Are your pockets feeling a little lighter these days?
Just because we’re all adapting our budgets to the changing economy doesn’t mean we have to give up the extracurricular activities that make us happy — like taking vacations for example. If you live within a day’s drive of St. Augustine, you have access to a great destination for rest, relaxation and exploration that won’t break the bank.
We’ve put together a few tips that will give you a great trip to St. Augustine without busting your budget.
1. Soak up the sun at the beach.
Let’s be honest, Florida’s best asset is its sun-drenched sandy shoreline. St. Augustine has 42 miles of gorgeous beaches and guess what — it’s free! Park in one of the many public lots along coastal highway A1A, cross the boardwalk and sink your toes into the sand without spending one dime. Bring a sandwich, a blanket and a small cooler (plastic bottles only, no alcohol) for a day filled with fun in the sun. You can fish, surf, kayak or just soak up the rays on the sand.
Butler Beach, St. Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach all offer free parking and beach access (in the summer months they do tend to fill up quickly so be sure to stake out a spot early!). They also have covered pavilions with picnic tables, bathrooms and outdoor showers to rinse the sand off your toes. You could easily spend the whole weekend enjoying the beach for next to nothing — just remember to wear sunscreen!
2. Take a stroll along St. George Street.
At the heart of St. Augustine’s historic district (which will soon celebrate its 450th anniversary!) are three blocks of pedestrian only foot traffic along a gorgeous cobblestone path called St. George Street. Lined with restaurants, pubs and unique gift shops, this charming road is perfect for a leisurely afternoon stroll. Window shopping is free, as are the whiffs of great food and the riffs from local musicians playing at many of the outdoor cafes along the street. If you decide to indulge in a good meal, there are plenty of great sandwich shops, pizzerias and bakeries along St. George Street that won’t set you back more than a few bucks for a delicious lunch.
3. Attend a few free events.
St. Augustine is abuzz with events that are free to the public year ’round. From May 28th through September 3rd, locals and visitors alike flock to the Plaza de la Constitución (St. Augustine’s equivalent of a town square) for free concerts every Thursday night. Bring a blanket or a chair and enjoy the music and a light sea breeze beneath the shade of hundred year old oaks.
Make plans to visit during the first weekend of the month and you can enjoy St. Augustine’s newest tradition, First Friday Art Walk. The Oldest City’s incredibly talented art community throws out the welcome mat on Friday evenings with live entertainment, food and special exhibits often featuring the artists themselves. It’s a great night with a great atmosphere from Aviles Street out to the city gates.
The last Saturday of the month also marks a special evening in St. Augustine known as Uptown Saturday Night. The businesses of North San Marco Avenue, including book stores, art galleries, bistros and antique stores hold multi-block open house with great entertainment and special events like book signings and art shows. The St. Augustine Community School of Performing Arts is located in the North San Marco area and often puts on a free performance during Uptown Saturday Night.
4. Enjoy our National Monuments and State Parks.
You can’t visit St. Augustine and not spend a little time learning about the city’s incredible history and its role in the development of our nation. Start your tour at the Castillo de San Marcos, a 300 year old coquina fortress on Matanzas Bay in downtown St. Augustine. This National Monument is only $7.00 per adult (anyone under the age of 16 is free). South of St. Augustine off of A1A, St. Augustine’s other National Monument, Fort Matanzas, is free to enter and explore, including the ferry ride to the small coquina fort on Matanzas Inlet. This is also a great spot for some beach time or an afternoon picnic.
St. Augustine and its surrounding areas are home to five great state parks as well. Ft. Mose, site of the first legally sanctioned free African settlement, is located just north of the historic district. It’s only $2 per person to enter the museum on the grounds (children under 5 are free). Anastasia State Park near the St. Augustine Lighthouse is $8 per vehicle (with 2 – 8 passengers), $4 for a single vehicle or $2 for a pedestrian or bike rider. In addition to four miles of pristine beaches, Anastasia is also home to Salt Run, perfect for kayaking, andoffers restrooms, a picnic area, snack bar and camping for RVs and tents. South of the St. Augustine city limits, Faver-Dykes State Park, Washington Oaks Gardens State Park and Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area offer entry for $5 per vehicle (up to 8 passengers). All three parks are gorgeous and equipped for hiking and picnics. Faver-Dykes also has available canoes for rent at just $5 per hour plus tax.
A family of four could easily visit both forts and all five state parks for just $45! That’s half the cost of admission to Disney for one person!
5. Bring your bicycles!
St. Augustine is working toward becoming a more bike-friendly town, adding “sharrows” to the Bridge of Lions and bike lanes on other roads around town. You can cruise around downtown St. Augustine, ride on the beach or pedal along the hiking trails at the state parks. With parking in the historic district being so limited, being a bike is not only eco-friendly, it will save you the headache of hunting for a parking spot. If you need a break, hop on the Sunshine Bus for $1.00 per one way ride or $3.00 for a day pass. Buses run Monday through Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (except on holidays) and are equipped with bike racks for transporting you and your bicycle around St. Augustine.
If you can’t bring a bike, rent one!