tangy key lime pie, an iconic St. Augustine dessert. Enjoy live music everyday – the cafe features a classic guitarist who performs Monday through Wednesday, and a classical pianist who performs Thursday through Sunday.
Another Lightner Museum gem that doesn’t get as much attention as it should, is the koi pond located within the museum’s courtyard. A central feature in the atrium, this tranquil spot is a favorite among St. Augustine visitors of all ages. Beautiful foliage surrounds a little footbridge that extends over the pond where large white, orange and yellow koi swim about. These shimmery freshwater fish, that range from vibrant hues of gold, to albino white, are as interested in you as you are in them – and will swim up to the edges of the pond to catch a glimpse. Of course, they are accustomed to treats and are always delighted when guests to the museum feed them. Don’t be surprised when these St. Augustine locals react in a frenzied flurry of excitement. While it may look chaotic, the koi are just enjoying their snack. Feel free to spend some quiet moments on the footbridge, a peaceful retreat from the hustle inside the museum. The bridge is one spot where you can simply soak in the beauty of your surroundings. It’s also a top choice for photos to capture some of your most unforgettable St. Augustine vacation moments. The koi pond and footbridge make the perfect backdrop! Hint: Don’t forget to bring quarters. There are fish food machines on the premises.
It shouldn’t surprise you that a city as ancient as St. Augustine has a rich history of wine, spirits and other cocktail concoctions. Pedro Menedez, who established the city in 1565 when he arrived from Spain, is said to have brought a brewmaster with him. Today, visitors can get their share of whatever libation pleases their palate. Whether it’s beer, wine or handcrafted cocktails, St. Augustine has a wide array of choices. In fact, the city is quickly making a name for itself as one of the top craft cocktail destinations in Florida. The St. Augustine Distillery, a small-batch, craft distillery that produces rum, vodka, gin and bourbon, offers you an opportunity not just to drink your favorite craft cocktail, but also to learn about how these delicious spirits are made. A tour of the distillery treats you to fascinating history about the building and the process of production, as well as how the prohibition era affected Florida and the basics of distillation and barrel aging. You can also enjoy a variety of refreshing and unique craft cocktails when you’re out and about in St. Augustine. Numerous bars and pubs provide everything imaginable, from the quirky and innovative to the flavorful and fashionable . Check out Ice Plant and Odd Birds, which focus on fresh ingredients and high-end spirits, Dos Gatos, The Social Lounge, the Prohibition Kitchen, Cellar 6 and Ancient City Brewing Taproom, to name a few.
A true St. Augustine gem, Flagler College is much more than the ideal choice for students seeking an education in the Liberal Arts. Built by railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler in 1888, it was originally the Hotel Ponce de Leon and was a winter playground for the Yankee elite. Today, Flagler College is steeped in history and luxury, showcasing the incredible vision and foresight of Flagler and boasting something truly extraordinary and unlike any other college campus in the United States. A tour of the campus provides you with an up-close look at the ideal example of the Spanish Renaissance architecture that Flagler was famous for and a glimpse of the rich heritage that it represents. But a stop in the dining hall will likely be the one thing you see that will take your breath away and stay with you long after you’ve left this St. Augustine attraction. Here, 79 Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows line the walls, colorfully sparkling as the sun shines through them. Said to be the largest collection together in one place, these Tiffany stained glass windows exude the opulence of an era gone by and are a highlight of every campus tour – one of the city’s hidden gems that you just can’t miss.
Legend has it that if you kiss your loved one under a love tree, you’ll seal your love for eternity. Some folks say that love trees resemble two people locked in an eternal embrace, while others believe that the tree itself casts a spell to keep lovers together. However the love tree legend originated, the trees are a symbol of the love and commitment that it takes to keep a relationship strong and everlasting. St. Augustine is one of the nation’s most romantic cities, a top choice for lovers to wed and spend their honeymoon and for couples to escape for a weekend getaway together. So it’s not surprising that the ancient city is home to numerous love trees that visitors and locals alike have discovered and documented. In fact, it’s not unusual for lovers to explore all the hidden gems in St. Augustine in search of a love tree – after all, it’s a perfect way to celebrate their love while they are here. One of the most well known love trees is located at 6 Cordova Street. This beautiful tree is a sight to behold. There is a Sabal Palm (Florida’s state tree) growing out of the heart of an old oak. If you separate them, both trees will die. Now that’s true love.
Have you ever tasted blue crab quiche? What about homemade peach butter? Well now’s your chance! St. Augustine is well known for its many wonderful restaurants and here’s an insider’s tip on a hidden gem that’s a favorite among visitors and locals alike. Tucked away on Martin Luther King Avenue in the historic Lincolnville neighborhood, The Blue Hen Café is the local’s top place for breakfast and lunch, a hometown attraction that’s not to be missed. This cozy, vintage-inspired diner is a friendly spot where delectable aromas waft from the kitchen as guests struggle over which mouthwatering menu item to order. The owners, locals who’ve spent most of their lives working in the industry, have taken great care and attention to ensure that each of their customers leaves with a full belly and an indelible impression. Generous portions and breakfast all day are just a few of the reasons folks come back again and again. The eatery’s homemade biscuits with peach butter, sweet potato home fries and fried green tomato tacos are a few more. A southern breakfast or brunch is one must-have experience for your St. Augustine vacation. And if you’re laboring over what to order, just order one of everything. It’s that good.
While visiting St. Augustine, it’s nearly impossible for you not to enjoy the beautiful waterways. The Nation’s Oldest City is virtually surrounded by water. It’s no wonder that we have a rich maritime history, including the Spanish explorers and the numerous pirate ships that came to our shores in search of treasure. Here you’ll find the Atlantic Ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway, Salt Run and Matanzas River just to name a few. There are numerous ways for you to enjoy the crystal blue seas in St. Augustine, whether at the beach or on one of the many cruises and tours. If you’re looking for adventure, climb aboard The Black Raven, a pirate-themed cruise ship that offers a variety of on-the-water adventures for all ages. Imagine the stories your children will tell of their high seas voyage where they witnessed a sword fight among real swashbucklers! Another local cruise ship, the Schooner Freedom, has been named one of the top ten attractions in St. Augustine by USA Today. This 76-foot steel vessel is St. Augustine’s premier tall ship and the only schooner charter between the Florida Keys and Charleston, South Carolina. The family-owned ship is a great source of pride for St. Augustine, offering a variety of day trips, sunset and speciality sails. Spend an afternoon or evening relaxing on the water, ideal for family gatherings, groups or a romantic excursion for two!
Another tree makes the list of hidden gems in St. Augustine. At more than 600 years old, The Old Senator, a glorious live oak, is located on the grounds of the courtyard of Villa 1565 on San Marco. Standing in the parking lot, protected by a small fence and framed by several benches, the historic tree lives just a short distance from historic downtown St. Augustine. Considered to be the oldest resident in St. Augustine, this magnificent oak has a circumference of 21 feet and towers at over 56 feet, creating a lovely spot of shade for all who visit. Take a moment to enjoy its beauty and be sure to capture the moment with a few pictures – the Old Senator provides the perfect backdrop for vacation photos. Among the city’s favorite local attractions, travelers from all over the world simply cannot head home without taking a moment to see the Old Senator for themselves. Just 600 feet from the famous Fountain of Youth, it stands as a testament to Ponce De Leon’s discovery of La Florida in 1513. It’s a living symbol of the history that has survived for centuries in this charming ancient city.
Gather up the kids or your traveling companions and head over to one of the city’s most delightful hidden gems. Whether you’re one who enjoys collecting unique arts and crafts made by local artists or you’re in search of the ideal farm-fresh ingredients for your next meal, this hometown attraction has something to please folks of all ages. Every Saturday morning, the city hosts an impressive Farmers’ Market at the St. Augustine Amphitheater, an outdoor music venue located on A1A. The place begins buzzing around 8:30 am and doesn’t stop until 12:30 pm – just enough time to taste a freshly baked treat created by a local bakery, to get your share of locally caught seafood, fresh off the boat or select a plant from one of the many local nurseries. Dozens of vendors set up shop and hawk everything from local, organic produce, cheeses and handmade soaps, to one-of-a-kind clothing and hand-carved musical instruments. On select days, they even have live entertainment. If you’re looking to bring home a unique keepsake to remember your St. Augustine vacation or a gift for someone special, the Farmers’ Market is a definite must do! It’s the perfect out-of-the-ordinary family outing!
Experiencing all of these St. Augustine hidden gems is easy when you take the Old Town Trolley Tour. Our hop on, hop off tour allows you to linger as long as you wish at each stop, so you can order that heaping cup of hot coffee at the Blue Hen or spend as much time as you’d like feeding the koi at the Lightner. We have trolleys coming and going throughout the day, so you can see the sights at your own pace. Because we transport you to more than 100 points of interest, you’ll likely discover even more unique spots in the ancient city!