Here’s our list of favorite places to visit outside:
Fort Mose Historic State Park is the site of the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what is now the United States. In 1738, the Spanish governor of Florida chartered the settlement of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose for short, as a settlement for those fleeing slavery from the English colonies in the Carolinas. The park offers picnic areas, an observation and birding boardwalk, a kayak launch boardwalk, a visitor center, and a museum. Although there are no remains of the earth and wooden structures, visitors can view the land where the settlement once stood. Those interested in birding will enjoy ample viewing opportunities for species such as the great blue heron, bald eagle, and white ibis.
*We recommend bringing a picnic lunch or breakfast and dining al fresco.
The Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the United States, has been standing since 1695. The fort sits on a 20.5-acre national park where guests can step inside the walls of the fort and attend live re-enactments. However, visitors can walk around the fort at no cost and explore the historical fortress.
*We recommend viewing the fort up close and looking closely at the coquina, the rare limestone material used in construction that was mined on Anastasia Island.
Climb the 219-step spiral staircase to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse tower for incredible views of the Ancient City! The current light station was built from 1871 to 1874 with 1 million bricks.
Also on view: The Keepers’ House with exhibits, the 1941 US Coast Guard barracks, a wooden boat building area, nature trails, a pirate ship playground, hands-on activities for all ages, a View from the Top video for those unable to climb, and a Maritime Education Center with an archaeology lab. Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours also are popular at night.
*We recommend climbing the tower if you are able for beautiful views of St. Augustine, the Atlantic Ocean, and a glimpse of the original first-order Fresnel lens which still is used today.
Fort Matanzas National Monument was built from coquina in 1742 by the Spanish to defend St. Augustine against British attack. Located 15 miles south of the city, it currently protects approximately 300 acres of Florida coastal environment containing dunes, marsh, maritime forest, and associated flora and fauna, including threatened and endangered species. A beach, fishing, and nature trails are available, along with the free ferry to the historic fort.
*We recommend taking the free boat tour over to the fort. It’s a fun adventure!
This beach-side park on Anastasia Island has 1,600 acres of land which includes beaches, ancient sand dunes, tidal marshes, and maritime hammocks. More than 300 years ago, a coquina quarry located within Anastasia State Park was busy with workers hauling out blocks of coquina rock, which were used to construct nearby buildings and the historic Castillo de San Marcos. Wildlife viewing, birding, bicycling, kayaking, camping, fishing, hiking, shelling, surfing, swimming, and picnicking are popular park activities.
*We recommend reserving a camping spot for a few nights at this park.
The Vilano Beach Nature Boardwalk at 116 Poplar Ave is a quarter-mile boardwalk under the Francis & Mary Usina Bridge with scenic views of the salt marsh. This boardwalk connects the residential neighborhood to the Vilano Beach Town Center. There are beautiful wildlife mosaics created by local artists at the entrances to the boardwalk. For those who wish to walk or run the Vilano bridge, this is the best access point! The second entrance to the bridge is at 111 Beachcomber Way, where there is a dirt parking area.
*We recommend taking photos of this Instagram-worthy boardwalk with the artwork.
Fresh produce, arts and crafts, and prepared food from local vendors are available from 8 am to 12:30 pm every Wednesday at the St. Johns County Ocean Pier, 350 A1A Beach Blvd., St. Augustine Beach. More than 40 vendors offer a variety of items including paintings, photography, and jewelry.
This park just north of Vilano Beach is perfect for an entire day of fun, with free parking, a beach walkover, restrooms, showers, a playground, picnic pavilion, and grills. This popular location is known as the “love bridge” with locks decorating the walkway over A1A.
*We recommend leaving the cooler in the car and eating in the park area after visiting the beach.
This is the site of the Blue Bird of Happiness, a giant bird sculpture that reads “Happiness is Vilano Beach, Florida,” originally located at a citrus shop in St. Augustine in the early 1970s, part of a Florida advertising campaign. The pier has free access for sightseeing and fishing. Other sculptures on the pier include three life-size dolphins. Nearby, the St. Augustine Marina offers fishing supplies and anything you need for a day at the pier.
*We recommend visiting closer to sunset for gorgeous photos of the pier, the sculptures, and the Vilano Beach Bridge in the background.
The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve is dedicated to the conservation of natural biodiversity and cultural resources through research and monitoring. It is named for the three rivers that tie these parcels together: Guana River, Tolomato River, and Matanzas River. A species list recently compiled for Guana River Marsh Aquatic Preserve indicated the presence of at least 44 mammals, 358 birds, 41 reptiles, 21 amphibia, 303 fish, and 580 plant species. Activities include beachcombing, nature trails, wildlife view, fishing, hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, along with educational opportunities in the GTMNERR Education Center.
*We recommend the nature trails during cooler months of the year, and the beach during the summer months.
Experience natural Florida at Alpine Groves, a park that once was a citrus farm located on the St. Johns River. The park spans 54.5 acres in Northwest St. Johns County between the St. Johns River and William Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway. Visitors of all ages can experience and explore recreational activities, three unique Florida habitats, and three historic structures: the Bennett House, a citrus sorting shed, and the horse stables. Interpretation of these buildings provides a unique window into the rich local history and 1900s economic development of northwest St. Johns County including Fruit Cove, Orangedale, and Switzerland. Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, this park is perfect for birding and wildlife viewing. It has a picnic pavilion, a fishing pier, a playground, a paved nature trail, and historic buildings are Instagram-worthy.
*We recommend bringing a picnic to this beautiful park and taking the trail to the river.