Monday, April 18, 2022

Family Fun on Florida's Historic Coast

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, provided by

One of my favorite places to visit is Florida. In fact, I've been there many times and people are often surprised that I've never set foot in Disney World. The scene just never really appealed to me. But, then again, I don't have kids tagging along on my trips, which got me to thinking, what if I did? 

When I returned to Florida, this time to the "Historic Coast," I decided to write about destinations that would appeal to both children and adults. If you think that the "Historic Coast" sounds like it would be a big snooze fest for kids, you would be wrong. What I discovered was quite the opposite. There is plenty of family fun to be had in the St. Augustine area.

Affordable Accommodations

One of the first things visitors will need to find is affordable accommodations. On this trip, we stayed at the European Village in Palm Coast, which describes itself as a "one-stop destination" with restaurants, shops and rooms on site.

For $85, my husband stayed in a two-room, spacious suite equipped with a balcony. On the days we didn't feel like returning to the city, we had the convenience of dining on the ground level of the resort. One night we sat outside at a pizza parlor eating pasta and just watching the rain. It was a lovely and memorable experience. On Sundays, people flock to the resort to shop at the stands set up by vendors on the lawn of the resort. And, if you're lucky, you may even be able to watch live bands entertain under the gazebo from your balcony. They played two nights during our week-long stay.

The kitchen/living room at our suite.

The grounds at European Village.

To stay in an area that is closer to the action, consider The Ponce St. Augustine Hotel located on N. Ponce De Leon Boulevard next to the Florida East Coast Railway. Staying at The Ponce is a convenient choice of accommodations quite simply because it's located less than a mile from so many points of interest. After a day of sightseeing, families can return to their rooms and enjoy the use of an outdoor pool to wrap up a fun-filled day.

Another step I recommend is to grab a St. Augustine Tour Pass. The pass enables visitors to choose from 27 different attractions at a savings of approximately 40 percent based on two-three visits a day.

Finally, it may be helpful to note that kids love the trolley and most places on the tour pass can be accessed via handy "hop off, hop on" tour trolleys that canvass the city Monday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Now on to the destinations!

Be Prepared To Be Amazed at Ripley's Believe It or Not

Look closely at the tail and you'll discover that this sculpture is made from silverware, butter knives, to be exact. Her hair is made from uncoiled telephone cables.

I've only been to one other Ripley's in my life and after visiting this one, I plan to continue to seek more of them out during my travels.

I found myself marveling at the many strange and unusual pieces displayed at the "odditorium" located at 19 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine. From sculptures made from butter knives, to pop culture icons crafted from candy and portraits made from matchbooks, (like the ones shown below) you will see plenty of creative and odd pieces that stun and amaze.
The "Rat Pack" drawn on matchbooks. Take note that their "cigarettes" are matches.

John Lennon made with smoke.
The interesting portrait of John Lennon" is known as "fumage art" and is made by holding the canvas above a fire and manipulating the smoke to create the image from soot. South Carolina artist Daniel Diehl has created a series of such portraits of individuals who were killed prematurely, their lives abruptly ending like a "puff of smoke."
A cute dog portrait made exclusively of vintage bottle caps.

Ripley's states that self-guided tours can last from one to two hours. My husband and I spent 45 minutes inside and were satisfied that we saw everything.

Reptiles, Birds and More at the Alligator Farm

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm/Zoological Park claims to be the only place in the world where families can see every species of crocodilian.  I was fascinated with the smile on the crocodile shown in the shot below. They even feature an albino crocodile, which I've never seen before.

A popular spot at the Alligator Farm is an area called "The Rookery." If you love bird watching, this is a must see. During our visit, I witnessed many professional photographers setting up the "perfect shot."

Roseate Spoonbills are my favorite.

Other species of wildlife can be seen on the property as well, like sloths, pythons, turtles, ducks, lemurs and more. Finally, there's a playground onsite where kids can burn off a little energy.

Kids climb ropes on the playground at the Alligator Farm.

View Even More Wildlife at the Aquarium

Those who are expecting a plethora of marine life in a sprawling building, won't get it at this relatively small, open-air facility. What they will get, however, is an educational experience provided by a certified marine biologist who will explain everything on site. 

Most of the time, kids are admonished not to touch anything. This doesn't hold true for the Aquarium experience in St. Augustine, where children are encouraged to touch sea urchins, horseshoe crabs, starfish and even nurse sharks.

For an extra fee, they will have the opportunity to snorkel in an 80,000 gallon habitat with hundreds of Florida reef fish and rays and also feed them. The aquarium supplies the wetsuits, masks, snorkels, vest and shoes. The kids just need to bring a towel, swimsuit and change of clothes.  At the end of the experience, families can hike down a nature path to the pond.

A hike on a nature path takes visitors to a pond.

Learn All about Eye-Patched Villains at the Pirate and Treasure Museum

The entrance to the Pirate and Treasure Museum in St. Augustine.
Pennsylvanian Pat Croce is known as a best-selling author and was an athletic trainer for the Philadelphia '76ers for 10 years. He refers to the Pirate and Treasure Museum as his "passion project." This unique destination features approximately 800 authentic artifacts memorializing the history of piracy from the 1600s, to the present day.

This looked a bit too realistic; his chest heaved up and down as if he were sleeping.

A young visitor "shoots" a cannon while yelling AARGH!

Visitors will learn tidbits like the fact that Blackbeard carried not only six pistols on his person, but a cutlass and dagger as well, and that he was survived by 14 wives and that Captain Bartholomew "Black Bart"  Roberts, enforced a code of conduct on his crew which prohibited gambling, but was otherwise a prolific scoundrel, who claimed to have captured hundreds of ships.  

They will also see the world's only surviving pirate treasure chest. Weighing 150 pounds, the chest is 400 year's old and belonged to Thomas Tew, who made his fortune raiding ships traveling in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Often these ships were loaded with precious jewels, ivory and silk. The museum provides hands-on experiences for the children and a scavenger hunt, which inspires them them to explore the exhibits closely. A completed card turned in at the end of the visit earns a reward.

World's only surviving pirate treasure chest.

The Pirate and Treasure Museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Visit the Oldest Wooden School House

The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

Kids may be interested in knowing how their peers learned their lessons at the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse located in downtown St. Augustine. Early tax records reveal that it was present in 1716 in the Minorcan Quarter and was built for the Genoply family, with Juan Genoply as the first teacher.

Animatrons in the likeness of a teacher and students regale visitors with tales about the days of yore, like how students were disciplined and what their life was like back in the old days.

After exploring the schoolhouse, the detached kitchen and gardens, visitors receive a diploma as they exit through the onsite gift shop.

Shopping in the "Olden" Days

An old clerk handles "the books" at the Oldest Store Museum.

A visit to the Oldest Store Museum Experience will shed light on how people "got their shop on" in the past. Located on St. Marco Avenue, the museum displays items that were once the property of Charles Hamblin, who opened the store and warehouse for the purpose of supplying Henry Flagler with the goods he needed to complete his many construction projects around St. Augustine.

Store "clerk" shows off the latest "must have."

Tour guides are dressed in period clothing and explain the various items that are seen throughout the multi-room store, from old washing machines, to coffee grinders, bicycles, cure-alls and more.

Climb the Steps to the St. Augustine Lighthouse for a Beautiful View

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime museum is run by a non-profit whose mission is to preserve the stories of the nation's oldest port.

The destination is comprised of the tower, two summer kitchens, a keeper's house, a U.S. Coast Guard Barracks and a jeep repair facility employed during World War II.

Children must be 44 inches tall to climb the 219 steep spiral steps to the Observation Deck, which is rewarded by a spectacular view. Those who are too short to climb will find a play area, as well as a puppet area to keep their attention, while older kids and parents make their way to the top. There are also hands-on activities both indoors and outdoors for all ages at the site, as well as nature trails for families to hike.
The St. Augustine Light House

What seems to intrigue both young and old alike, is the legend that the lighthouse is haunted, not by one ghost, but by several. One such tale recounts the drowning of the Pittee girls. Those who are interested can read more here.  

A No-Frills Beach

Florida's historic coast is home to 42 miles of unspoiled Atlantic Beaches.  Located between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine is quiet Flagler Beach, where families can swim and sunbathe for free.

Flagler Beach in early April.

When we visited in early April, we were surprised how few people were taking advantage of the no-frills beach, which is perfect for those whose primary interest is enjoying the sun and sand. Perhaps it was too early in the season to attract many visitors.

Within a short walk from the beach are a few shops selling souvenirs, art and apparel. Restaurants are also within walking distance so that families can grab a bite at the beginning, or end of their beach visit.

Next month, I will post additional activities in the area that are more suited to grownups.

In the meantime, I hope these few suggestions are helpful in considering family fun in Florida that goes beyond Disneyworld.