Are you up for a Florida Road Trip from Walt Disney World to St. Augustine? With summer just around the corner our minds turn to outdoorsy things, foodie things, beachy things and Disney things. We love cute towns with shops, cobblestone streets to stroll and loads of new places and experiences. On a recent family vacation to Walt Disney World we decided to pop on over to St. Augustine for the weekend to avoid the crazy Disney crowds and get some much needed down time. If you’re interested in road trips to places close to Walt Disney World and Disneyland this is the first in our series, To Disney and Beyond. Here’s what you’ll need to know for your Disney to St. Augustine Road Trip.
Walt Disney World to St. Augustine
We had decided to venture over to St. Augustine for two days during our last Disney vacation. Since we had rented a car and wanted to save a little money we stayed in Disney Springs during the early part of our trip and at Coronado Springs during the latter part of our trip. Both hotels got us Disney perks but together cost less than just staying at one resort for both halves of our trip. Nervous about how that works when you’re renting a car, or using the magical express? Check out our resort hopping post.
The drive time from Orlando to St. Augustine is 2 hours and 4 minutes. Keep in mind this is assuming you miss construction and rush hour. If you’re leaving early, plan on real early, like 6:30 am. The main route to the coast and to St. Augustine is also the main route for everyone going to work or the beach. You definitely don’t want your well laid plans deterred by traffic!
Things About St. Augustine We Just Didn’t Know
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what you can do and where you can eat in St. Augustine lets chat through a bunch of stuff the other travel bloggers may not tell you. We’ll preface this by saying every vacation somewhere new is an adventure, and because its somewhere new there is just a TON of things you won’t know. These things may or may not ruin your vacation.
Parking: If you’ve read any thing about St. Augustine travel you would have heard about the parking, or lack thereof. But don’t even get us started on the details every single travel site left out!!!! In fact, we’d say mastering this one thing will make or break your vacation.
- Parking lots that actually have spaces are few and far between, especially on weekends and evenings.
- There is one parking garage. Pay the 10 dollars if there is a space, this is easier than worrying about meters, tickets, and lot closing.
- If you enter the town early enough and take the Old Town Trolley Tour your first day in St. Augustine, you can park for free in the old town trolley lot.
Traffic: The main road enters St. Augustine over a bridge. If you’re sitting in traffic its because the bridge is going up, and down. Rinse and Repeat. All day long. Weekends are worse for this since the party pirate ship that requires the bridge to raise and lower is more active then. Additionally the main road, San Marco is the main artery for all of the attractions so often backed up.
Atmosphere: While you’ll get a lovely small town, cobblestone-road type city vibe when you visit St. Augustine, you’ll also get the touristy town with panhandlers vibe. With the homeless and panhandler situation reaching “crisis levels” in 2017, it’s difficult to enter a quiet village street without seeing several unfortunate souls on your way in to shops or lunch. For many tourists this can be a major turn off, so we’re sharing it up front so you can prepare your kids/travel party if needed. St. Augustine does have a homeless shelter and a panhandling ban. They additionally have a no camping/sleeping on the street ordinance, so they know this is an issue. Just don’t be surprised when you see it.
Location Location Location: Choosing a hotel right in town will save the headaches of driving and parking. It won’t however save you from the nightlife noise. So you’ll have to choose which is more important to you.
Bars and Restaurants: St. Augustine is a college town. Let me repeat that. College. Town. That said you can expect tons of cute bars, and places with American fare. St. Augustine is improving their restaurant offerings, but it’s not a major city and doesn’t operate like one.
- Hours: Don’t assume that restaurants will be open late just because you’re on vacation. Most of the good restaurants close at 9pm. Some of the coffee and lunch places close at 6pm. Trying to find coffee at 6:30pm was a nightmare.
- Appearance: Don’t expect the restaurants to all be pretty. While you can bet on a few being phenomenal, some of the best ones we read about before vacation just looked scary when we arrived. What they look like from outside may not be huge issue, but when it’s dark and there’s no where to park we usually need the comfort of lights and a bathroom.
- Accessibility: Don’t figure that just because it looks like it’s easy to get to on the map, it actually is. This isn’t the suburbs, you will have to navigate one way streets and parking farther away throughout your entire trip. There will be tons of walking.
St. Augustine Tips
Figure out Parking Ahead of Time: It may seem like the most mundane thing, but the time you spend figuring this out will save you time driving around trying to find a spot and time yelling at your family members because this is the worst vacation for lack of parking. Visit the the St. Augustine Parking site . Don’t let all the parking “P’s” fool you, some of them are just meters and others are pretty small lots. Have a plan B and plan C. Also read how to avoid getting a ticket, they go in detail here. Apparently this happens all the time. Or park in the St. Augustine Parking Garage to avoid the worry.
Choose your Dinner Location Ahead of Time: While winging breakfast at your hotel or a nearby cafe is fine, and aiming for lunch just somewhere on St. Georges street is a good bet, leaving your dinner plans undecided is a problem. With the restrictive hours, sometimes restrictive menus and limited parking situation you don’t want to just assume that you can “eat anywhere”. You can’t. Figure out your dinner restaurant ahead of time and make a reservation if you can.
Do the Old Town Trolley Tour: If you’re fitting St. Augustine into 2 days, take one day and do the Old Town Trolley Tour. This is by far the best remedy for parking we found, even if it did mean walking two miles back to our car at 9pm. You can decide to stay on the trolley the entire tour time of 90 minutes to get a full history of the town or hop on and hop off all day until 430pm when they stop running. Taking the tour is a great solution for parking, IF you plan to catch the last trolley back at 430 pm. If you’re staying late in town, plan to walk or uber back to your car. The main lot is about 35 minutes from town- walking.
Memorize the Map!: You’ll want to figure this thing out before you start driving there.
St. Augustine Places to Stay
As this was a pretty quick weekend trip for us, we chose a hotel a little outside the town- for quiet, which was much needed- and were pleasantly surprised with the perks! If you’ve read the blog for any amount of time you’ll know we love hotels.com and finding stuff on a good deal. We also tend to be addicted to free parking, free wi-fi and free breakfast. Yes, we know that’s a lot to ask but we’re not going to change that expectation anytime soon.
Southern Oaks Inn : Southern Oaks was recently renovated and the rooms are super nice, a very pleasant surprise. We also loved the full service breakfast in the mornings. This was such a treat and saved us the trouble of finding, or paying, for breakfast in town. Know that this hotel is not close to town. You will have to drive, but only like 10 minutes max.
St. Augustine Places to Go
If you’re into history, then you are probably in the right place. St. Augustine has a plethora of history, flavored with some over-the-top tourist attractions. Your best bet to get the full history tour experience is to work in a day on the Old Town Trolley Tour . While the hop on hop off service on the trolley is a little limiting since they run on a 9am -4:30pm schedule, the perk of parking at the trolley station may be worth it. One full route around the town runs for 90 minutes and makes 23 stops.
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum: A highlight of the early part of our trip, this lighthouse hosts the Wrecked exhibit, highlighting shipwrecks from the area and how scientists harvest old ships from the sea. As a visitor you are able to climb the lighthouse for panoramic views of St. Augustine at the top. Definitely a perfect sunset opportunity if you time this right. At 13 dollars an adult and 11 dollars a child, this experience is worth it if you decide to climb the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse.
Castillo de San Marcos
Located right off San Marco Ave. this fort can be seen if you’re driving to St. Augustine from Disney as you come over the bridge on A1A. Check out details on the National Park Service website. Adults are 10 dollars to get in and children under 15 are free. You can view a real live canon blast from this fort as part of the events each day, and meander through the rooms below. Lots of interesting history is shared here but we really didn’t need more than 45 minutes at this stop.
People visit Flagler College mostly because it is gorgeous. There’s a lack of organized tourist activities here simply because it is an active college. You can however inquire in the main office for a student-guided tour, otherwise just plan on picture taking. Check out if they any community events during your trip on their site here.
This gilded age museum is very pretty but also very self-serve. You pretty much grab a ticket ($15) and mosey around. If you want a richer experience you can also book an upstairs downstairs tour, which frankly if you’re going to make the effort to fit this museum in your trip you might as well!
St. Augustine Places to Eat
We only stayed a weekend, so can’t comment on all the food so check out the OpenTable top ten for more options. Frankly this wasn’t a premier foodie city for us. We weren’t blown away by any of the dining options, so if you have suggestions on absolute must try places, add em in the comments.
The Columbia This was a beautiful restaurant but we weren’t crazy impressed with the food. They have loads of appetizers and drinks but we waited for like 45 minutes before our food came, and we had reservations. We were also surprised by how much of the food was fried. Review the menu before you go and make sure to have a reservation.
The Taco Shop This place has a cult following and some pretty great tacos! Their most popular being the UFO which involves a lot of fixins smashed between two tortillas. Very yummy, totally worth a lunch stop. Try the one on St. Georges street if you’re in town. It’s a great lunch made fresh.
Hyppo Popsicles You can’t come to St. Augustine without making a stop here. These are handmade ice pops with oh so many flavors… and it’s Florida, so you’ll need a cool treat at some point during your vacay.
Crucial Coffee : So this place was a godsend. This tiny coffee shack serves amazing coffee and is totally worth the stop! Very friendly service and open till 7pm on a Sunday (rare in this town!) A must stop place if you’re strolling around the historic district.
We also wanted to try The Floridian, The Raintree Restaurant, and a few other places that all closed too early for us to add them into our schedule. In our hunt for great coffee we slightly disappointed with the taste and service at Kookaburra. We’re blaming it on the fact they may not know how to deal with busy weekends… but then we’re sort making excuses on that one. I ended up pitching the coffee after a few sips and chased it with macrons instead.
Is St. Augustine a Good Road Trip from Walt Disney World?
All in all, it was great to get away from the busy weekend at Walt Disney World and head to the coast. As a destination St. Augustine can easily be covered in 1 or 2 days if you have a plan and know what you really want to see. While we didn’t do the touristy activities like the Fountain of Youth or the Wax museum we would have had time for either simply because the rest of the trip is just bee bopping around town checkout out shops, the fort and food. As a family trip it wasn’t the most family friendly simply because the “kid” stuff isn’t plentiful. It didn’t have an aquarium or zoo, or even beaches with ice cream huts. As a college town it would be great for adults getting away from Disney. There were definitely things, like the homeless situation, traffic and parking, that will make us think twice before returning to St. Augustine. But as the “oldest city in the US” it was definitely worth a look.
We’re adamant about finding the perfect road trip getaway so hope to try St. Petersburg and Palm Beach next. Stay tuned.