Saint Augustine has been growing like wildfire in the 21st century. I live close and visit often. Here are some of my favorites you may have missed in the oldest city. Some are newer attractions and some just rebranded or moved and now differ greatly from their former incarnations.
Note: Parts of my visits were comped, but my opinions are my own. I’ve numbered them based on the date they opened or changed locations.
1. St. Augustine Surf Culture Museum
You’ve probably visited the oldest house, González-Alvarez, in St Augustine. But, did you know The Oldest House Complex added The St. Augustine Surf Culture Museum? When you visit the Oldest House Complex now, you can hear the oral histories of surfers since 1915 when the sport became popular in the oldest city. There are hundreds of photos, artifacts, and memorabilia, including historic surfboards. It’s an interesting combination of relatively modern history in the home where Spanish infantryman Jose Tovar lived in 1763.
Marineland’s Marine Studios Exhibit is also located upstairs. It houses lots of memorabilia from the actual Marineland.
2. Classic Car Museum
Ancient City’s Classic Car Museum opened a 30,000-square-foot facility in June 2020. I arrived there late on a steamy day. A cute diner replica is right up front, complete with an old-time 10 cents Coca-Cola vending machine, Formica tables, and vinyl seated booths. It sets the stage for traveling back to the 1950s. Sidney Hobbs, the museum’s creator, graciously turned me loose to browse. Looking at cars from the 50s and 60s made me nostalgic. I felt like a teenager in a dream car lot from the 60s.
I saw a red Ford convertible like my early 1957 Ford that earned me far too many speeding tickets. The aqua and white 1954 Chevy Bel Aire could have been my brother’s first car. Several of the early Fords reminded me of photos of my dad in earlier times in one of his cars. There’s a Batmobile replica and a duplicate of Elvis’s 1957 Cadillac convertible. The cars and pickups in this huge collection date back to the 1800s. Every one of them is drivable.
3. Witty Whisker Cat Café
The Witty Whisker Cat Café opened in June 2020. It’s a place where you can relax and enjoy a soft drink, coffee, tea, beer, or wine while you nibble on a tasty bakery treat and visit some adorable adoptable felines. You can enjoy your food and drink in the café, or you can pay a $10 admission fee and join the kitties in their special room.
I took my iced tea and made friends with a few of the friendly felines who are all available for adoption. The interaction between Flash, a sleek black, 3-month-old male, and Tagalong, a 6-month-old, silver tabby, was fun to watch. Flash was exploring along a shelf in the kitty’s room. He traversed around the room up there until he got close to Tagalong who perched at the end of the shelf and considered it his territory. When Flash approached, Tagalong just gave him one look that turned him around and sent him retracing his path. Flash was born to a community cat in someone’s backyard. Since he was socialized so young, he would make a wonderful pet. If I didn’t have too many cats already, I would’ve adopted this cute kitty.
4. Medieval Torture Museum
Medieval Torture Museum offers a look at a not-so-pretty past when there was no law against cruel and unusual punishment. Its exhibits make me happy to live in a time when things like the Spanish boot are no longer in use. It’s composed of vertical boards fitted around a prisoner’s leg and then stakes or iron spikes were driven into them, breaking the prisoner’s bones or stabbing his leg. The small iron sandal-looking device at the bottom was tightened, compressing the foot into increasingly smaller spaces, and eventually crushing all the foot’s bones. After seeing this, I’ll never complain about shoes pinching my toes.
Accused heretics and witches rode the “Spanish Horse,” a sawhorse with a triangle-shaped center bar. They were seated astride with their legs either unable to touch the floor or weighted down. Although the museum is interactive, they would not let me guillotine my ex.
5. St. Augustine Aquarium
Shawn and Kathy Hiester opened St. Augustine Aquarium in December 2016. Kathy told me they felt that as a coastal city, Saint Augustine should have an aquarium. This one is small but offers a lot of interactive things like snorkeling, feeding, touch tanks, and classes for school groups. It’s more personal than some larger ones, as all the animals have names, and some seem to know the keepers.
6. Lincolnville Museum And Cultural Center
The Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center first opened as the Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center in 2005 in a former Black high school in Lincolnville. It changed to its current name in 2012. One exhibit, in particular, a section of the original Woolworth counter where high school students staged a sit-in shortly before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill, really moved me.
The museum is spacious and has exhibits ranging from early African slavery in Iberia to the Civil Rights Movement with a focus on what was happening locally. Pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. jailed in St. Augustine and James Brock dumping acid in the Monson Motor Lodge swimming pool to prevent Blacks from integrating it, show more of the local story.
7. ACCORD Civil Rights Museum
ACCORD Civil Rights Museum opened on July 2, 2014, on the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It tells a more personal story and is open by appointment only. There are many exhibits related to the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine and a replica of local Black dentist and Civil Rights leader Dr. Hayling’s office.
8. Potter’s Wax Museum
Potter’s Wax Museum is America’s oldest wax museum in the United States. In 2014, the museum’s then owners wanted to shut it down. Instead, the museum changed hands and moved into the Authentic Old Drug Store, with more space and its own art director. I loved the exhibits of Elvis and Ray Charles especially. There are presidents, royalty, and modern-day personalities like Britney Spears.
9. St. Augustine Distillery
St. Augustine Distillery opened in 2013 in Saint Augustine’s historic 1905 ice/power plant. Owners Philip McDaniel and Mike Diaz preserved the historic structure and are making vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey from local ingredients, giving area farmers a reason to grow special corn used in the whisky. The used mash goes back to the farmers to feed cattle. There’s a small museum in front where you wait for the free tours to begin. In Florida, bourbon develops color and flavor faster due to the high heat and humidity. On September 9, 2016, Saint Augustine Distillery released its first bourbon. Emily, our guide, told us, “Making ice is easy. Booze is a lot more work and tastes better than ice.” When we moved to the tasting bar where she poured samples, I had to agree.
The Ice Plant Bar is in the same building, but because of Florida’s licensing laws, it is a separate entity. They serve distillery products as well as craft beers and wine to accompany their fantastic food.
10. Oldest Store Museum
The Oldest Store Museum is the latest attraction at the Old Jail Complex on San Marco Avenue, which opened in July 2011. Listening to Molly, the “salesclerk,” try to “sell” us items like a combination of butter churn, baby rocker, and an authentic gramophone, is a hoot. She guided us on our tour through the store and demonstrated items including a gramophone that played a song from a wax cylinder, a couple of big front-wheeled bicycles, and a washing machine you can power with the family goat.
11. Spanish Military Hospital Museum
Our guide, Katy, led us into a re-creation of a hospital from the second Spanish period and gave us a combination history lesson and amputation demonstration. No actual limbs were severed but the tools used gave an accurate feeling of the process. She explained that due to the Moorish/Muslim influence in Spain, hand washing was commonly practiced causing this hospital to have a healthier atmosphere than many other European hospitals of the same time.
Ancient City Brunch Bar
Ancient City Brunch Bar is a perfect spot for breakfast or lunch. It grew out of twin daughters, Emily and Sophie Schroeder’s school project. Inspired by their family’s eating habits, they invented a different kind of restaurant. The concept of bruncharcuterie they devised moves charcuterie boards to a whole new level.
Parking has become a problem in St. Augustine. The best way to get around the historic section is to take the trolley and park in their free lot. I use Old Town Trolleys and enjoy the driver’s informative talks as he or she stops near each attraction. There is a trolley that takes you to the beach area although parking is easy there.
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