The St. Augustine Lighthouse has been keeping its luminous eye on the Atlantic’s endless horizon since 1874. In the 130 years since, the tower of Alabama brick and Philadelphia iron has served as the home of light keepers, a beacon to sailors, and a target of arson, eventually benefiting from a 15-year restoration project that commenced in 1980. Today, a staff of historians and protectors is eager to share the rich history of the nation's oldest port, not only through education and preservation but also by letting guests explore.
Visitors can scale the 165-foot, black-and-white lighthouse's 219 steps to the bright-red observation deck to catch breathtaking views of St. Augustine and spot gangs of dolphins making trouble by the shore. Lens-room tours allow up-close access to the regularly off-limits Fresnel lens, built in 1873, which weighs 2,000 pounds and shepherds ships with a light that radiates for 25 miles on a clear night. The clink of champagne glasses adds an element of glamour to Sunset Moonrise events, whereas Dark of the Moon tours let guests in after-hours to hear the tales of paranormal activity that earned the lighthouse a feature on Ghost Hunters.
The spectrum of silliness is contained within three Adventure Landing attractions: race on go-karts in front of NASCAR-scout audiences, make a mark on frenemies in laser tag, or saunter and swing on the mini-golf course. (Laser tag is not available at the St. Augustine location.) Attempt each feat before going back for one last round of your two favorites, or use them all on a five-act go-kart play. The freedom of choice applies to how you use your five attractions; however, you must expunge the fun out of this factory's frenetic free-for-all in a single visit, making it a convenient way to happily exhaust over-energized tweens and tots.
Ancient City Tours offers edifying expeditions throughout the region for mavens of the historical and paranormal. In the A Ghostly Encounter tour, specter-specialists slink through the shadowy nighttime passageways of St. Augustine, leading wide-eyed fans of phantasmagoria through the Spanish Military Hospital Museum, then on to the fog-pitched panoramas of historical cemeteries. A Paranormal Investigation takes apparition activists through various bedeviled sites, ending at the Spanish Military Hospital Museum, certified by the Northeast Florida Paranormal Association as a place where ghosts are active, though sedentary and preoccupied with historical trivia contests. At the hospital, Ancient City's ghastly ghoul-guides direct patrons of the paranormal into haunted private rooms, accompanied by a digital recorder to document void-crossing encounters.
Operating out of the Northeast Florida Regional Airport, staff pilots pay homage to the golden age of aviation with tours in one of the vessels from a fleet of historic aircraft. Pilots steer the FAA-approved 1930s Boeing Stearman or the 1935 Waco biplane, both of which hearken back to the days of Amelia Earhart, when hot dogs only cost two shoes. Aboard these vintage planes they fly along on various scenic flights such as the St. Augustine skyline trip, which offers views of the lighthouse, Castillo de San Marcos, the Bridge of Lions, and Flagler College. They also lead combination scenic tours and romantic sunset flights. For a special treat, discovery-flight passengers can actually steer the plane themselves or plan in advance for the pilot to perform aerial acrobatics such as barrel rolls and loops.
Ripley's Red Train Tours range from daily explorations of the city to nightly supernatural adventures. Guests can get on and off the open-air Red Train Trolley anytime from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. as it stops at spots including San Sebastian Winery, Mission Nombre de Dios, and the oldest house. Alternately, they can embark on a Ghost Train Adventure to explore the city at night armed with an EMF Ghost-Meter. Other tours include seasonal Sunset Tours that take advantage of the long days of summer, the bay front’s cooler temperatures, and a recent peace treaty signed by the mayor of St. Augustine and the local merfolk. There are also Black History Tours that showcase local spots that were important in the Civil Rights Movement, including Zora Neale Hurston’s former residence and the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 arrest.
The tour guides at St. Augustine Bike Rentals reveal the secrets of the city where Ponce de Leon landed more than 500 years ago. As they travel by bike, segway, scooter, and pedicab, they expound local lore while unveiling the quaint and quiet streets that harken back to the city's early days. These eco-friendly transports also facilitate journeys to sites such as The Fort—formally known as the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument––the Colonial Spanish Quarter, and the Fountain of Youth Discovery Park. The Bridge of Lions leads voyagers to a beautiful beach where cruiser-style bikes can roam in their natural habitat. In addition to tours, the staff also rents out its vessels a la carte for self-guided trips.