How to do the Night of Lights in St. Augustine, Florida

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Aviles Street in St. Augustine, Florida.  Photo by Robin Anderson

The Night of Lights “turns on” nightly from November 19, 2016 – January 31, 2017.  These are hints from local St. Augustine photographer Robin Anderson on “how to do” The Night of Lights.  This guide provides maps, photos and links to resources to assist you in planning your visit. Read all about how to enjoy the oldest city in the nation during the holidays, whether you like to sing carols, enjoy cookies and apple cider or just cozy up under a blanket with your sweetheart!

Traffic – No matter which direction you are coming from, Historic St. Augustine was not designed for heavy car traffic.  As you get closer to the Historic district, the congestion gets worse. As a local, I have several tidbits to share.

Routes to St. Augustine

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St. Augustine is south of Jacksonville, Florida

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Interstate 95 will get you close.  Then take one of the State Roads east. US1 will bring you directly into the city from the north or south.

Park and Ride

This is a FREE shuttle service provided by the City of St. Augustine during peak times of year, such as Night of Lights. Shuttles run every 20 minutes from various points around the city on Friday and Saturday from 1pm – 11:00pm.  For questions regarding the Park & Ride Shuttle, call 209-4211 or email Mobility@CityStAug.com.  http://www.floridashistoriccoast.com/page/park-st-augustine

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Night of Lights Park & Ride Shuttle – It’s FREE!

What to Avoid

  1. A1A from Vilano Beach – Coming from the north on A1A through Vilano Beach is probably the SLOWEST WAY into St. Augustine.  Try taking US1 if you don’t want to get caught sitting on top of the Vilano Bridge regretting your decision to visit our beautiful city.  If you do get stuck, you can enjoy the view city at night, (which is beautiful).
  2. San Marco Avenue is very very congested… take it from someone who lives off of that street.  US1 runs parallel to San Marco and is only a few blocks west.  Any side street will get you there.  There is no shame in changing course, and you will get there faster.
  3. 5:30pm – 8:00pm are the busiest times!  Get there early and enjoy lunch and shopping, or get there later.
  4. Friday vs. Saturday – Friday seems busier than Saturday.  Again, just my observation from living in the middle of it.  One reason could be that a lot of travelers from Jacksonville get off of work around 5:00 and head to St. Augustine around the same time.  Don’t forget that locals are also getting off around 5:00pm and are traveling home on the same roads.  Fridays are days that my family plans to park and stay inside until after 8:00pm.
  5. Boat Traffic– I am not familiar with boat traffic into the city during Night of Lights, but getting there during the daylight seems smart.  I will say this… the Vilano Bridge is high and does not require the raising of a draw bridge.  The Bridge of Lions which is in the middle of historic St. Augustine on the Matanzas River and does have a draw bridge.  There are several boat tours coming and going throughout the night and the bridge is going up and down quiet often.
  6. Bridge of Lions – If you are planning to go to St. Augustine Beach, this bridge is the slowest way over during peak times such as Night of Lights.  There are a few restaurants on the other side of the river worth visiting.  Some tourist like to walk across or just walk out to the middle and take pictures of the city.  But, if you are planning to drive, you might want to go to the 312 Bridge which is south of Historic St. Augustine and does not have a draw bridge.

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    The Bridge of Lions is a drawbridge

Parking Garage 

The City of St. Augustine has a parking garage that is located just north of the city gates.  1 Cordova St, St Augustine, FL 32084  (904) 484-5160 $12 per vehicle, per entry.  Yes, there is street parking, but don’t count on finding a place.  It’s no fun, (for you or the locals) driving up and down the side streets looking for a spot.  Consider the $12 money well spent to our wonderful city of St. Augustine for providing a super great location for you to park.  The parking garage is as close as you could ever hope to get to the Historic District.

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The St. Augustine Parking Garage

Which Tour to Take

There are lots of options when choosing which tour to see The Night of Lights.  The traditional methods are the Trolley, the Red Train and the Horse & Carriage.  As a local, I like to suggest the smaller services, especially if you like to make friends with your tour guide.

The Small Guys:

By Air:

By Sea:

More About the Traditional Tours:

The Trolley Tour – will do the driving for you. Enjoy complimentary hot apple cider, homemade cookies and magical viewing glasses!  Tickets are $12.99 for adults and $5.99 for children (ages 6-12), while kids under 6 are free.  https://www.trolleytours.com/st-augustine/nights-of-lights

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Trolley has hot apple cider and cookies at the end of the ride!

The Red Train – the driver and guide lead riders in the singing of holiday carols and gives out free magic viewing glasses. So, if you like to sing, this tour is for you! Tickets for the Ripley’s Nights of Lights Red Train are $10.99 for adults and $5.99 for kids. VIP tickets with reserved seating are available on Friday and Saturday nights only.  http://www.ripleys.com/redtrains/nights-of-lights/

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Riders on the Red Train love to SING!

Horse and Carriage rides – For a more intimate tour this is a great option!  One price for up to 4 riders.  The cost is $85 for up to 4 riders for a 45 minute personalized tour.  http://countrycarriages.net/

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The Horse and Carriage ride give a personal touch to riders.

Check Out

Please be sure to check out some of the great restaurants and shopping around St. Augustine: Aviles Street, St. George Street, Uptown shopping, Flagler College, Castillo de San Marcos, the Visitor’s Center, the Old Jail, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Potters Wax Museum, the Outlet Mall at I-95, the Alligator Farm, the Lighthouse, Vilano Beach and St. Augustine Beach.

A Word About SAFETY:

Crosswalks – San Marco Ave. has several crosswalks for pedestrians.  If you see people standing on the side of the street waiting to cross, please stop.  It’s the law.

Jaywalkers – People are darting across the road wherever there is a lull in traffic. Many times, I have experienced people walking in-between my car while stopped momentarily.  Please watch for these people who are more trusting than I would be, not to mention… jaywalking is against the law.

Skateboards, Bicycles, Scooters – Locals especially will use these methods to get around traffic, and they can come out of nowhere.  Because they are familiar with the city, they are moving fast!  St. Augustine allows street parking, which makes visibility very limited.  If you are turning into or coming out of a side street, please be particularly vigilant.

Strollers and Small Children – Families are in attendance and they are stepping off of curbs everywhere, expecting you to stop for them.  I will never understand why mama thinks pushing her baby in a stroller into the street to stop traffic is a good idea, but I see it all the time.  Please watch for little ones!

I wish everyone a successful visit to St. Augustine during the Night of Lights!  Happy Holidays from www.RobinAndersonPhotography.com

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