Let us stop you short from going to Miami. Of course we love the tropical heat and flamboyant nightlife of Miami just as much as the next New York snowbird, and it’s easy to be dazzled (especially as the frigid months loom near). However, sometimes we goal oriented folks need to step back and see what we might be missing in our B-lines to point A.
Case and point is St. Augustine, just a handful of hours up the historic Florida coastline, or a mere hop over the boarder from Georgia. Though it is the oldest town in the country (as in, founded by a fellow named Ponce De Leon, oldest) with the prettiest stretch of golden, sea shell-studded beaches we’ve laid eyes on in some time, most New Yorkers have shamefully not even heard of the place.
Consider this the happiest lesson you’ll ever learn.
Lesson 1: The Town of St. Augustine
Especially if coming for the first time, be sure to give yourself at minimum an extra long weekend for getting to know this thoroughly charming area. Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is awash in the type of old world charm you rarely find on this continent. Narrow, crooked streets lined with all sorts of curiosities—bars and boutiques, historic sites and kitschy retro museums, galleries and gourmet restaurants—make for copious amounts of fun exploration, day and night.
You will lose many happy hours wandering around the beautiful and surprising streets, peeking into the multitude of shops, and munching your way through the countless restaurants and cafes. With a long history as a port town, it’s no surprise that there are strong ethnic influences on the culture and cuisine of St. Augustine.
You will see a lot of Iberian flair on many menus, as well a strong Italian/Mediterranean influence. Obviously Seafood lovers will be happy as, er, clams, as will those who’s hearts melt with perfectly down-home Southern cuisine. Our hearts melted most readily (along with our watering mouths) at The Floridian, where the quirky bohemian vibe perfectly offset their uniquely healthy take on Southern classics.
Combining truly fascinating history with great cuisine, another restaurant and experience we highly recommend is the Café Alcazar. Here, you will dine in a giant, historical swimming pool (yes, you that read correctly). Originally part of Hotel Alcazar, now the Lightner Museum, the elaborately Neo-Roman space was also the recreational facility of the grand hotel. Though we were sad that the massive pool is no longer swimmable, we had to admit that it provided one of the more unique dining atmosphere’s we’ve encountered. The great, seafood-centric, Augustinian menu certainly didn’t hurt either.
After a lunch at Café Alcazar, easily cross the street to the huge estate, formerly the grand Ponce de Leon Hotel, now home to Flagler College. Though an active educational institution (lucky, lucky undergrads), the college hosts daily tours that illuminate not only the rich history of the phenomenal mansion, but also of St. Augustine itself. If you do only one thing (in addition to going to the beach) in St. Augustine, this would be the one activity not to miss.
Lesson 2: Where to Stay
Speaking of the beach. With such a beautiful town and such delightful beaches both within practically arm’s reach, the most difficult decision will be where to stay: on the beach or in the town. The Bayfront Marin House gives you both options under one, splendidly hospitable roof. Well, maybe not literally “one roof,” but the fact that this absolutely delightful B&B offers accommodation in both its beautiful, historical Victorian house and in beach front, luxury cabins, really makes it THE place to stay, no matter which option your heart desires. Both locations have been lovingly and indulgently restored by the Inn’s owners, Sandy and Mike Wieber, and their personalized, thoughtful touches are apparent at every turn.
Guests almost immediately become obsessed with the generously decadent spread on display at the Bayfront Marin Happy Hour. Red and white wines, red and white sangrias, and icy cold beer are all in unlimited supply. The ample hores d’oevers change every night and include something savory (the 7-layer bean dip is Mike’s favorite and regular on the table) and some sort of home-baked heavenly dessert. It would be too easy to make a meal of the incredibly good food and drink, were there not so many fantastic restaurant options within walking distance. Likewise, the breakfast is indulgent and delicious, and ordered the night before, can be served anywhere on the property—from the garden, to the gazebo, to the guestrooms.
Both the Happy Hour and Breakfast (unless otherwise ordered) take place at the Inn’s main house, in town. Guests who stay at this location are treated to the experience of staying in a historic home right in the heart of old town St. Augustine. The rooms, outfitted to be both inviting and comfortable, are everything you seek when staying in a B&B. The beachfront cottages, a newer addition to The Bayfront Marin House, are situated a five minute drive from the main house.
These modernly appointed, luxurious beach front homes are outfitted with full kitchens and multiple bedrooms, giving guests a more independent and private experience, while still offering all the personal touches of a B&B (most importantly, the Happy Hour!). Here, you can relax on your small deck and listen to the surf, or walk a few more feet to stroll in the sublimely soft sand, looking for conch shells and wonder why it took you so long to discover this enchanted place.
If you haven’t gotten enough of the beach (like such a thing were possible), we recommend you head a wee bit north to The Ponte Vedra Lodge and Club, a beach-lover’s heaven. Here is where you go to unwind and luxuriate, beach-side, in every sense. Be sure to get a room that is smack-dab in the sand, where you can open your windows wide and laugh like a little kid when the fresh sea air comes billowing in. The fully outfitted resort has all the amenities your heart desires, and also offers a complimentary, daily afternoon tea, just in case you were lapsing in drinking every single joyful moment to its last drop. Meanwhile, the shell-strewn beach of rose-colored sand that stretches out from the grounds and the pool happily encourages long walks and lingering afternoon glasses of wine. Need we say more?
– Ava Fedorov
For more information, please visit: http://www.floridashistoriccoast.com/
Bayfront Marin House
142 Avenida Menendez
St. Augustine, FL
Ponte Vedra Lodge and Club
607 Ponte Vedra Blvd.
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082