With its sunny beaches and sprawling state parks, it doesn’t take a trust fund to have a fantastic vacation in Florida. St Augustine, in particular, is ripe with free and low-cost experiences for just about everyone in your crew. From educational tours of colonial homes and historic forts to sunbathing on some lovely beaches, the variety of experiences in this coastal Florida town means your itinerary will be anything but boring.

As the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European and African-American origin in the US, there’s also richly preserved history in St Augustine that’s worth exploring. The best part? You can keep your wallet firmly tucked away for most of it. Free (and very cheap) things can be found all around the city, and they’re sure to make your vacation that much more memorable.

Visit the haunted Tolomato Cemetery

If you time your visit just right, you’ll be able to take a tour of the oldest planned cemetery in the country: Tolomato. Open on the third Wednesday of the month, the cemetery offers free guided tours from 11am to 1:30pm. The burial grounds span about an acre and serve as a resting place for the diverse set of people that played a role in St Augustine’s evolution, including individuals of Spanish, Minorcan, Irish, African, Greek, and Italian descent. The cemetery, which is over 300 years old, is purportedly haunted and remains a popular spot for paranormal enthusiasts.

Hop a ferry to Fort Matanzas

You’ll need to take a ferry to reach the Fort Matanzas National Monument, a stone fort that the Spanish erected on a small island in 1742 to protect St Augustine from British attacks. The fort, along with Castillo de San Marco, was constructed using coquina, a naturally occurring stone made up of shell fragments that are found along the Florida coast. After taking a tour of the fort, wander through some of the nature trails on the property or enjoy a moment along the shore. Admission to the ferry and the fort for a ranger-led tour are free, but you’ll need to stop by the visitor’s center first to pick up a pass. 

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A pedestrian street scene with tourists mingling around in front of an old wooden school building
St. George Street is home to the historic Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse © csfotoimages / Getty Images

Window-shop along St. George Street

St. George Street is one of the most vibrant and well-known thoroughfares in St Augustine. This pedestrian-only road is brimming with historic buildings, shops, restaurants and bars that can easily take a full day to explore. Start at the 300-year-old City Gates on the northside of St. George and pop into the historic Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse (adults are $5.95, but children under 5 are free) before dipping into The Hyppo for some gourmet popsicles (think: sweet corn poblano and avocado coconut). 

Tour the historic Peña-Peck House

While on St. George Street, drop into the Peña-Peck House, the current home of The Woman’s Exchange of St Augustine, a non-profit that helps women who have fallen on hard times. Built in 1752 for Royal Spanish Treasurer Juan Estevan de Peña and occupied by the Peck family descendants until 1931, this architectural standout is brimming with 19th-century furnishings and art — all of which you can see during one of the free tours of the property on offer Thursday through Saturday.

A shot taken from a stone fortress with a rounded sentry turret in the foreground. A palm-tree-lined bay of water stands behind the fort
The grounds and greenway of Castillo de San Marcos can occupy the family all afternoon © Kenneth Keifer / 500px

Enjoy a picnic by a fort

Getting inside the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument isn’t free, but you can spend an afternoon exploring the grounds that surround it without spending a dime. The country’s oldest masonry fort features an extensive greenway right on the banks of the Matanzas River. Grab some takeout or bring a picnic lunch to enjoy alfresco. If you're traveling with kids, they’ll get a kick out of tumbling down the hilly terrain surrounding the fort. Entrance fees to the monument are waved on certain days throughout the year, including Martin Luther King, Jr Day (Jan 17), the National Park Service Birthday (Aug 25) and Veterans Day (Nov 11).

Search for shark’s teeth at Mickler’s Landing

Drive about 20 miles north from the heart of St Augustine, and you’ll find that your four-lane highway narrows to two as nature envelopes the path to Mickler’s Landing Beachfront Park. It isn’t just shells you’ll spot on the long stretch of pink coquina sand here — fossilized and modern-day shark teeth are fairly common too. Also keep an eye out for the local wildlife — the 20-ft sandy dunes play host to sea turtles, shorebirds and even beach mice. 

Sample some local wines and spirits

St Augustine takes its spirits seriously — particularly ones with a decent ABV. The city boasts several distilleries and wineries, most of which offer free tours and samples of their wares. At San Sebastian Winery, you can take a tour of the distillery and sample some muscadine wine in what was once Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway building. City Gate Spirits also offers complimentary tastings of its locally-made vodka, rum, whiskey and moonshine, while at St Augustine Distillery you can drop in for a free tour and tasting of its stills and barrels. 

Get a closer look at local wildlife in the GTM Research Reserve

A collaboration between Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve covers 76,760 acres of coastal lands in northeast Florida and is one of 29 National Estuarine Research Reserves around the country. The visitors center features exhibits, aquariums, an auditorium, and an amphitheater overlooking the Guana River Aquatic Preserve. Be sure to check out the reserve’s events calendar for upcoming activities, many of which are free to attend.

A historic street in a town with a large wooden archway welcoming you to the district
A free trolley service runs to Aviles St during First Friday Art Walk © Sandy Greenwell / 500px / Getty Images

Pop into a gallery during the First Friday Art Walk

If fate should bring you to St Augustine on the first Friday of the month, consider it quite auspicious. That’s when the local galleries open their doors to the public for a night of exhibits, live music and wine during the First Friday Art Walk. The event is free for all ages and runs from 5-9pm. Trolley services are available to shuttle you between galleries at no cost. They stop at King Street, Aviles Street, Cathedral Place, and Hypolita Street.

Grab a snack at a farmers market

There is no shortage of farmers markets around St Augustine — in fact, you’ll find one open to the public just about every day of the week. On Saturday, head to the St Augustine Amphitheater Farmers Market for some gourmet donuts and a tarot card reading session, while on Wednesday, the Pier Farmers Market provides a picturesque waterfront backdrop for the produce on hand. Round out the weekend at the Salt Air Farmers Market, where you can pick up locally grown produce, seafood, honey, soaps, tide clocks and art. 

You might also like:
Old city, new fun: what you should do in St Augustine, Florida  
12 best things to do in Florida, from rockets and rollercoasters to the Everglades  
How to avoid Florida's crowds: a year-round guide  

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