As the oldest permanent settlement in the United States — think 1500s old — St. Augustine wears its designation as “The Ancient City” with pride. But there’s nothing outdated about this Northeast Florida town’s approach to accessibility — and wooing and wowing visitors.
Considering its population of approximately 14,500, St. Augustine offers the quantity and quality of attractions and activities found in much larger towns. It has also earned a stellar reputation for accessibility and inclusion for tourists and locals alike. The town is continually striving to improve accessibility for all while maintaining the architectural integrity of priceless historic structures.
The beauty of St. Augustine’s approach to accessibility is that everyone benefits. One obvious example is that ramps not only make it possible for individuals in wheelchairs to gain access to buildings, but they also enable parents with strollers and seniors with mobility challenges to avoid stairs. There are more examples of accessible St. Augustine activities than space allows, so let this be the appetizer for a sumptuous, sensory St. Augustine travel feast.
Pro Tip: City-owned parking meters and garages are free for vehicles with a valid handicap license plate or visible tag.
Note: Our visit to St. Augustine was generously hosted by St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau; however, all opinions are entirely my own.
1. Accessible Beaches
The St. Augustine area is blessed with 42 miles of warm, sunny beaches, and many can be enjoyed by wheelchair users.
Free Beach Wheelchairs
Many beaches can be navigated via specially designed fat-tired wheelchairs, available free of charge on a first come, first served basis. To reserve, call St. Johns County Beach Services Department at (904) 209-0752.
Several beaches offer wooden boardwalks ideal for standard wheelchairs and those who have difficulty keeping their balance in sand. And some locations allow four-wheel-drive vehicles on the beach. These include St. Augustine Beach, Butler Beach, Crescent Beach, Porpoise Point, and Vilano Beach.
2. Touring St. Augustine
There are many ways to acquaint yourself with the charms of St. Augustine, and most are accessible. However you decide to tour, operators and guides are smart, sensitive, and eager to help.
Old Town Trolley Tour
One of the easiest and most pleasurable ways to familiarize yourself with St. Augustine is on a 90-minute, narrated Old Town Trolley Tour. All-day hop-on, hop-off access to 22 stops allows you to visit attractions, dine, and shop at your leisure.
Trolleys have lifts to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters. Begin your tour at stop number 1, the Old Jail Museum on San Marco Avenue. There you will find accessible bathrooms, and you can purchase your tickets onsite. You can also make reservations online in advance. If you have a hearing impairment, a tour script is available upon request.
Red Boat Tours
Located on Vilano Beach, Red Boat Tours offers a variety of delightful opportunities to see and learn about St. Augustine from a unique perspective. Boats are accessible for standard wheelchairs no wider than 32 inches. For arrivals and departures, staff will remove the side bumpers and pull the boat directly to the floating dock.
3. Accessible Attractions
Newer and recently renovated attractions in St. Augustine are, by law, ADA compliant, but the town’s history is rooted in the distant past. Historic attractions that are partially wheelchair accessible have devised creative ways to compensate as much as possible.
Castillo De San Marcos National Monument
Castillo de San Marcos, part of the National Park System, takes visitors to another time. This magnificently preserved 17th-century Spanish fort is the oldest masonry fort in North America. Use the free app and/or the informational brochure — available in regular and large print, as well as braille — to take the self-guided tour of the fort. Allow at least 2 hours to do this structure justice.
The lower level, which houses the museum rooms, theater, bookstore, and restrooms, is wheelchair accessible.
Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center
This museum factually and poignantly tells the story of American Black history in St. Augustine through its raw, disturbing, and uplifting exhibits. Especially fascinating is the exhibit chronicling the lives of residents of the Lincolnville neighborhood from its beginning in 1866. Leave your preconceived notions at the door and allow at least an hour. Take the time to absorb what you see.
The Lincolnville Museum has guest parking. Handicapped spaces are located at the back and ramps at the front and back of the museum.
St. Augustine Lighthouse
Built in 1865 on the site of the original 16th-century structure, St. Augustine Lighthouse soars 156 feet high and offers spectacular views from its observation deck. But accessing those stunning views requires climbing a 219-step spiral staircase.
If you are traveling in a wheelchair or are reluctant to maneuver the steps, you can still experience the views electronically via a screen at the bottom of the stairs. Newer buildings, such as the museum and the first floor of the lightkeeper’s house, are accessible.
Fountain Of Youth Archaeological Park
Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is the site of Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’s first settlement in the New World in 1565. Take in living history reenactments as well as the Timucuan Village and the reconstructed First Mission of Nombre de Dios. Then sit down and cool off at the Planetarium. Following the presentation, head next door to the two-story Discovery Globe. Then relax on a bench and listen to the squawking, roaming peacocks while you savor the pleasant views over the water from the 600-foot Founders Riverwalk.
Don’t forget to take a drink from the natural spring, billed as Juan Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. Although the spring lies several steps down, one of the park rangers will be glad to fill a small cup for you. Spoiler Alert: The water tastes awful, but it won’t make you sick.
Allow at least 2 hours at the park, but prepare to stay longer. Paths are paved and easy to navigate.
Pro Tip: Like much of St. Augustine, the park welcomes leashed dogs, so feel free to bring your beloved pooch for a delightful outing.
Plaza De La Constitución
The center and soul of St. Augustine since the 1500s, Plaza de la Constitución offers a welcome opportunity to slow down and immerse yourself in a unique outdoor history and art experience. Take in Andrew Young Crossing and the Freedom Marchers Monument, representing those who fought for civil rights in St. Augustine.
Sculptures in and around Plaza de la Constitución are part of the Braille Trail, which is full of braille markers with tactile graphics, developed by the St. Augustine Art Association. A handy Braille Trail audio guide is also available
Pro Tip: You can save money by purchasing a St. Augustine Tourist Pass, which covers a number of attractions. Be sure to do the math to make sure the price of the pass is less than the combined cost of the attractions and tours you plan to enjoy.
4. Accessible Places To Eat And Drink
The number and variety of dining options in St. Augustine is truly impressive. From Greek to grits, the choices are endless, and considering that outdoor eating opportunities are everywhere, wheelchair accessibility is more the rule than the exception.
This casual eatery offers a variety of seafood and land-lovers options without having to resort to an atlas-size menu. The ahi tuna tacos were refreshing, light, and generous with the tuna. If you like a little heat, try the Menorcan Datil Shrimp. Both dishes are excellent in the flavor department. The restaurant and the deck are wheelchair accessible.
Terra & Acqua
An innovative Italian restaurant, Terra & Acqua combines tradition with creativity. The gnocchi with sausage was hearty and flavorful, as was the pappardelle with cinghiali. Outdoor dining is available, and the restaurant is wheelchair accessible.
St. Augustine Distillery
Located in a restored 1907 ice plant, St. Augustine Distillery is a locally owned and operated facility producing artisanal rum, bourbon, gin, and vodka. The distillery offers free informative and entertaining tours and tastings 7 days a week on a first come, first served basis. The tours are wheelchair accessible.
5. Accessible Accommodations
St. Augustine has accommodations to suit every desire, budget, and special need. From wheelchair-accessible rooms to dog friendliness, the ideal place to stay is waiting to welcome you.
Hampton Inn & Suites On Vilano Beach
Three miles from St. Augustine’s historic downtown, the Hampton Inn & Suites on Vilano Beach is a clean, comfortable seaside hotel. Amenities include a pool, free Wi-Fi, free parking, complimentary breakfast, and more. It’s a short walk to the ocean, and the charming town of Vilano Beach is definitely worth exploring. The hotel is wheelchair accessible and dog friendly.
Casa de Suenos
Located in the heart of downtown St. Augustine, Casa de Suenos is a charming bed and breakfast within easy walking distance of the city’s historical sites, delightful family-owned eateries, and of course, shopping. Along with a sumptuous breakfast, guests are treated to a complimentary pre-dinner social hour and evening dessert.
Casa de Suenos has one large wheelchair-accessible room with a roll-in shower. The property is pet-free, but if you don’t require wheelchair access, its sister bed and breakfast, St. Francis Inn, offers the same homey amenities for you and your dog.
What To Pack
St. Augustine summers can get uncomfortably hot. Be sure to pack sunglasses, a hat, plenty of sunscreen, and ways to stay hydrated. Also, if you’re bringing your pooch, consider purchasing a set of dog boots to protect your pup’s feet from burning on hot sidewalks and parking lots.