by VICTORIA HENLEY
CTFashionMag.comSt. Augustine, Fla offers just about everything one might expect from a Floridian vacation: white sandy beaches, glistening blue waters, fishing piers, and mouth watering seafood joints at every turn.
However, with countless interesting facts surrounding its rich history as the oldest continuously occupied port establishment by Europeans in the continental United States, St. Augustine is much more than merely a beach vacation destination.
Ghost tours laced with tales of war, power, jealously, lust, and murder; adventure parks high above the trees overlooking gargantuan crocodiles; a fountain of youth; a haunted lighthouse; and train tours through the labyrinth of towering cathedrals and historic buildings are just a few of the pieces that comprise the bigger picture of the beautiful, fascinating and eccentric puzzle that is St. Augustine, Fl.
I recently researched and uncovered St. Augustine “Must Sees” you simply can’t miss during your next visit.
THE OLD JAIL MUSEUM
In 1891, oil magnate and industrialist Henry Flagler contracted the company that would later build the notorious Alcatraz to construct a jail just north of downtown on San Marco Avenue.
Built to look like a hotel in the Romanesque Revival style, Flagler’s high-brow friends visiting St. Augustine might never suspect, at first glance, that the jail housed some of the most violent criminals living under the penal system of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Costumed actors take guests on a journey back in time with stories of the harsh, brutal and inhumane conditions that prisoners endured under Sheriff Joe Perry, a bull of a man, convinced he could “reform” the criminals through his tortuous and unorthodox methods, often killing them in the process.
Our tour guide, Jack -also a founder and creator of the bone chilling paranormal tour experience, listed below- fully immersed in his inmate character, provided facts about the history of the jail’s origin, architecture, hangings, and unscrupulous leadership.
NOTE: While some subject matter is thematic and some image galleries mildly graphic, the Old Jail Tour is an attraction suitable for people of all ages.
Website: trolleytours.com (Click “Menu”, the select Old Jail Museum for Tickets.
Phone: (904) 829-3800
Address: 167 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine, Fla. 32084
OLD JAIL AFTER DARK
The eight documented hangings, grisly crimes and hellacious living conditions for which The Old Jail became infamous, have made the building a sought-after destination for some of the nation’s most popular paranormal investigation television shows.
Now, you can experience: The Old Jail: After Dark by touring the city’s “most haunted building” in an actual paranormal investigation under the guidance of trained and knowledgeable professionals. (Our tour guides of the evening, Colleen and Fran were extremely helpful and informative.) They give an introductory presentation on the crimes committed by the housed offenders as well as the living conditions they subsequently endured.
Guests are provided the opportunity to utilize an array of state of the art paranormal investigative equipment, and upon the conclusion of your 45 minute investigation, you’ll have the opportunity to show your “evidence” (photo, video, and audio recordings ) to determine whether or not you believe the old jail is indeed “haunted.”
Personal Encounters: Lynn, our photographer’s phone unlocked on its own, and her audio recording device opened by itself in the kitchen area of the old jail: twice. The words “Help Me” and “Can’t Talk” were later heard on her recording.
My security code typed into my phone on its own, Face ID scanned me and my camera opened, while a pair of “eyes” appeared on screen (the image saved to her camera roll, before her phone locked, on its own. ) Whether you’re a believer or not, this is admittedly some strange activity, and even the greatest cynic is sure to leave the paranormal experience filled with intrigue.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: While the tour is technically “family friendly”, the introduction given before the tour includes moments of graphic, violent, and disturbing content that may not be suitable for some.
This tour is one of the most sought after paranormal experiences in town and sells out very quickly (at the time of this article, the capacity, due to distancing mandates, is 10 people), so advance reservations are required, and be sure to make them quickly to guarantee your spot.
(Please see booking above info for The Old Jail)
OLD TOWN TROLLEY TOURS
The namesake of the company that runs many of the city’s most popular attractions, The Old Town Trolley Tours offer a wide array of “perks” including “Hop On & Off” privileges at 22 Old Trolley stops, free admission to the St. Augustine History Museum and live, narrated,informative tours by friendly and highly trained guides.
Address: 167 San Marco Ave., St. Augustine, Fla.
THE OLDEST STORE MUSEUM EXPERIENCE
Our charming and convincing tour guide, Leo, armed with a thick New Yorker accent and the signature “charm” of a snake oil salesman of the early 1900’s gave us sales pitches on all the latest and greatest products of that time period, including steam driven tractors, worm syrup, record players, bicycles (don’t buy unless you have a bicycle license!), a three-foot coffee grinder, guns and more.
A trip to the Oldest Store Museum will surely have any guest reminiscing and waxing nostalgic of days gone by and feeling as though they have stepped into a real life time machine.
Phone: (904) 829-3800
Address: 161 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine, Fla.
POTTER’S WAX MUSEUM
Opened in 1948 by George Potter, who was inspired to create his own wax sculptures after a childhood visit to a museum in London, Potter’s Wax Museum holds the honor of being America’s First and Oldest wax museum. Located in St. Augustine’s beautiful historic district and housing over 145 wax figures bearing likeness to A-List celebrities, sports stars, dignitaries, politicians, entertainers, scientists, inventors and more.
Potter’s Wax Museum is a fun and unique way to learn about some of the key figures who largely impacted the nation and the world as a whole.
Phone: (904) 829-9025
Address: 31 Orange St., St. Augustine, Fla. 32084
ST. AUGUSTINE HISTORY MUSEUM
Nestled behind the popular “Gator Bob’s” gift shop, The St. Augustine History museum is divided into several galleries, each telling a different aspect of “The Ancient City’s” narrative. The museum allows guests to embark on a journey through time, exploring the great influence on architecture and culture of the Spanish settlers from 1565 to 1819 and the plight of the “Tin Can Tourists”, who gained their nickname from their preference to eating canned foods and driving the Model T pickup campers.
Phone: (904) 829-3800
Address: 11 Estey St, St. Augustine, Fla.
(Located In: Old Trolley Tours St. Augustine)
GHOSTS & GRAVESTONES
Climb on board the “trolley of the doomed” for a “Frightseeing Adventure” as your Ghost Host entertains and shocks you with true tales of city’s tumultuous past.
Hear accounts of residents long gone as you take in sites of some of the most widely recognized structures in town, including the Castillo De San Marcos, Flagler College and The Lightner Museum.
Plan to arrive at least 20 minutes early, and make time to visit Cromwell’s Parlour of Paranormal Curiosities.
Phone: (904) 826-3663
Address: 27 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine, Fla.
RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! ODDITORIUM
Experience the bizarre, unusual and just too weird to be true curiosities up close and in person, including two-headed farm animals, outrageous artwork made from unusual mediums, shrunken heads, mummy cats and much more at the premiere destination for family fun on San Marco Avenue.
Interactive games including contortionist boxes and plenty of social media photo ops are sure to thrill the kids and tweens, while older guests are sure to appreciate nostalgic oddities on display, as well as the resident film giving insight into the incredible mind and adventures of the Ripley brand creator, Robert Ripley.
Phone: (904) 824-1606
Address: 19 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine, Fla.
RIPLEY’S HAUNTED CASTLE INVESTIGATION
Guests are provided a tutorial on utilizing state of the art ghost hunting equipment such as infrared thermometers, laser grids, infrared cameras, spirit boxes, EVP Recorders, and much more, on an intimate tour of the palatial building that houses the Odditorium.
Tour guides lead an investigation of select floors of the structure, dubbed the “Most haunted building on the Southeastern Seaboard”, complete with stories of mayhem, murder, and fatalities that occurred as a result of the tragic fire that took place when the building was initially operated as a hotel.
NOTE: This is a family friendly tour and suitable for paranormal investigators of all ages! Ripley’s Haunted Castle Investigation is being offered in lieu of Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure until further notice, and group sizes are limited to 20 people per tour, so be sure to book your tickets in advance as they do sell out quickly.
Phone: (904) 824-1606
Address: 19 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine, Fla.
RIPLEY’S RED TRAIN TOURS
Take in the ample iconic sights and structures in St. Augustine with Ripley’s Red Train Tours, the city’s original sightseeing tour, which has been in operation since 1953. Our tour guide Benji, equipped with extensive knowledge of the area and armed with quick wit and humor, took us past more than 100 points of historic interest, including the Lightner Museum, The San Marcos Winery and The St. Augustine Distillery (both of which offer daily free tastings), Flagler College, and the nation’s oldest National Historic Monument, Castillo De San Marcos, just to name a few!
Phone: 1-800- 226-6545
Address: 19 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine, Fla.
RIPLEY’S BAY FRONT MINI GOLF
Since 1949, Florida’s oldest mini-golf course has offered family recreation coupled with historic views. Located in the heart of historic downtown St. Augustine, Ripley’s Bay Front Mini Golf is beautifully situated along the bay, right next to the Bridge of Lions with an 18 hole course that is both challenging and relaxing.
Phone: (904) 824-1606
Address: 111 Avenida Menendez, St. Augustine, Fla.
Although Henry Flagler receives majority credit for the distinctive architectural style for which St. Augustine’s most iconic structures have become known, the inspiration for the city’s Spanish Revival style of architecture all started at the breathtaking Villa Zorayda, which was initially built as a summer home by architect, Franklin Webster Smith in 1883.
Smith built his residence to replicate the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, utilizing sturdy and resilient coquina and concrete materials seen in most buildings located throughout the historic district.
After 20 years of residence, The Villa Zorayda was transformed into the Zorayda Club, a speakeasy where social elites could enjoy wining and dining, dancing and socializing.
Following Smith’s death in 1913, the building and many items from Smith’s collections were sold to Abraham Mussallem, an immigrant from Lebanon, who, as an authority on Egyptian artifacts and oriental rugs, kept many award-winning pieces in the home (most notably the “cat rug”, publicized by top media outlets throughout the world. Because the cat rug is forbidden to be photographed for religious reasons, the only way you can view this tremendous piece of Egyptian history is by visiting the Villa Zorayda. )
The Mussallem family have now been guardians of the Villa Zorayda for over 105 years, first, with the conception of the structure as a museum by Abraham and Olga Mussallem, and subsequently, operating under the leadership of Marcia Mussallem Byles and her husband, James Byles.
Self-guided audio tours, complete with informative and interesting facts regarding the museum’s rich 135 year history, are available daily.
Phone: (904) 829-9887
Address: 83 King St., St. Augustine, Fla.
Henry and Ester Whetstone, Florida natives with a lifelong passion for chocolate, opened an ice cream shop in the historic business district of St. Augustine in 1966.
Armed with little more than a few cookbooks and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, the couple officially ventured into the chocolate business and subsequently opened their own chocolate shop, which soon turned into a chocolate factory.
Their daughter, Virginia, eventually became the president of Whetstone’s chocolates, which has since become one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in St. Augustine, offering fudge, chocolate carved into intricate designs such as shells and alligators, caramels, toffee, hand dipped cherries, and even house-made gelato in almost every flavor imaginable.
Virginia’s husband and business partner, Bruce, was a superb guide on our chocolate tour as he made a presentation on the fascinating history of chocolate (some 4,000 years ago, in Mesoamerica, present day Mexico, the Olmec people would drink cacao during rituals and use it as medicine), the labor-intensive and intricate process of chocolate making and training your palette to discover what type of chocolate best suits your taste.
Phone: (904) 217-0275
Address: 139 King St., St. Augustine, Fla.
ST. AUGUSTINE ALLIGATOR FARM ZOOLOGICAL PARK
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park began in the late 19th century as a small exhibition of Florida reptiles before it soon became a landmark Florida attraction.
Today, the Alligator Farm offers up close and personal encounters with exotic wildlife including tropical birds, snakes, ancient tortoises, and of course, lots of alligators and crocodiles, including several beautiful and rare albinos.
Several educational shows and programs are offered throughout the day as crocodilian biologists demonstrate live feedings and experts give presentations in a comprehensive and educational format, encouraging people to do their part in the bigger picture of ecological conservation.
CROCODILE CROSSING: ZIP THROUGH THE ZOO
On your visit to the Alligator Farm, do not miss, zip through the treetops and conquer aerial obstacles on The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park’s thrilling attraction, Crocodile Crossing.
As you zip and glide across seven acres on two challenging courses, you will encounter more than 50 different kinds obstacles as you take in the best possible views of all the zoo’s resident’s: lemurs, fowl, snakes, and of course alligators and crocodiles a-plenty– just feet below your toes.
Two courses are available: The Sepik and The Nile River Course, both offering adrenaline fueled, action packed thrills on a zipline course truly unlike any other.
NOTE: This zipline course is self-guided. The Nile River Course, which is 45 lines and obstacles total, is very strenuous and takes several hours in total to complete.
Phone: (904) 824-3337
Address: 999 Anastasia Blvd., St. Augustine, Fla.
PONCE DE LEON’S FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH ARCHEOLOGICAL PARK
The timeline of historic events that took place at the property of Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is vast, dating back to 2,400 B.C, when Native Americans, known today as the Timucua, began to occupy the region that spreads from present-day Central Florida to Southwest Georgia. 1513 marked the discovery of the newly minted “La Florida” by Ponce De Leon. From 2013 onward, the property was opened up, brandishing the famed explorer’s namesake, to educate the public about the lives and customs of the area’s many inhabitants and visitors, from Native Tribes to Spanish migrants.
Exhibits include the world renowned, revolutionary, Discovery Globe, a 30-foot high life-size globe that illustrates the routes of explorers to and from the New World; The Spring House, where you can take your very own sip from the Fountain of Youth; and The Navigator’s Planetarium, which demonstrates the techniques utilized by explorers in the 1400s and 1500s.
Live exhibits take place throughout the day, including a cannon firing, blacksmith demonstrations and a one of a kind view of the ocean from the Watch Tower.
NOTE: This attraction is pet friendly and is available for weddings, parties and private event bookings.
Phone: (904) 829-3168
Address: 11 Magnolia Avenue, St. Augustine, Fla.
ST. AUGUSTINE LIGHTHOUSE AND MARITIME MUSEUM
The history of St. Augustine’s legendary lighthouse spans back to 1589, when watchtowers were erected by the Spanish crown to keep enemy ships from overtaking Anastasia Island. The watchtower at the north end would eventually become the St. Augustine Lighthouse, which, after being under the care of countless caretakers who lived and died on the property, became a sought after destination for visitors from around the world, eager to take in the sight of the grand tower that entranced so many in generations prior.
The Keepers House, which was restored in 1990, is available for touring and houses numerous educational and interactive exhibits for all ages (including At Home with the Harns, where you can learn about the house’s residents) and a Maritime Museum, opened full time in 1994, which outlines the boating and seafood industry so deeply engrained in St. Augustine’s culture, through fun interactive displays like “Shrimp University.”
Grab a treat or libation at the Tin Pickle Local Gedunk, watch educational films, and view archeological findings from shipwrecks, let the kids explore the Shipyard Playground, and of course, gain some major bragging rights for climbing the towering 219 spiral step staircase (certificates of completion are a fun souvenir, available in the gift shop.)
Be sure to return at night for the DARK OF THE MOON TOUR
Find out for yourself why the lighthouse is consistently ranked as one of the most haunted locations in St. Augustine. During the two-hour tour, an experienced tour guide (Cynthia did a great job guiding the evening of our tour) walks you through the numerous locations that guests will then have the opportunity to investigate on their own.
(These locations include the Keepers House, the front lawn, and the lighthouse entry way, entertaining us with stories of the lives and tragedies that befell some of the keepers and families who lived and died at the lighthouse.)
You will also be given the opportunity to rent an EVP monitor to further enhance your paranormal experience. Whether you show up for the spooks, or simply to take in one of the most splendid views in St. Augustine, the city lights at night from hundreds of feet above, the Dark of the Moon Tour simply cannot be missed.
NOTE: I experienced a flicker of a candlelight -type flame that appeared on my camera screen, and once I took the photo, the image showed a misty white substance in a circular shape. I took another image and the misty white substance was gone. Be sure to take your camera and recording devices as these are key investigative tools on a paranormal tour, and most importantly, watch your step..you will be in the dark the majority of your tour.
Phone: (904) 829-0745
Address: 100 Red Cox Road, St. Augustine, Florida
RED BOAT TOURS
You can fight traffic and spend hours looking for parking to see the best sights in St. Augustine, but why go to all that trouble, when you can enjoy “the best seat in the house” on The Red Boat Water Tours. Consistently named “Best Water Boat Tour” by top National Media outlets and online reviews, Captain Tony and his daughter, Savannah, bring hospitality and lots of informative facts about St. Augustine’s landmarks during this 1.5 hour cruise.
The company’s dolphin and sunset cruises will not disappoint, offering plenty of social-media worthy photo ops, sure to be the envy of all your friends (we witnessed a proposal aboard our sunset excursion, which, according to Captain Tony, is apparently a commonplace occurrence), and many additional unique tours, including a Full Moon BYOB Cruise (adults only), Matanzas Photo Excursion, and the Nights of Lights tour during the holiday season.
New, exciting, and innovative excursions are always being planned, so be sure to search for the company by name on social media and check their website for the most up to date schedules and information.
The tours are always BYOB, so you are welcome to bring your own drinks and snacks to savor while you take in some of the most breathtaking sights St. Augustine has to offer.
Phone: (904) 436-3566
Address: 260 Vilano Rd., St. Augustine, Fla.
ST. AUGUSTINE PIRATE AND TREASURE MUSEUM
One of St. Augustine’s newest museums takes guests on a swashbuckling adventure through time as the city’s tumultuous history with some of the sea’s most vicious and notorious pirates (including Sir Francis Drake, who famously burned the city to the ground) is explored with varieties of lifelike mannequins, artwork, weapons, and artifacts.
The museum is thrilled to announce its newest permanent exhibit, “Red Sea Pirates”, where a colorful appellation is utilized to identify buccaneers who traveled the West Indies around Africa, a trek often referred to as “The Pirate Round.”
Movie buffs are sure to delight in viewing an authentic piece from the mega-film franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The 5,000 square foot museum is also available for special events and parties. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might just get a special visit from Pirate William Mayhem, the museum’s world-famous mascot.
Phone: 1 (877) 467-5863
Address: 12 South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, Fla.
Looking to have an Authentic ghostly experience and avoid the large St. Augustine ghost crowds? If so, look no further than GhoST Augustine, as personalized, intimate, and straightforward, non-theatrical tours are offered by guides, expertly trained and versed in all things supernatural.
Our tour guide, Misty, was beyond accommodating, walking us through how to use each piece of equipment during our first haunted stop, where voices, activity and footsteps by several spirits, a couple who go by the name, “Jack” and “Ed”, have been detected.
Additional stops including long-forgotten cemeteries and a drive by the former home of model, actress and political activist, Athalia Ponsell Lindsey, who was murdered by an unknown assailant with a machete.
Bone chilling stories, unique locations, and a personalized touch are just a few of the many reasons GhoST Augustine has hundreds of five star ratings on TripAdvisor.
Phone: (904) 824-8840
Website: 162 St George St. #19, St. Augustine, Fla.
MEDIEVAL TORTURE MUSEUM
Gory, graphic, and grisly, utilizing lifelike mannequins, artifacts, drawings and a detailed audio guide, The Medieval Torture Museum transports guests back to a time in hundreds of years to truly some of the most miserable moments in human history.
Not for the faint of heart, the museum, filled with an unprecedented collection of cruelty, based upon historical documents detailing the inhumane practices of a time when torture and torment was commonplace, the museum is best toured with the mindset of understanding just how much pain and suffering humanity can inflict in the name of cause and justice when the right tools are placed in the hands of fanatics, madmen, and tyrants.
NOTE: This museum is not intended for children, and no one under the age of 18 will be admitted without an adult.
While you’re there, be sure to visit the MICRO MASTERPIECES ART GALLERY, a lighthearted and whimsical mini-museum, featuring miniature art bearing the likeness of historical landmarks, Shakespearean characters, pop icons, and more. The techniques for producing micro -miniature works of art vary as much as the art itself and involve painstaking attention to detail.
Curious? Pull up a seat to the microscopes and view these mini masterpieces for yourself. Micro Masterpieces is great fun for all ages, so feel free to bring the kids along.
Phone: (904) 373-7777
Address: 100 St George St, St. Augustine, Fla.
Victoria Henley is the host of Backstage Pass on FCB/IHeart Radio. She also is a former contestant on “America’s Next Top Model.”