As you can imagine, my two tween sons keep me in search of buzzing action to satisfy their indomitable spirits while balancing quality family-bonding experiences and some downtime. This mom’s on a mission to weave their youthful exuberance with moments of simplicity. Normally, this is no easy task. But, in the heart of, “The Old City,” I discovered St. Augustine really is a Fountain of Youth that had me lazing on the beach, zip lining over crocodiles, strolling through history and climbing the heights of an iconic–and romantic–lighthouse. Experience the best this seaside stronghold has to offer by adding these 8 great family-friendly explorations to your itinerary.
Ripley’s Odditorium, Red Train Tours & Ghost Train Adventures
The Odditorium in St Augustine will delight the imaginations of young and old. A dizzying vortex room, interactive optical illusions and fun mirrors entertain the family while bizarre exhibits like shrunken heads and a motorcycle constructed of bone turn up the creepiness factor.
Not only were my children completely mesmerized by the strange and unusual exhibits at Ripley’s Odditorium, we painlessly explored St. Augustine from this hub of activity by parking our car and taking the Red Train. Over 20 stops along the Red Train Tour offer convenient navigation to many attractions, historic sites and shops while the lively guide offers tips and information.
TIP: Download the Ripley’s Odditorium App, when you arrive, for more interactive features throughout your visit.
St Augustine Lighthouse
The iconic black-swirled lighthouse of St. Augustine is one of those few places you can snag a moment of precious romance while simultaneously challenging children’s sense of adventure. Inside the lighthouse, starkly contrasting black spiral stairs and white walls create a stunning visual for the climb. Though the climb seems less daunting than some other lighthouses at only 165 steps, the grand view is rewarding for the whole family. While the children revel in the new heights they’ve achieved, an opportunity for parents to steal a romantic moment reveals itself.
The lighthouse, although clearly the focal point, isn’t the only draw to the classic shoreline attraction. Enjoy a well-deserved rest stop under the cover of shade trees while the children expend their energy clambering on a sea-inspired playground. Discover history by visiting the museum and take a leisurely stroll along the nature trail before choosing your souvenirs at the gift shop.
TIP: This souvenir shop has reasonably priced tabletop replicas of the famous lighthouse to remember your visit.
Anastasia State Park – Read My Campground Guide
This quiet park was the scene of our overnight accommodations and beach activities. I was pleasantly surprised by the overall cleanliness of the park. As a regular camper and hiker, I am no stranger to carrying along a trash bag to scoop up disposables left by others. So, I have to hand it to the staff and visitors of this Florida State Park for their attention to detail. View more photographs and read my full guide to camping Anastasia State Park to better plan your trip.
The beach is just a short drive, walk or bike ride from the camping area. A scenic boardwalk leads to four long miles of gorgeous Florida beach. We were fortunate enough to have this amazing location nearly all to ourselves during our stay in early June. My 10-year-old son has a thing for bodysurfing and has never been disappointed by St. Augustine’s waves.
The park is also home to the archaeological site where the coquina rock was quarried for nearby Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. A visit to the quarry, located just inside the park, will add another dimension to your experience at Castillo de San Marcos.
TIP: There are lessons and rentals available for a variety of watersports you can enjoy such as kayaking, paddle boating and more.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Breathe deep as you walk the gundeck of this fortress to take in nearly 450 years of history and an expansive view. An inexpensive addition to your itinerary, Castillo de San Marcos enriches your visit through self-guided tours, ranger programs, historical demonstrations and an informative video.
TIP: The coquina walls also provide a unique backdrop for enjoying a family picnic and some much-needed relaxation.
Ripple Effect Eco Tour – Read my full review + video!
I have lovingly dubbed the Ripple Effect Eco Tour as, “one of the best experiences in the Southeast US.” I mean it. A knowledgeable and friendly Ripple Effect guide leads an expedition in the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve–an extraordinary pristine environment teeming with wildlife and adventure.
My sons were able to explore a place like no other in the world and I rediscovered a child-like sense of wonder in myself. This truly instills a spirit of conservation and respect for nature. View photos, video and more from our experience kayaking with Ripple Effect Eco Tours.
TIP: Make sure you have sun protection and bring water to hydrate.
The Pirate & Treasure Museum – Full Review + GIVEAWAY
Traveling back in time to dark and mysterious surroundings we peek into the lives and lore of the most infamous pirates to sail the seven seas. Excitedly, my tween sons busted myths and uncovered the truth about pirates and their treasure troves while engaged in an interactive treasure hunt throughout the museum.
An historic tale is woven of intrigue and drama with the added fun of practicing necessary pirate skills: treasure hunting, knot-tying and blasting cannons. The self-guided tour begins and ends in a small gift shop perfect for choosing a treasured trinket for the pirate in your life.
Tip: DO enter the room labeled, “Enter if you Dare,” for a dark surprise that any adventurer will appreciate. This was one of the boys’ favorite parts of the museum.
Marineland Dolphin Adventure – Scroll down for GIVEAWAY
An unforgettable encounter awaited my boys, at Marineland, where we came face-to-face with friendly dolphin, Lily. Lily gave us a hands-on learning experience that should never be replicated with a wild dolphin. We fed her, tickled her belly and even gave her dolphin kisses!
Make a splash with your kids and one of the most beloved creatures of the sea, dolphins. The specially trained dolphins, at Marineland, show a range of interaction from gentle kisses to high-flying jumps. These powerful creatures will amaze you as you learn about their lives, their struggles in the wild and their playfulness. Read my full review on Homeschool Travel.
TIP: Remember, these are trained dolphins, not wild animals. As long as you follow the guidelines, for properly interacting with the dolphins, you can relax and have fun.
Alligator Farm Zoological Park & Crocodile Crossing Zip Line
Don’t let the name fool you. There is much more to this Zoological Park than gators, as my reptile-obsessed son discovered. It isn’t your average zoo, either. Nestled among komodo dragons, a variety of snakes and many bird species live hundreds of charming alligators and crocodiles. A variety of daily wildlife shows promote knowledge and awareness of often misunderstood animals and some of Florida’s native species. We even saw park staff feeding alligators from within the enclosures before we headed over to the boardwalk and tossed snacks to the gators below.
Feeding hungry alligators too tame for your adventurous crew? Take them on a zipline adventure through the trees–directly above the alligator habitats! Crocodile Crossing is a thrilling addition to the Alligator Farm that zips visitors through seven acres of aerial obstacles.
TIP: Parents, find a bench near the fossil hunting tent and chat while the kids try their hand at paleontology.
Effortlessly, I was able to bring together my family’s cravings for adventure and quench the desire to peacefully unwind. The unique mesh of St. Augustine’s historical richness and modern family fun combine to form lasting memories, uncover intriguing treasures of our past and instill a passion for pristine nature.
Disclosure: I was fortunate enough to receive complimentary admission for my family thanks to St. Augustine and the wonderful attractions listed above. But, let me assure you that does not influence my opinion of this experience.
Win 4 General Admission Passes to Marineland Dolphin Adventure
General admission guests are able to view the dolphins through 6 x 10 ft acrylic windows as they swim, play and interact with guests in programs alongside the pristine Atlantic coastline.