There are few places that I love to visit in Florida more than St. Augustine. Not only does the city have an incredibly deep history that spans multiple centuries, but it is also so easy to navigate on foot, it has an amazing food scene, and it's right on the Matanzas Bay for gorgeous pictures of the water.
To visit St. Augustine without doing your best to understand its more than 500 years of history is to do the city a disservice. From the earliest Spanish explorers to those who fought for freedom during the Civil Rights Movement, St. Augustine has been an integral part of American history.
If you, like many parents, want to showcase that history to your kids but are worried that they'll get bored in a musty museum, fear not! St. Augustine is the perfect place to cover some of the most important moments in American history in a fun, interactive way. As a kid, it was one of my favorite places to visit for that reason--and, now that I have kids, I've discovered that the intrigue of the city hasn't been lost at all since I was little.
Here are my favorite kid-friendly historic sites in St. Augustine. Have fun learning!
Castillo de San Marcos
This was one of the very first historic ruins I can remember visiting as a child: the thick stone walls, the dark powder rooms, and the stunning vistas at the top appealed to my active imagination.
The fort, which is over 350 years old, has something to interest every kid: there are live cannon demonstrations, ghost tours, and flag ceremonies. The nighttime candelight tours are just the right balance of historical information and creepiness, and they give visitors a great idea of just how lonely St. Augustine had to have been when it was a small Spanish outpost.
The St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
This museum wasn't around when I was a kid, so the first time I had the chance to explore it was on a press trip a few years back. I wasn't super excited about it since I figured it just had to be hokey, but I'd been given press passes and had some free time to kill.
I was completely wrong about this place. Not only does it have more than a dozen interactive exhibits and a treasure hunt (complete with map), the Pirate Museum is also packed with artifacts and information on different pirates, ships, and political conflicts. As an adult, I loved reading the well-researched blurbs next to the artifacts, but there was plenty for kids to explore on their level as well.
Entrepreneur and former Philadelphia 76ers president, Pat Croce is the curator and owner of the Museum, and much of what you see in the museum is from his private collection. His passion for history and artifact recovery is evident in every nook and cranny of the place.
The Colonial Quarter
Over the years, the historic district in St. Augustine has ebbed and flowed in its offerings. It's been around, in one form or another, since the early 1960s, and I can remember it as a kind of outdoor living museum where you could visit different areas from the Spanish colonial period.
In 2011, the property was shut down temporarily for renovations, and, under the direction of Pat Croce (yep, the same guy from the Pirate Museum) completely reworked it. Today, the property is massive, and allows visitors to travel through the different periods in St. Augustine's history: at each station, there are interactive exhibits and demonstrations. You'll learn how to fire a musket to protect the English settlement, make nails to fix the Spanish ships, and differentiate between all of the flags that have flown over this storied town.
Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse
In this era of iPhones and tech-based everything, you wouldn't think that a one room schoolhouse would intrigue kids. Yet, it does! When my daughter visited for the first time last summer, it was all my parents could do to coax her out of it. She even came away with a small chalkboard from the souvenir shop--the same trinket I picked up on my first visit many (many) years ago.
Cafe Alcazar and the Lightner Museum
The Lightner Museum is fantastic for both older and younger kids since the Victorian costumes, ephemera, and artwork is unlike anything they've probably encountered before. Sign up for one of the children's tours (which are often tailored the ages of the specific kids on tour that day), so your kids can get their hands--literally!--into the collection.
Afterwards, you'll have worked up an appetite, so head to the back of the Lightner Museum for a unique dining experience at the Cafe Alcazar. Here, you'll dine in the deep end of a massive pool: it was a feature for the guests of the Alcazar Hotel, and, at the time of its construction, was the largest indoor pool in the world. Before the Lightner was converted into a museum, it was a hotel built by Henry Flagler for the rich and famous who came to visit St. Augustine in the 1800s.
You'll find delicious sandwiches and salads at the Cafe, but the real star of the show is the location.
Fountain of Youth Archeological Park
If you're not a kid anymore, perhaps you'll find the key to returning to your youth here! For more than 150 years, people have been coming to this place, making it the oldest tourist attraction in the state.
Don't miss the daily firing of the 6-pounder cannon form the 1500s and the crossbow exhibition. Kids will also like visiting the replica Timucua village and learning about the people who were here before even the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. The planetarium and lookout tower are also must-visits for families.
Make sure you get a photo with one of the 30 resident peacocks--you can often find them walking around with their full plumage on display!
If you want even more to do and see in St. Augustine, check out my first timer's guide to the city here. See my recommendations on where to eat while you're in town here.
Have you visited St. Augustine? What did you like to do there?
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