Our recent attendance at the 2018 Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism was inspiring, to say the very least. Based on the information we gathered at the event, we have selected a few highlighted locations to spotlight on a virtual “tour” of Florida. These articles will be released in a series – each featuring a different location. For more information on the destinations we’re featuring, please click here. For now, please enjoy our previous features on Amelia Island and Bradenton/Gulf Islands. Please note – information contained in this feature is not based on firsthand experience, but from promotional materials put out by representatives of the featured location at the 2018 Governor’s Conference.
Promising “Culture Around Every Corner”, Florida’s Historic Coast is represented by St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, and 42 miles of Atlantic Beaches in St. Johns County – nestled midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville. Among the area’s many claims to fame, it is the first continuously occupied European settlement, a military outpost, the first port, a key Civil Rights location, a beach resort area, and generally a hub of “arts, culture and heritage”. For more than 450 years, Florida’s Historic Coast has been widely acknowledged as a valuable and worthy destination appealing to an array of interests and vacation styles. Some of the region’s recent acknowledgements include: USA Today 10 Best – Top 10 Attractions in Florida (January 2018), US News & World Report – Top 50 Most Romantic Places in the World (December 2017), AARP – Nights of Lights #1, 10 Top Holiday Light Displays in the US (December 2017), Jetsetter Magazine – 9 Cutest Small Towns in America (May 2017), Money Magazine – number 1 Best in Travel for destinations that deliver the most value for your dollar (March 2017), and TripAdvisor – St. Augustine Beach a Top 10 U.S. Beach three years in a row (2015-2017).
-FUN FOR ALL AGES-
Hover over alligators and crocodiles on the challenging Crocodile Crossing zip line course at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park. Or enjoy a bird’s-eye-view of the beautiful St. Augustine Aquarium grounds and the surrounding wild Florida at the new Zip Stream Castaway Canopy Adventures. Swim with dolphins at Marineland Dolphin Adventure or snorkel among reef fish and rays at the St. Augustine Aquarium. Kayak the ocean and rivers through “real Florida” with professional guides from Anastasia Water Sports, Kayak St. Augustine, St. Augustine EcoTours or Ripple Effect EcoTours. Learn to surf from the pros at the Pit Surf Shop. Reel in the big one on one of several deep sea charter fishing boats. Climb 219 stairs to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Soar over the city in a beautiful 1935 “model” Waco biplane.
Year-round, visitors can catch their favorite musicians at two of North Florida’s most unique and popular concert venues. The Ponte Vedra Concert Hall is a small concert venue that is ideal for intimate concert sessions hosting performers such as Mavis Staples, John Hammond, Indigo Girls, the Florida Chamber Music Project and many more. The St. Augustine Amphitheatre is the largest outdoor concert hall between Atlanta and Miami, and this summer will host performers like Fleet Foxes, Brad Paisley, Hank Williams Jr., Little Big Town and may other of today’s great performers. The newest music venue on Florida’s Historic Coast, The Colonial Oak Music Park provides a venue for up and coming local artists in a relaxed outdoor atmosphere where visitors can walk right in and enjoy free performances. Visitors can enjoy more performing arts with the EMMA Concert Association, which opens its season each fall, as well as the First Coast Opera and free summer concerts at the beach, Concerts by the Sea and historic downtown area, Concerts in the Plaza.
Get in of Golf Fitness with these Great Golf Deals on Florida’s Historic Coast; participate in daily yoga, spin and golf fitness classes at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa; explore new heights at St. Augustine Alligator Farm’s Crocodile Crossing zip Line adventure; make it a SUP Saturday with Kayak St. Augustine paddle board lessons; get your swing on at the PGA TOUR Academy at World Golf Village in St. Augustine or at the new Performance Center at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach – each offers personalized instruction programs. St. Augustine Cycling offers organized 20 to 40 mile daily endurance rides that start at different locations around Florida’s Historic Coast. Florida’s Historic Coast has a Forty-two mile stunning oceanfront is the perfect playground for surfing, swimming and playing in the sun. Include a family beach and waterfront experience with nature programs at a state park or take an eco-tour to learn more about the coastal estuaries.
FUN FOR THE KIDS
Kids enjoy living history, especially when it includes hands-on experiences. Kids Krew guided tours takes little ones on a guided tour where they become one of the pirate crew, look through a real spy glass in search of soldiers, learn how to use a compass and more. Attractions like the Colonial Quarter, Castillo de San Marcos, The Old Florida Museum, Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, and the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum each offer exciting interactive experiences where kids see and feel how our history happened. One of the newest ways to edu-tain kids is with a visit to the St. Augustine Aquarium to feed the sharks and rays or perhaps learn to snorkel in the tank filled with Florida reef fish and rays.
Within the borders of the “Old Walled City”, 22 blocks of centuries-old Spanish and British Colonial buildings play host to boutiques, shops, restaurants and diverse small museums. The district is a National Landmark, recognized for being the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the United States.
Don’t miss: • Spanish Colonial St. Augustine – explore it with this Spanish Heritage Itinerary • Art Galleries and Eclectic Shops and Crafts • Live Music • Museums like the Colonial Quarter, St. Photios Greek Orthodox Shrine, and Pirate and Treasure Museum showcasing unique stories and activities
KING STREET DISTRICT
The lavish era of the 19th and 20th centuries is prominently displayed on King Street, with iconic Spanish Renaissance architecture from Henry Flagler’s Gilded Age.
Don’t miss: • Gilded Age architectural landmarks like Flagler College and the Lightner Museum • Independent films at the Corazon Cinema and Cafe • Free tours and tastings at the St. Augustine Distillery
A quiet neighborhood steeped in African-American history, Lincolnville holds many markers of historic significance. Quaint historic homes are lined by bowing oak trees and narrow streets in this 45-block area, developed from 1870-1930.
Don’t miss: • The Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center, with historic artifacts and moving personal stories • Black Heritage and Civil Rights Walking Tours
A bustling boutique shopping district lined with restaurants, art galleries, and antique stores.
Don’t miss: • Shopping at art galleries, antique stores and eclectic stores with handmade crafts • Wine tasting at Carrera Wine Cellar • Learn about the founding of the city at Mission Nombre de Dios
ANASTASIA ISLAND & ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH
History has energetic beach flair in this neighborhood that is home to seafood restaurants, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, and one of the region’s top amphitheaters.
Don’t miss: • Concerts at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre • The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum • Live music, seafood and nightlife at spots such as Planet Sarbez!, Llama Restaurant, and Salt Life Food Shack
PONTE VEDRA / VILANO / WORLD GOLF VILLAGE
A laid-back luxury beach atmosphere featuring an intimate concert venue, arts center, galleries, many local culinary choices, a state park/reserve, and a Hall of Fame.
Don’t miss: • Performances at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall • Art classes and exhibits at the Cultural Center Ponte Vedra Beach • The World Golf Hall of Fame • Guana River State Park and Research Reserve
-CULTURE & HISTORY-
You Haven’t Seen St. Augustine Until You:
Step back in history at Castillo de San Marcos
The Castillo de San Marcos is one of the only two fortifications in the world built out of a semi-rare form of limestone called coquina. Castillo de San Marcos is also the oldest masonry fort in the United States, completed in 1695.
Stroll through galleries on Aviles Street
Explore Aviles Street, filled with galleries and restaurants. Stroll back in time on the oldest street in America, now the area’s most diverse arts district.
Explore St. George Street
Explore historic St. George Street. The narrow avenue is pedestrian-friendly, filled with boutiques, bistros and quirky gift shops.
Immerse in Living History at the Colonial Quarter*
Experience centuries of St. Augustine history come to life as you watch 17th century blacksmiths rework metal into utensils, help leatherworkers craft by hand in an 18th century shop, and savor traditional pub fare or Spanish tapas – all within Colonial Quarter’s captivating two acres.
Experience a life of elegance at the Lightner Museum
Discover the museum’s full range of artwork – featuring three floors of artifacts from the era of the Alcazar Hotel, including exquisite Victorian art glass, stained glass from Louis Comfort Tiffany, and paintings from around the world.
Visit the former Hotel Ponce de Leon
Built by Henry M. Flagler in 1888 and one of the most exclusive resorts of its day, Historic Tours of the former Hotel Ponce de Leon highlight the Spanish Renaissance architectural heritage of what is now Flagler College.
Locally Inspired Cuisine, Awe-Inspiring Ambiance:
Downtown St. Augustine is a food-lover’s dream with a diverse range of locally owned and operated restaurants. Blending old world flavors, locally sourced ingredients and the hottest culinary trends, the nationally celebrated chefs in our leading restaurants are serving up once-in-a-lifetime dining experiences.
Authentic Spanish Fare
With both restaurants located in colonial houses dating back to the 1700s, Michael’s Tasting Room* and La Pentola are top-rated restaurants with rich histories and even richer menu selections.
Unique Florida Flavors
The Floridian* offers a diverse menu, which ranges from down-home southern comfort foods to lighter vegetarian options. Try the Spicy Melt or Tacos de Verano to taste a flavor unique to St. Augustine cuisine – the Datil pepper. A sweet, manageably spicy pepper introduced by the Minorcans, and grown in the area since the 1700s.
Historic Place Settings
Located on quaint St. George Street, Prohibition Kitchen* allows guests to escape into the mysterious world of flapper dresses and speakeasies while enjoying live music and memorable comfort foods. Located in the Lightner Museum, the Alcazar Café offers a casual fine dining experience in what was once the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. To left of the museum is the Casa Monica Resort and Spa and Costa Brava, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant featuring flavorful coastal cuisine. Enjoy a selection of fine wine, urban cuisine and a seat along historic Aviles Street at bistro-style Cellar 6.
A Night Out Sounds Better Than Ever
Looking for a little late-night fun after dinner? Downtown St. Augustine will not disappoint with lively locales ranging from old pirate haunts to the hottest new distilleries. We have a history of having fun that’s only getting better year after year.
Craft cocktails are in no short supply in St. Augustine. Head over to Ice Plant for unique cocktails made up of house-pressed juices and specially developed syrups. Dos Gatos* provides hand-crafted cocktails and a festive atmosphere.
Late Night Music
Live music can be heard throughout the streets of St. Augustine late into the night. O.C. White’s* outdoor patio often features local solo guitarists and magnificent views of the marina and Bridge of Lions. Tempo* promises good times, good food and live music six nights a week.
For the self-proclaimed night owls, check out the following list of bars that keep the drinks flowing and the good times rolling until 2 a.m.: Sangrias Wine & Piano Bar* (open till 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday), Meehan’s Irish Pub*, Bar with No Name* and Stogies Cigar Bar*
* Weekly Live Music
What’s New with Lodging
By the end of 2018, Florida’s Historic Coast will add 1,465 rooms – either new or newly renovated – to the St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra Beach area. Currently, Florida’s Historic Coast has approximately 11,000 rooms destination wide.
The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens in St. Augustine is a hotel like no other. Opened in March 2017, The Collector was once the home of the Dow Museum of Historic Houses, a beloved St. Augustine landmark dating back to 1790. The Inn blends contemporary indulgences, quaint touches, personal service and amenities while maintaining authenticity. With its wrought-iron finishes, fountains and period details, this distinct hotel boasts 30 uniquely appointed guest rooms and suites.
The newest lodging property to open on Florida’s Historic Coast is the Marker 8 Hotel and Marina. Providing panoramic views of St. Augustine’s historic bayfront, Marker 8 has 26 elegant themed rooms, each with a unique view. Complimentary wireless internet access is available in all rooms. The Hotel’s Marina provides concrete floating dockage for vessels up to 90 feet. Guests to the hotel and the marina enjoy a complimentary breakfast each morning, access to the Fitness Center, a daily social hour with complimentary beverages, access to the hotel’s bicycles and heated plunge pool overlooking the bay.
With an opening planned for the summer of 2018, Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort will feature 180 two-room suites featuring a private bedroom and separate living room, more than 7,000 square feet of event space, a resort-style pool with full-service poolside cabanas, guest bicycles, free shuttle service to the St. Augustine Historic District, an on-site signature restaurant and many other impressive seaside resort amenities.
The Hammock Beach Resort, located south of St. Augustine in Palm Coast, has completed a remodel of the lobby with all new furnishings and a sophisticated new lobby bar. The resort’s make-over extended to its Premium Ocean Front Suites, meeting and function space, and restaurants. The resort’s Jack Nicklaus designed Oceanfront Course re-opened in November 2017 after the course’s entire turf service was replaced. Hammock Beach has never looked better!
The Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa has completed a $25 million refresh that included expanding the size of guestrooms. An all-new Sawgrass Suite was unveiled, featuring both living and dining rooms to comfortably seat eight guests. Most exciting was the completion of the premium service wing rooms and suites that same month. Behind an unassuming glass door, guests’ VIP keys open a wing welcoming them to an unparalleled oasis. Guests have privileged golf access to the adjacent TPC® Sawgrass’ championship golf courses, on site dining, spa, pools and activities round out resort amenities.
What’s New Attractions & Tours
This year the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park celebrates its 125th Anniversary with a wide range of celebrations and special events, most notably the opening of a brand-new attraction, Oasis on the Nile. Since 1893, the Alligator Farm has provided St. Augustine visitors fun and educational opportunities to interact with every species of crocodilians, reptiles, mammals and birds. The new exhibit set to open in March 2018 will showcase Nile crocodiles and feeding shows, bi-level crocodile viewing opportunities and exhibits of Egyptian artifacts and replicas of famous antiquities.
The St. Augustine Aquarium, Snorkel Adventure & Zip line is a new Florida marine attraction. The first phase, which opened in December 2016, consists of an 80,000-gallon Snorkel Adventure, an interactive Shark & Stingray Cove, seahorse and hands-on habitats. Guests enjoy interaction with some of Florida’s most beautiful marine species with sharks, stingrays and fish feeding. For the adventurous, get up close and personal snorkeling with sea life in a natural reef environment. The Castaway Canopy Adventure by Zipstream opened in the fall of 2017 providing guided tour, climbing walls, bridges and more – a thrilling experience above the aquariums and forest.
New to the St. Augustine area this year, The Magic & Mentalism of Viktor Zenko at the Houdini Theatre, presents a show filled with incredible illusions, hilarious comedy, and adventurous audience participation.
Kids Krew Tours is specifically designed for families and kids. Your guide on this adventure through the historic streets of St. Augustine keeps everyone engaged learning the history of the city. Participants become one of the pirate crew, look through a real spy glass in search of soldiers, learn how to use a compass and find treasures throughout the city.
The ultimate air boat ride with Sea Serpent Tours offers historic and ecological excursions where visitors explore the area’s inland waterways; the St. Johns, the Tolomato and Matanzas Rives and surrounding tidal creeks.Guests see the diverse environment Northeast Florida.
Explore Tours make it easy to get around St. Augustine. St. Augustine locals Blaise Morrell and Calli Zavodney created this tour and transportation company to provide visitors with personable experience from the locals. Using Electric vehicles to transport, Explore makes traveling and touring convenient. Park your car and use the transport for an easy point-to-point $3 fare.
St. Augustine’s Escape U is an escape room players solving a series of puzzles using clues and hints that challenge guests to use their own investigative skills, logic muscles, and teamwork to solve room-escape games. Games include the Castillo de San Matanzas where players have to protect the fort from British invaders, battling their own mind in the Asylum room, and battling the high seas in the Storm Room.
A fascinating new program series presented by the Florida Humanities Council is coming to the Lightner Museum in the spring of 2018. The Humanities Speakers Series showcases four engaging talks and performances focusing on Florida’s history, culture, and people. Each of these ticketed events will take place in the museum’s historic pool area with topics including a historical journey to Florida colonial life, a dive into the cultural lore of our state’s lush springs, and an exploration of manatees.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is always one of the area’s top attractions. And why not? That amazing view from the top is totally worth climbing 219 steps. But it’s what’s under water that’s really getting attention. Secrets from the sea, artifacts, and archaeologists are part of the museum’s exhibit, Wrecked! Discover the long lost secrets of a 1782 Loyalist shipwreck and the science behind its archeological recovery from the ocean floor. New this year is the Maritime Archaeology & Education Center, with its conservation lab, research library and x-ray room. The lab provides a walk-thru viewing room where guests can interact with archeologists working to conserve their finds from the waters off our coast. The museum’s new exhibition, Legends of the Light, is installed partially in the new building’s education space and partially in the Lighthouse tower.
What’s New with Food and Beverage
St. Augustine’s newest eatery, St. Augustine Seafood Co. is the latest addition to the Colonial Quarter complex where visitors can learn all about the oldest city’s heritage through living history experiences. Other restaurants on the property include the Taberna dell Caballo offering authentic Spanish flavors and the Bull and Crown Publick House, which represents the British influences on our local culinary heritage. The St. Augustine Seafood Co partners with local fishermen and fish markets to provide the freshest quality fish, shrimp and oysters direct from the boats fishing our local waters, and they also support maritime research efforts of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum by contributing proceeds from the sale of their already popular Lighthouse Lemonade.
The St. Augustine Distillery has become one of the hottest spots in town. The Distillery utilizes Florida ingredients to produce whiskey, rum, vodka, gin and bourbon in hand crafted small batches. Since opening in 2014, the Distillery has already won awards along with fans of its products. Housed in a historic building that once served as an ice plant, guests enjoy the free tours and tastings daily. In the fall of 2016, the Distillery launched Florida’s first legal Bourbon since prohibition and in November 2016, USA Today named the St. Augustine Distillery’s Gin the #1 Craft Gin in the country.
Since the opening of the St. Augustine Distillery, new craft cocktail lounges are popping up all over. Odd Birds has attracted fans of the art of craft cocktails. Relax with a variety of small bites of eclectic fare and live music. Prohibition Kitchen invokes the spirit of Bartolo in the very spot of what was St. Augustine’s Genovar Theatre, the social epicenter of Flagler’s prohibition era, in the heart of historic St. George Street.
Distilled Spirits aren’t the only popular new beverages on Florida’s Historic Coast. Wine continues to make a splash. St. Augustine has two new wine rooms. The Carrera Wine Cellar, where there is no limit to the themed wine classes offered; and the new Bin 39 Wine Bar at the St. George Inn pours the best boutique wines from Sonoma and Napa valleys.
What’s New with Art and Music
Concerts at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre include world-renowned artists, and the “Amp’s” new Backyard Stage events – which take place in a small staged area behind the venue – are free or low cost and feature up-and-coming bands with food trucks and local artists displaying their wares. The Amphitheatre recently opened the Front Porch concert space to add even more performances to the schedule.
The newest music venue on Florida’s Historic Coast, The Colonial Oak Music Park features free concerts in downtown St. Augustine. The Park features cocktail stations servicing the finest locally produced ales, wines and spirits in a relaxed outdoor atmosphere where visitors can walk right in and enjoy performances.
The Florida Chamber Music Project provides live classical music in an intimate chamber music setting. This ensemble includes very talented string musicians that share their talents at a series of concerts at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall throughout the year.
What’s New Shopping
St. Augustine’s Uptown area on San Marco Blvd is still known for the beautiful Mission Nombre de Dios and the great cross that towers over the Nation’s oldest city. But the once quiet, empty stretch of San Marco Avenue is now lined with eclectic boutiques, a wine bar and the popular “Uptown Saturday Night,” event that brings out shoppers the last Saturday of the month who enjoy live music, libations and the chance to mingle with friends old and new.
Sawgrass Village in Ponte Vedra is a modern entertainment, dining and shopping complex, that’s shaking things up. Boutiques and one-of-a-kind stores include A’Propos Boutique, John Craig Clothier, J Turner & Co., Lemon Twist, Scout & Molly’s Boutique and the Village Jeweler. You’ll also find fine art, personal shoppers and Cocktails and Seafood Happy Hour. It’s not your typical mall and restaurant row, not even close.
St. Augustine Outlet Mall has completed an extensive $7 million interior remodel and added new stores and merchandise. Improvements include bright new flooring, inviting soft seating area, Wi-Fi throughout the mall and touch screen directories. Recently new stores opened including H&M, Old Navy, Toys “R” Us, Christopher & Banks and 2Q smoothie & bubble tea.
St. Augustine Premium Outlets has also opened new stores. Torrid, which sells trendy plus-size clothing for women, Swarovski, which sells high-quality crystal jewelry and accessories, Book Warehouse, a discount book store for children, Crew Cuts J.Crew fashions for children, Janie & Jacks children’s clothing, roz & ALI women’s fashions, Zumiez shoes and clothing, LIDS officially licensed sport headwear, and TaylorMade Golf Factory Store, which sells off-season product lines and gear from TaylorMade, Adams Golf, Adidas Golf.