Update: I meant to post this in July, guess that didn’t happen! Here it is now:
I just got back from vacation. Even though multiple constraints made for a shorter and cheaper vacation this year, I still had a great time with my mom and sister in Saint Augustine, FL. I’ve been to Florida a lot (more than any other state) so it wasn’t exactly on the top of my list for vacation spots. A super tight budget meant flying was out so we were limited to places we could drive and still leave on a Saturday morning and be back on Wednesday night as my sister had class on Thursday. This also ruled out anywhere requiring a passport as if I’m going to pay to fly, I’m staying longer than 4 days.
So the winner was Saint Augustine. Why? Because it was within a day’s driving distance (Google says it’s 13.5 hours away, but my mom will tell you it’s 18), it has a beach, it has lots of old stuff to look at (what mom wanted), and it isn’t super pricey.
So… onto my reviews!
Things we did:
Self-guided walking tour of historic Saint Augustine:
Fun, but we should’ve been more organized and had an idea of what we wanted to do before we got there. We arrived at about 10 am on a Sunday and were starving, but nothing was open until 11…we could’ve planned a little better! We ended up eating overpriced paninis (which were good) at Hidalgo Cafe then wandering the shops for a little while. St. George street is really really touristy (big surprise) and the prices reflect this.
The marina and El Galeon:
When we drove over the Bridge of Lions into Saint Augstine, we were surprised to see a big old-fashioned ship in the marina…turns out it’s a replica of the Spanish ship El Galeon and it’s touring the East Coast and is in Saint Augustine until July 23rd. It costs $15 to tour, but we thought we might as well. Onboard they have a bunch of stuff about the history of Saint Augustine and you can tour three levels of the ship, cannons, and more. There’s even a movie on the bottom level, but it was hot down there so we didn’t watch it. It’s really neat, but slightly terrifying to imagine being out on the open sea in that thing. We were told it’s moving to New York next, so keep an eye out for it!
Castillo de San Marcos:
This was really cool, and only costs $7 to get in, your ticket is also good for 3 days so if you’re in town for awhile you can come back. Overall, we thought it was well worth it and the money goes to the National Parks for preserving the castillo. We toured around the rooms, the old city jail, and they held a cannon demonstration on the gun deck in full period costume.
Saint Augustine Beach:
Our hotel, Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort, was actually located in Saint Augustine Beach. The hotel was what we expected for the price range ($130/night) and had a great pool and then a gazebo and walkway to the beach. All the hotels are a bit off from the beach so there’s a nice large stretch of sand. The hotel had a chair/umbrella rental company located in the gazebo, and while we brought our own chairs we rented an umbrella for $15/day. The beach was very nice and clean and not overly crowded. The waves were small and the ocean was shallow for quite awhile, which was really nice and made the beach very family-friendly. There is a one-way road along the beach that you can drive on for a small fee. The road closes at 7:30pm. Just be careful to look for vehicles if you’re walking to the beach, I kept forgetting about the road, but luckily the speed limit is 10 mph and no one hit me!
This is a beach-side restaurant located in Saint Augusine Beach at the end of A street. Their menu isn’t very diverse, but the food was great and it was the only restaurant we found located near the beach with outdoor seating. I got the mahi sandwich with dill sauce and loved it. It was big and only about $8! My plate came out with only a few fries and the server made sure to bring us a big basket of fries to make up for it. I would definitely go back here.
Mango Mangos Restaurant:
Located up the road from Beachcomber, their seating is indoors or a screened in area. They were really busy when we arrived and it was super loud in the resaturant, everything seemed to echo and it was hard to hear the server. The food was great, and there was a lot of it. The prices were typical for tourist town and the amount of food you got, but if you’re on a tight budget you might want to go somewhere else!
San Sebastian Winery:
Great tour and tasting, and it’s free! I’ve been tasting several places now, including Napa Valley and learned more at this place than I did anywhere else. You don’t actually get to see the grape vines or much about the process but they show you a video and you can see holding tanks and where they bottle (though they weren’t bottling when we were there). Then you get to taste 7-8 wines (more if you’re in a group and you share your glasses) and you can pick between two wines for each round. Make sure to request to taste the sparkling wine, as I thought it was the best! We ended up buying a few bottles. The tour guide was great and we all had a good time.
Located just down the road from the winery is Georgie’s Diner. It looks like a typical old diner in a silver building, and we were excited to order a milkshake. No such luck though as we found out it is a Greek diner! I was thrilled, because I love Greek food. They have a wide range of Greek options and an all-day breakfast menu to choose from. I got the Greek Combo #2, my sister got chicken souvlaki and my mom got lamb souvlaki. Everything was delicious and the prices weren’t too bad!