Explore St. Augustine on a Budget: Cheap Things to Do in the Nation’s Oldest City
As born and raised native, I can attest to the fact that there is no shortage of fun and exciting things to do in the city of St Augustine. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a local looking for something new, there are plenty of activities, attractions, and hidden gems to explore. Here are some of my top picks for family-friendly cheap things to do in St Augustine.
St Augustine, known as the United States’ oldest city, boasts a rich history, stunning architecture, and beautiful coastal scenery. While it’s easy to get lost in the city’s charm and appeal, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy everything it has to offer. From historic landmarks to pristine beaches, there’s an array of affordable and even free activities that the whole family can enjoy. Let’s explore the best cheap things to do in St. Augustine without compromising on fun.
Castillo de San Marcos
One of St. Augustine’s most iconic landmarks, Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century fort, is a must-visit. Entrance is quite affordable, and you can spend hours exploring its ancient walls, rooms, and enjoying incredible views of the Matanzas River. The Castillo de San Marcos is a National Monument and occasionally has free admission days. Students in 4th grade can also sign up for the Every Kid Outdoors Program to receive free entry.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
A short drive from the city of St Augustine, Fort Matanzas is a hidden gem. A free ferry ride takes you to this historic fort, offering picturesque views and insight into Spanish settlers’ history.
St Augustine Lighthouse
While the admission fee applies, the St. Augustine Lighthouse is worth a visit, especially if you’re interested in maritime history. You can also enjoy the view from the ground if you choose not to climb the lighthouse.
St Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum
Relive the golden age of piracy with affordable admission to the Pirate & Treasure Museum. It’s a great place for families to explore the swashbuckling history of the city.
Historic Sites and Old Town Trolley Tours
St. Augustine is packed with historic sites and you can explore most of them for a modest fee. To save even more, consider an all-inclusive ticket for the Old Town Trolley Tours. You can explore the best parts of St. Augustine and learn about its rich history without spending too much.
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
Visit the historic Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and experience the city’s first free African settlement, lush gardens, and a sip from the legendary fountain. You can even drink water from Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth and see wild peacocks roaming the grounds.
The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum: Historic Abode
This museum, housed in an 18th-century boarding house, is a step back in time. The Ximenez-Fatio House offers guided tours that provide a glimpse into the life of early Florida pioneers. It’s a must-visit for history buffs.
Old Jail and Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse
The Old Jail and Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse offer affordable, guided tours providing a glimpse into the city’s past. Don’t forget your camera; these historic buildings make great photo backdrops.
Mission Nombre de Dios: Religious Reflection
Visit the Mission Nombre de Dios, a historic shrine and museum. Explore the serene grounds and learn about the Catholic history of St. Augustine. This site is very photogenic and is home to the Big Cross which serves as a celebration from the 400th Anniversary of the City of St Augustine.
Fort Mose Historic State Park: African American History
Fort Mose is the site of the first free African settlement in the United States. Explore the history of the courageous Africans who lived here and learn about their fight for freedom.
Faver-Dykes State Park: Natural Escape
Faver-Dykes State Park is perfect for a nature getaway. With its picturesque river, picnic areas, and hiking trails, it’s an inexpensive way to spend a beautiful day outdoors.
The Lightner Museum: A Glimpse of Gilded Age Glamour
The Lightner Museum, housed in a former hotel, showcases fascinating artifacts from the Gilded Age. Wander through rooms filled with musical instruments, art, and curiosities from the late 19th century. Don’t forget to take in the beautiful courtyard.
Potter’s Wax Museum: Meet Wax Celebrities
Visit the intriguing Potter’s Wax Museum to meet lifelike wax figures of famous personalities, movie stars, and political figures. It’s both fun and a little eerie, providing an interesting way to spend an hour or two.
St Augustine Distillery
A free tour and tasting at St. Augustine Distillery will give you insights into the city’s history of craft spirits. Plus, you might find a new favorite drink.
San Sebastian Winery
For wine lovers, here’s a fun and cheap things to do in St Augustine. Enjoy complimentary tours and wine tastings at San Sebastian Winery. With a rooftop deck overlooking the city, it’s the perfect spot to sip and savor the flavors of St. Augustine.
St George Street
St. George Street is the heart of the historic district and offers charming shops, galleries, and dining options. It’s a great place for a leisurely walk, window shopping, and people-watching.
St. Augustine Beach Farmers Market: Fresh and Local
If you’re in St. Augustine on a Saturday morning, don’t miss the St. Augustine Beach Farmers Market held at the St Augustine Ampitheater. Peruse stalls of fresh produce, local arts and crafts, and tasty homemade treats, all while enjoying the ocean breeze.
St. Augustine Amphitheater
Keep an eye out for free events and live music at the St. Augustine Amphitheater. It’s a great place for a night of entertainment under the stars.
St Augustine Beach
Pack your sunscreen and head to St. Augustine Beach. It’s a perfect place to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean’s waves, build sandcastles, and bask in the sun, all for free. Check out my guide on the best places to swim in St Augustine.
Anastasia State Park
For a small entrance fee, enjoy Anastasia State Park’s pristine beaches, nature trails, and possibly catch a glimpse of the resident sea turtles.
St. Johns County Ocean Pier: Coastal Charm
Enjoy the views and salty sea breeze from the St. Johns County Ocean Pier. This fishing pier is a great spot to cast a fishing line, watch the sunset, or take a leisurely stroll while soaking in the coastal ambiance. There’s a playground and splash pad for small children to enjoy too.
Vilano Beach and Ocean Pier
Head to Vilano Beach for beautiful sunsets and enjoy a stroll along the Vilano Pier. It’s free and incredibly scenic. Beaches Restaurant makes an amazing lunch or dinner spot too!
Situated just south of St. Augustine, Crescent Beach is a local gem known for its natural beauty and tranquil ambiance. Here, you can enjoy a pristine and uncrowded stretch of coastline, making it a perfect spot for those looking to escape the tourist crowds.
St. Augustine Eco Tours: Explore the Intracoastal
Cruise along the scenic Intracoastal waterways on guided boat tours from Todd’s Rods Boat Charters. You might spot playful dolphins, manatees, and a variety of local bird species. These eco-friendly tours are both educational and enjoyable.
Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve: Natural Wonders
Visit the GTM Research Reserve and explore the beauty of its natural surroundings. Located near Ponte Vedra Beach, the reserve features scenic boardwalks through marshes and forests, making it perfect for birdwatching and enjoying the great outdoors.
St. Augustine Wild Reserve
This lesser-known attraction offers guided tours where you can get up close with exotic animals and learn about wildlife conservation. The St. Augustine Wild Reserve is a heartwarming and educational experience.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park: Get Up Close and Personal
Take the kids to the Alligator Farm to encounter hundreds of alligators and crocodiles from around the world. The park also boasts exotic birds, lemurs, and Komodo dragons. You can even watch live feeding shows and zip-line over the reptile enclosures.
Pirate Harbor Mini Golf: A Family-Friendly Adventure
Pirate Harbor Mini Golf is a fantastic place to enjoy some family time. The pirate-themed course will entertain kids and adults alike, and the affordable pricing makes it even more enticing.
Old City Gates: Entry to the Past
The Old City Gates, once the main entrance to St. Augustine, now serve as a historical marker. It’s a great photo opportunity and a chance to stand where centuries of visitors have entered the ancient city, plus this attraction is completely free!
Colonial Quarter: Relive History
The Colonial Quarter in downtown St Augustine offers a glimpse into St. Augustine’s history with living history demonstrations and engaging activities. You can even try your hand at musket firing.
Limelight Theatre: Live Performances
For a night of live entertainment, check out the Limelight Theatre. Affordable ticket prices and the chance to watch local talent make this a wonderful way to spend an evening.
St. Augustine Art Association: Creative Exhibits
The St. Augustine Art Association frequently hosts art exhibits and events. Many are open to the public for free, offering a delightful artistic experience without spending a dime. St Augustine also hosts an art walk the first Friday of each month, one of many free things to do in the city.
Ghost Tours in St. Augustine
Beyond its beautiful beaches, historic landmarks, and culinary delights, St. Augustine has earned a reputation as one of the most haunted cities in the United States. With a history dating back centuries, the city has its fair share of eerie tales and restless spirits. For those who love a good ghost story or are looking for a spine-tingling experience, embarking on a ghost tour is a must. St. Augustine offers a variety of tours that will take you on a journey through its haunted past.
Ghosts & Gravestones Tour
This popular tour provides a fascinating blend of history and spine-tingling tales. It includes visits to some of the city’s most haunted sites, such as the Old Jail, Tolomato Cemetery, and Huguenot Cemetery. Expect to hear chilling stories about the tormented souls believed to still linger in these places. The tour is both entertaining and educational, providing insight into St. Augustine’s darker history.
The Original Haunted Pub Tour
For a different spin on the classic ghost tour, consider the Haunted Pub Tour. It combines ghostly tales with visits to some of the city’s most charming pubs. You’ll enjoy a beverage or two while hearing about St. Augustine’s spirited past. It’s a great way to experience the city’s history and nightlife simultaneously.
A Ghostly Experience Walking Tour
Led by knowledgeable guides, this tour takes you to some of St. Augustine’s oldest streets and buildings, where ghost sightings and paranormal activities have been reported. You’ll learn about famous apparitions and the history that ties them to these locations.
If you’re an avid ghost hunter or a fan of paranormal activity, you can join a tour that includes real paranormal investigations. Equipped with ghost-hunting tools, you’ll explore the city’s haunted sites and conduct your own investigations under the guidance of experienced paranormal investigators.
Horse-Drawn Carriage Ghost Tour
For a unique and spooky experience, you can take a horse-drawn carriage tour that explores the city’s haunted stories. The rhythmic clip-clop of the horses’ hooves adds to the eerie atmosphere as you pass by ancient buildings and haunted sites.
Hearse Ghost Tours
If you’re looking for an extra dose of macabre on your ghost tour, consider a ride in a hearse. These tours take you to some of the darkest and most haunted corners of St. Augustine. The hearse adds an eerie touch to the experience.
Private Ghost Tours
If you prefer a more personalized ghostly experience, some companies offer private ghost tours. This is an excellent option if you have a specific focus or want to explore certain haunted locations in greater detail.
Family-Friendly Ghost Tours
St. Augustine is a city where ghost tours cater to all ages. There are family-friendly ghost tours available for those traveling with children, making it a fun and spooky adventure that the entire family can enjoy.
Ghost Tours with a Twist
In addition to traditional ghost tours, you can find themed tours that add a unique twist. Some tours focus on the city’s haunted lighthouses, while others explore ghostly legends of pirates and shipwrecks.
If you want to make the most of your time in St. Augustine, consider combo tours that include a ghost tour and other activities, such as visiting historic sites, pirate museums, or other attractions. This is a great way to experience the city’s history and its supernatural side.
When participating in a ghost tour in St. Augustine, remember that these tours are not only about thrills and chills but also about exploring the rich history and folklore of the city. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, these tours offer a unique perspective on St. Augustine’s past and the lingering mysteries that continue to captivate visitors.
Explore Flagler College: A Glimpse into Academic Elegance
Flagler College is not just a place of higher learning; it’s a captivating piece of St. Augustine’s history. Established in 1968, this private liberal arts institution is housed in what was once the luxurious Ponce de León Hotel, founded by Henry Flagler, a testament to the city’s Gilded Age charm. While visiting this historic college, you’ll find a few excellent ways to explore it as another one of the cheap things to do in St Augustine.
The college offers guided tours and free tours that take you through the remarkable architectural and artistic elements of the campus. Explore the Spanish Renaissance Revival architecture, Tiffany stained glass windows, and the college’s rich history. The tour guides are well-versed in the college’s history, making it a truly engaging experience.
If you prefer to explore at your own pace, self-guided walks are an excellent option. Wander the picturesque courtyard, admire the intricate details of the former hotel, and take your time to appreciate the opulent ambiance.
Keep an eye on Flagler College’s event calendar. They frequently host cultural and artistic events, many of which are open to the public. This is an excellent way to enjoy a performance or art exhibit at an affordable price.
Picnics in the Courtyard
Another one of the cheap things to do in St Augustine is pack a picnic and relax in the serene courtyard at Flagler College. The courtyard is shaded by ancient oak trees and is a peaceful escape from the bustling streets of St. Augustine.
Best Restaurants in St Augustine, FL
Speaking of picnics and yummy meals, St. Augustine offers a diverse culinary scene, with a variety of restaurants catering to different tastes and preferences. Here’s a list of some of the best local restaurants in St. Augustine, spanning various cuisines and dining experiences:
Known for its Southern-inspired dishes, The Floridian serves up comfort food with a modern twist. The menu features locally sourced ingredients and an array of vegetarian options.
If you’re looking for fine dining, Collage is a top choice. This charming restaurant offers a mix of international and local flavors and has an extensive wine list.
For authentic Mexican cuisine, Casa Maya is a favorite among locals and visitors. Their menu includes traditional dishes like enchiladas, tacos, and guacamole made tableside.
This seafood-focused restaurant prides itself on using locally sourced and sustainable ingredients. From fresh fish to shrimp and crab, Catch 27 delivers delectable seafood dishes.
Located in a beautifully restored historic home, Preserved offers Southern-inspired dishes using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. The atmosphere is both elegant and inviting.
The Blue Hen Café
A popular breakfast spot, The Blue Hen Café is known for its creative menu featuring dishes like stuffed French toast and shrimp and grits.
The Ice Plant
Housed in a former ice plant, this restaurant offers a unique atmosphere and a focus on craft cocktails. The food menu features a farm-to-table concept with a wide range of options.
Enjoy authentic Greek and Mediterranean cuisine at Athena Restaurant. The menu includes gyros, souvlaki, hummus, and more in a cozy and welcoming setting.
Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille
Located in the heart of downtown St. Augustine, Harry’s serves up a mix of Creole and Cajun dishes. The outdoor patio is a great spot to enjoy your meal.
If you’re in the mood for fried shrimp, O’Steen’s is the place to go. This local favorite is known for its delicious, no-frills seafood dishes.
Mojo Old City BBQ
For barbecue enthusiasts, Mojo Old City BBQ offers a mouthwatering selection of smoked meats, homemade sides, and sauces. The rustic atmosphere adds to the experience.
Maple Street Biscuit Company
A fantastic breakfast and brunch spot, Maple Street is famous for its flaky, buttery biscuits and a variety of toppings and fillings.
BlackFly: The Restaurant
Nestled along the Intracoastal Waterway, BlackFly offers fresh, seafood-centric cuisine with scenic views. Their menu showcases locally sourced seafood.
Gas Full Service Restaurant
Gas is known for its delicious, seasonal menu and craft cocktails. The restaurant is housed in a restored 1929 Filling Station, adding a touch of history to your dining experience.
Hot Shot Bakery and Café
A great place for breakfast and lunch, Hot Shot Bakery serves delectable cinnamon rolls, quiches, and more. Don’t miss trying their datil pepper hot sauce.
These are just a few of the many culinary delights you’ll find in St. Augustine. Whether you’re in the mood for fresh seafood, international cuisine, or classic Southern fare, the city’s restaurants have something to satisfy every palate.
Finding Parking in the Ancient City
Parking in historic St. Augustine can sometimes be a challenge, especially during peak tourist seasons. However, there are affordable and even free parking options available if you know where to look:
long the streets of downtown St. Augustine, you’ll find metered parking. These are great for short visits and are reasonably priced. Most meters accept cards or coins, so make sure to bring some change with you.
There are several parking garages in the historic district, including the Historic Downtown Parking Facility, the St. Augustine Visitors Information Center Parking Garage, and the Historic Downtown Parking Garage at the Hilton. While not free, they offer the convenience of off-street parking.
Free Parking Areas
In some areas, parking is still free. For example, you can find free parking spaces near the Castillo de San Marcos or on some residential streets. These areas might require a bit of a walk to reach the historic sites, but they provide a cost-effective parking option.
Weekday vs. Weekend Parking
The cost of parking can vary depending on the day of the week. Weekdays generally offer lower parking fees compared to weekends.
Free Parking Areas in St. Augustine
While many parking areas in St. Augustine require fees, there are still some places where you can park for free:
Castillo de San Marcos: If you’re planning to explore the Castillo de San Marcos, consider parking along the bayfront in the vicinity of the fort. There are free parking spaces along Avenida Menendez and S. Castillo Drive.
Old Town Trolley Tours: If you’re taking an Old Town Trolley Tour, they offer free parking at their welcome center.
Residential Areas: Some residential areas near the historic district offer free parking spaces. Be sure to obey all parking regulations and signs to avoid any issues.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium: If you visit Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, you can park for free in their lot during your visit.
Vilano Beach: When heading to Vilano Beach, there is a free parking area near the pier and beach access.
Vilano Boat Ramp: If you’re planning a visit to the Vilano Boat Ramp and Park, they offer free parking for park visitors.
Mission Nombre de Dios: The Mission Nombre de Dios provides free parking for visitors to its grounds and attractions.
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park: When you explore the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, there’s free parking available for visitors.
By taking advantage of these free parking areas in St. Augustine, you can save money and have more to spend on enjoying the city’s attractions, dining, and other experiences.
Best Photo Spots in St. Augustine
St. Augustine, with its historic charm and beautiful surroundings, offers a plethora of stunning photo opportunities. The best thing is photos are a completely FREE souvenir and one of the many cheap things to do in St Augustine. Here are some of the best spots for capturing memorable photos in this picturesque city:
Castillo de San Marcos
This iconic fortress on the bayfront is not only an amazing historical site but also a great place for photos, especially during the golden hour. The coquina walls and waterfront backdrop provide an enchanting setting.
St. Augustine Beach
The sandy shores of St. Augustine Beach are perfect for classic beachside photos. Whether it’s a sunrise, sunset, or daytime shoot, the wide expanse of sand and the Atlantic Ocean create a beautiful scene.
St. Augustine Lighthouse
The St. Augustine Lighthouse offers an iconic maritime setting. Capture breathtaking images from the top of the lighthouse or explore the surrounding oak trees for picturesque shots.
Bridge of Lions
This famous drawbridge connecting downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island is a must-visit. Photographers can get excellent shots of the bridge, water, and boats passing beneath, plus the iconic Lion statues at the end of either side of the bridge.
The courtyard at Lightner Museum, filled with lush greenery and classical architecture, is an ideal backdrop for elegant photos. The museum’s historic architecture is a work of art in itself.
St. Augustine Distillery
If you’re a fan of industrial aesthetics, the St. Augustine Distillery offers a unique setting. The rustic interior and copper stills make for distinctive and engaging photo opportunities. Inside the Ice Plant Bar, the ambiance, vintage decor, and classic cocktails provide a charming and retro atmosphere for photo sessions.
The view from the bayfront across Matanzas Bay is postcard-worthy. The St. Augustine skyline, sailboats, and the Bridge of Lions create a picturesque scene, especially when illuminated by the setting sun.
St. George Street
This historic pedestrian street is lined with colorful buildings, quaint shops, and charming cafes. It’s an excellent place for capturing the essence of St. Augustine’s historic district.
Stroll along Aviles Street, which is considered the oldest street in the United States, to find historic architecture, art galleries, and cozy nooks that make for charming and atmospheric photos.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
This lesser-known fort, reachable by free ferry, offers beautiful photo opportunities. Explore the historic site and capture shots of the fort and the scenic landscape.
Historic Streets of Old Town
The historic district is filled with picturesque streets and squares. From King Street to Charlotte Street, these cobbled lanes are perfect for capturing the city’s old-world charm.
Vilano Beach Fishing Pier
For a more rustic and coastal photo session, visit the Vilano Beach Fishing Pier. The long wooden pier extending into the ocean is a unique and scenic spot.
Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
The lush gardens, peacocks, and waterfront views in this park make it a delightful place for photos. The rustic ambiance adds a touch of magic to your shots.
Magnolia Avenue in St. Augustine is an enchanting location that’s perfect for capturing the city’s historical and architectural beauty. Lined with centuries-old oak trees draped in Spanish moss, this avenue offers a captivating backdrop for photos. The filtered sunlight through the moss creates a magical, almost fairytale-like atmosphere. It’s an ideal spot for capturing the quintessential charm of St. Augustine’s streets.
These spots provide an array of options to create memorable and Instagram-worthy photos during your visit to St. Augustine. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, or architecture, this charming city offers something for every photographer’s taste.
Nights of Lights in St. Augustine: A Dazzling Holiday Tradition
When the holiday season rolls around, St. Augustine transforms into a magical wonderland with its world-famous Nights of Lights festival. This event is one of the best cheap things to do in St Augustine. This enchanting event, which typically runs from late November through January, has been captivating locals and visitors alike for over two decades. If you’re planning a visit to the nation’s oldest city during this festive season, here’s everything you need to know about the Nights of Lights celebration.
The Origin of Nights of Lights
The Nights of Lights festival began in 1993 and has since become one of the most popular holiday light displays in the United States. It was initiated as a way to boost tourism during the typically quieter winter months.
Millions of Lights
One of the main highlights of this event is the stunning display of millions of white lights that adorn the historic district. Virtually every corner of the city’s historic area is blanketed in soft, glowing lights, creating a breathtaking spectacle.
Official Lighting Ceremony
The Nights of Lights traditionally kicks off with the official lighting ceremony on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Thousands gather at the Plaza de la Constitución to witness the magical moment when the switch is flipped, illuminating the city.
Tracing the City’s Historic Sites
The event is an ideal time to explore St. Augustine’s historic district. You can stroll along the charming brick-paved streets and visit the city’s numerous historic sites, including Castillo de San Marcos, Flagler College, and the Lightner Museum, all of which are beautifully illuminated during this time.
The Bridge of Lions
The iconic Bridge of Lions, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, is adorned with thousands of lights, making it a captivating sight for both pedestrians and passing vehicles.
Activities and Tours
In addition to the light displays, the Nights of Lights offer various activities and tours. You can hop on a horse-drawn carriage, take a holly jolly trolley tour, or enjoy a scenic boat tour to view the lights from the water.
The city’s charming shops, boutiques, and art galleries remain open during the Nights of Lights. It’s a fantastic time to get some holiday shopping done while enjoying the festive ambiance.
Dining Al Fresco
– Many of the city’s excellent restaurants offer outdoor dining options, allowing you to enjoy a meal in view of the spectacular lights.
Music and Entertainment
Live music and entertainment can be found at various locations throughout the historic district, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Parking and Transportation
It’s essential to plan your transportation and parking in advance, as the city can get quite crowded during this time. Consider using the city’s Park & Ride shuttle service, available on the weekends. If you prefer to drive, arrive early to secure parking, or explore the city on foot if you’re staying nearby.
The End of the Celebration
The Nights of Lights usually concludes in late January, so there’s ample time to enjoy the holiday lights and festive atmosphere. Crowds are usually a little less busy in January so plan a trip then if you want to avoid lots of people.
St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights is a cherished holiday tradition that brings joy and wonder to all who experience it. Whether you’re exploring the city’s historic sites, enjoying holiday shopping, or simply taking in the mesmerizing light displays, this event is sure to create lasting memories during the holiday season.
45+ Free & Cheap Things to do in St Augustine FL
Visiting St. Augustine on a budget is not only possible but incredibly rewarding. There are so many FREE and cheap things to do in St Augustine. The city’s rich history, beautiful beaches, and charming streets offer something for everyone without emptying your wallet. Whether you’re exploring historic forts, sipping wine on a rooftop, or taking in the scenic beauty of this ancient city, St. Augustine has a treasure trove of affordable and free activities to make your visit unforgettable.