A Wheelchair Accessible Family Itinerary
Old places are not the first thing that come to mind when planning a trip for wheelchair users or kids: too bumpy and too boring.
Welcome to St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city and the destination to break those mindsets.
While there is always more work to be done, Florida’s Historic Coast has made inclusion a priority. St. Augustine is broadly accessible and efforts have even brought access to the area’s beaches a long way. The family is also a clear priority throughout St. Augustine, with loads of kid-focused tours and activities. We spent four days on Florida’s Historic Coast, but didn’t get to do all that we wanted and are already planning our return. The following is an ideal weekend itinerary for families with wheels. If you can, make it a long weekend - it’s worth it!
Day 1: Overview
Breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company will give you the energy for a day of St. Augustine. Right out of the oven biscuits, accompanied by house made jams and jellies, and farm fresh eggs and great coffee.
After breakfast, head straight to Castillo de San Marcos. The nation’s first fort is not only an impressive feat of Spanish architecture, but also a good introduction to the multicultural history of St. Augustine. The admission lines get long as the day goes on, so get here early. They open at nine, but people will begin lining up before that. Parking and admission are free with your National Parks disability ACCESS Pass. Spend the rest of your morning exploring the old fort and taking in the waterfront views. When you’re done, walk across the bridge and grab a delicious lunch at Gas Full Service Restaurant.
After lunch, hop on the Old Town Trolley tour for an overview of the city. The closest accessible stop from lunch is at Plaza de la Constitucion. If you are parked downtown, you can hop on at Potter’s Wax Museum and complete the loop from there. If not, you can also start at the beginning, at the Old Jail. It is recommended you use this tour as your opportunity to take in the city and decide which parts you’re most interested in. If something catches your eye, you can hop off and hop back on later, just keep in mind that there is only one wheelchair row on a trolley, and it may take a little longer to get a ride back (always let the trolley stop attendant know if you need the wheelchair ramp). Not all stops are wheelchair accessible, but they are close enough together that you can typically head over to the next stop for pick-up. Make sure you ask for the list of accessible stops when you board, so you do not end up waiting at a stop where they can’t pick you up!
Another perk of doing this tour early on is they offer discounted admission to many of the attractions in town.
Be sure to visit Potter’s Wax Museum (naturally, the nation’s oldest wax museum), this would be a great place to check out before dinner! The figures are impressive, and you can learn all about how they’re made. Pop your head in the front door to let them know you need the accessible entrance, and they’ll let you in around back, near the trolley stop.
If your kids are like mine, by this time in the day you have just enough energy left for an ice cream. Kilwin’s is just a block away from the wax museum. The accessible entrance is around back, in a shared courtyard with cute shops, charming decor, and outdoor seating.
Because ice cream probably isn’t enough for dinner, you can mosey down the street for dinner at Meehan’s Irish Pub and Seafood House that overlooks the beautiful bayfront.
Day 2: Historic District
I hope you were paying attention on your trolley tour and picked out some things you wanted to see! Just in case – here are some suggestions. There is plenty of Handicap Parking in Downtown St. Augustine, including the Historic Downtown Parking Facility at the Visitor Information Center. Start your morning at the City Gate and make your way down George St., stopping as much, or as little as you like. Make sure you look for historic landmarks along the way, like The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse and the exposed sections of coquina on the old buildings (you'll have learned about this building material in your fort tour - it's one of the main reasons the city has been able to bounce back after being burnt to the ground 11 times). Florida wakes up slowly, so you can have the place to yourself if you start early. Just keep in mind most attractions don't open until 10 a.m., so plan your route accordingly. There are lots of good coffee and pastry stops along the way, but many of those don’t open until 9. We walked the full length of the street, down to the Plaza de La Constitucion, by 8, and then came back for the tours… and coffee.
If you had trouble narrowing down which places you wanted to explore more thoroughly, we recommend the Pirate and Treasure Museum. This was fun because it was so different from anything else we had experienced. How much do you know about real pirates? My expertise only comes from Jack Sparrow and Captain Hook, so it was neat to explore history on such a fascinating topic that didn't come from Disney. They even had real (un)buried treasure on display.
You can experience other pieces of St. Augustine's history through the Colonial Experience at the Colonial Quarter (my kids especially enjoyed the cannon demonstration), or tours of any of the "old" attractions (Oldest House Museum; Oldest Wooden School House, - many of the nation’s firsts are here!).
While you're in the downtown Historic area, stop by Taberna del Caballo for a conveniently located, delicious, and kid friendly lunch. We enjoyed this one so much that the kids asked if we could just eat every meal here.
The Hyppo is a great popsicle stop after lunch, or at any point while you’re in the area.
After lunch, wave goodbye to the Historic District and head to the Fountain of Youth. I do realize this attraction may seem a bit contrived, but it's cool to say you drank from the Fountain of Youth - my kids all insist they feel younger, already. In addition to drinking from the fountain (since that takes about ten seconds), the attraction offers several living history experiences featuring the lifestyle of the first St. Augustine, including firing a musket and a cannon. There's also a planetarium and a boardwalk that takes you out over the water. The fountain itself is down three steps. We just had someone else fill the cup - there’s still a good view of the fountain.
While you're in the area, make sure you check out the street that you entered from, Magnolia Avenue - it's designated as one of the nation's most beautiful streets.
This is a full day, but don’t worry about transportation or parking. Contact L.B. Cruisers and they can pick you up right from your hotel and shuttle you into town. The cruiser is designed for wheelchair users, can take you anywhere you need to go, and runs on donations. The driver is also a great guide on all things local and can answer any questions you may have - from city history to where to get the best baklava. They are happy to help out with transportation for any part of your itinerary (904-878-1171).
Day 3: Beach Life
The Blue Hen Cafe located in the Lincolnville section of St. Augustine is a great way to start your last day. There’s nothing here that’s not delicious and everything on the menu is farm fresh.
If you have a full day, start with the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park. This is outside of the Historic District, and maybe outside of what you would think of with the nation's oldest city, but the St. Augustine Alligator Farm has an impressive number of species and activities. This is still a very Floridian experience, and a great activity for captivating and educating the kids. It was easy to navigate with a wheelchair, and mostly outdoors (which adds to the comfort level of us Pennsylvanians fleeing the cold). There is a disability discount available for admission.
On your way to the beach, stop by Salt Life Food Shack for lunch. After checking out the one-of-a-kind fish tank downstairs, you can hop on the elevator to dine outside, upstairs. They have great food and vibes for all ages.
After lunch, spend your last moments in St. Augustine taking in the splendor of the shore. While you can borrow beach wheelchairs for any of the beach locations (three days advance notice required), I suggest Anastasia State Park for ease of accessibility. They have ramped boardwalks and a mobi-mat for beach access, as well as accessible facilities like restrooms and picnic areas. Beach wheelchairs are available for loan at the Island Beach Shop and Grill or Anastasia Watersports.
If you’re heading back north, Vilano Beach is another great option. Look for "Porpoise Point Beach Access." There's an accessible dune walkover, beach wheelchairs (call 904 209-0331 at least three days in advance to reserve), and you can even drive on the beach.
If you’re heading out with only a partial third day, you can’t go wrong with either the Alligator Farm or the beach in the morning!
If you have a little extra time, The Old Jail does a fascinating tour. It’s not a pretty history, so I would recommend it for ages eight and up, depending on the personality of your children. The second floor was not wheelchair accessible, but our guide was happy to tell us all about the last bit we couldn’t see. Another great added attraction in Ripley’s Believe It or Not - and it’s the nation’s first!
No matter how long you’re able to stretch your weekend, you’re going to find yourself planning a second trip to come back for more. This itinerary will seem like a tease when you see all of the wheelchair accessible family friendly opportunities this beautiful city has for you.
Content courtesy of Jennifer Allen, www.wonderswithinreach.com