On Anastasia Island, this shorefront city was incorporated in 1959. As the name tells you, it’s right next to St. Augustine, officially the oldest city in the United States.
While St. Augustine’s many wonderful sights are moments away, I’ll focus mainly on what you can do by the shore.
That means, hanging out on the vast sandy beaches, learning to surf, dining at laid-back island-style spots, and exploring tracts of coastal nature.
The main commercial strip is the A1A Beach Boulevard, with two miles of lodgings, resorts, restaurants, shops, and attractions.
At the north end of the island is the sublime nature of Anastasia State Park, as well as the dignified, St. Augustine Lighthouse, looking like a giant barber’s pole.
1. Anastasia State Park
Bordering St. Augustine Beach to the north, Anastasia State Park is a marvelous coastal landscape made up of 1,600 acres of marshes, mangroves, and idyllic beaches.
Anastasia State Park is a big hit with bird-watchers, hikers, surfers, and all-round nature enthusiasts. Due to its abundant amenities and convenient location, it’s where many vacationers in the area spend much of their time.
For those who’d prefer to spend a night or two, there are more than 130 campsites, and it’s possible to rent kayaks and bicycles for one or more days.
I was intrigued to discover that the coquina stone for the Castillo de San Marcos was mined at this very place. Some 350 years later, you can visit those quarries on the west side of the park.
2. St. Johns County Ocean Pier
The prime public beach access is in the north of the city, at the head of the beautiful St. Johns County Ocean Pier. This structure goes back to 1939, when it was the longest pier on the Atlantic coast, at 1,300 feet.
Storms have played a part in the pier’s history since day one, and within months of opening it was shortened to 800 feet. The most recent closure took place in the early 2020s, and today it’s the centerpiece of a beach park.
Amenities include a splash park, bathrooms, showers, and a covered pavilion. The pier is also the setting for the beloved Wednesday morning farmer’s market, which I’ll cover below.
Although hurricanes are constantly altering the seabed, Anastasia Island remains one of the best places to surf in Florida, with no fewer than 14 noted surf spots along its shore.
Half a dozen of these are within St. Augustine Beach’s limits, at FA, The Pier, 16th Street, 4th Street, A Street and F Street. Further north in the state park are the Middles, and Vilano, just north of the inlet.
If you’re a newbie or just want to improve your skills there’s a number of accredited surf schools operating in the area. A few when I compiled this list were Surf with Candice, St. Augustine Surf School, St. Augustine Surf Guru, and Endless Summer Surf.
For equipment you can head to The Surf Stop, at F Street on A1A Beach Boulevard.
4. A1A Beach Boulevard
In the absence of a downtown district, the best of St. Augustine Beach’s dining can be found along this road parallel to the shore.
Lined with hotels, vacation rentals, resorts, motels, visitor attractions, and no shortage of restaurants, A1A Beach Boulevard is a vibrant main strip, running the length of the city.
For food, you can choose from Southern-style seafood, Mexican, Caribbean, BBQ, sushi, sandwiches, diner classics, ice cream, donuts, cafes, fast food, and so much more. In between are a lot of little shops selling surfing gear, and other things for the beach.
In the very south, where Beach Boulevard joins the main state road is Anastasia Plaza. This shopping center has a large concentration of eateries and stores, including a branch of Publix.
5. Ocean Hammock Park Walkway
If you want to combine a visit to the beach with a short escape to nature, Ocean Hammock Park is the place to go.
Directly next to the parking lot that carries you through a mosaic of natural habitats. Fitted with interpretive signs, this walkway takes you into a dark swamp before emerging at a majestic rolling dunescape.
All along the way you can take time to spot wildlife including turtles, wading birds, and shore birds. There are also lots of places to stop and rest in the shade.
The beach is equally pretty, and has the distinction of allowing dogs, as long as they’re on leashes.
6. Wednesday Pier Farmers’ Market
On Wednesday mornings, 8:00 am to 12:00 pm there’s a lively farmers’ market a the St. Johns County Pier. The assortment of vendors changes from week to week.
Typically though, you should find local fruits and vegetables, seafood, fresh bread, pastries, flowers, houseplants, salsas, preserves, and a wide range of handmade crafts, from pottery to bags and jewelry.
There’s normally prepared food, including tamales, empanadas, and fried chicken when I came through. You can combine a visit with a stroll along the beachfront, while younger children will love the little splash park right next to the market.
7. Crescent Beach
If you’re in search of a quieter beach experience, there’s Crescent Beach, a residential shorefront community to the south of St. Augustine Beach.
While there are beach house rentals and a few restaurants, this place feels unspoiled. The gently arcing beach disappears over the horizon to the north and south.
At low tide on calm days the beach is enormous and the waves roll in at knee height. The main public access is Crescent Beach Park in the downtown area along A1A. Framed by tall dunes, this has lifeguards on duty, as well as showers and covered picnic tables.
8. Fiesta Falls Miniature Golf
Essential for any seaside town, there’s an awesome miniature golf attraction along A1A Beach Boulevard in St. Augustine Beach.
Next to La Fiesta Ocean Inn & Suites, Fiesta Falls Miniature Golf goes above and beyond with its design. The 18-hole course has a 65-foot ship, eight waterfalls, caves, and buildings evoking old St. Augustine.
I loved the lush tropical landscaping, and the course is close enough to the ocean to get round-the-clock sea breezes. After a round you could chill out in the shade of the gazebo with soft serve or a slush puppy.
9. Mango Mango’s Caribbean Bar & Grill
One of the standout restaurants along Beach Boulevard is this chilled-out Caribbean eatery. Within a few steps of the beach, Mango Mango’s means exotic flavors prepared fresh.
This spot opened in 2004, was a local favorite within a year, and is now part of the scenery at St. Augustine Beach.
Mango Mango’s are particularly known for their coconut shrimp, mahi mahi sliders, corn cakes, jerk chicken, arroz con pollo, conch fritters, and yucca fries. Something that blew me away was the mango coleslaw—as a side it’s a must.
Vegans and people with dietary restrictions can choose from a range of plant-based and gluten-free options.
10. Castillo de San Marcos
At just five minutes away, I’ve got to include some of the highlights of old St. Augustine. The Castillo de San Marcos is surely one of Florida’s icons, standing as the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.
When the Spanish constructed it in the 1670s, the fort housed a small garrison tasked with defending the coastline. Now, it’s a national monument documenting hundreds of years of cultural intersections.
I could lose all track of time exploring the casements, learning about its tangled history, watching the weapon demonstrations on weekends, and chatting with the costumed rangers who really commit to their roles.
11. The Lightner Museum
Another emblem for St. Augustine is the palatial Hotel Alcazar (1887). It was commissioned by Henry Flagler (1830-1913) who oversaw the city’s revival in the Gilded Age.
This building is in the Spanish Revival Style and includes a tranquil, palm-lined courtyard with a bridge over a koi pond. It was purchased in the 1940s by the publisher Otto C. Lightner, as a showcase for his diverse collections.
Displayed over three floors, these touch on a wide variety of topics, from local history and culture to music, science, and art from the Victorian era. You might see Sèvres porcelain, mechanical musical instruments from the 19th century, or geological specimens from around the world.
For my part, I was bewitched by the light fittings by Louis Comfort Tiffany, which have a perfect home in this building.
12. Old City St. Augustine
A genuine piece of old Europe in Florida, St. Augustine’s historic downtown is a captivating and walkable city center.
These quaint, narrow streets date back 450 years, and many of the buildings have been standing since the 18th century. It’s the only urban core in the country with a plan and architecture reflecting Spanish beginnings.
My advice is simply to wander, choosing from eclectic restaurants, shops, museums, and experiential attractions on your way.
For some idle sightseeing, be sure to check off the HIspanic Garden, the Old Senator Live Oak, the Llambias House, the Peña-Peck House, and Aviles Street, the oldest street in the country.
13. St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
Topping my list of Florida’s most beautiful lighthouses, St. Augustine Light dates to the 1870s and stands 165 feet tall. This is actually the second tower at this location, replacing a lighthouse from the 1820s.
If you’re ready for the climb, I promise you won’t regret scaling the 219 steps for a bird’s eye view of the northern tip of Anastasia Island and the Matanzas River estuary.
At the foot of the tower, the charming old keeper’s house is no less important. This holds exhibits looking at the history of the site from a number of angles. You’ll learn about the lighthouse’s role in WWII, the many nearby shipwrecks, and can see archeological finds made on these grounds.
Also on the property is an active boatbuilding program, as well as a picture-perfect coastal hammock and a children’s playground.
14. St. Augustine Amphitheater
No ordinary community amphitheater, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre is a 4,000-seat venue welcoming some of the biggest names.
Opened in 1965 to commemorate the city’s 400th anniversary, it sits on the edge of Anastasia State Park, just north of St. Augustine Beach.
The facility was enhanced in the 2000s, when the capacity was bumped up from 2,000 to 4,000, and a fiberglass canopy was built over the stage.
An incredible lineup of major performers have played this venue, now known as The Amp. I’m talking, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Kendrick Lamar, Robert Plant, Brian Wilson, and Ringo Starr.
15. Ron Parker Park
At the city’s northern limit there’s a small but well-equipped community park, under a beautiful wooded canopy.
For families, I think the obvious highlight is the large playground, set among the trees, with equipment for older and younger children, and a picnic area close by.
The park’s many sports amenities include a baseball diamond, tennis courts, and basketball courts.
For one thing, Ron Parker Park is home to the only designated dog park on Anastasia Island. This has a separate area for small dogs, as well as a swimming pool, and lots of balls for games of catch.