Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Take the weekend to escape the hot and humid Atlanta sun by heading…south? While it might not be getting any cooler in Florida, the ability to be in the ocean at a moment’s notice is a welcome change. So pack your bags and don’t forget a towel and bathing suit, we’re heading to the charming and historic beach town of St. Augustine for the weekend.
From Atlanta, you’ll want to travel down I-75 South for a little over five and a half hours. The biggest traffic you’ll run into will be in Atlanta, so plan to leave at a time where rush-hour can be avoided.
First thing’s first, we’re headed towards the beach, but not without a little sustenance. Stopping at Stir It Up, a beachside sandwich, burrito, and smoothie shop, gives you the chance to fuel up for your day in the surf and sun. Whether you opt for a vegetarian wrap, a protein-packed smoothie, and loaded burrito, or a little bit of all of the above, you won’t be disappointed. This brunch will leave you full without feeling sluggish. And for those needing a little more than a green juice to get them going, The Kookaburra, a local coffee shop with some tasty breakfast and lunch pies, is located just across the street. Aside from being generally delicious, the other great thing about these brunch spots is their proximity to the ocean. Right next to Stir It Up is a little path that leads you right to the white beaches of St. Augustine. To get your food and activity in the same place is a serious win-win.
Spend the day soaking in the sun and catching some waves. For those really wanting a challenge, stop by Pit Surf Shop which—will you look at that—is situated right next to Stir It Up. Maybe you’re already well versed in surfing—rentals are available. And for those dipping their toes into the choppy waves for the first time, lessons are available! While your kid might not come back to Atlanta a certified Johnny Tsunami, they will come back with a great experience and maybe even a few successful surfs under their belt.
After spending a day at the beach, we’re taking our sun-kissed skin to the historic downtown area for dinner and a drink. Put your name in at Harry’s, a Creole restaurant, and while you wait (which you most likely will, it’s a pretty popular destination), head next door to Tradewinds Lounge for an air conditioned wait and a glass of sangria. At Harry’s, consider the shrimp and grits, beloved she-crab soup, or any one of their fresh seafood options.
INSIDER TIPRumor has it the women’s bathroom has its very own ghost. Consider this stop one of the St. Augustine supernatural tour!
For the rest of the night, stick to downtown and enjoy bar hopping around the country’s oldest city. For something a little rowdier you might head towards No Name Bar, which boasts live music on the weekend. Of if you’re hoping for something a little more refined, head to Casa De Vino 57 for a taste of local wines and late-night charcuterie. Make sure to end your night of bar-hopping with some serious hydration. Heat and humidity are not the friends of a hangover.
Day two will start where night two ended—downtown. This area is a completely different experience in the daytime, with a huge selection of local shops now open and waiting to be explored. Start the morning at Maple Street Biscuit Company where you can get just about any type of biscuit—sweet, savory, or smothered in gravy.
This popular breakfast spot is also a short walk from Flagler College, the former Ponce de León Hotel turned liberal arts university. The college offers historic tours (not admission based) of the grounds and buildings for architecture enthusiasts, but for those wanting a quick glimpse at the beauty, simply walking around the outskirts can be breathtaking enough.
The rest of the morning should be spent exploring the downtown area and the unique shops it has to offer, including Red Pineapple, a small boutique store for women’s clothing and jewelry, Claude’s Chocolate for a pre-lunch sweet treat, Coat of Arms Shoppe for the history buff in your family, and a number of gift shops for the family member you promised a magnet to!
And for a group less into shopping, there’s something for you too—ditch the stores in favor of something a bit more historic. Visit the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the United States. This attraction opens at 9 a.m. daily and, on the weekends, showcases the still-working canons each hour. A tour here can set the scene of an early St. Augustine, giving you insight into America’s oldest town.
And following a morning of shopping and sightseeing, you’ll definitely want to grab a bite to eat. Catch 27 is a great weekend lunch spot and the perfect place to grab a light meal or fresh seafood. While we obviously want you to enjoy your lunch, we’d recommend saving some room for dessert—this Spanish city does sweets best.
For an afternoon treat, head to Cafe del Hidalgo, a gelato stop serving up some seriously good sweets. This treat, less fattening but somehow creamier than ice cream, is a delight if you can find a spot doing it right, and this small shop does just that. Sample away and split your scoop how you’d like—there’s no going wrong here.
This afternoon is based on how much time you’d like to spend in the sun: For those wanting to get their UV-Rays wherever they can, head to Fort Matanzas, a historic war fort that can only be reached by ferry. This national monument gives you the chance to see a different side of this beach town as you ride along the Matanzas River to reach your final, off-the-beaten-path destination.
But for those looking for a bit of respite from the sun (because maybe yesterday’s beachy afternoon left us a bit redder than expected), there is the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. While these museums might be found in other cities, it can be a really thrilling day-time adventure for a child who’s never been before. This museum is interactive and trippy, so while it might be geared at kids, it’s still a blast for an adult who finds your standard museum well…how do we say it…boring.
To end the afternoon, we’re heading to the marsh for dinner—well, to the restaurant located on top of the marsh. Saltwater Cowboys is a quaint restaurant (and the oldest in St. Augustine) serving up southern classics from fried fish to BBQ. While the food at this restaurant is delicious and homey, the view is what makes it spectacular—though, it’s not the view we typically associate with a beach town restaurant. At sunset you can look over the marsh from the patio and watch the sun go down over the swampy land and the clouds turn pink—is there a better dinner view than that?
To end our night, we’re getting a little spooky. St. Augustine might be known to many for being the oldest city in the United States, but to others, it’s known as being one of the most haunted. A visit to this city without a ghost tour would be like a visit to Paris without ever seeing the Eifel Tower—it’s wrong.
These tours aren’t necessarily aimed at certified ghost hunters (nonbelievers welcome), more at entertaining and telling you about the lesser-known history of the city. Favorite tours include Old Town Trolley Tours, Ghost and Gravestones, and the Dark of the Moon Ghost Tour, which takes you to the city’s reportedly-haunted lighthouse.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re traveling with kids, look for a tour that offers cameras and “ghost readers,” as this makes the tour a lot more interactive for them—while you listen, they can search for spirits.
Well, it’s arrived, the last day of the weekend getaway, but we’re not to spend it moping. We’re making the most of this final day, seeing the parts of the town we haven’t and setting sail on the waters we haven’t yet dipped our toes in.
To start the morning right you’ll want to grab a quick bite. Anastasia Kitchen puts us right where we want to be for the morning—by the lighthouse. This place offers a classic breakfast at a great price, the perfect place to fill up before a morning of activity. For those who opted for a downtown ghost tour as opposed to a lighthouse tour, this last morning is the perfect time to see the giant candy-striped tower. You can climb to the top for aerial views of the town and explore the museum at the base.
If you’re wanting something a little more adventurous for this last day, add morning kayak or paddleboard trip might to your books. A short three-minute walk from the lighthouse is Kayak and Stand Up Paddle Board St. Augustine. This company gives you the option to rent the equipment and explore the waters alone, or join a tour. Either way, you’ll likely get the chance to see sea life, with dolphin and manatee sightings common.
Finish the morning off with a super simple lunch at The Tin Pickle, also located by the lighthouse (more time in the sun, less time in the car). This place might not be fancy, but damn are the hot dogs good. This will satisfy anyone getting maybe a little tired of seafood followed by seafood.
For the afternoon there are a few options, head back to the beach for one last day of fun in the sun, explore and hike Anastasia Island State Park, or visit the kid-approved Alligator Farm (if they see the sign on your way out of town and you don’t stop, a fit might be in your future). While this farm has the obvious (alligators), it also has a zipline, wildlife shows, fossils, and other animals your kids will go crazy for (oh yes, they have sloths).
And that brings us to our last meal in this historic city. For dinner, consider The Conch House, located on the beach—one last moment of calm before heading back to the bustling city. Another great beach restaurant is Beachcomber, with patio seating so you can watch the waves crash as the sun sets–quite the picturesque conclusion to the weekend!
WHERE TO STAY
There’s a number of bed and breakfasts to choose from in the historic downtown area, many of which can be found here. One of the best, and oldest, is Carriage Way Inn Bed and Breakfast. This charming stay is located downtown, putting you close to the shops, restaurants, and history that make this city so fascinating. Marker 8 is another downtown option but offers a more modern stay, with a pool on the water, bar, and a fireplace to spend the night by. And for those who prefer a beachfront condo and pool, check here to see what’s available your weekend of choice.
WHEN TO GO
While the prime time to go might appear to be summer, this is also when the city is at its most crowded, so try to avoid busy summer holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend. In the fall, Florida remains warm, though cooler at night, and the beaches are relatively empty, sans local college kids getting work done in a spot more scenic than their dorm! If you’re not looking to spend ample time in the water (which will be a little chilly) this could be an opportune time for your visit! If you’re an ocean person, opt for late spring and summer for best water temperatures, but if you’re more interested in the city-side of things, the early spring, fall, and winter might be your best bet.