St Augustine ranks a consistent favorite holiday destination for countless families for many reasons: history, water sports, activities, weather, and its abundance of incredible wildlife.
Only slightly up the road, you have the Jacksonville Zoo, with over 2000 breeds of rare animals, and 1000 types of plants. An excellent detour if you are an animal lover, this zoo hosts interactive and educational experiences throughout the site, great for kids and adults alike. They are one of the seven zoos in the United States which have an animal wellness team, which shows how truly committed they are to providing the best care for their animals… so you’ll find no Carol Baskins here!
A short drive south from this zoo is where you will find the most incredible array of unique wildlife in St Augustine. There are three state parks in the St Augustine area: Washington Oaks Gardens, Anastasia, and Faver-Dykes. Camping is available at all three parks, which brings a great opportunity to watch nature change as day passes into night. Not only are there birds and fish, but also land animals such as deer, turkeys, and bobcats. From simply sitting on one of the beaches, you can observe lots of the animals enjoying their natural habitats, such as pelicans and sea turtles. There are also plenty of tours available at the parks, so book quickly to avoid disappointment, as they can get busy!
Tourists not from Florida are amazed by the alligators that most locals are more than used to seeing roaming about. The St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park has been a staple Florida attraction for sightseers and wildlife lovers since it opened in the late nineteenth century on Anastasia Island. It is actually the only place in the world in which visitors can see every species of crocodile, alligator, caiman, and gharial. Not only can you see these fascinating animals, but you can fly over their heads, on the park’s thrilling zip-line. Photographs of this endeavor are sure to make friends at home jealous, and it is a highly recommended, one-off opportunity to do so. Similar to the Jacksonville Zoo, it fulfills its duty of care to its animals and worldwide conservation efforts, so again, it is a cruelty-free option.
To observe wildlife in its natural habitat, St Augustine is perfect. The GTM Research Reserve protects 74,000 acres of conservation lands and waters. Visitors are welcome to the research center to see the learning laboratory and understand how they protect biodiversity using science. This area attracts wildlife and a large variety of birds, with visible bald eagle nests too.
Fort Matanzas National Monument is not only a fantastic piece of Spanish architecture with a rich history, but is also the perfect place to watch animals enjoying their space in nature. Looking at the trees, you can see an abundance of different species, including owl nests if you look hard enough! If you walk towards the shoreline, you can spot wading birds, sea turtle nests, and blue crabs! If you are lucky enough to get onto the water, you will be joined by dolphins and manatees swimming around you, which is truly a magical experience. There are plenty of boat and kayak tours available to spot Florida’s favorite sea animals, but sometimes the noise and number of people are a near-certain way to frighten these animals away. A much more inexpensive and effective way to see Florida’s wildlife, in my opinion, would be to hire a paddleboard and explore for yourself.
There are also paddleboarding tours that you can book to still hear from a guide about the wildlife in the area, and it ensures that you are visiting the best locations to spot the animals on your bucket list. If, however, you have more of a taste for independence, I would recommend renting a SUP and heading straight to St John’s river.