Kathy Barnett/Managing Editor
There are many ways to safely experience the new additions on Florida’s Historic Coast starting with some new hotels and renovations at well-established lodgings.
The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club unveiled the historic Ocean House and Peyton House, offering 41 new oceanfront guest rooms and suites recently. The resort offers multiple dining venues for guests to enjoy. And in these times of social distancing, the popular Surf Deck Grille, which sits on the sand’s edge offers full-service lunch and dinner with a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. And, most important, the campus-style layout of the resort provides guests a real sense of confidence and comfort, as they don’t have to go up and down elevators or crowded hallways to access guest rooms and resort amenities.
Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will find much to appreciate on Florida’s Historic Coast. St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra Beach offer plenty of eco-excursions, including fishing on or offshore, bird-watching at key stops along the Great Florida Birding Trail, hiking through state parks and coastal areas, searching for wildlife, watching for sea life, biking, surfing, swimming or a round of golf right next to the main lobby. When the weather cooperates, you can dine outside on the veranda and watch the game.
In the heart of St. Augustine’s Historic District, the Renaissance Historic Downtown St. Augustine Hotel is a fantastic hotel designed to replicate the historic San Marco Hotel that sat on the same spot during the Gilded Age. Featuring 89 guest rooms, distinct event spaces, world-class dining, traditional Southern hospitality and modern amenities, it is so convenient to the downtown area. It’s right across the street from the original permanent facility of the famous Ripley’s Believer It or Not Museum.
Within walking distance from your hotel is the Old City Gate and walkway to St. George Street. where you can explore several shops, restaurants, live entertainment and historical landmarks. It is a pedestrian-only street and guided tours are available.
The iconic Lightner Museum recently completed an extensive renovation and now houses a gigantic collection of collections. Formerly the historic Hotel Alcazar built by Henry Flagler, a railroad tycoon, this Spanish Renaissance Revival building was later purchased by Otto Lightner and renamed. He, in turn, donated the complex to the city of St. Augustine with the understanding that it would forever house his museum of collectibles. Since the early 1970s, the building has housed both the museum and city offices. The first floor of the museum is refreshed with bright open spaces, and exhibits are changed periodically. For instance, Lightner Museum’s Illuminate: Stained Glass Rediscovered features 12 newly restored stained-glass windows from the Lightner Collection, in addition to a dramatic dragonfly lamp by Tiffany Studios. America’s Castles celebrates the opulent art and furnishings of America’s Gilded Age. Overlooking the banister on the second floor into the center where a large swimming pool was formerly and now shows off a sunken dining hall called Cafe Alcazar. At Christmas time it is completely lit up with white lights (like the rest of the city), making the property look like a magical fantasyland.
St. Augustine’s newest attraction, The Classic Car Museum of St. Augustine showcases an impressive collection of classic cars, providing visitors the opportunity to experience cars from the 1800s to modern day sports cars. With its outdoor spaces which become a stage for the collection it is becoming a very popular event space for themed parties and social distanced meet-ups.
Sabrage Sailing Charters has a 63-foot Custom Cooper Catamaran equipped with high-end finishes, and spacious decks that comfortably seats up to 110 guests. This sailing yacht specializes in daily excursions for individuals and group charter events including Sunset Cruise, Eco Cruise, Wine Tasting Cruise, and private events along the pristine waterways surrounding the Nation’s Oldest City.
Red Boat Tour’s White Pelican is a 45′ Trident pontoon vessel with a 12′ beam, that tours the area waterways and is certified to carry 36 passengers on a variety of tours. From Dolphin watch tours to narrated Historic Tour of the Oldest City from the water, the engaging crew shares their stories and knowledge providing guests with great local knowledge.
Great Eats! New restaurants that opened in 2020 include the latest gem in the Southern Table Hospitality Group crown of North Florida restaurants, the St. Augustine Fish Camp. This new location on the San Sebastian River, along with their other Fish Camp locations in North Florida, is the result of a vision to create a restaurant with a neighborhood feel, the freshest seafood, amazing views, and old favorite entrees with creative, new twists. Open for lunch and dinner, The Fish Camp’s seafood is fresh off the docks, and the waterfront dining is a simple gift.
Aviles Street is one of St. Augustine’s most treasured gems. Eclectic art galleries, crafters and important historic museums and great eats can be found here. The newest eatery on Aviles, Forgotten Tonic, is open daily for lunch and dinner and features modern twists on comfort food, an extensive wine list and craft cocktails. And like all eateries on Aviles Street, you can dine al fresco on the oldest street in the nation. On the corner of Aviles and King Street, one of the newest restaurants in the area is the Alta Maria, featuring local fresh seafood with Mediterranean influence as the main attraction. You can watch fresh pasta being made by hand in the front window, peruse the extensive Italian wine selections inside a walk-in wine cellar, or admire the painted octopus who spans the dining room.
Distillery tours, wine bars and breweries are another spirited way to explore St. Augustine, and there are several wine bars and craft beer taprooms where locals and visitors alike can enjoy local IPA’s and Ales. New to the collection of crafters is the Sailbird Distilling Company, the area’s only nano-distillery specializing in handcrafted small batch rum. They offer free tours and tastings at their St. Augustine location Tuesday – Saturday.
City Gate Spirits recently celebrate their 1st Anniversary, having distilled and blended over 50,000 bottles of flavored moonshine, rum, and vodka on-site in the heart of the historic district. And to celebrate, they just introduced their latest flavored spirits; Smoked Maple and Cinnamon Whiskeys.
The award-winning St. Augustine Distillery has added a new program – fill your own bottle. In the past decade visitors have been enjoying distillery tours and free samples of the New World Gin, Florida Cane Vodka, and Florida’s best bourbons all produced at St. Augustine’s first distillery. This year, the Distillery is offering The Fill Your Own Bourbon Bottle Experience which allows guests to step behind production lines to fill, label, cork, and seal their own bottle of cask-strength, unfiltered bourbon..
The largest annual event on Florida’s Historic Coast, THE PLAYERS® Championship at TPC Sawgrass, took place in March. This tournament is often referred to as golf’s fifth major. This year limited spectator tickets were offered and coverage with THE PLAYERS via social media was increased, PGA TOUR LIVE and of course, on NBC and the GOLF Channel to witness the game’s best players. Make plans now to come next spring.
The Mediterranean-Style, 77,000 square foot clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass is a majestic centerpiece for the club, providing TOUR-standard hospitality to members and guests alike. Blending elegant, old-world charm with modern, upscale amenities, the clubhouse features a variety of dining options, an expansive gallery, a beautiful hospitality space and an award-winning Golf Shop.