Florida Family Vacations; The First Coast
Since this is the first week of the new year, and everyone is talking about new beginnings, I thought, “What better time is there to talk about Florida’s First Coast?” Not only is it Florida’s first coast, but the first coast (by over 50 yrs. from Plymouth Rock) of the entire nation as well. (See a bit of the history below). Florida has a myriad of wonderful destinations for your family beach vacation, and what better way to start your family fun then to discover a little of our history while enjoying your family holiday? Read on to explore more kid friendly fun facets about this fascinating and beautiful area, and see why the First Coast is perfect for your Florida family beach vacation.
The principal cities of Florida’s First Coast include; Fernandina Beach, Jacksonville, Orange Park, and St. Augustine.
A little history about Florida’s first coast
“This stretch of northeastern Florida coast known as the First Coast is steeped in history – and is known for many “firsts.” The Spanish founded St. Augustine in 1565, making it the oldest continuously occupied European city in the New World – that is 42 years before the English colonized Jamestown, and 55 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.”
The name “First Coast” was coined in the 1970s, when a group of representatives from local Chambers of Commerce wanted to market the region of Northeast Florida in a manner similar to other Florida regions, which had chosen such names as “Sun Coast”, “Emerald Coast“, and “Treasure Coast“. (click on links to find out more about each “coast”). The region includes all of the counties of Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, and St. Johns.
The history of the First Coast can be traced back over 12,000 years, when the area was first inhabited by indigenous Native Americans. At the time of initial European contact in the mid-16th century, the Timucuan people were settled here. Modern European colonization began in 1564, when René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded the French Colony of Fort Caroline, near the mouth of the St. Johns River, close to modern-day Jacksonville. On August 28, 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the city of St. Augustine for Spain. After defeating the French in skirmishes around the area, Spanish forces firmly established the area as their own. Spanish rule continued until 1763, when Spain ceded control of Florida to Great Britain. As the territory was taken over by the British, most of the Spanish population left the area, many of them going to Louisiana and other French territories. Many of the remaining native population also migrated before encroachment by Anglo-American colonists. After the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783, Britain ceded Florida back to Spain, beginning the second period of Spanish rule. During this time, many pioneer settlers emigrated to the First Coast from the United States. The town of Cowford, now Jacksonville, was settled in 1791. In 1819, Spain signed the Adams-Onís Treaty with the United States, giving all of Spanish Florida to the U.S. for $5,000,000.
Kid Friendly Activities & Things to Do on your Florida First Coast family vacation:
Florida’s First Coast is such an interesting and varied area that your family will love all the diverse things to do here. History seamlessly blends with the modern and everyone will find something intriguing while discovering our past and having fun. You’ll find many significant historical landmarks including one of my favorites, Castillo de San Marcos, in St. Augustine, Florida where the Spaniard’s took a stand over 400 years ago. Another one of my favorites is visiting the old colonial school house while walking along the old brick streets of St. Augustine.
Castillo de San Marcos
America Begins Here… a monument not only of stone and mortar but of human determination and endurance, the Castillo de San Marcos was originally constructed to defend Florida against pirates hunting the Spanish treasure fleets traveling along the Gulf Stream, and symbolizes the clash between cultures which ultimately resulted in our uniquely unified nation.
The Junior Ranger Program encourages children ages 6 through 12 to participate in their visit to the Monument and is a fun way for young visitors and their families to get the most out of their visit. Booklets are available from the information kiosk at the Fort Entrance. Read exhibits and view the movie in the Theater or take the self-guided tour. Attend a ranger talk or demonstration and ask questions. Then complete the activity sheets in the booklet. Completing all the activities in the booklet will earn children a certificate of completion and an official Junior Ranger Badge from the site.
The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is a 15 acre, waterfront, Historical Site loaded with fun things to do and see.
- See the stars in the Planetarium,
- Visit the Native Timucua Village,
- Watch a Cannon firing,
- Marvel at Spanish Exploration on the two-story high Discovery Globe,
- Learn about the Birthplace of European America,
- Stroll through a waterfront park where peacocks strut and shady oaks beckon you to stay,
- Visit the snack bar, picnic under the oaks,
- You can even drink from the legendary waters and see if your visit grants you the secret to eternal youth.
Get a great view of the city and a little history at the same time. The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is fun for the whole family. It’s recommended that you allow at least 1 hour to tour the site and climb the tower. The last ticket to climb the tower is sold at 5:45 pm. The site closes at 6:00 pm. During July and many holidays – open until 7:00 pm, with the last ticket being sold at 6:45 pm. Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 24th and December 25th. During bad weather, the observation deck and /or tower may be closed for your safety. If the weather looks threatening, please call us at 904-829-0745 to check the tower’s status. Be sure to shop in the museum store for quality lighthouse replicas as well as maritime gifts. Admission is not required to shop.
The original Ripley’s! You can’t go to Florida’s First Coast and not see Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. This place is packed with the weird, odd and just plain strange, but more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Make sure to get a ride on the big red train, or take the ghost train adventure, the kids will be talking about this one for the rest of your First Coast vacation – visit their website to see what’s in store!
The Pirate Ship Black Raven is a one-of-a-kind live pirate show full of music, thrills and pure entertainment! Participate in a real pirate adventure, sing along with the crew, and find your inner pirate while you see the beautiful sights of the Matanzas River. This is more for kids than adults, but as a kid friendly adventure, it’s one they’ll not soon forget. See the video below:
And just a note, don’t bother going to Potter’s Wax Museum, it isn’t worth the price of the tickets, you’re better off going to the Irish Pub across the street and getting the ice cream..it’s divine!
Crescent Beach is located in the southern area of St. Johns County. It is situated on Anastasia Island, a wildlife refuge. This beach offers a serene, natural setting and is a great place for beachcombers. It is one of the most scenic, unspoiled beaches in Florida. Crescent beach offers boating, diving, fishing, and many other attractions. It is convenient to excellent RV and camping facilities
Location: South A1A about 25 minutes from downtown St. Augustine.
St. Augustine Beach is located on Anastasia Island where you can enjoy sandy beaches, the St. Johns County Pier, a playground, pavilion, fishing pier, volleyball courts, bait shops, fine restaurants, shopping and more. RV and cabin camping areas are located nearby. Vehicles are permitted on the beach within designated areas
Location: 2106 A1A South, St. Johns County Pier
Phone: (904) 471-1596
Anastasia State Recreation Park is a protected bird sanctuary and consists of 1,700-acres and five miles of beautiful, sandy beaches. It features swimming, lifeguards, a bath house, hiking, nature trails, a boat ramp, fishing, a volleyball court, beach equipment rentals such as umbrellas and beach chairs, canoes, nature trails, grills and picnic areas, concessions, a covered pavilion, gift shops, playgrounds, and camping. Vehicles are prohibited from driving on the beach at this time.
Location: 1340 A1A South
Hours and Admission fees: Hours are generally 8:00am until sundown. Admission $8.00 per vehicle. Limit 2-8 people per vehicle. $4.00 Single Occupant Vehicle. $2.00 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
This serene beach is a local “best-kept secret” offering a wide variety of vacation rentals, lodging, waterfront restaurants, the Vilano Beach Fishing Pier, parasailing and Sea Doo rentals, and many parks. Be sure to visit Surfside Park, 3070 Coastal Hwy, and enjoy a picnic shelter, beach access and outside showers. You may even choose to charter a deep sea fishing boat or a sailboat. Vehicles are permitted on the beach within designated areas.
Location: North A1A just over the Usina Bridge, only 3 minutes from downtown St. Augustine.
North Beach offers a serene oceanside environment and two campsites. Enjoy the ocean and the intracoastal waterway. North Beach features great seafood restaurants, boat ramps, a picnic area with grills, restrooms and showers.
Location: North A1A just past Vilano Beach and only about 5 minutes from downtown St. Augustine.
South Ponte Vedra Beach is located in northern St. Johns County and just south of Ponte Vedra, which is home base for the PGA Tour, the Players Championship each spring, and the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour. You’ll find many resorts, upscale shopping opportunities and parks. However, beach access is limited and no vehicles are permitted on the beaches.
Location: North A1A about 20 minutes from downtown St. Augustine.
Guana River State Park is a 2,000 acre sanctuary for endangered species. Recreational activities are many and varied. It features two public beach access facilities, consisting of parking lots and associated dune crossover boardwalks, along a 4.2 mile stretch of otherwise undeveloped beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Swimming, sunbathing, surfing, fishing, shelling and other traditional beach activities are enjoyed here. Pets are prohibited on the beach, but are allowed in other areas of the park on a six-foot, handheld leash. There are no overnight camping facilities or developed picnic areas. For a calendar of events or more information, visit their web site.
Location: 2690 S. Ponte Vedra Blvd. Ponte Vedra Beach, just north of St. Augustine on A1A North.
Hours: 8:00am until sundown all year long
KID FRIENDLY AMELIA ISLAND/ FERNANDINA BEACH
One of my very favorite places on Florida’s first coast is Fernandina beach, and Amelia Island. They are so beautiful and a one-of-a-kind experience that would be a blast for the whole family. We usually stay at Elizabeth Pointe (listed below in places to stay) which is by far the most wonderful bed and breakfast inn I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The beds and linens alone are worth the stay. Plus, free cookies, bath amenities and a great happy hour that includes free snacks and drinks. The huge wrap around porch has lots of rocking chairs and gorgeous views of the beach below. Within just a few steps you are right on the beach. It’s a perfect spot for families, kids or couples.
Here are some fun things to do around the Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach area:
Amelia Island Museum of History
Housed in the historic Nassau County jail, the Amelia Island Museum of History showcases the island’s 4,000 years of Florida history. The Museum offers modern exhibits, educational lectures, historic walking tours, ghost tours and Elderhostel programs. As the first spoken history museum in the state of Florida, they continue the story-telling tradition through twice daily docent-led tours. Mon – Sat. 10 am – 4 pm, Sun 1 pm – 4 pm. Guided 8 Flags Tours: 11 am and 2 pm. Amelia Island Museum of History / 904-261-7378 /233 S. Third St. Fernandina Beach / www.ameliamuseum.org
Amelia Island Nature Center
Offers many programs for adults and children to experience nature on Amelia Island, including one-hour naturalist guided tours. The “Discover” series tours offer fossil hunting, fishing, shell and shark tooth hunts, nature crafts, crabbing, and more. $10/person for adults and either $10 or $7.50/person (depending on tour selected) for children age 4 and older. Open 9am-5pm daily. Must call to pre-register for tours. Feed the turtles in the lake, snakes, fish, skinks. 904-321-5082 or 888-261-6161 / 6800 First Coast Hwy A1A South / Amelia Island Nature Center
Beaches – Fernandina Beach / Amelia Island
Beaches with Lifeguards:
Main Beach Park
904-277-7350 / Atlantic Ave and North Fletch Ave, Fernandina Beach / Main Beach Park
Beach, playground, skatepark, beach volleyball, mini golf, concessions, “Fins” oceanfront restaurant. Restrooms available.
904-277-7350 / 2020 South Fletcher Ave, Fernandina Beach / Seaside Park
Beach, boardwalk, gazebos, picnic tables, paved parking lot (no restrooms). Sliders restaurant is located nearby.
Beaches without Lifeguards:
904-548-4689 / 1974 South Fletcher Ave, Fernandina Beach / Peter’s Point
Beach, picnic tables. Restrooms and showers available.
The City of Fernandina Beach offers 48 other public beach access points. Some have parking and some do not. Call the City of Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation Department for more information: 904-277-7350
City of Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation / 904-277-7350 / www.fernandinabeachfl.org
A Paint it Yourself Pottery Studio and Gifts. ChocoLate Soup specializes in one of a kind personalized ceramic gifts and dinnerware of all kinds. 904-261-7039 / 310 Centre St / /www.chocolatesoup-online.com
Fernandina Beach City Pool
A heated pool located at the Atlantic Recreation Center (not far from Main Beach Park and the entrance to Fort Clinch). Children’s play pool with frog slide, fountains for the toddler/preschooler/kindergartner. 2-3 dollars per day. 904-277-7350 / 2500 Atlantic Ave
Historical Tours – Fernandina Beach / Amelia Island
Horse-Drawn Carriage Tours
904-277-1555 / 115 Beach St, Fernandina Beach / www.ameliacarriagetours.com
A 30-minute or 1-hour carriage ride, with descriptions of the history and landmarks of Amelia Island. Tours begin at 6:30pm. 30-minute tour is $15 for each adult, $7.50 for each child under 13 years of age, and infants under 2 ride for free. 1-hour tour is $30 for each adult, $15 for each child under 13 years of age, and infants under 2 ride for free (plus tax). Call for reservations. Private tours and ghost/pirate tours also available.
Lady Bug Tours
Provides custom local history tours of Jacksonville, Amelia Island, and St. Augustine, as well as sightseeing tours & transportation to other parts of Florida. Tours for kids and adults in groups of 4 to 47. Tour guides will transport your group or can “step on” your transportation vehicle.
Island Falls Adventure Golf
Miniature golf course. 904-261-7881 / 1550 Sadler Road, Fernandina Beach
Outdoor Parks – Fernandina Beach / Amelia Island
Amelia Island State Park
904-251-2320 / 12157 Heckscher Dr / Amelia Island State Park
Located on the south end of Amelia Island. Features a mile long fishing bridge with a boat ramp on the far side. Admission Fee: $1/person
904-277-7305 / 2500 Atlantic Ave / Central Park
Central Park Is located just east of downtown on Atlantic Avenue. It features basketball courts, tennis courts, baseball courts, picnic areas, and playgrounds for kids.
Egan’s Creek Park
904-277-7305 / 2500 Atlantic Ave / Egan’s Creek Park
Egan’s Creek park is located about 1/2 mile from the ocean and has a baseball field, playgrounds for kids, and picnic area overlooking the scenic Egan’s Creek marshlands.
Fort Clinch State Park
904-277-7274 / 2061 Atlantic Ave, Fernandina Beach / Fort Clinch State Park
There is always a Park Ranger on duty at the fort and often times, some volunteers as well. There is no set time for Ranger Programs but there is constant roving interpretation taking place. The Fort staff are usually offering a first-person interpretation of the Fort life as it was in 1864 by portraying soldiers and workers stationed at Fort Clinch. Fees: Park entrance fee ($5.00 per vehicle up to 8 passengers).
Segway of Amelia Island
Ride on a “Segway” to tour Amelia Island Plantation. Tours for families (children must be 8 yrs and 65 pounds) are 1 1/2 hours long and cost $60/person. Family tours run at 10am and 2pm daily. Junior Clinics also offered for children 8yrs and up. Must call to make a reservation. Located just outside the gates of Amelia Island Plantation. 904-277-5120 / A1A South, Amelia Island / Segway of Amelia Island
KID FRIENDLY JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA
Here are some kid friendly things to do if you’re in Jacksonville, Florida on your family beach vacation:
A true family adventure, the only walking safari in Northeast Florida, go and discover the earth’s wildlife through interactive and educational experiences. With “Range of the Jaguar” and “Giraffe Overlook” along with the Savanna Blooms garden, there’s something for everyone in the family to enjoy. Check out the zoo’s:
or check out the
The Hands On Children’s Museum offers almost 6500 sq. feet of interactive, hands-on exhibits for children from ages 1-12. With over 15 Major Exhibits such as:
- Little Vets-Children can dress up like a Veterinarian and give the pets a checkup. Use the stethescopes, microscopes or check on the new born animals in the incubator. Turn on the X-Ray Viewer and check out the Turtle with eggs.
- Kids Mini Bank-Act like a Bank Teller and give loans or open an account, write checks or make deposits in your new account. Learn how money is made.
- Winn Dixie Lil’ Grocery-NEWLY REMODLED! Pick up a grocery cart and shop for tonights dinner. Then act like the cashier and ring up your groceries on the real cash registers and real conveyor belts.
- Kids U. S. Postal Office-Write letters and mail them in the mail box. Act like the Mail Carrier and sort and deliver the mail.
- KIDS TV / Radio Newsroom-Sit behind the News desk and give the Weather, Sports or Local News. See yourself on the TV monitor or give the news over the Radio Mic.
- You’re the Star Stage-Newly Remodled! Dress up in one of over 50 costumes and put on a show for the audience on the Stage.
- Wheelchair Basketball-Play basketball in a wheelchair. Challenge someone to a game and see who will win.
- S.S. Spinghetti-Climb aboard the boat and sail around the world. Check out all the sea animals in the boat. Then slide down the big yellow slide to exit.
- Puppet Stage-Newly Remodled! Put on a puppet show in the Blue Puppet Stage with one or more of over 50 puppets or in our Castle Puppet Stage and then build your own castle.
- First Adventures Toddler Room-Newly Remodled! A play room just for children up to age 3 with a built in play house, a 5′ doll house, a GIANT CATERPILLAR you can crawl through, a castle and more!
- 50’s Cafe’-Take orders for lunch in the bright red 50’s Cafe’. Sit on the big red stools and enjoy lunch at the 50’s prices.
- McDonalds’ Climbing Tubes and Ball Pit-Have fun climbing the Pink, Green and Red Tubes or jumping in the Ball Pit.
- KIDS Jacksonville Fire Department-Newly Remodled! Walk up the Ramp and Climb down the Fireman’s Pole. Put on a fire hat, boots and a jacket and then drive the fire engine to put out the fire in the house. Learn about Fire Safety.
- 8′ Train and 2 Train Tables-Buy a ticket from the Train Ticket Booth and take a ride on the train or play with Thomas and Friends on one of our 2 train tables.
- Jacksonville Police Kid’s Substation-Ride in the Police car, Call out License Numbers over the Police Radio, Learn about 911, See how Observant you are and more!
- Check out the NEW 8′ Cereal Box! Or play checkers, have a Tea party, play on the Gears Table and more…
Fernandina Beach: Relatively untouched by developers, this is a family-friendly location. It’s also perfect for couples tying the knot with a destination wedding or those who have been hitched for years – horseback rides along the beach, golden sunsets and beautiful historic buildings make this a romantic getaway for lovebirds of any age.
Ponte Vedra Beach: With the best golf in the South, it’s hard to think beyond the course. But ghost tours, historic lighthouses, wine festivals and some of the best bird watching also draw visitors from around the world.
Kid Friendly Restaurants on Florida’s First Coast:
The best Kid Friendly Restaurants according to voters from the urbanspoon.com in St. Augustine, Florida:
- Ned’s Southside Kitchen
- Columbia Restaurant
- A1A Ale Works
- The Floridian
- The Back 40 Urban Cafe
- Harry’s of St. Augustine
- The Hyppo
- Corky Bell’s
- Purple Olive
- Schmagel’s Bagels
The best Kid Friendly Restaurants according to voters at urbanspoon.com in Jacksonville, Florida:
- Bistro Aix
- Mellow Mushroom Pizza…
- Palm Valley Fish Camp
- Bonefish Grill
- Cruisers Grill
- Maggiano’s Little Italy
- Five Guys Burgers & Fries
Resaurants with Tepanyaki Tables – Fernandina Beach
Kids will enjoy the show as Japanese chef’s prepare their meals right in front of them.
Kabuki Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
904-277-8782 / Amelia Plaza, 1766 S 8th St, Fernandina Beach
Dinner served Sun – Thr, 5:30pm-9:30pm and Fri & Sat, 5:30-10:30pm
For more kid-friendly restaurants you can visit while in the Beaches area, visit Jax4Kids.com’s Kids Eat Free pages and scroll down to “discount for kids and kid-friendly restaurants”.
Places to Stay on your Florida family beach vacation on the First Coast; Kid Friendly Resorts and Hotels
Saint Augustine Beach, FL 32080 US Map It
Saint Augustine Beach, FL 32080 US Map It
Saint Augustine Beach, FL 32080 US Map It
Saint Augustine, FL 32084 US Map It
Saint Augustine, FL 32095 US Map It
Saint Augustine, FL 32080 US Map It
Saint Augustine, FL 32092 US Map It
Amelia Island, FL 32034 US Map It
Amelia Island, FL 32034 US Map It
Amelia Island, FL 32034 US Map It
Amelia Island, FL 32034 US Map It
Jacksonville, FL 32207 US Map It
Jacksonville, FL 32226 US Map It