Located across the street from Lighthouse Park and Cox Recreation Facility (both maintained by the city of St. Augustine), the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum complex features indoor and outdoor exhibits, walking trails, special programs and events, and the opportunity to climb to the top of the lighthouse.
Built in 1856, the first watchtower was 350 yards closer to the ocean than the current complex. The second tower, 165 feet tall, followed less than 20 years later, including the addition of the 1876 home for Head Keeper William Harn, Assistant Keeper Joseph Rantia and their families. Lightkeepers tended to the lighthouse until the mid 1950s when the light became automated. The Junior Service League saved the property from being bulldozed in the 1970s and spent almost 20 years restoring the lighthouse tower, innkeeper’s home, and the original Fresnel lens. The museum officially opened in 1994 with a collection of over 19,000 artifacts and documents providing a timeline of the history of the lighthouse, its occupants, and the greater St. Augustine area.
10 Ways to Explore the St Augustine Lighthouse and Museum Complex:
- Look out for seven Story Sticks, located throughout the property, that tell the story of daily life at the Light Station, including features on the keeper, the women and children who lived on site, the guardsmen, and even Smokey, the cat!
- Watch the Restoration Story video in the Visitor Center and learn about the history of the lighthouse and museum.
- Walk the Maritime Hammock nature trail, which includes short 15 minute loops (watch out for vines hanging from the oak trees) and longer trails throughout the property. There are also over two dozen flowers blooming at various times throughout the year.
- Tour the historic 1876 Lighthouse Keeper’s home. The home has three floors of exhibits, including interactive displays, restored rooms from the late 1880s with personal artifacts, and a second floor special exhibit featuring the shrimping industry. The basement exhibit showcases shipwrecked artifacts dating all the way back to the American Revolution.
- Climb the 219 steps (that’s 14 stories!) to the top of the lighthouse and climb out onto the 360 degree balcony to see views of Anastasia Island, downtown St. Augustine, Vilano Beach, and as far as 20 miles away on a clear day. There are 8 landings along the climb to pause and rest or let other groups come up or down the spiral staircase.
Note: During the summer of 2022 when we visited, the lighthouse was being painted
- Play in the outdoor Shipyard Play area in the Little Keepers Club, best suited for the under 44” crowd who won’t be able to climb inside the lighthouse. Kids will also enjoy pretending to set sail on a variety of wooden miniature rowboats and sailboats.
- Practice knotting tying skills and test your strength with various pulleys.
- Watch a daily demonstration of boat building in the outdoor Maritime Heritage Boatworks workshop.
- Check out the kid centered activities, including a puppet theater and ship model displays, in the Maritime Education Center.
- Peek inside the WWII US Coast Guard Quarters, which houses six Coast Guardsmen during World War II. Today, the building features an exhibit describing their life during World War II and the threat of attack on nearby oil tankers.
Looking for other nearby fun in St. Augustine? Check out our posts featuring Alligator Farm, (less than 5 minutes away), the Fountain of Youth, Castillo de San Marco National Monument, Lightner Museum, and our full City Guide to St. Augustine. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Disclosure: My family was given a media pass to explore the Lighthouse and Museum from the St. Augustine/ Ponte Verda tourism office; all opinions expressed are my own.