Beaches -- There are several places to find sand and sea: Vilano Beach, on the north side of St. Augustine Inlet; and St. Augustine Beach, on the south side (the inlet dumps the Matanzas and North rivers into the Atlantic). Be aware, however, that erosion has almost swallowed the beach from the inlet as far south as Old Beach Road in St. Augustine Beach. A $14-million sand re-nourishment program in 2012 also ended up eroding, but in the meantime, hotels and homes here have rock seawalls instead of sand bordering the sea.
Erosion has made a less noticeable impact on Anastasia State Park, on Anastasia Boulevard (A1A) across the Bridge of Lions and just past the Alligator Farm, where the 4 miles of beach (on which you can drive and park) are still backed by picturesque dunes. On its river side, the area faces a lagoon. Amenities include shaded picnic areas with grills, restrooms, windsurfing, sailing, and canoeing (on a saltwater lagoon), a nature trail, and saltwater fishing (for bluefish, pompano, redfish, and flounder; a license is required for nonresidents). In summer, you can rent chairs, beach umbrellas, and surfboards. There’s good bird-watching here, especially in spring and fall; pick up a brochure at the entrance. For history buffs who can’t get their minds off the cobblestone, there’s even an archaeological site where coquina rock was mined to create the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. The 139 wooded campsites are in high demand year-round; they come with picnic tables, grills, and electricity. Admission to the park is $8 per vehicle, $4 single-occupant vehicle, $2 per bicyclist or pedestrian. Campsites cost $28. For camping reservations, call tel. 800/326-3521 or go to www.reserveamerica.com. The day-use area is open daily 8am to sunset. You can bring your pets. For more information call tel. 904/461-2033 orvisit www.floridastateparks.org/anastasia.
March through Labor Day, all St. Augustine beaches charge a fee of $8 per non-resident car at official access points; access is free at other times of the year, however, restroom facilities are not available on the beaches at these times and lifeguards are only on duty the first weekend in May through September.
Cruises -- The Usina family has been running St. Augustine Scenic Cruises (tel. 904/824-1806; www.scenic-cruise.com) on Matanzas Bay since the turn of the 20th century. They offer 75-minute narrated tours aboard the double-decker Victory III, departing from the Municipal Marina just south of the Bridge of Lions. You can sometimes spot dolphins, brown pelicans, cormorants, and kingfishers. Snacks, soft drinks, beer, and wine are sold onboard. Departures are usually at 11am and 1, 2:45, and 4:30pm daily except Christmas, with an additional tour at 6:15pm April to May 21 and from Labor Day to October 15. From May 22 to Labor Day, there are two additional tours, at 6:45 and 8:30pm. Call ahead—schedules can change during inclement weather. Fares are $17 for adults, $14 for seniors, $8 for children ages 4 to 12. If you’re driving, allow time to find parking on the street.
You can also take the free ferry (visitor passes must be obtained at the Visitor Center) to Fort Matanzas on Rattlesnake Island. There are often dolphins in the water as you make the trip, and the fort is interesting. Ferries take off from 8635 Hwy. A1A (follow A1A S. out of St. Augustine for about 15 miles). Call tel. 904/471-0116 or visit www.nps.gov/foma for more information.
Eco-Tours -- St. Augustine Eco Tours (tel. 904/377-7245; www.staugustineecotours.com), offers several kayak and boat tours through St. Augustine’s waterways, including Guana River and Lake, Moultrie Creek, Moses Creek, Washington Oaks, Faver-Dykes, and Six Mile Landing. Prices range from $40 to $50 adults, $30 to $40 kids. They also have a 27-foot catamaran sailing into the remote backwaters, creeks, and estuaries for glimpses of manatees, sea turtles, dolphins, and birds. Cost is $50 for adults, $35 for kids 12 and under.
Ripple Effect Eco Tours (tel. 904/347-1565; www.rippleeffectecotours.com) offers tours on vegetable oil-powered eco-explorer boats—they warn passengers not to come hungry as it does smell something like a restaurant. Tours are in conjunction with Marineland Dolphin Adventure and include admission into the park. Rates start at $50 per person.
For the more adventurous types and fans of the History Channel’s Swamp People, Adrenaline Alligator Adventures (tel. 904/607-6399; www.gators365.com) is led by a licensed alligator trapper and takes you from swamps to golf course fairways on a mission to subdue and remove nuisance gators. Cost is $475 for a group of up to four people who will get right into the middle of the action as you assist in the snaring, subduing, and taping of the gator’s monster jaws. Good luck and, please, send us a picture.
Fishing -- You can fish to your heart’s content at Anastasia State Park. Or you can cast your line off St. Johns County Fishing Pier, at the north end of St. Augustine Beach (tel. 904/461-0119). The pier is open 24 hours daily and has a bait shop with rental equipment that’s open from 6am to 10pm. Admission is $3 ($2 children 11 and under) for fishing, $1 for sightseeing.
For full-day, half-day, and overnight deep-sea fishing excursions (for snapper, grouper, porgy, amberjack, sea bass, and other species), contact the Sea Love Marina, 250 Vilano Rd. (A1A N.), at the eastern end of the Vilano Beach Bridge (tel. 904/824-3328; www.sealovefishing.com). Full-day trips on the party boat Sea Love II cost about $80 for adults, $75 for seniors, and $70 for kids 14 and under; half-day trips $60 for adults, $55 for seniors, and $50 for kids 14 and under. No license is required, and rod, reel, bait, and tackle are supplied. Bring your own food and drink.
Golf -- The area’s best golf resorts are in Ponte Vedra Beach—a half-hour’s drive north on A1A, closer to Jacksonville than St. Augustine.
The Tournament Players Club Sawgrass (tel. 888/421-8555; www.tpc.com/sawgrass) offers the Tour Player Experience, where duffers will be treated like pros and have access to the exclusive wing of the 77,000-square-foot clubhouse where only actual pros, such as Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk, are allowed. You also get a personal caddy wearing a bib with your name on it. The experience also includes a stay at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Spa, dinner, spa services, instruction at the Tour Academy, and a golf gift bag that includes balls, marker, and shirt. Packages start at $288 per person, per night.
Nicklaus also had a hand in the stunning course at the Ocean Hammock Golf Club at the Hammock Beach Resort (tel. 386/477-4600; www.hammockbeach.com), on A1A, in Palm Coast, about halfway between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. With 6 of its holes skirting the beach, it is the first truly oceanside course built in Florida since the 1920s.
There are only a few courses in St. Augustine, including the St. Augustine Shores Golf Club, 707 Shores Blvd., off U.S. 1 (tel. 904/794-4653), a par-70, 18-hole course with lots of water, a lighted driving range and putting green, and a restaurant and lounge. Greens fees usually are $31, including cart.
For more course information, go to www.golf.com or www.floridagolfing.com, or call the Florida Sports Foundation (tel. 850/488-8347) or Florida Golfing (tel. 866/833-2663).
Where Golf Is King
Passionate golf fans can easily spend a day at the World Golf Hall of Fame (tel. 904/940-4000; www.wgv.com), a state-of-the-art museum honoring professional golf, its great players, and the sport’s famous supporters (including comedian Bob Hope and singer Dinah Shore). It’s the centerpiece of World Golf Village, a complex of hotels, shops, offices, and 18-hole golf courses (at exit 95A off I-95). There’s an IMAX screen next door.
Museum admission is $20 for adults, $19 for seniors and students, and $5 for children 4 to 12, and includes a round of golf on the putting green and two shots on the Hall of Fame Challenge Hole. For admission with IMAX ticket, add $5. IMAX tickets without admission range from $9 to $13 for adults, $8 to $12 for seniors and students, and $6 to $10 for children. The museum is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm, and Sunday noon to 6pm; IMAX film times vary.
The village is built around a lake with a “challenge hole” sitting out in the middle, 132 feet from the shoreline. You can hit balls at it or play a round on the nearby putting course. Admission to the Hall of Fame includes a round on the putting course. The Walkway of Champions (whose signatures appear in pavement stones) circles the lake and passes a shopping complex where the main tenant is the two-story Tour Stop (tel. 904/940-0422), offering pricey apparel and equipment.
If you’d like to stay overnight, contact the World Golf Village Renaissance Resort, 500 S. Legacy Trail, St. Augustine, FL 32092 (www.worldgolfrenaissance.com; tel. 888/740-7020 or 904/940-8000), which offers newly renovated rooms and a free shuttle to downtown St. Augustine.
Watersports -- Jet skis and equipment for surfing and windsurfing can be rented at Surf Station, 1020 Anastasia Blvd. (A1A), a block south of the Alligator Farm (tel. 904/471-9463; www.surf-station.com); and at Raging Water Sports, at the Conch House Marina Resort, 57 Comares Ave. (tel. 904/829-5001; www.ragingwatersports.com), off Anastasia Avenue (A1A) halfway between the Bridge of Lions and the Alligator Farm.
Especially for Kids
Without emphasizing the scholarly, historic aspect of old St. Augustine, the city truly is a kid’s dream come true and not just because the Fountain of Youth allegedly exists here, but for so many reasons, one being the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, where kids can channel their inner swashbuckler amongst artifacts including the original journal of Captain Kidd’s last voyage; get a taste of old world Scared Straight by visiting the Authentic Old Jail and see how the real old folks did it way back when at the Colonial Quarter where history is alive, well, and actually kinda, sorta cool. Throw in some beaches and, for those seeking a bit of a thrill, Adrenaline Alligator Adventures, and you’ve got a theme park without the park, the lines (if you’re lucky), and most of all without those creepy animatronic figures. This is the real deal, kids—welcome to your awesome history lesson!