Why the Oldest City in the Continental U.S. Should Be Your Next Destination for a Girls Getaway
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
If you're lucky enough to have a group of gal pals who love to travel, chances are you've been there, done that when it comes to popular getaways like Miami, Las Vegas, and Nashville. When it's time for your friend group to expand their travel repertoire and try something new, consider heading to northern Florida's Historic Coast for a stay in charming St. Augustine.
It may be the oldest city in the continental U.S. — founded by Spaniards in 1565 (indigenous people lived there long before) — but St. Augustine has a youthful energy that vibrates throughout its brick-paved streets. Whether you're in your 20s looking to have a different kind of travel experience, or you're at the stage where the mayhem of packed nightclubs is no longer appealing, St. Augustine has something for every friend group.
Here are all the ingredients for your perfect girls getaway in St. Augustine.
The first thing you might notice about St. Augustine is that it's chock-full of photo ops worthy of showing off on social media.
Thanks to its centuries-old foundations, St. Augustine is home to a mixture of beautiful architectural styles. A stroll through the quaint streets of downtown allows visitors to admire the colonial homes with their often-colorful facades and wooden balconies. Popular Southern styles also come into play with homes that have wraparound porches painted in pristine shades of white. Plus, you can't miss the grandeur of the Spanish Renaissance architecture seen at Flagler College, which includes Tiffany stained-glass windows.
And that's just downtown. The beaches, lighthouse, and Bridge of Lions are all a must. Long story short, you'll want to pack your best outfits and strike a pose.
All that exploring, photo snapping, and laughing with friends is bound to make you work up an appetite. Despite St. Augustine's relatively small size, the city is a foodie haven with restaurants featuring a variety of global influences. The main attraction, however, is the homegrown Florida cuisine, with its focus on locally caught seafood, fresh ingredients, and Southern classics.
There's no better place to start than The Floridian, an aptly named downtown eatery. There, you'll find fried green tomatoes (a must), buttermilk biscuits served with braised pork belly and hot sauce honey, creamy goat cheese grits topped with blackened seafood and a ginger-passionfruit reduction, and so much more.
Meanwhile at Catch 27, daily deliveries of freshly caught seafood are prepared with a unique twist (think deviled eggs BLT with a fried oyster and gumbo empanadas filled with St. Augustine shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken, and crawfish). And don't miss out on the signature dessert: donut bread pudding smothered in rum caramel, espresso whipped cream, and cinnamon streusel.
For the indecisive eaters who want it all, a food tour by The Tasting Tours company offers the opportunity to sample some of the best dishes and drinks in St. Augustine. To top it all off, this business is women-owned, so you'll be adding an extra bit of girl power to your girls getaway.
A Touch of Adventure
While strolling through St. Augustine is entertaining enough, there are also plenty of ways to amp up the adventure factor with some outdoorsy fun. Though there are several companies in the area that offer on-water experiences, St. Augustine Eco Tours makes sure its guests leave with great photos and a better understanding of the local history and wildlife.
Offering boating, sailing, and kayaking tours featuring an expert guide, a trip with St. Augustine Eco Tours is your best bet for spotting the two types of beloved dolphins that live in the waters surrounding the city. Along the way, an interpretive naturalist will explain dolphin behavior, birdlife, and more. Though wildlife sightings are not guaranteed, these experiences don't disappoint either way.
If eating all that fresh seafood leaves you inspired to catch some of your own, St. Augustine is also the perfect place to go fishing. Whether you're looking for a relaxing day of fishing on the calm intercoastal waterways or want a high seas adventure with some deep-sea fishing, you can try it all with Sea Love Charters. To complete your experience and show off all the fish you caught, head to Kingfish Grill, where they'll prepare your catch in multiple ways: blackened, fried, grilled, and jerk style.
Rest and Relaxation
Though some travelers love to pack it all in on a trip, hopping from one activity to the next, St. Augustine is also the perfect place to unwind. Plus, you couldn't possibly come to the Sunshine State without visiting the beach, so be sure to make your way to St. Augustine Beach. Beyond the sand and sea, this beach — one of the most popular in the area — offers restaurants and a beachfront park with a fishing pier, pavilion, splash park, and sand volleyball courts. For an experience that takes you away from the city and immerses you in nature, head to the beach at Anastasia State Park, where you can also explore sand dunes on a nature trail and keep an eye out for the many birds that call the area home.
Lounging by the beach is certainly relaxing, but for the friend group that likes to treat themselves with some indulgences, there's the Salt Spa St. Augustine, which offers a variety of massages and other treatments using Himalayan salt. The facility also provides a salt bath, where you can soak in a sensory deprivation tank, and a salt cave that has a soothing glow and cool temperatures.
Just the Right Nightlife
You won't find any raucous nightclubs in St. Augustine, but the downtown area comes to life after dark and offers plenty of entertainment with its many pubs and late-night dining venues. Check out Ancient City Brewing for some craft beer, or head to one of several Irish pubs for a classic pint. Wine lovers will enjoy a visit to the San Sebastian Winery, which has complimentary tours and wine tastings hosted seven days a week. It's also home to a rooftop bar, perfect for catching the sunset, enjoying some live music, and sipping on wine, sangria, or beer.
And if your friends are into a different kind of nightlife — the paranormal kind — St. Augustine is also known for its ghost tours. A city that old has plenty of ghost stories to tell.
Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but she's always on the lookout for her next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.