St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra on a Budget
On Florida’s Historic Coast, some of the most memorable natural wonders, historic sites and family adventures are free (or nearly free).
It doesn’t take a fortune to experience the centuries-old city of St. Augustine, the outstanding golf and seaside elegance of Ponte Vedra, and the area’s 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches. There are plenty of things to do for free or $10 or less.
Before diving in, check out our top picks for budget-friendly attractions and activities.
Free Fun Along Florida’s Historic Coast
Just south of St. Augustine, take a free ferry ride to Fort Matanzas National Monument and tour the almost 300-year-old outpost. See the fort’s sleeping quarters, gun deck and observation deck, and explore the uninhabited barrier island it rests on. Admission is free. Then admire the divine side of St. Augustine with visits to historic churches, including Memorial Presbyterian Church (where famous Floridian Henry Flagler is buried), Mission Nombre de Dios and St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica.
Sample artisanal spirits at the St. Augustine Distillery and Museum, or try one of the daily tours and tastings at the San Sebastian Winery – both are free and within walking distance of the historic district. Time it right and enjoy the First Friday Art Walk, which departs from the San Sebastian Winery on a free trolley. Other free tours and events to seek out: the Second Saturday Pup Walk Historic Walking Tour, African-American Heritage Tour (every Saturday) and the hoppin’ Uptown Saturday Night, with music and entertainment at the galleries and shops along San Marco Avenue open late the fourth Saturday of each month. Beyond the historic city, find wallet-friendly fun as you go beach-hopping along the coast. And golf lovers shouldn’t miss a trip to Ponte Vedra to tour the Club House and visit the famous 17th island hole on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
Top Things to Do for $10 or Less
You might be surprised how much vacation fun $10 or less (per adult) will get you. Savvy shoppers can purchase combination tickets for discounts to attractions and tours through St. Augustine’s Old Town Trolley Tours and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! St. Augustine. Many attractions and tours offer discounts on tickets if purchased online in advance.
You’ll find several attractions in one place at the Old Town Trolley complex. The Old Jail was built by Henry Flagler in 1891 and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It was operational for more than 60 years and housed 72 prisoners at a time.
The Oldest Store Museum storytellers make this tour with more than 100,000 essential items and inventions from the turn-of-the-century come to life!
Keep your camera handy for the Flagler College Legacy Tour, a stroll through Flagler’s opulent former resort (now a college). Then cross the street to view antiquities in the Lightner Museum and the gilded age collection in the Villa Zorayda, built in 1883 as a replica of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.
A simple stroll away, explore other back-in-time attractions such as one of the exhibits at The Government House Cultural Center and Museum. Venture off the beaten path and see eye-opening exhibits at the Spanish Military Hospital Museum. Or get a historical perspective at the Oldest House Museum.
Immerse yourself in the most entertaining and educational documentaries, as well as Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, at the World Golf IMAX. With North Florida’s largest screen (70 feet wide and five stories high), the World Golf Hall of Fame IMAX Theater is at unique movie-going experience. Families can enjoy a little friendly competition on the 18-hole natural grass putting green or the Challenge Hole at the World Golf Hall of Fame.
For some of the most spectacular views of nature, head for the windswept Anastasia State Park with nature trails, campsites and pristine sandy beaches. The GTM Research Reserve (beginning in Ponte Vedra to the north and continuing to Marineland to the south) is and estuary with extensive salt marshes and a maritime hammock perfect for exploring, launching boats and kayaks. The St. Johns County Pier Park offers amazing views of the beach and the Atlantic Ocean, a splash park and you might see an angler make a catch right before your eyes.
Continue exploring nature at the Marineland Dolphin Adventure. Enjoy these amazing animals through hands on interactions and learn about dolphin anatomy, behavior and the challenges they face in the wild. The St. Augustine Aquarium offers an 80,000 gallon Snorkel Adventure, interactive shark and stingray lagoon, and other hands-on exhibits alongside views of marine life such as eels and seahorses.
Looking for sweet treats? The Whetstone Chocolate Factory Tour offers free samples and a behind-the-scenes look at the factory crafting a variety of chocolate confections.
Affordable Places to Stay
Budget-conscious travelers can find accommodation rates under $100, and there are plenty of hot deals for mid-week, extended-stay or vacation packages posted every day – check out hotel deals.
Be sure to ask about deals and reduced admission or accommodation rates for military, seniors and groups.