St. Augustine is a stunningly beautiful town divided by an Intracoastal Waterway. On one side of the Intracoastal is “The Mainland,” where historic downtown overlooks the bay. Cross over one of its three bridges to find a long, skinny sandbar of an island — Anastasia Island. On one end of the island is the St. Augustine Lighthouse, which still rotates its beacon of light to the ocean, and on the other end is Matanzas Inlet, where surfers, beachgoers, and sharks can all mingle together in the aqua blue water.
We moved to the island a year ago and were warmly welcomed by a supportive, tight-knit community. The island is full of retirees (i.e. built-in grandparents) and young families (i.e. built-in best friends), and there is plenty to do, without ever really leaving the sandbar. Whether you’re moving here or visiting on vacation, I hope this serves as a great resource for learning where to go with your littles to make new friends and memories. There’s nothing quite like that #IslandLife!
St. Johns County Ocean & Fishing Pier, Playground & Splash Park
Located at the St. Johns County Ocean & Fishing Pier, there’s a fabulous free splash pad with varying types and sizes of sprinklers, so that both kids and infants can mingle together in the appropriate level of splashy-ness. There are huge umbrella-type shades that stretch over the picnic tables, so you are almost always out of the sun. You have a view of the ocean and that fabulous breeze, too! A shaded swing-set and park next to the splash park are an added bonus. 350 A1A Beach Blvd.
On the opposite end of the island is the inlet. There are two small parking lots that fill up rather quickly on the weekend. Once full, people just begin parking on the side of the road and lining the end of the island. There is a sand pathway that leads to the Intracoastal side of the inlet, which is usually a bright aqua blue color. Set up for a picnic and enjoy the day here! Families often opt for the Intracoastal-side, as opposed to the ocean-side, because the waves can be too big for little ones. Be careful of the ocean-side of the inlet, as there can be sharks waiting for the river fish to dump out in the ocean.
Tidal Pools at Low Tide
The beach is always there and always free, and this is the biggest perk for families living on the island! For those with little ones, check online to see when the tide is low and find a shallow, calm and warm tidal pool for them to safely splash in. It’s a lot less nerve-wracking than watching them in the ocean waves!
More Beach Tips
There are lots of public beach access roads and boardwalks for walking or biking to the beach. There are also seven access roads for driving 4×4 vehicles on the beach (view a map here). Most beaches can’t accommodate vehicles on a beach because their sand-type won’t allow it. We are unique in that our sand has just the right amount of compactness to it that we can take a 4×4 and not get stuck. This is wonderful because you’re not dragging an ice-cooler, a wagon, three lawn chairs and five beach bags for a mile across a beach…you can just park where you’d like to spend your day and have the vehicle set up as “home base” for all of your beach items. Similarly, take a bike ride with your kids down the beach! Again, look for low-tide, as the sand is more compact at the water’s edge. Look into getting a pull-wagon, a rear-mount seat, a tricycle, or other kid-friendly options to make the bike ride easier and safer. If you would like to stroll or bike to the beach, I recommend taking Hammock Park. There is a gravel parking lot and a stunning nature walk boardwalk that leads to the beach.
Anastasia State Park
Locals often take their children camping, biking or hiking on the many the trails at this gorgeous 1,600-acre state park with four miles of beaches. There are also grills and rentals available for bicycles, paddleboards, kayaks, windsurf boards, sailboats, and canoes. Click here to view park fees or consider purchasing an annual pass. 300 Anastasia Park Rd.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Take the children to visit a 1740 Spanish fort! Made of coquina stone, Fort Matanzas is located on “Rattlesnake Island,” and surrounded by about 100 acres of salt marsh and barrier islands along the Matanzas River. Fort Matanzas National Monument is accessible via a free boat service (which holds 35 people at a time). Check the website for ferry times. There is also a beautiful nature trail you can take on the park grounds with your kids (don’t forget your bug spray!). Visitors can currently access the beach via the vehicle ramp, the west sand trail to the riverside beach and the west bridge trail to the Inlet. You can read about the interesting history of the fort here and here. 8635 A1A South
Ron Parker Park
There’s a lovely playground at this park with slides and swingsets nestled under twisted scrub oaks that keep it shady nearly all day long. This seems to be the main playground for Anastasia Island moms. There is also a picnic area, dog park, softball field, basketball court, tennis and paddle tennis courts on the other side of the park. 607 Old Beach Rd.
There are great “climbing trees” here and plenty of hermit crabs to look for. Locals refer to it as “the lighthouse park” but it’s technically a park created for the historical marker for “Sentinels of the Coast” and is located close to the lighthouse, the yacht club, and the skate park. The body of water it overlooks is called “Salt Run” and many moms have told me they have spotted dolphin pods with their children here. 201 Red Cox Dr.
Splash Park Playground
There’s a huge playground by the splash park under a shaded canopy. The perks for this spot is that there is both the ocean and the splash pad to help you cool down after you and your littles have worked up a sweat while playing! 350 A1A Beach Blvd.
Windswept Acres Park
This is a great little playground spot for folks who live further south on the island. Be sure to bring the sunscreen since there isn’t any shade.
Hamilton Upchurch Skate Park
If you have older kids who need to burn some energy on skateboards, pack helmets and visit this skate park for some fun in the sunshine! Located across from the Alligator Farm, the park has a 3-foot quarter pipe and semi-circle bowl as well as a few ledges and humps. 1020 Anastasia Blvd St.
Frank Butler County Park
Located on the South end of the island, this park does not have a playground. However, it does have a lot of grass for playing in or having picnics. There are also six shaded picnic tables, grills, and restrooms available. The park features a dune walkover with off-beach parking, a boat ramp, and showers, as well. 292 Majorca Rd.
Click here for more information on local parks.
Halloween at the St. Augustine Alligator Zoological Farm’s “Creatures of the Night”
While most islanders take their children trick-or-treating in the SeaGrove Community by the library, other moms have told me that they love to take their child Trick-or-Treating at the Alligator Farm… taking an already creepy critter and making it creepier! Check their site for more info on their three nights of costumes and treats and let your kids get hands-on with eerie bugs and beasts. 999 Anastasia Blvd. (Keep an eye out for our Halloween Guide to St. Augustine for more information on best neighborhoods for trick-or-treating!)
NYE Fireworks at the Pier
St. Augustine puts on a spectacular fireworks show at the pier to ring in the New Year. I’ve seen fireworks in many cities and I was completely blown away by their “Beach Blastoff” show! They put up a massive stage for great live music and give quite the music show well into the night. Leading up to the beach they have tents full of food and drinks. There’s both a Kids Zone and champagne/beer tent with a huge TV that keeps everyone up-to-the-minute with the New Year’s Eve festivities in Times Square and around the world. The 2017 event featured a rock wall, a mechanical bull, several inflatables for kids and activities such as face painting and balloon twisting. 350 A1A Beach Blvd.
Santa at the Pier
In mid-November, Santa visits Anastasia Island at the St. Augustine Beach Pier for the “Surf Illumination Festival.” This family fun event features fun activities, crafts, food from local restaurants, a wonderful performance by The St. Augustine Youth Orchestra and of course, Santa! The kids all get a chance to sit on Santa’s knee, tell him what they’d like for Christmas, and have their classic photo taken by their parents. The evening is capped off with the official lighting of the seasonal tree by the Mayor of St. Augustine. 350 A1A Beach Blvd.
Sailboat Christmas Parade
The “Regatta of Lights” boat parade at Christmas is so quintessential for a southern Christmas on the beach. Technically, this event takes place in Matanzas Bay and viewers watch it from the Bayfront along historic downtown’s coast by the fort. But islanders can technically watch it from the island by just hanging out on the Bridge of Lions. If you’re not one for mingling in massive crowds, this may be the spot for you. However, it can be extremely windy on the bridge in the winter, so bundle up! The regatta takes place on the second Saturday of December each year and features a variety of vessels–sailboats, trawlers, yachts, shrimp boats, and more–showing off their brilliant lighting displays as they parade along the bay.
Events in the Downtown Plaza
Local moms showed me this tip: For events in historic downtown by the plaza, many island moms simply park as near to the island-side of the Bridge of Lions as they can and then pack up the stroller with babies and items. It’s a simple (and beautiful) stroll across the bridge which empties out at the plaza, where most parades and festivals take place. This sure beats trying to find downtown parking! When the event is over, you’re not locked in traffic, as you can just walk back across the bridge. Be sure to check out the St. Augustine Moms Blog for holiday events and times in the fall!
Story Time & Crafts at Anastasia Branch Library
The island library is nestled in the SeaGrove Community Square, conveniently located by cafes, restaurants, boutiques and the post office. Wednesdays are usually overrun by little ones, as they have a baby/toddler storytime at 10:15 a.m., a toddler/pre-school craft time at 10:45, a preschool storytime at 11:10 a.m., and a kids reading and craft time at 2:30 p.m. Fridays also have storytimes and crafts for babies and pre-k in Spanish as well. Of course, they have fun events scheduled pretty much every single day of the week, so just check the library calendar to view all of the other activities your child can participate in! 124 Sea Grove Main St.
Music By The Sea
Each Wednesday night in the summer, you can find great free concerts from 6-9 p.m. on the beach by the pier! The music is free and you can pack a picnic or ice chest and bring blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy it, or you can purchase a dinner plate from the sponsoring restaurant for that evening. This year, Old Town Trolleys of St. Augustine is offering free shuttle service to the Pier from two satellite locations on St. Augustine Beach. The band is set up under the pavilion, where you’ll need your dancing shoes on! The genre for each concert ranges from blues, jazz, classic rock, pop, R&B and more.There are a few chairs tucked in the back of the pavilion, but for the most part, everyone is picnicking in the sand. One of my favorite things is watching all the island babies and kids dancing their heart out with no reservations! 350 A1A Beach Blvd.
There are two wonderful farmer’s markets on Anastasia Island. On Wednesdays, you can find 60-80 vendors set up at the Pier from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Enjoy the beach breeze while you shop and then maybe let the kids enjoy that splash pad! 350 A1A Beach Blvd.
On Saturdays, there is a massive farmer’s market set up at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There’s just as much art and hand-crafted items on display as there is fresh produce, baked goods, and seafood. I love that this location is under ancient live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. It’s gloriously shady and musicians set up to jam all morning long. 1340C A1A S.
St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
This non-profit museum is a wonderful way to introduce your child to marine sciences and maritime history through interactive exhibits, specialty tours, and historic boat building. They also offer camp programs and other outreach programs. Guided tours are free with the cost of admission, on the hour between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day and includes a tour of artifacts from historic shipwrecks. Visitors can climb 219 steps up the historic lighthouse to see a breathtaking view of St. Augustine. They have done a great job providing interactive activities for children of all ages. Kids can grab a scavenger hunt card pack at the entrance to the Maritime Hammock nature trails to search for animals that live in this coastal habitat and learn about medicinal and historic uses of plants. At 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., children can search for the smallest artifacts and unlock shipwreck secrets in a hands-on archaeology activity. They even have a playground area that is built to look like a wooden ship! There is also a telescope pointed at the top of the tower, a walk-in kaleidoscope, fun mirrors, and knot tying activities. For their safety, children must be 44 inches tall to climb the tower and must climb under their own power. Carrying children in the tower is prohibited. Free admission to the museum and the base of the tower is provided for the child and one accompanying adult is half price. 81 Lighthouse Ave.
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
Founded in 1893, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm functions as a modern zoo serving the public and the scientific community with educational shows and exhibits, important research, and worldwide conservation efforts. The Farm is the only place in the world where you can see every living species of crocodilian, on top of a wide range of other reptiles, exotic birds, and interesting fossils. Older children will get a thrill out of zip-lining across the Alligator Lagoon on Crocodile Crossing. Children under 3 are free, and the Farm is open on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They also remain open till 6 p.m. during the summer. Pro-Tips: Consider purchasing a Family Membership pass, and ask about their “St. Johns County Rate” if you are a local. If you buy a refillable cup from them, you’ll always enjoy free refills at each visit. One island Mom let me know that her tradition is to visit the food truck across the street in the Surf Station parking lot for snow cones afterward. 999 Anastasia Blvd.
Located on the beach road, Fiesta Falls is an 18-hole miniature golf course with 8 waterfalls, caves, a 65-foot Spanish ship and a view of the ocean from the mountaintop gazebo. Open 7 days a week, you can even play under the stars on the lighted course that is often open till 10:30 at night. If you walk over to the Inn, the kids can also enjoy some soft-serve ice cream. 810 A1a Beach Blvd.
Anastasia Minature Golf is located near the Alligator Farm and is another great 18-hole course that has a beautiful ship the children can enter, as well as waterfalls and tunnels. The children can even feed their Japanese Koi fish. The course is open until 10 p.m., 7 days a week. 701 Anastasia Blvd.
Take the kids out for family bowling night! Anastasia Lanes has 24 lanes, bumpers, and tasty food. You can usually find them open on holidays, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. Check for deals such as Two-for-Tuesday (Buy one game, get two games free), and Dollar Mania Wednesday ($1 games in the evenings). Games are $1.99 on Sundays and they have “Cosmic Bowling” on Fridays and Saturdays, where the lights are turned off and the black lights are turned on. Pro Tips: In the spring, you can register your children on KidsBowlFree.com and select the alley closest to you. The children will be able to bowl for free through October 31st, and only have to pay for their bowling shoe rental ($4.59). Also, Anastasia Lanes regularly has Groupons available for 2, 4 and 6 people. One of the current deals allows you to bowl for free year-round for just $23. 3245 A1A S.
The island is chock-full of great restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, diners, and more. Here are just a few of my personal faves on the beach. I look forward to hearing all of your recommendations, too!
This beach-front restaurant on A-Street has a natural ‘sandbox’ area marked off the kids, that is nestled between sand dunes. The area is littered with fun beach toys, such as sand castle buckets, shovels, and toy trucks. The kids make new friends and entertain themselves while parents can enjoy a meal on the patio with relative peace while keeping a watchful eye on them. 2 A St.
This Aussie-style coffee shop offers Australian meat pies and great coffee. The reason it’s a fave for parents is the back patio that is tucked safely away from the busy beach road. The picnic tables are all under shade and the children can play nearby in the outdoors. Along the side of Kookaburra is a to-go window for Crave, a partnership restaurant that is also a food truck. Crave offers really healthy (and delicious) food options for lunch, such as wraps and smoothies. So if you’re looking for an iced-coffee and healthy lunch option, this combo is perfect for a beach-breeze lunch! 647 A1A Beach Blvd.
Cone Heads Ice Cream
There are many ice cream shops on the island that I’ve yet to try out, but I love this cozy little place that is right on the beach. It’s easy to get to after a hot day of swimming in the ocean. 570 A1A Beach Blvd.
A1A Burrito Works/Taco Shop
We try to stay outside as much as possible, and it just feels easier to come-and-go with a baby that might spontaneously burst into tears. So for that reason, the Taco Shop is another one of my go-to places with our child. All of the seating is outdoors on picnic tables under the palms and the food is served up at an outdoor window. We can enjoy the breeze and jet out as soon as we’re done scarfing down our California burritos and fish tacos. 671 A1A Beach Blvd.
These places are not technically on Anastasia Island, but on the islands further south. They are short road-trips down the A1A that island moms often take to have fun with their kids.
Located 18 miles south of St. Augustine on the A1A (about 4 miles from the Inlet), Marineland is a very tiny town (in 2000, there were only 6 people who lived here, and in 2010, just 16 people!). Marineland was one of Florida’s very first theme parks! Take the kids to visit Marineland Dolphin Adventure, the world’s first oceanarium, where you can view their series of dolphin habitats, and even swim with the dolphins. 9600 Oceanshore Blvd.
Washington Oaks State Park
Just south of Marineland and near Palm Coast, FL, this state park is most famous for its formal gardens and link to a relative of George Washington, but it also preserves the original habitat of a northeast Florida barrier island. Take the children to wander the gardens and look out for manatees and dolphins in the Matanzas River. Don’t forget your camera, because it makes for such a perfect setting for family photos! Consider packing a picnic basket and enjoying lunch under the shade of the many ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd. Palm Coast, FL
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