St. Augustine Tourist Traps

When our family road tripped to Ohio, we stopped in Chattanooga, TN along the way.  We decided against “wasting” our time & money at dated tourist trap Rock City and opted instead for the aquarium and a train ride.  We regretted it!!  Sometimes the best way to experience a city is via their kitschy, dated, or outright tacky tourist traps.  


So I polled facebook {you should be my facebook friend- click here} and twitter {I’m @SimplyStAug} to learn all about St. Augustine Tourist Traps… the good, the bad & the uuuuugly. Without further ado, may I present:

The Simply St. Augustine guide to St. Augustine Tourist Traps

#1 Most Mentioned Tourist Trap in St. Augustine… Santa Maria Restaurant
Until it closed, that is. The Santa Maria still has a great view – hopefully it’ll reopen soon with an amazing new concept! No news yet, though…
The Good: Yes, they have a great view.  Yes, it’s the only restaurant in historic St. Augustine ON the water.  But no, you should not go there.
The Bad: It’s closed.
The Ugly: People used to get sick there.  Often. 

#2 Tourist Trap according to the fickle world of facebook was Ripleys! Believe it or Not Museum

The Good: Everyone agreed that the Red Train Tours, Big Red Train Nights of Lights Tours, and even Ghost Train Tours are fun!
The Bad: It seems some grown-ups aren’t captivated by shrunken heads, carnival mirrors and two-headed goats!  I must confess, I love Ripley’s!  All that weirdness gathered under one roof suddenly makes me {a homeschooling, homebirthing, Jesus-loving, mostly vegetarian, been-happily-married-to-the-same-man-since-I-was-18 mama to 6 children} feel quite normal.  *wink*
The Ugly: We always have to speed-walk through the ghost & torture section.  I’m fascinated by iron maidens, personally, but the girls don’t share my interest!

#3 Potter’s Wax Museum
Yeah.  It pretty much is THE tourist trap.  Even as a kid I didn’t get it.
The Good: There is great artistry in creating the figures.  I’m impressed by how life-like they are!  This collection is one of the most impressive in the US.  And they have Star Wars!!
The Bad:  Would I pay to go see wax people?  Nuh-uh!! {Sorry, Potters!}
The Ugly: Nothing.  If wax people make you happy, go for it!

#4 St Augustine Tourist Trap was Harry’s!

I get it.  Really, I do.  The lines can be incredibly long.  But, facebook, I disagree that it’s overpriced…
The Good: Harry’s has live music, 2 bars, views of the water, serve generous portions and are consistent in flavor & quality.  Oh, and the Chocolate Bread Pudding.  Love it.
The Bad: The lines.  We lived here 6 years before we went because of the aforementioned lines!

Protip: Go on a Monday night.  You’ll enjoy relaxing, acoustic music and no lines!!  Or go any late night just for dessert in the courtyard. It’s quite romantic under the white lights!

The Ugly: Hmm… just the lines!  Did I mention they have chocolate bread pudding?

#5, according to St. Augustine Pics {<-you MUST visit his site! I love the way he captures St. Augustine from unique perspectives!}, is Alvin’s Island– or any massive neon junk shop…”  Unfortunately, St. George Street has more than it’s share of T-Shirt shops and purveyors of tackiness.  The only way we will get rid of them is if you DON’T SHOP THERE!
The Good: Oh, go ahead… I know you really want a St. Augustine sweatshirt so you can rub in your Florida vacation when you go back to the cold.
The Bad: Yes, we have some great bars in St. Augustine.  No, we’re not a “Quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.”  Let’s just be a bit more mature, people.
The Ugly: If your kid is old enough to read but not old enough to know when NOT to read, some of the T-Shirts can present a problem.  We call these teaching opportunities.

#6 The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse
The Good: It’s arguably the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the US!  You’re walking through history!  If you can slow down, read the signs and immerse yourself in the time period for a few minutes, it’s a pleasant stop. The gardens behind the schoolhouse are surprisingly lovely!
The Bad: It’s small.  If you’re a speed tourist, you can be in & out in 10 minutes.  At least it’s only $5.
The Ugly: I’m not gonna lie.  I’ve been scared of the “teacher” upstairs in the window ringing that bell since I was a kid!!  I’m sure she’s nice & all… I try to remind myself of Hannah of The Witch of Blackbird Pond– a nice, misunderstood woman who people were afraid of.  She needs a hairbrush.

Tourist Trap Honorable Mentions include

  • The Old Jail – What’s not to love about jailbird guides from the early 1900s?
  • The Alligator Farm – You know you’ve always wanted to see reptiles from every continent in one place!
  • The Pirate & Treasure Museum – Really? I think it’s awesome! If you rush through it seems pricey for the size- but slow down & read… do the “treasure hunt” and enjoy the experience!
  • The World Famous Fountain of Youth – Exhibits are dated but the view is priceless and you get to interact with Timucuan indians & see cannon firings.

You can see that everyone has a different definition of “tourist trap”!  As a local, I’ve come to love this city… silly and sophisticated alike.  {You can find both under one roof at Lightner Museum, by the way.}  I see Ripley’s generously supporting the community and providing unique experiences, bump into The Oldest Schoolhouse people at Chamber of Commerce meetings and hear their passion for the city and I see Pat Croce of The Pirate & Treasure Museum pouring millions of dollars into our Colonial Quarter to revamp & provide a vibrant, educational attraction in the heart of the city.  They all make me hometown proud!

In the end, I agree with facebook friend Laurel: “Personally, I have never minded being a tourist trapped in Old St Augustine! Love that place!” 


  1. Linda Allen says

    As always you provide a great narrative and a love of our city that just overflows in your prose. Thanks

  2. says

    Great post! I think it’s important to learn about the city you live in and sometimes the best way to do that is via tourist traps 🙂

  3. Teresa says

    I think the only one I agree with is Santa Maria. We stopped there a couple of years ago for lunch. (1) Shocked by the prices, (2) food not all that. We’ve never been back. I love all the other places, especially Harry’s. Got to be my favorite place to eat when we come there.

  4. Erin in FL says

    Our family LOVES the Alligator Farm!! Lots of great exhibits and BIRDS!! A ton to learn…we moved here 15 yrs ago & got a family pass…and just last year, we got another family pass. We gotten them a few times through the years…with a family pass you can take your time & enjoy the shows…and not feel like you have to “do it all”…a little here & a little there! :O)

  5. dominque says

    I do not agree that the wooden schoolhouse is an trap for my family loves it nor is Ripley’s.. Wax Musuem is okay to take pictures of how they do the wax statues and such but too much Pop culture now Like Michael Jackson,Brittany and such which could be placed behind the Tudors and Presidents which should be more important..

  6. Steve Donahey says

    I went to Rock City with my kids and loved it. Yes it was old school but that is nice sometimes. I agree about the Santa Maria. Tried it once with the wife and ended up feeding the entire meal to the fish. That may have been animal abuse but the statute of limitations has run out.

  7. says

    Sometimes I enjoy the tourist traps as they make for good honest fun. I’m having fun writing about my local adventures too! Great article!

  8. Kelly Fay says

    The Flagler tour was outstanding. Lightner is always wonderful, even to just stroll into the inner garden. The Oldest House is wonderful. The cemeteries! The Government House. The visitor center. The Old drugstore. The Fort. I could go on an on. Just do everything.

  9. says

    I happen to love everything about St. Augustine. We have enjoyed all of the above on more than one occasion. I think it’s all about perspective. What you put into something is what you want to take away from it. There’s so much history in St. Augustine that I’m always ready to learn something new. The funny thing is that I can go back to an attraction that I visited two years before and I always walk alway learning something different. Harry’s is awesome!

  10. Jane Ellis says

    People just need to slow down a bit and take it all in. It took a long time to make the history so it’s not like having to live through it. St. Augustine is the one city I could visit over and over again and still learn something new.

    • says

      Very well said Jane!! I walk the streets all the time and discover a new reason to love this town constantly! ~Allie O.

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