Daniel and I went to St. Augustine for our honeymoon, so it holds a special place in our hearts. I immediately fell in love with the rich history of the Old City, but it wasn’t until after we converted that I realized what an amazing Catholic heritage it has! The first Mass in the New World was celebrated on September 8, 1565 on the shores of St. Augustine and the oldest devotional site in the New World devoted to Our Lady (The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche) can also be found there. We finally got our act together so the kids could experience St. Augustine for the first time and planned a trip for the Feast of Our Lady of La Leche!
Here’s what we learned about enjoying the city with young children:
One word: TROLLEY. St. Augustine is old. The oldest continuously populated European settlement in the U.S., which means that it wasn’t designed for convenient parking. And nothing is less fun than circling for ages to find parking with a hungry or tired baby crying to get out of her car seat….not that I would know anything about that. Ahem. The Old Town Trolley had a stop right by our hotel and that made life much easier. In fact, I wish we’d used the trolley more than we did. Everytime we decided to drive, we regretted it. But, be careful to plan well because the last trolley leaves at 4:30pm so make sure you ride it back to your car before you get stranded. The kids LOVED riding it and with a 16-month-old who never fails to raise a stink about getting strapped into her car seat…it was a blessed change.
Places to Go and Things to Do
Pirate and Treasure Museum:
Learn about pirates and see real Jolly Roger flags, pirate treasure from sunken ships, and “fire” cannons. The museum is small, but very fun. A few things were too spooky for our three-year-old, but the five-year-old loved it and begged to go back.
Mission de Nombre de Dios:
On these beautiful grounds you can visit an altar on the same spot they believe the first Mass in the U.S. was celebrated. There’s also a small museum and a Church beside the site. You can see the 208 ft. cross commemorating the first Mass and the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. (And it doesn’t cost a penny to visit.)
You can pray and walk around the grounds visiting sculptures of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.
Little Lucy wanted to comfort Jesus when she saw this Pieta.
The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche:
This beautiful devotional site is one of my favorite spots in the world. I brought with me all the requests for prayers from my readers who are suffering from nursing struggles or infertility. It’s an approved pilgrimage site and the early 20th century chapel is build less than 100 ft. from where the original chapel from the 17th century was built.
Inside is a beautiful statue of Our Lady nursing Baby Jesus.
The Cathedral of St. Augustine:
The Cathedral is beautiful and it’s currently being renovated right now, so it will be even lovelier soon. We went to the Mass celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of La Leche and the bishop gave a beautiful homily celebrating life, love, and families.
Castillo De San Marcos
It’s the oldest masonry fort in the U.S. and you can explore and even watch a re-enactment of a cannon firing.
But the cannon is loud, so be sure to have little folks cover their ears.
Exploring the fort was definitely a highlight of the trip!
St. Augustine Scenic Cruise
Just before dinnertime the first night of our visit, we took the Scenic Cruise, because what kid doesn’t want to be on a boat?
We went right by the Castillo de San Marcos, past the Bridge of Lions, and onward to a great view of the Lighthouse.
I tried not to freak out about one of the kids falling into the water. I think it was more fun for the big kids than it was for our wriggly 16-month-old who wanted to climb everything.
The Colonial Quarter
This living history museum is tucked right in the historic district. It would be the perfect place to take older children (I think our kids were a little to young to appreciate it).
Although there were fake firearms to be played with, so everyone was happy. And the kids loved climbing the watchtower where they could see many of the sites we visited over the weekend.
St. George Street
One of our favorite things to do in St. Augustine is just to wander around historic St. George Street. It’s beautiful and there are interesting little shops to visit.
It’s definitely worth it to take a stroll over to Flagler College to see the beautiful architecture of the historical building that once was Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel.
Can you imagine having a dorm room in there?! Simply gorgeous.
I would choose the other attractions over Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum. It was too creepy for our little ones and I prefer the historical sites.
There are oodles of lovely places to stay in the historic district (and with the added perk of parking there and just meandering around the city on foot.) A particularly affordable (and super fun) hotel is The Pirate Haus Inn. Although we didn’t stay there this time, we’ve enjoying staying there in the past. It’s right behind the Cathedral AND they serve pirate pancakes in the morning, so win! We ended up staying at the Howard Johnson this time because it was a busy weekend for The Pirate Haus. And we managed to fit two adults, a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 17-month-old in one room AND get decent sleep because…budget travel!
When traveling with little ones, we take a different approach than when it’s just the two of us and we can stroll at our leisure until we realize we’re hungry. Traveling with children is an exercise in keeping the enemies of hunger and tiredness at bay to avoid sudden child meltdowns, so a little more planning where meals are concerned is needed.
We wanted to eat at local places that will give our kids a feel for the city, but we also looked for restaurants that easily accommodate children so that we can enjoy ourselves. That means the super fancy quiet restaurants are probably out for us during this season of our lives.
What made this trip slightly more exciting was that our daughter’s godparents and their five children were in St. Augustine the same weekend and we often met up with them for meals, which made us a PARTY OF TWELVE. So it’s not like we could just waltz into anywhere and expect to be seated right away. Here’s a few spots that we found to be very family-friendly and tasty:
Cruisers: Great burgers, fries, amazing salads. Casual and kid-friendly.
Columbia: I’m so glad we had reservations, because it was very busy and I would have been devastated to miss out on eating here. We ate at Columbia on our honeymoon and dinner there is a gorgeous experience. It’s located in the historic district in a beautiful old building and the Sangria is to die for. I also recommend the signature 1905 salad, the tapas, and the paella. So, now I’ve ordered for you, you’re welcome. It’s bustling enough that chatter from the kids didn’t draw any attention. Great service and great food.
Athena Restaurant: Fantastic Greek food. We had a huge breakfast of souvlaki and traditional bacon and eggs. It would be the perfect place to go right after Mass since it’s just down the road from the Cathedral.
Other great spots to pop in and grab a bite are Gaufre’s and Goods for really amazing Greek and Polish food, pastries, and coffees and Cafe de Hidalgo for gelato because…gelato, right?
It was a trip we’ll always remember! In fact, the kids cried on the way home because they wanted to stay forever.
A big thanks to St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau for their help.
You can also read our tips for taking young children to New Orleans.
Have you ever traveled to St. Augustine? Any tips for easy, affordable travel with young children?