If you are looking at Visiting St. Augustine Florida on a Budget it can be done! My mom and I are forever trying to head down south during the coldest months of the year and take a little break. The last few years we have done Orlando but with all the pandemic changes our normal places don’t seem quite as fun. So we decided on St. Augustine.
I will say that the weather on this trip was about the same as at home (Chesapeake, VA) so it really wasn’t any warmer. The last day we went up to Orlando before our flight and it was a good ten degrees higher. Our trip was in February 2022 and I probably would have pushed it a bit to March for warmer weather. That being said it wasn’t exactly cold and it was much sunnier than home so I enjoyed it.
Visiting St. Augustine Florida on a Budget
Ways to Save
Park After Five: Parking in the downtown area is free after 5 p.m. So if you can find somewhere else to park during the day you can move your car downtown for your evening activities!
Flight: You have several airport options for flights to St. Augustine. There are a few regional airports in the area but the closest major airport is Jacksonville. It’s about a 50 minute drive. That being said we really like to avoid any layovers and there is a non-stop flight each day from our airport to Orlando. Orlando is about 90 minutes away and we were able to snag Southwest airline flights for under $130 during one of their big sales. You will HAVE to have a car for this trip and we also found cars were a bit cheaper in Orlando so consider both airports if you have the time for the extra drive.
Rental Car: Cars were a bit cheaper in Orlando. My mom has a Costco membership and that was our best choice when we compared. We ended up with Alamo and the guy at the airport gave us an upgrade at no additional cost.
Housing: Now this was a huge savings for us and if you have the option you should check it out. We have a relative who has a timeshare and they are EVERYWHERE around St. Augustine. Because of the pandemic they had not been traveling and needed to use some points. We like to stay places with two rooms and that makes hotel rooms expensive. So if you know someone looking to unload some points see if you can take advantage.
That being said St. Augustine is very spread out and there is absolutely no need to stay near the downtown tourist area. Our place was by the Golf Hall of Fame which was about a 15 minute drive to the things we wanted to do. Traffic in the downtown area was horrible and hotels rooms are limited in that area so I was glad we were staying out of the way.
Coupons: This is a tourist destination so there are coupons everywhere. They had them at the time share, the trolley tour, books you grabbed at the waterfront and just about everywhere else. So if you aren’t saving $1 or $2 off most everything you do there is probably a discount you can ask for or find somewhere else. If you see something online before you go try to find/e-mail/call for a discount. Likely you can save a little bit.
National Park Pass: If you are going to visit Castillo De San Marcos (see below) it is a National Park. That means you can use a park pass to get in and there are a variety of ways to save on those. If you have a 4th grader they get a free pass, if you are active duty military you get a free pass, if you are a Veteran or a Gold Star Family you can get a free pass. Years ago seniors could get a free lifetime pass and my mom grabbed one so we got in free (you get a free guest). So if you think you will visit parks in the future check out a park pass!
What To Do
Old Town Trolley Tour– You absolutely must do this. The traffic in the downtown area is horrible and this is the way for you to get around and not have to worry about parking. You can get on the trolley at any stop but the first stop at the Old Jail has free parking where you can leave your car all day safely. It has 22 stops- you can hop off and on whenever you like. They stop by at least every 15 minutes (sometimes more often) and we rarely had to wait any real length of time.
Castillo De San Marcos– I am a history nerd so that was a MUST SEE on my trip. Built by the Spanish in St. Augustine to defend Florida and the Atlantic trade route, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument preserves the oldest masonry fortification in the continental United States and interprets more than 450 years of cultural intersections. It’s insane how many things the fort has been used for. The set up is incredible. If you don’t have a National Park Pass this is well worth the $15. I saw people of all ages enjoying themselves- make this a priority!
Sea Serpent Tour– This is the one thing I do recommend booking ahead of time because it will fill up. They have a nice variety of discounts on their website. This was worth every dime we spent. You can click here to see my video on Instagram and get a sneak peak. I will do an airboat ride again at some point in the future.
This was funny, interesting and a little adrenaline inducing. You do need to tip so be sure to bring some cash for your guide. They earn it- they tell you funny stories and show you all kinds of things.
Whetstone Chocolate Tasting Tour– I have done chocolate tours before and not been too impressed. This tour was fantastic, the guide hilarious but informative and they were generous with the samples. Adults are $8.95 and you get a coupon toward a purchase in the gift shop. The tour times change by the day so you need to check and see what is available for your particular trip. Plus you get a super sexy hairnet.
This is a stop on the Old Town Trolley Tour but they have their own parking lot so we did this on the day we did the airboat tour in the morning. It’s also within a few blocks of the winery and distillery below so doing all three in an afternoon is very doable.
San Sebastian Winery– FREE Wine Tasting! There were some nice wines to try on this tour and the building was beautiful. Since we were flying home and not checking bags we didn’t buy any but they had a red I would have grabbed! This is a stop on the Old Town Trolley Tour but they have their own parking lot so we did this on the day we did the airboat tour in the morning.
St. Augustine Distillery– FREE distillery tour! My mom had her first distillery tour here- it was yummy! The drinks were all mixed (atleast that we had) so it wasn’t an overwhelming taste. The building is stunning and the bar tenders were hilarious. This is a stop on the Old Town Trolley Tour but they have their own parking lot so we did this on the day we did the airboat tour in the morning.
Do a Ghost Tour– St. Augustine has a variety of ghost tours available but we did A Ghostly Encounter and it was fantastic. Their starting and ending location is also great because it’s right in the area where most likely you want to be and your car is parked. We felt very safe walking to the vehicle after the tour was over. I have done ghost tours in about a half dozen cities now and this was one of the best. The stories were believable and I learned even more about the rich history of the area.
The Old Jail– This is the first stop on the Trolley Tour and the best place we saw to park your car for the day. It’s also next to the Saint Augustine History Museum (which is free with your trolley ticket) so we just started there. The tour was really fun. The jail is actually beautiful on the outside and they will tell you the story of why on the tour. It was a nice start to the day!
Flagler College– Flagler College is stunning. Henry Flagler was a contemporary of Vanderbilt and Rockefeller and took that big money to St. Augustine to build hotels, museums and churches. You will learn quite a bit about him on the trolley tour but his big hotel has been turned into a college and you can tour it. It’s called the Hogwarts of the south and they earned the name. The picture above is their cafeteria. Inside their cafeteria is over $100,000 worth of Tiffany Glass Windows.
The tour is $16 and seeing inside the building is amazing. That being said our tour guide was less than stellar. In spite of being a hospitality major she pretty much couldn’t answer anything that wasn’t in her script. So I wish I had done more reading on Henry Flagler before we went.
Pirate Museum– This is one of those things that I would tell you if you are interested in pirates you should absolutely go. It does have some neat artifacts and interesting information but the $18 price tag was a little high for me. Again there are coupons everywhere so you can probably get the entrance fee down a few dollars.
Where To Eat
Spanish Bakery– This is a hidden jewel I am so glad I found. It’s on St. George Street kind of tucked in the back and looks very unimposing. The food has been cooked the same way forever and when they run out of food they are done for the day. We had vegetable empanadas and some pastries and they were delightful. I highly recommend.
Whetstone Chocolates– If you don’t go on the tour I mentioned above get some chocolates. They have a few locations around the area with their chocolates and ice cream. Both are amazing. They are a local company and did the chocolates for Disney exclusively for over 20 years. Any chocolate you buy there is less than 48 hours old and I swear it helps the taste.
Cap’s on The Water– This was a recommendation from a local- it popped up nowhere that I searched online before our trip. They open at four and if you want to sit on the back on the water I would suggest being there right at four- especially on a weekend. It was some of the best food I have ever eaten and since I don’t eat fish I didn’t even try their specialties. Prices were reasonable and the atmosphere was unbeatable.
The Manatee Cafe– For my plant-based or vegetarian eaters this place was great. Prices were very reasonable and lots of healthy options. Also they have a good discount if you pay with cash so bring some with you!
Those were the only places that blew me out of the water. Some other places were okay but these were exceptional. I don’t want you to miss them!
Here are the photos of this fantastic trip:
The Old City Gates- St. Augustine was attacked often. The fort always held up but the city kept being burned to the ground. So after a few times they build a wall and gates out of the same material as the fort. The gates remain and you can see them today!
This was near the Old Jail. It’s just so Florida.
This is a love tree. If you look it is a tree growing inside a tree. It’s an oak and coming out of the top is a palm tree. There are two of these in St. Augustine and they are very cool. If you kiss the person you love under it you are supposed to be bound together forever.
This is a performance space off of St. George. It’s stunning. Even if you don’t go to a show stick your head in and check it out. That beautiful tree covered in lanterns is stunning at night. And even during the day.
Another “only in Florida” picture.
Beautiful buildings and statues around town.
This fountain at Flagler College was designed to look like a sword sticking out of the ground and the frogs are a working sun dial.
Alcohol is so pretty!
Right on St. George Street!
The 2nd best pizza on Trip Advisor is also on St. George Street. Yep we tried it- pretty good!
The Old Jail! It’s no wonder people thought it was a hotel.
Stunning views from the Castillo De San Marcos!