A short drive from St. Augustine, Anastasia Island has a similarly rich history, alongside its many beautiful beaches and diverse nature. The barrier island has several charming seaside communities including the happening St. Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach. Between them are family-friendly parks, popular and tranquil beaches, and fantastic restaurants.
But what makes Anastasia Island more than just a spot for a beach vacation is its state park and historic monuments. Here, you’ll discover land that has amazing diversity and buildings that signaled the beginning of the United States that we know today.
Not sure what to do on Anastasia Island? Get a head start with this complete Anastasia Island guide.
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Things to do on Anastasia Island, FL
Anastasia State Park
Featuring an abundance of natural beauty and miles of beaches, Anastasia State Park belongs on everyone’s itinerary. The state park covers 1,600 acres of maritime hammocks, tidal marshes, coquina quarries, and ancient sand dunes, all of which work together to create the most diverse set of ecosystems on Anastasia Island.
A great way to begin your Anastasia State Park adventure is by walking along the Ancient Dunes Nature Trail. The path is the top trek in the park and begins towards the back of the campground.
The Ancient Dunes Nature Trail forms a 0.7-mile loop through sandy bowls formed within the dunes, before snaking past blooms of southern magnolias and American beautyberry with benches and views throughout. Hikers should also keep an eye out for the cute Anastasia Island Beach Mouse
Afterward, head to the Island Beach Shop for counter service food before exploring the marshes on a kayak.
St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
There is evidence of lighthouses and watchtowers on Anastasia Island going back to the late-16th century including the iconic St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. It was used to both defend from enemy insurgents and guide friendly ships into Matanzas Bay. The ever-changing landscape on the barrier island has since forced multiple versions with the one you see standing today, built in 1874.
The historic site fell into disrepair after the Second World War but was saved after becoming a National Historic Site. Now it’s one of the top Saint Augustine attractions and its towering stripes of black and white can be explored from top to bottom.
Standing 165 feet above the ground, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum offers vast views of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding landscapes. But first, you must climb up the 219 steps to the watchtower.
Other experiences include learning about life in the lighthouse with a visit to the Keeper’s House that remains much as it was when the landmark was fully operational.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
A minute’s drive from the historic lighthouse will bring you to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park. The park has a long history, having been founded in 1893. The once humble exhibition of native reptiles grew into a must-see attraction after moving to its current location in 1920.
Over time, the park continued to grow its attractions and has morphed into a modern zoo offering a great time for guests while providing education, research, and means for conservation around the world.
The family-friendly adventure will bring you up close with every current species of crocodile from across the globe. But it’s not just these majestic beasts that you’ll get to know.
There are several sections to discover that will keep you entertained for hours on end. These include the Birds of Africa aviary, the Python Cave, the Lemurs of Madagascar, and Sloth Landing.
Guests should also check out the zoo’s thrilling Wildlife Shows before finishing with a zip line adventure over the zoo!
St. Johns County Ocean & Fishing Pier
Set along the most popular beach on Anastasia Island, is the St. Johns County Ocean & Fishing Pier. The historic pier has been a fixture not just on St. Augustine Beach but within the lives of locals for almost 100 years. Since announcing itself, the pier has been a popular gathering point, a landmark for photographers, and a great place to fish and enjoy the views.
The classic wooden pier runs out into the Atlantic for around 400 feet. Its original iteration in the 1930s was even longer until storm damage forced renovations. The charm of the old pier remains, however, and walking down the end of the pier is one of the best things to do on Anastasia Island.
You can walk the length of the pier for a small fee. As you do so, the beach grows ever smaller and you can appreciate the sheer beauty of the island’s east coast.
At the beginning of the pier is a bait and tackle stand ready to provide you with everything you need for a day of fishing, including snacks and drinks.
South of St. Augustine Beach and its beloved pier, Crescent Beach is a quieter alternative. The beautiful Saint Augustine area beach curves around the coast in a beautiful fashion. It’s within a residential area of Anastasia Island so visitors will find a more local vibe, making it a great place to come, relax and simply take in the serenity.
To start your day at Crescent Beach, you’ll be greeted with convenient parking just steps from the shore. With all your beach gear in hand, you’ll venture through the park that spreads behind the sand dunes.
The beach park offers a different option for beachgoers who can enjoy picnics and spacious grass with regular trips into the water. The park is also where you’ll find restrooms and shaded gazebos.
The calming sands of Crescent Beach will be calling your name, however. The tranquil beach sees little swell on calmer days, allowing swimmers a pleasant dip in the Atlantic Ocean. But when the swell picks up, keep your boogie board handy.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, beach access for African Americans was limited on Anastasia Island and along the Florida coast. To help rectify this, Frank B. Butler took matters into his own hands. He was a successful entrepreneur from Lincolnville who created his own beach, now called Butler Beach, by purchasing a large swath of land that has the ocean on one side and the Matanzas River on the other.
From the 1920s and through segregation, it was the only African American beach between Jacksonville and Daytona. In keeping with the spirit of Butler’s dream, the beach and surrounding Frank Butler County Park are easy to access. Within the aforementioned park, you’ll find ample parking, amenities, and picnic areas for your day at the beach.
During the summer, Butler Beach is manned by lifeguards, making the beach popular with younger families. You can also bring along your dog, however, they must remain leashed. For lunch, head back into the park and fire up the BBQs.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Along with the lighthouse, the Fort Matanzas National Monument provides travelers with a tangible example of the beginning of modern US history. The fort was originally developed to protect America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, which was a prominent military settlement at the time. Fort Matanzas was completed in 1742. It’s made of coquina rock, which is a type of limestone formed by the crushing of broken shells.
Visitors wishing to explore the historic site will first need to jump on a ferry to Rattlesnake Island. These run from Wednesday to Sunday between 9.30 pm and 4.30 pm. You’ll be happy to know that the ferry is free and so is your entrance into the monument. As you wander around the fort, you’ll stumble upon intriguing period reenactments and demonstrations that help bring the fort to life.
Around Fort Matanzas is more gorgeous nature that’s protected under the monument. There are nature trails that will provide a nice point of difference to your time at one of America’s original buildings.
Where to eat & drink
Your Anastasia Island itinerary can be as relaxing or packed as you like. But whether you’re chilling on the beach each day or ticking off the attractions, you’ll want to know where to eat. Well, don’t fret.
After hiking around Anastasia Island State Park, you’ll be ready for the delicious and rich Italian cuisine at Violas. Along the A1A, Violas serves brick oven pizza and delectable pasta matched with the perfect wine.
A brief walk away is the laid-back Back 40 A1A. This local institution was once a secret, but word has gotten out. Here, you’ll find fantastic Tex-Mex and Caribbean eats plus ample vegan options.
The entrance to Baitong Thai & Sushi Restaurant may be simple, but it hides the amazing food from the outside world. Those who venture in will find classic Thai and Japanese cuisine with colorful decor. The pad Thai and dumplings will have you mentally traveling around the world.
At World Famous Oasis Restaurant, you can enjoy fabulous breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But the bright and airy restaurant pops off at night, mixing its scrumptious American fare with a great selection of live music.
Once the sun goes down, you’ll want to head to the northern end of Anastasia Island. This is where you’ll find Odd Birds Cocktail Lounge & Kitchen. The relaxing space offers craft cocktails and creative small plates, perfect for toasting to a great day.
Another alternative Crescent Beach watering hole is Sarbez! This funky, lively venue has mouthwatering grilled cheeses to go along with its line of craft beer and the outdoor patio.
Where to stay
Want to stay on Anastasia Island without bustin’ your budget? Book yourself in at this Best Western. This budget-friendly hotel is the perfect escape for families, offering self-catering rooms that can accommodate up to six people. After a day at the beach, relax in the outdoor pool and hot tub.
Minutes from the Atlantic shores, this mid-range offers comfortable ample rooms with extras like refrigerators and coffee-makers. End the day with a dip in the outdoor swimming pool or appetizers and cocktails at the on-site bistro.
Just two minutes from the Atlantic on foot, the Castillo Real is a fantastic choice for a modern Anastasia Island beach vacation. Rooms are both modern and large, with the more luxurious offering coming equipped with private balconies and spa tubs. Among the amenities, guests will enjoy an outdoor pool, fitness center, sauna, hot tub, steam bath, and on-site restaurant.