Tag Archives: family travel

Good Old Times in St. Augustine

History, beaches, beautiful architecture, shopping, and fun are some of things you will find in St. Augustine. I’ve been trying to think of a category of traveler who would not find something to do in this fascinating Florida gem of a city, and I can’t.

There are so many things to choose from (museums, historic homes, activities, and tours) that it might just make your head swim. One thing my family did there recently was buy the Old Town Trolley passes. I thought it was a great way to get an overview of the city, get our bearings, and figure out what we wanted to do. It also helps you find free parking in a place where that sort of thing comes at a premium. The trolley passes are good for three consecutive days, so you can use them for transportation in addition to getting background info on all the famous haunts in the oldest city.

One of the places we visited was Castillo de San Marcos. Now, being from Charleston, I always think that if there’s a fort somewhere, I have to see it. But honestly, now that I’m in my mid-40s, I have come to realize that if you’ve seen one fort, you’ve seen most of them. Notice that I said “most” and not “all.” Castillo de San Marcos is bigger and has a little more to take in than the majority of forts I have seen. (Although my favorite remains Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, SC.) It offers a unique experience with live performers, areas that are set up to look as though life is carrying on in 1700-something, and stunning views. It’s worth the visit.

There’s a little free museum that you can walk through if you have the trolley passes. It makes for a nice, air-conditioned twenty minute stop. That’s nice when you are visiting in July. The attached gift shop is also a good place to get your alligator heads, all things key lime, and other touristy must-haves.

At the Mission of Nombre de Dios, you will find the Great Cross, which marks the founding of St. Augustine. Visiting this cross and the adjoining cemetery and chapel is actually a free activity, but donations to the Mission are appreciated. It’s so lovely and peaceful that I almost can’t quite describe it. It’s definitely a holy place, and just a special experience. Even if you visit on a hot summer day, it feels cooler and pleasant as you stroll through the cemetery, but that may be in part because of the river on which it borders. I personally feel that no trip to St. Augustine will be complete for me without a stop at this inspirational spot.

We skipped the ever-popular Fountain of Youth, but it was a stop on our trolley tour. We just didn’t have time for everything. I do wish we had made time for the Flagler Museum. Next time.

A walk through the old gates and through the Old City proved fruitful and fun. The Oldest Schoolhouse is on that stretch, along with many fine shops and restaurants. Columbia’s is where all the locals say you simply *must* eat.

Potter’s Wax Museum was one of our favorites. I really thought this was going to be a short stop with little value other than entertainment. But there was great historic value in this visit for the whole family. It was definitely fun, but it was educational, too.

The last thing we did before leaving town was the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum.  Be amazed, be fascinated, and be grossed out at Ripley’s. As you are probably aware, this is a chain, and there are many Ripley’s Museums, but this one was the original. Each location is going to have different things in it, and this one is in an old mansion. There’s a good ghost story that goes along with it, too.

This was a great little summer vacation for my family, but would be nice at any time of year. Due to the great variety of things to do in St. Augustine, I would recommend it to families, couples looking for a romantic getaway, a girls’ weekend for shopping and sightseeing, a guys’ golf weekend, or a nice place for retirees to toodle around.

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Family Fun in Savannah

Rich in history and beauty, Savannah is a no-brainer as a fun family destination if you live in the southeast. It ranks right up there close to St. Augustine, if you are making your way south or north on I-95 and need a good overnight spot. Now, I may be a little biased since I lived in Savannah for two years when I was single, but it was always on my must-visit list with my husband and son. We went over President’s Day weekend, and it was unseasonably warm ( like 80 degrees!).

Our first stop was Fort Pulaski. Since it’s a national park, admission is reasonably priced. On the day we were there, admission was free in honor of the holiday. Now there’s a great “See 3 Pass” where you can get discounted admission to your choice of historic or educational sites, and it includes Fort Jackson in its range of choices. However, Fort Jackson is much smaller and doesn’t have the history that Fort Pulaski does. Fort Jackson might be closer to downtown and have daily cannon firings, but Pulaski saw actual battle action and offers a lot more to see and learn. Especially if you’re only in town for one day, I would opt for the slightly longer drive to Pulaski (located on the road to Tybee Island) and choose one of the “See 3” destinations, depending on the ages of your children.

The Georgia State Railroad Museum is also a a great stop for your kids who like transportation. I think it’s fun even for someone who isn’t that much into trains. You might find a new hobby or passion there, because the place is so interesting! Be sure and catch one of the guided tours of the old passenger cars that happen throughout the day. My son and I spent a good hour and a half at this museum but could have easily spent longer. If you’re interested in visiting the Savannah Children’s Museum , be aware that it is adjacent to the Railroad Museum. If you have kiddos interested in both, you should definitely go ahead and buy admission to both. It makes sense.

A walk down River Street is a must. The cobblestones and the steep, uneven staircases can be treacherous, but knowing that you are climbing the same stairs that pirates and merchants used hundreds of years ago is pretty fun. Your children might convince you to board one of the riverboats for a tour or a meal. You have been forewarned. If you’re lucky, you might get to see a freighter ship coming or going. It’s quite the close encounter and pretty neat.

If you have any Brownies or Girl Scouts in your family, you can’t miss the Juliette Gordon Low house, of course. Otherwise, I would save that for a grown up trip, unless your children are way into historic home tours.

As for trolley tours, the green and orange trolley never does us wrong. This is one of those hop-on-hop-off affairs and can be quite handy for seeing as much as possible without moving your car a lot.

Where to eat? Definitely Pirates’ House. This is an experience, even apart from the dining aspect. Check the website for menu choices and times, because you might prefer to go for the lunch buffet while you’re already walking around downtown. This building has been a restaurant for a couple of hundred years, but served as a place for pirates to gather back in the days of yore. Kids get a special hat (that also serves as their menu), but what will entertain them more than anything is the ghost stories and staring down into the old tunnel under the restaurant. There is said to be an underground tunnel that leads all the way down to the waterfront. Legend has it that unsuspecting drunks would pass out at the bar, then be carried through the tunnel to the pirates’ ships. By the time they woke up, they would be out to sea, kidnapped, and enslaved.

If you’re looking for a good pizza, don’t pass up Vinnie VanGogo’s. It was one of my favorites when I lived there, and it’s still the hip place to go for a pie.

Where to stay? If you’re looking to save a few dollars, try a Southside chain hotel. You will be near all the malls and chain restaurants, but with the Truman Parkway, you won’t be terribly far from downtown. There are a few good chains in great downtown locations, too, such as Hampton Inn or Doubletree. But if you’re going to stay downtown, the fun places with ghost stories and local charm are River Street Inn and East Bay Inn. Parking costs in downtown Savannah, whether it’s at your hotel, metered places on the street, or garages.

One more thing – I downloaded the ePass app on my phone, and I do recommend it for a weekend or more. It provides you with discounts and specials all over town for dining, activities, and more. I only used it once – at the Pirates’ House – but it paid for itself after one use.

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