A Side Trip To Old Florida – St. Augustine, FL
It’s an odd feeling to be back in Florida. It’s been over 6 years since we first crossed this state border, and when we left in 2011 we honestly weren’t sure we’d ever make it back here in the RV.
We made our decision to travel back East while we were sitting in the desert in CA over a year ago, and we started making our FL bookings around that same time (12-month-ahead planning is kind of a “must” for Florida in winter). Back then it seemed SO far away, both in space in time.
Then the whole year went awry (again and again, and again, and again) and we started wondering if it would ever really happen. So many plans had gone wrong that we’d kinda given up on relying on them. When we finally crossed the border it seemed almost surreal.
“Welcome to Florida” said Google Maps
“Wow…we made it, we’re really here”
But We had NO fixed Plans
In the style of pretty much everything that’s happened to us this year however, things didn’t go quite the way we’d imagined. Even though we’d made it to our target spot at (approximately) our target time of year none of our original plans had survived the trip.
After our accident last month, all the meticulous FL bookings that we’d made over a year ago had to be scrapped so we could prioritize fixing the RV. And since we had no idea how long that would take we couldn’t make any plans after the fix either. Not only that but we needed to find a quality shop that could fit us in ASAP and allow us to stay in the rig (with all 12 paws) while the work was being done. It was a tall call for the busy winter FL months.
In the end we found our spot (more on that in the next post), but they couldn’t take us until ~15th of the month. So we had 4 days of no-reservation time to fill.
Where to go?
We knew all the State Parks would be filled to the brim (not a flying moon-pigs chance of getting a booking anywhere this time of year, seriously), so we had to rely on other sources. In the end the convenience of an Elks Lodge*, the fact that we were (miraculously) able to get 4 nights there on a week-end, the draw of a lighthouse and the charm of the the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the contiguous United States provided the perfect outlet. Plus we knew there would be dog-friendly beach and sand too.
We’d never been to St.Augustine, but we had heard SO much about it. And did I mention the lighthouse?! YES, this would be our spot.
The Elks Lodge Was Perfect (Kind Of)
We swooped into Elks Lodge 829* on Thursday afternoon and nestled into our spot at the back of the lot.
It’s a sweet little location right next to the State Park (although you can’t access it from the Lodge) with a paved walking/biking trail that goes right into downtown. Plus it’s only ~1 mile from the lighthouse, it’s peaceful and quiet (during the day) and they open a cool outdoor Tiki Bar on the week-ends. At $20/night for water/electric it’s a steal of a deal too.
The only thing we didn’t anticipate were the night-time week-end concerts at the next-door Amphitheater. They’re LOUD and the Elks offers paid event parking at their site for the concert-goers, so the lot fills to the brim with people and cars. Then, depending on what music they’re playing you’ll either get a great little concert or the boom-boom-boom of heavy base vibrating throughout rig.
In the 4 nights we were there they had 4 concerts the first of which was punk rock (a tad too hard core for me) while the last was the Doobie Brothers (nice and easy). All concerts have to be done by 10PM (per city ordinance) so at least there’s an end-point.
The upside? On Saturday mornings the amphitheater lot hosts a fabulous farmers market. I was able to walk next-door to pick up fresh veggies, eggs and coffee. Superb.
St Augustine Lighthouse Was AWESOME
It’s probably no surprise that the VERY first thing we did when we landed in town was the lighthouse.
She’s a nice little walk or bike from the Elks Lodge and her candy-cane daymarker (= the way the tower is painted for daytime identification) lures you from miles away. For lighthouse nutters like us there’s some serious lighthouse history here too.
Believe it or not St. Augustine is the site of the oldest, permanent aid to navigation in North America. The Spaniards built a watchtower here in the late 1500’s, followed by a series of subsequent wooden watchtowers and finally a coquina tower (coquina is a super-strong building material of crushed shells, common along the FL coast) which was officially lit in 1824. It’s not known exactly how many of the previous structures were lit, but it’s likely several held a flame.
The current brick lady is a more modern girl dating from 1871 (she was first lit in 1874). She stands as the oldest brick building in the city and has been wonderfully restored to the colors and materials used in 1888. she rises 165 feet above sea level, contains 219 steps and still has an original first-order Fresnel lens as her beacon.
You can visit her any day during regular hours, take a special sunset/moonrise tour or even a paranormal tour (ooOOOooo). The onsite museum and keepers house is also excellent. We took a bike over and did the tour that way, but the grounds are also dog-friendly so feel free to bring pooch for the ride too. A beautiful lady well worth the visit!
VISIT NOTES/ Lighthouse is open 10AM to 4PM daily with special tours for sunset/moonrise. Tickets cost $12.95. Click HERE for more info. Grounds are dog-friendly.
Old Town St. Augustine Has Some Serious History
A little Wikipedia search tells us that St. Augustine has some serious historical roots
“St. Augustine (spanish name “San Agustín”) was founded in 1565, by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida’s first governor. The city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, and became the capital of British East Florida when the territory briefly changed hands between Spain and Britain.”
Of course the history doesn’t really start here, as it never does in the USA. St. Augustine was inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans (The Timicua) whose archaeological sites have been dated back to 1100 and 1300 AD. The first Spaniard to touch shore was actually Ponce De Leon (who came in search of the legendary Fountain of Youth in 1513), and the long subsequent eras hide many other “firsts” -> The first permanent Christian church in the US (Mission Nombre de Dios), the first public marketplace, the oldest masonry fort (1695, Castillo De San Marcos) and (quite significant) the first legally sanctioned free black town in North America (1738, Fort Mose). There’s A LOT to take in here.
We Did Most Of Our Sightseeing In The Mornings
You feel the history as soon as you step into downtown too. The old fort dominates the view to the north as you cross the bridge while “old town” meanders through the core dotting it with historic buildings, cobblestone streets, cutsey shops….and tourists. So….many….tourists.
In some ways the town is almost over-run, especially this time of year. You’ll be inundated with people and the near-constant barrage of Trolley Tours that roll through the streets blaring historical facts on their loudspeakers. By about lunch-time it can feel a little too “disney-esque” if you know what I mean.
Being biking distance from downtown (just ~4 miles) we were able to sneak into town early AM most days (before the big daily tourist rush) to see the sights. Plus we discovered a few out-of-town gems, including some GREAT dog-friendly spots, so we were able to escape and bring Polly along for a few of the visits too. Here’s what we got up up to:
Castillo De San Marcos – If you love fort history you’ll go ga-ga for this place. Covering ~20 acres of strategic land to the north of town, it’s the oldest masonry and only extant 17th century fort in North America. Construction began in 1672, was completed in 1695 and withstood several wars, multiple sieges and three regimes (Spanish, British and finally the Americans). Lots of good stuff for history lovers here including canon/rifle firing demo’s and in-depth exhibits. Worth it!
Visit Info: Open 8:45AM to 5PM. $10 to visit (or free with National Parks Pass). Click HERE for more info. Dogs allowed on the outside grounds of the fort, but NOT within the fort itself.
Fountain Of Youth – Before we learned its history we imagined this place to be a total tourist trap. I mean with a name like “Fountain of Youth” what else would you expect? But this is actually one of the most historic spots in town. It’s the site of a native Tiimicua graveyard, the place where the first Christian Church was erected and the spot where it’s rumored Ponce De Leon discovered his legendary fountain of youth in 1513. Plus the ENTIRE grounds, including all exhibits and museums, are dog-friendly (just watch out for the peacocks)! We took Polly along for this one and totally loved it. We even took a shot of water from the Fountain itself (doggie did too), so we’ll let you know how that goes 🙂
Visit Info: Open 9AM-6PM. Cost $15/person. Click HERE for more info. 100% Dog-friendly!
Pro-bonus tip -> don’t miss the Cuban Coffee place across the street from here. Excellent!
Old Town – We didn’t do a specific tour here, although there are plenty you can take. We just walked around and read the various historic plaques (they’re everywhere), took shots of the old Cathedral, Flagler House, Lightner Museum etc. It’s a pleasant downtown, especially if you hit it before the noon tourist rush.
Visit Info: Take a Trolley Tour or hunt down the main sights using their interactive map HERE. You can bring doggie to walk around town (no problem), but none of the museums are dog-friendly so just depends what you want to do & see.
And We Had A Few Beers
We actually didn’t get out to eat/drink much in town although there are lots of options, but we did manage to try two brew places one of which we LOVED and the other which was so-so.
Bog Brewing Company – This is west of town in a little quiet neighborhood and doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it definitely delivers on the inside. Bright and airy interior, super friendly folks and wonderful beer. We enjoyed pretty much everything including their Red Rye, Saison, Belgium Tripel (wow!) and IPA. Plus they’re dog-friendly inside the brewery (Polly came with us)! Click HERE for more info. Dog-friendly!
A1A Ale Works – This is smack downtown and the upper balcony has a view of the marina, so it’s in a pretty prime spot. Plus they inhabit a lovely old building and offer both beer and food. Very average beers here (the red ale and mosaic were decent) and food was somewhat over-priced (but tasty). I say come for the atmosphere, but don’t expect to be blown away by the beer. Click HERE for more info. NO dogs allowed.
We Wrapped Up Our Visit With Some Beach Time
The only other thing we did in the area was explore the beach areas of St. Augustine.
This town has MILES of beach, and as long as you steer clear of the State Park (the ONLY place dogs are not allowed on the beach), it’s entirely dog-friendly! We took Polly to a spot just down the road and enjoyed a relaxing stroll in the sand. It was a nice bonus and provided a fitting wrap to our time in St. Augustine.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The town is wonderfully preserved, the history is fascinating and the beach and lighthouse provide some delightful escapes. Given how many tourists there are in town I don’t think I’d want to spend an extended period here, but we really enjoyed our short visit and would definitely come back for another taste.
Where To Stay in An RV?
There are several options to park your rig in the area:
- *Elks Lodge – If you’re an Elks Lodge member you can call ahead for a reservation at Elks Lodge 829. There are 8 sites with water/electric. $20/night. Members only!
- Anastasia State Park – A highly-rated State Park right on the beach. 124 sites mostly suited to smaller rigs (only FIVE sites rated for 40-feet or over!), but you have to book WELL ahead in order to get a spot for winter. Electric/water sites $28/night. Reviews HERE.
- Private RV Park – Several private parks in the area which can fit any-sized rig costing anywhere from ~$28-$70/night. Reviews HERE and more options HERE.
Useful External Links:
Coming Next -> We travel inland for RV Repairs. Will it be a good experience or a painful bust? We’ll update you in the next post.SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Sounds like you are getting some deserved down time and what a wonderful place to get it……we have been to the Elks there but for a very short visit… more like a pit stop on our way further south.. I look forward to reading more on your Florida adventures this winter…( they keep asking me for name and email… not sure why)
My blog comments have always asked for name/e-mail. It helps to keep down on spam comments (it’s not foolproof, but it helps).
St. Augustine is a great town, you’ve discovered it….too bad you didn’t stay at North Beach Campground on nearby Vilano Beach. Its a great spot with a dog friendly (gasp….in Florida you say?) beach. The Elks Lodge sounds like it fit the bill though, we’ll keep it in mind for our next time through.
I actually had that RV park on our backup list (probably a recommendation from you a long time ago, I think?). I remember the dog-friendly beach and remember thinking it was one of the few places that offered that in FL. It’s $$$, but looks like it would be an awesome spot. Totally forgot to mention it in the blog post! For those reading and curious, here’s the link -> http://northbeachcamp.com/
You’ve been visiting areas that I have wanted to see for a long time since I have relatives in Charleston and Jacksonville. This gives me lots of information and I’ll definitely have to make plans to see the SE part of the country soon.
On a side note, have you RV’d in Europe at all? If not, do you have any plans to do so in the future, or is it even possible? My husband may get transferred to the UK or Germany so it would give us a good way to see the area if we end up there.
Good luck with repairs and keep up the good work with your blog, it’s very informative.
We have not (yet) RV’d in Europe but it is TOTALLY possible! There are lots of RV’s over there. Obviously they’re smaller in size than the “beasts” this side of the pond, but it’s a common recreation outlet. Both Germany & UK sell lots of different models. You’ll definitely be able to do it.
Clint Myers says
We loved St.Augustine when we were there 5 years ago. We camped at a KOA there,it was very nice, I liked the fort and the lighthouse also. We are going to St.Petersburg in a few weeks. We will be there all of December.
That’ll be a wonderful spot to spend December! We visited a few years back, and are actually fairly close now (we’ll be moving tomorrow). Enjoy!
Pam Wright says
So glad you were able to find someplace to fix the MH rather quickly and allow you to still be home with the paws:) You certainly have had a year of surprises! St. Augustine is a great area. We haven’t been there in many, many years. Thanks for sharing;)
I’m glad we got to go. It’s been on our “list” forever, and I honestly don’t know why we didn’t make an effort to see it our first year. Lots more we haven’t seen on the East Coast of FL too, so there’s plenty more for the list….as always.
Mister Ed says
If you haven’t been before 2 nice state parks one is Wekiva Springs State Park
The other one is blue Springs State Park in orange city
Both are just a little bit north west of Orlando
And a car trip would be Mount Dora Fl, or new Samanna Beach you can drive on the beach $
Just to let you know the Cape Canaveral lighthouse tours are done by reservation
And I believe weekends only
There is a long booking waiting list because it is on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ( military ) and subject to military protocol
Diana and Jim says
How did A1A get that big dent in their copper kettle? Yikes!
Loved learning about coquina at the fort when we were there earlier this year. The British threw everything they had at it for weeks when they tried to take the fort, only to have their cannonballs bounce off. It’s the sea shell version of a Rice Krispies Treat.
The copper kettle pic is from Bog Brewery. It was just part of the decor, I believe. And yeah coquina is amazing stuff. We spoke a little to the volunteer at the Fort about it. It can take hurricanes, wars you-name-it.
Hi, I am been following you for a while and I thank you for all the information that you share with us. I have a question :> do you have the same access of rv parking spot if you are a member of a canadian elk lodge?
Thank you again for sharing all your adventure with us.
That’s a good question which I actually don’t know the correct answer too. If you’re an Elks member you can supposedly access any Elks, but I’m not sure if that includes cross-border? I’d suggest calling your Lodge and asking. If you find out the answer do please report back.
Last Thursday we were northbound on A1A leaving St Augustine & I saw a large class “A” in a beach side front yard with its left rear corner being sanded. I thought about you guys!
My bride talked me into taking the tour trolley when we were in Savanah & I learned a lot in that 90 minutes so we did the same in St Augustine.
The tour seems like a good place to start if you arrive in an old southern town before I’ve had a chance to read your blog on the town 🙂
Totally agree the tours have great info. I actually learned quite a bit as they passed by us at the various stops in town. Great to know you enjoyed both towns that way.
Can’t believe we missed you here. I can believe that this post walks all over the ones I did on the city. You are so up to date too. I’m still writing mine and we’ve moved on to Gamble Rogers. Really great thorough post of a place we love to be. We could hear the boom boom bass from the amp in our campsite at the far end of the park. Where will you be next?
We’re currently in Lakeland getting repairs, but then headed to Alafia State Park. It’s one of *only* two reservations we kept from our original planning over a year ago, simply because it’ll be Thanksgiving weekend (we really, really didn’t want to be without a spot this coming week). Looks like we’re on schedule at the shop and we’ll be able to meet it. So, we’re really looking forward to that!
John and Sharon says
Florida for the most part has a ways to go in making really good craft beer…
Now I can’t completely really agree with you on that one. Bog Brewing was excellent in St. Augustine. Plus we’ve just spent the last week around Tampa which has some seriously good brews. Cigar City was top-notch (truly) and easily comparable to any top West Coast Brewery. We also had some outstanding barrel-aged tasters at Brew Hub. Plus there are at least 10 other breweries we haven’t tried in this area too.
There may not be as many options out here as, say San Diego (nowhere really comes close IMO) but there is lots of good stuff happening in the local beer scene.
Patti Ziegler says
Nina, I love reading about your experienced and your pictures are fantastic.
John Boxell says
We visited St. Augistine two years ago (about the second week of December) staying at Anastasia S.P. The place was insanely busy, so much so that that the crowd became an attraction in itself. There were trolleys all over the place with people singing Christmas carols on the evening trolleys. The line-up for the trolleys at 9:00 pm was at least a couple of hundred yards long. If you go by this way again, I recommend Crooked River State Park in Georgia at the Florida/Georgia border. It’s a lovely park with good access to Cumberland Island National Seashore.
We actually booked Crooked River before our accident came along and forced us to cancel it. That park has been on our “list” for ages. Hoping we make it out there sometime.
December at Anastasia sounds like a blast 🙂
I feel your pain about blowing up a schedule that was made a year in advance. 2015 was like that for us – it took over two months to get the RV fixed and finally make it to somewhere we actually wanted to be. Then there was the unexpected heat wave and it was 105 F. Happy to hear you’re on the way to being fixed and you can get on with the pets and enjoy what you’re doing.
TWO months for repairs, and then you hit 105 F! You are made of so much tougher stuff than me. I can’t even imagine the relief you must have felt when everything got back on track. Hope 2016 went much smoother for you!
We were in St. Augustine in early June, and we loved it! The lighthouse was beautiful, and we loved how you could drive on the beaches. Had some great pizza in the old town. At the fort, it was hard to imagine how difficult it was for the Apache from the Southwest and the Comanche from the Plains endured the humidity and mosquitoes while imprisoned there. Many women and children died there. Sad history for the natives of this land, even to this day at Standing Rock in North Dakota and the oil pipeline.
Thank you for sharing your visit!
All the best,
David Murphy says
Thanks for all the great info regarding St. Augustine. We plan to be there in March. Looking forward to it.
With all of the change in Florida travel plans, did you have to make some late last minute reservations? Florida is tough in the winter.
Yeah we ended up having to cancel pretty much all of our reservations. We were able to preserve a few dates, which helped tremendously but otherwise it’s been tough. Thankfully we have somewhere for Thanksgiving and we also have an option that’s somewhat flexible over Christmas so we’ll be able to make it through the holidays and still be close to family in FL. After that, we’ll just have to wing it.
Ralph E. says
I received a Bronnner’s Christmas catalog in the mail the other day. So I saw these in it and look it up online. I thought that you might enjoy these online:
Very cute! Cheers.
Gerri M Jones says
This may be a stupid question but how do you become a member of an Elks Lodge so you can stay there when traveling??
You have to find someone at an existing Elks Lodge willing to sponsor you. Then you go through an initiation at the Lodge to become a full member. There’s a yearly fee (fees can vary a lot between various Lodges), but that’s it. Paul was sponsored and initiated at the Wilcox AZ Lodge early this year, so that’s how we became members.
If you’re interested in becoming a member I’d recommend calling your closest Lodge and asking them about their process and fees. There’s usually someone willing to sponsor, although you may have to wait some time for initiation depending on how often the local Lodge offers it.
Glad you finally made it to FL, even if plans had to be changed. I liked St. Augustine when visited many years ago. Between you and Sherry writing about FL I’m tempted to try a winter trip there but not excited about all the reserving needed.
The reservations are truly a bear. There are ways to stay in FL for winter and *not* reserve too much, but you’ll be limited to out-of-the-way parks and/or you won’t be able to get into any of the great State Parks unless you manage to “catch” last-minute cancellations (which do happen, but you have to be flexible and be right ON them). We did our first reservations over 11 months ago when the system first opened, and the best sites/parks were booked out that very day.
Cynthia Huff says
They say that about CA. State Parks too—-must reserve a year in advance and then sometimes they book the first day, but we have stayed in quite a few because of previous day cancellations. Huntington Beach City at Christmastime, San Elijo, Bolsa Chica—-all of these on day before arrival calls. The Huntingon Beach was amazingly perfect—we wanted to be there two nights and they had those two nights ONLY open for the exact length of our previous rig. So? It does pay to check on State Parks. We are now members of Harvest Hosts and they have been great for those hard to book holiday weekends. Last stay was at Bernardo Winery in San Diego area. We witnessed two weddings, had two free music performances and excellent wine tasting plus great shops including a co-op pottery, coffee roaster and cafes.
We’ve enjoyed Harvest Hosts quite a few times this year too. It’s nice to have alternate options that don’t require crazy early reservations. We’ll keep that San Diego stop in mind. Haven’t stayed there.
Judy Butterfield says
If you haven’t ever been to the Lightner Museum (I think it’s the right spot) it is awesome and just a hoot. It’s the museum that is in the building that is now partially city offices and was also at one time one of the hotels built by Flagler. We were there 2 winters ago and loved the history.
If you haven’t done all your bookings again – we stayed at Markham Park and I would recommend it – a county park west of Ft. Lauderdale. The only problem were the mosquitoes after dark – it was a huge park with lots of bike riding space, a RC plane field, and easy access to eating and shopping as needed. One thing to beware of tho’ is there is a shooting range (used by the local police) and it is near the ‘far’ circle of camping.
Hope your winter goes smoothly from now on!!! Will be interested to see where you’ll be staying etc. Hoping to get back there next winter.
Happy Thanksgiving to you!!
We’re very familiar with Markham Park. We stayed there our very first year (2010) when we came East to see family in Miami. Totally agree it’s a great park. Sites were nice and the outdoors was lovely. So much green, plus that great dog park. This year we managed to get a sub-rental from someone who owns a site near Ft.Lauderdale. So that’s what we’re doing this time around.
Jim Flater says
I read your Great article on St Augustine and could not resist sharing this memory. Our family stated going there for summer vacations beginning in 1966 when I was a young lad. Mom and dad would load us 5 kids in the station wagon (remind you no seat belts or air) hook up to our big camper nick named Musty for Mustang and travel from northern Illinois to st Augustine arriving just in time for the 4th July weekend. Back then we stayed at a camp ground called Kontekee which was right on the beach on A1A just a few miles south of the Pier. It was a very large camp ground and dad would get a spot right next to the dunes. Keep in mind, it’s July, it’s hot and the camper had no air conditioning!!! But we had the ocean breeze and the beach and had the tunes of our lives. We went six summers straight and now over 50 years later we stay in the same area, which are condos now and have introduced our kids and their kids to this wonderful vacation spot. Next time you are through that area, make sure you take time to eat dinner at Cowboys. Best shrimp and hush puppies you will ever eat. Also, in a few years, we will be retiring and taking our air conditioned 5th wheeler and air conditioned truck ion the road!!! Man have things changed. We really enjoy your site and thanks for all the great information.