Why St. Augustine is my favorite accessible city to visit in Florida

As the oldest permanent settlement in the United States – I believe it’s 1500 – Saint Augustine wears its “Old Town” designation with pride. But there’s nothing outdated about this northeastern Florida town’s approach to accessibility—and attracting and dazzling visitors.

Given its population of approximately 14,500, Saint Augustine presents the quantity and quality of attractions and activities found in large cities. It has also earned an excellent reputation for accessibility and inclusion of tourists and locals alike. The city is constantly striving to improve accessibility for all while preserving the architectural integrity of its priceless historic buildings.

The beauty of Saint Augustine’s approach to accessibility is that everyone benefits. One obvious example is that ramps not only make it possible for people using wheelchairs to reach buildings, but they also allow parents with prams and elderly people with mobility challenges to avoid stairs. There are more examples of accessible Saint Augustine activities than space allows, so let this be the appetizer for your lavish, sensory Saint Augustine Feast.

Pro tip: City-owned parking meters and garages are free for vehicles with a valid disability license plate or visual card.

NB: Our visit to Saint Augustine was generously hosted by Saint Augustine, Ponte Vedra, Beach Visitors, Convention Bureau; However, all opinions are entirely mine.

Part of Vilano Beach accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles

Simon Locke / MyEclecticImages

1. Accessible beaches

The area of ​​St. Augustine has 42 miles of warm, sunny beaches, many of which can be enjoyed by wheelchair users.

Free beach wheelchairs

Many beaches can be navigated with wheelchairs designed specifically for fat fatigue, available free of charge on a first-come-first-served basis. For reservations, call the St. Johns County Department of Beach Services at (904) 209-0752.

Wooden walkways are plentiful

Many beaches offer boardwalks that are ideal for standard wheelchairs and those who find it difficult to keep their balance in the sand. Some locations allow four-wheel drive vehicles on the beach. These include St. Augustine Beach, Butler Beach, Crescent Beach, Porpoise Point, and Vilano Beach.

Old City Prison Museum

Old City Prison Museum

Simon Locke / MyEclecticImages

2. Touring St. Augustine

There are many ways to learn about the magic of Saint Augustine, and most of them are accessible. However I decided to take a tour, the operators and guides are smart, sensitive and eager to help.

Old town trolley tour

One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to get to know Saint Augustine is with a 90-minute Old Town trolley tour. Access to 22 all-day hop-up and hop-off stations allows you to visit attractions, eat and shop at your leisure.

The trolleys have lifts to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters. Begin your tour at Station No. 1, the Old Prison Museum on San Marco Street. There you will find accessible restrooms, and you can buy your tickets on site. You can also make online reservations in advance. If you are hard of hearing, a transcript of the tour is available upon request.

Red Boat Tours

Located on Vilano Beach, Red Boat Tours offers a variety of exhilarating opportunities to see and learn about St. Augustine from a unique perspective. Boats are accessible for standard wheelchairs no more than 32 inches wide. To arrive and depart, staff will remove the side fenders and tow the boat directly to the floating dock.

Augustine’s newer and more recently renovated attractions are, by law, ADA compliant, but the city’s history is rooted in the distant past. Historic attractions that are partially wheelchair accessible have devised innovative ways to compensate as much as possible.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Simon Locke / MyEclecticImages

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Castillo de San Marcos, part of the National Park System, takes visitors to another time. This wonderfully preserved 17th-century Spanish fort is the oldest stone fortress in North America. Use the free app and/or informational brochure—available in regular and capital letters, plus braille—for a self-guided tour of the fort. Allow at least two hours to do this justice structure.

The lower level, which houses the museum rooms, theatre, libraries, and restrooms, is wheelchair accessible.

Piano used by Ray Charles at the Lincolnville Museum

Piano used by Ray Charles at the Lincolnville Museum

Simon Locke / MyEclecticImages

Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center

Through its raw, disturbing, and opulent exhibits, this museum tells the story of black American history in a poignant fashion. Particularly interesting is the exhibit chronicling the lives of Lincolnville neighborhood residents since its inception in 1866. Leave your preconceived notions at the door and let it sit for at least an hour. Take the time to absorb what you see.

The Lincolnville Museum has guest parking. There are disabled spaces in the back and ramps in the front and back of the museum.

Saint Augustine's Lighthouse

Saint Augustine’s Lighthouse

NEFLO PHOTO / Shutterstock.com

Saint Augustine’s Lighthouse

Built in 1865 on the site of the original 16th-century building, St. Augustine’s Lighthouse rises to a height of 156 feet and offers stunning views from its observation deck. But to get to these stunning views requires climbing a spiral staircase of 219 steps.

If you are traveling in a wheelchair or are reluctant to maneuver the steps, you can still experience the views electronically via a screen at the bottom of the stairs. Newer buildings, such as the museum and the first floor of the Lightkeeper’s house, are accessible.

Timucuan House in Fountain of Youth Park

Timucuan Village House in the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park

Simon Locke / MyEclecticImages

Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park

The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is the site of Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’ first settlement in the New World in 1565. Take in reenactments of living history as well as the village of Timucuan and the first reconstructed expedition Nombre de Dios. Then sit back and rest in the planetarium. After the presentation, head next door to the two-story Discovery Globe. Then sit back on a bench and listen to the roaring roaring peacocks as you take in the fun views over the water from the 600-foot Founders Riverwalk.

Do not forget to take a drink from the natural spring, which has been described as the Fountain of Youth by Juan Ponce de Leon. Although spring is a few steps away, a park ranger will be happy to fill you a small cup. Spoiler alert: Water tastes bad, but it won’t make you sick.

Allow at least two hours in the park, but prepare to stay longer. The tracks are smooth and easy to navigate.

Pro tip: Much like St. Augustine, the park welcomes leashed dogs, so feel free to bring your beloved dog for a fun walk.

Plaza de la Constitución on Via Braille

Information sign in the Plaza de la Constitución as part of the Braille route

Simon Locke / MyEclecticImages

Plaza de la Constitución

The center and spirit of Saint Augustine since the 15th century, the Plaza de la Constitución offers a welcome opportunity to slow yourself down and immerse yourself in a unique outdoor history and artistic experience. Take the Andrew Young Crossing and the Freedom Marchers Memorial, which represents those who fought for civil rights in St. Augustine.

The sculptures in and around the Plaza de la Constitución are part of the Braille Path, which is filled with tactile graphic braille signs, developed by the Saint Augustine Art Society. An easy-to-use audio guide is also available in Braille Trail

Pro tip: You can save money by purchasing a St. Augustine Tourist Ticket, which covers a number of attractions. Be sure to do the math to ensure that the ticket price is less than the total cost of the attractions and tours you plan to enjoy.

A delicious plate of gnocchi with homemade Italian sausage served at Terra & Acqua

A delicious plate of gnocchi with homemade Italian sausage served at Terra & Acqua

Simon Locke / MyEclecticImages

4. Easily accessible places to eat and drink

The number and variety of dining options in St. Augustine is really impressive. From Greek to grits, the options are endless, and given that outdoor dining opportunities are ubiquitous, wheelchair access is more the rule than the exception.

Sunset Grill

This casual eatery offers a variety of seafood and land-lover options without having to resort to an atlas-sized menu. The tuna fish was refreshing, light and creamy with the tuna. If you like a little heat, try the Menorcan Datel Shrimp. Both dishes are excellent in the flavor department. The restaurant and rooftop are wheelchair accessible.

Terra and Aqua

Terra & Acqua, an innovative Italian restaurant, combines tradition and creativity. The gnocchi with sausage was delicious and tasty, as was the pappardelle with cinghiali. Outdoor dining is available, and the restaurant is wheelchair accessible.

Saint Augustine Distillery

Located in St. Augustine Distillery in a restored 1907 ice factory is a locally owned and operated facility that produces artisan rum, bourbon, gin, and vodka. The distillery offers free informative and entertainment tours and tastings 7 days a week on a first come, first serve basis. Tours are wheelchair accessible.

5. Accommodations for people with special needs

Saint Augustine has accommodations to suit every desire, budget, and specific needs. From wheelchair accessible rooms to dog handling, the perfect place to stay is waiting to welcome you.

Hampton Inn & Suites on Vilano Beach

The Hampton Inn & Suites on Vilano Beach is located three miles from downtown St. Historic Augustine, a clean and comfortable beachfront hotel. Amenities include a pool, free Wi-Fi, free parking, free breakfast, and more. It’s just a short walk from the ocean, and the charming town of Vilano Beach is definitely worth exploring. The hotel is wheelchair accessible and dog friendly.

Casa de Suenos

Located in the heart of downtown Saint Augustine, Casa de Suenos is a charming B&B that is within walking distance of the city’s historic sites, great family-owned restaurants, and of course, shopping. Along with a sumptuous breakfast, guests enjoy a free pre-dinner social hour and evening dessert.

Casa de Suenos has one large wheelchair-accessible room with a pull-out shower. The property is pet-free, but if you don’t need to use a wheelchair, its sister bed and breakfast, St. Francis Inn, provides the same comforts of home for you and your dog.

what to pack

Augustine’s summer can get annoyingly hot. Make sure to pack sunglasses, a hat, plenty of sunscreen, and ways to stay hydrated. Also, if you’re bringing your dog, consider buying a set of dog boots to protect your puppy’s feet from burning on hot sidewalks and parking lots.

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