I’m all about finding ways to travel on a budget. I stretch my travel dollars through spending intentionally and by packing a carry-on to avoid baggage fees. Another way I see more and spend less is by combining trips. For example, I went to visit my grandparents in Mobile, Alabama, and saved hundreds by flying into New Orleans and then taking a two-hour bus ride for $4 to their city. Not only did I save money, but I also added a couple of nights to my trip to explore New Orleans.
Another time, I turned a trip to Florida for my friend’s wedding into a week-long vacation with my mom in St. Augustine. We splurged on a beach-block bungalow (a great deal on Airbnb), drinks out, and a couple tours, but we also saved a lot by cooking at home, packing picnics for the beach, and finding a variety of fun and interesting free things to do in St. Augustine.
Here are six of my favorite free things to do in St. Augustine — no surprise that two include free drinks.
Mission Nombre De Dios
We all grew up learning that America’s first settlement in 1607 was Jamestown. Of course, this unjustly ignores the Native Americans, but it also ignores the settlement of St. Augustine. In September of 1565, General Don Pedro Menendez of Spain, along with his crew, landed at what is now known as Mission Nombre De Dios.
After claiming the land for Spain in the name of King Philip II, a celebratory mass was held, followed by a meal of Thanksgiving with members of the local Timucuan Tribe, 56 years prior to the traditional Puritan Pilgrim Thanksgiving we usually reference.
Visitors to the Mission Nombre De Dios can tour the grounds as well as a small museum with archaeological exhibits and info on the missionary efforts and impacts of the church.
Splurge Option: If you’d like to learn more about the Timucuan Tribe, check out the Fountain of Youth, another top attraction in St. Augustine. While the Fountain of Youth part is a little cheesy, they have some pretty good exhibits, including a Timucuan village re-creation and archaeological dig site of a Timucuan burial ground. Tickets are about $15.
ACCORD Freedom Trail
One of the more moving things to do in St. Augustine is to pay respect to the “unsung ‘heroes’ and ‘she-roes’ of the local 1960s Civil Rights movement.” While congress debated over what would become known as The Civil Rights Act of 1964, televised demonstrations in St. Augustine began forcing legislators to take action. The ACCORD Freedom Trail marks the local landmarks where men and women met to make plans and stand up bravely against injustice, sacrificing greatly.
The Freedom Trail is not well known and there are not many resources on it, but I have created a Google map of the ACCORD Freedom Trail locations here. Click on each location to view the address and read a summary of its historical significance.
Please Note: All the location descriptions on the map come from VisitStAugustine.com and AccordFreedomTrail.org. I just put the information on the map, so it would be easier to find your way to the different locations.
Flagler College, formerly the Hotel Ponce De Leon, was built in 1888 by the railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. The stunning beauty of this campus is shadowed only by its history, which includes being one of the first buildings in the world to be wired for electricity and hosting celebrities such as Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, and Presidents Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt. It was also converted into a Coast Guard Training Center during World War II and was the site of St. Augustine’s first mass sit-in, in 1964, with over 100 black middle schoolers marching into the dining room.
Splurge Option: If you have the time and an extra $10, the Flagler Legacy Historic Tour is definitely a must on the list of things to do in St. Augustine. If your schedule doesn’t match up or you don’t have the extra money, just take yourself on a self-guided tour of the campus.
St. Augustine Distillery
For a unique experience, head over to St. Augustine Distillery for a free tour of their facility, housed in the city’s first power and ice company. On your tour, you’ll discover the inspiration behind their business, learn about their community focused business model, see the spirits being made, learn how they almost failed before opening their doors, and get to sample a few speciality drinks.
Splurge Option: On the backside of the distillery, you will find the Ice Plant Bar where hipster warehouse meets 1920s speakeasy. The menu is farm-to-table, and bartenders craft the “ideal cocktail” by carving ice for each drink off large blocks, the old fashioned way.
San Sebastian Winery
Just a five-minute walk from St. Augustine Distillery, you’ll find San Sebastian Winery housed within Henry Flagler’s Historic East Coast Railway Building. Here visitors can take a free guided tour of the facilities, learn about the production process, and sample some of their more popular wines.
Splurge Option: After your tour, head upstairs to the rooftop restaurant (ironically named The Cellar) for some live jazz and a snack. I loved the brie platter.
The Grounds of the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum
While tickets are required to access the museum, there are a handful of free exhibits on the grounds of the museum that are worth checking out. One is a hollowed out redwood tree that has been turned into a log home. Another is one of only two exact replicas of Michelangelo’s David, made with marble from his very own quarry in Tuscany. Of course, nothing compares with viewing the real thing in Florence, but I saw both and I can honestly say this is the next best thing.
So there you have it — my six favorite free things to do in St. Augustine, and how I combine trips to do and see more for less. So next time you visit your grandmother or head out of town for a wedding or business, be creative. You might just find some great ways to save money as well as get in an extra adventure.