When you’re thinking about warm weather destinations, consider the Historic Coast of Florida for a family-friendly vacation. Located in the northeast corner of the state, the area offers history, family fun, and plenty of outdoor recreation.
The best place to begin is the oldest city in the country, St. Augustine, founded in 1565. The city is very walkable, even for the little ones.
First Stop – St. Augustine
Discover the Fountain of Youth
Here you’ll find Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park where you’ll be taken by the beauty of the sweeping live oaks that line the streets. The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is more than just a National Historic Landmark. It’s filled with family-friendly activities where you can teach your kids about America’s first colony. Show them a living history village about the Native Americans who lived there. Climb up a fort where you can see for miles. The kids I saw were fascinated by the live cannon firing and blacksmith shop demo.
When you’re hungry, head to the Smoked Southern BBQ Café for burgers, sandwiches, and salads, and enjoy the beautiful views as you dine outdoors. There is so much to see and do that you can spend the day here.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument – Building America
Kids love playing in forts, and Castillo de San Marcos is no exception. This massive masonry fort, the oldest in the U.S., is filled with history and culture. Talk to the park rangers in period dress, check out the musket or cannon demonstrations, and become a junior ranger. Get the best views of the city from the gun deck.
The center of St. Augustine is Plaza de la Constitución, which is a meeting place for the community filled with statues, cannons, and a public market. Lots of concerts are held here in the summer. The Bridge of Lions is just a few blocks away, connecting the city with Anastasia Island. Completed in 1927, it has become an iconic symbol for the city. Do take a walk in the morning or evening and see St. Augustine from a different perspective.
Kids will love checking out the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse downtown, built in the late 1700s, and learning about life in the 1800s.
And, of course, there are also 42 miles of Atlantic beaches with kayaking and other water recreation awaiting you.´
Take the Old Time Trolley Tour and See it All!
The easiest way to see the sites is to hop on one of the orange and green buses aboard the Old Town Trolley Tour, which makes more than 20 stops. Check out the Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Village, plus my favorites, the Old Jail and St. Augustine History Museum.
Where to Eat
The Floridian is a St. Augustine classic that serves up down-home Southern comfort foods along with lighter vegetarian options. Dining outside on the front porch elevated our dining experience as we started out with Company’s Coming, a collection of house-pickled vegetables served with pimento cheese. Who could go wrong with a Southeast Fried Chicken Sandwich and the Beef Brisket Ragout slow braised and served with fall squash and pumpkin seeds? A kids menu is available, too.
Columbia Restaurant has been a favorite in St. Augustine since 1967. It’s no wonder diners are enthralled with their award-winning Spanish/Cuban cuisine for lunch and dinner. It’s not only the delectable cuisine, but the décor of the restaurant, once a historic mansion lavishly decorated with hand-painted tiles, artwork, and a Spanish-style fountain. The whole menu is like a taste of history from their flagship restaurant in the Latin American neighborhood of Ybor City, Tampa. Go for the Tapas, their most popular Cuban sandwich, and end with their Chocolate Bread Pudding, which is not to be missed. A kids menu is available, too.
Next Stop – Jacksonville Beach
Here, it’s all about the water. Catching the rays, swimming, and surfing the perfect waves at uncrowded beaches is how you’ll enjoy this destination. Ponte Vedra, Atlantic, and Neptune are just a few of the popular towns. With many state and national parks nearby, Jacksonville Beach offers a truly laid-back experience.
Kathryn Abby Hanna Park
Located right on the ocean, this relaxing park has a lot to offer families, from camping, hiking, and biking trails to canoeing on a freshwater pond, a splash pad, and a playground. It’s the place for old-fashioned family fun where kids can play and just be kids. Stay in one of their cozy cabins. I enjoyed watching all of the families taking advantage of this nature paradise where no electronics can be heard.
Boneyard Beach – An Otherworldly Adventure
On my drive out of Jacksonville, I stopped to hike at Boneyard Beach. Three miles of shoreline along the Nassau Sound create a spectacular visual and ecological wonderland. I’ve never seen anything quite like these massive, withered driftwood trees just lying on the beach. You can see the beach through the platform, or you can hike down about a half mile to take a walk. There is no swimming allowed here, but it makes for a wonderful picnic stop. It is eerily quiet. Remember, it’s a protected reserve, so you can’t remove anything from the beach.
Last Stop – Amelia Island
Amelia Island has been under eight flags, and the culture reflects this influence. Geographically, the island is over 13 miles long. Walk through the Old Town area, and be mesmerized by the Victorian architecture, enchanting mansions, and live oak trees. Lining the streets of downtown Fernandina Beach are restaurants, cafes, and ice cream shops.
Check out Amelia River Cruises & Charters from the main port on Fernandina Beach to get a great overview of the island. For kids, there’s the perfect Eco-Tour, which brings up the catch and lets kids see what’s been collected in the net. It’s a fascinating learning experience. Best part is you can bring your own food and drink, plus your pets.
Bring the kids to Fort Clinch State Park. The park offers a variety of things to do like nature trails and biking trails. See Florida’s biggest sand dunes (no, not for climbing), catch sight of the Amelia Island Lighthouse, and hear stories from costumed interpreters. They can collect shark teeth on the beach, explore the fort, and learn more about the Civil War. There’s also a great playground right near Fort Clinch State Park.
Let kids learn how to surf right on Main Beach. Benches along the beautiful beach give you a front-and-center seat to the show as the sea foam rushes to the shore.
Go horseback riding on the beautiful beach at Amelia Island State Park. Explore the natural wonderland of Amelia Island via a guided kayak tour, boat tour, or paddleboard tour through Amelia Adventures. You’ll also find world-class, championship golf courses.
Get Creative at Paisley Grace Makery
If it’s raining or too hot, head to Paisley Grace Makery for some creative fun. They’re open most days, but it’s better to make an appointment. Unleash your creativity by making your own Paint Pour project. Take it and make it, or they’ll even do it for you.
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