A Romantic Beach Vacation in St. Augustine
The Romantic History of the "Old City" Extends To Area Beaches
Emerging from our car, weary after a long drive, I noticed the sharp, salty smell of the Atlantic Ocean and the steady rumble of waves just yards away. My husband, Nate, and I entered our beach house, a cozy two-story bungalow on St. Augustine Beach, complete with a spiral staircase and sundeck. We immediately lit a fire and snuggled on the plush couch, clinking glasses of San Sebastian Castillo Red, a local wine that had been left for us on the kitchen table.
We were craving fresh seafood, so we toured our beach neighborhood and settled on the Conch House, a waterfront restaurant specializing in seafood and Caribbean-style cuisine. Its signature spicy Minorcan Conch Chowder was the best I’d ever had. We dined in privacy in one of the restaurant’s "grass huts," booths that jut out over the water and are covered with tiki umbrellas.
Next morning, we headed straight to the GTM Research Reserve, located farther north along the coast. There, we hiked past salt marshes and oyster beds, through hammock, scrub and flatwoods, out to the Tolomato River. The reserve boasts more than nine miles of nature trails for both hiking and biking, as well as beach dune walkovers that lead to a beautiful coquina sand Atlantic beach.
Hungry after hiking, we dined nearby at The Reef Restaurant, which offers indoor and outdoor seating and great views of the ocean. We began with Prime Rib Stuffed Mushrooms – caps filled with shaved prime rib and garlic herb cheese. My Chicken St. Augustine, chicken stuffed with crab, roasted red peppers and asparagus, was delicious, as was Nate’s Seared Tuna Duo, twin ahi steaks, one herb-crusted and one sesame-seed-crusted.
We drove back toward the house, stopping at the black-and-white-striped St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Stomachs full, we worked our way up 219 steps to the bright red lantern for a breathtaking, panoramic view of St. Augustine and its beaches and waterways. Locals say the romantic, historic structure is one of the best places to propose marriage. And each night of the full moon, the lighthouse hosts sunset/moonrise champagne toasts atop the tower.
Back at our beach house, we prepared for our night on the town. While we had come to St. Augustine Beach for a relaxing beach vacation, we planned to spend at least one night taking advantage of downtown St. Augustine’s charms.
We started with cocktails at the Tini Martini Bar, a charming lounge with indoor and outdoor patio seating on the first floor of the Casablanca Inn Bed & Breakfast. From there, we walked to Michael’s where we dined on small plates of delectable grilled shrimp, juicy hangar steak, cheeses and flatbreads, and sipped a fine pinot noir. After dinner, we strolled around town, stopping to check out the Love Tree – a palm tree growing out of an oak – on Cordova Street.
Next morning we drove the short distance to Anastasia State Park, where we walked the broad, expansive beach, watching surfers catching waves. The park also offers nature trails through a hammock forest, as well as kayaking and canoeing on the Salt Run, a tidal salt marsh. A store inside the park sells camping and fishing supplies and rents bicycles, canoes, sailboards, paddleboats and kayaks.
Afterward, we decided to check out St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. We toured the fortress’s ancient first-floor rooms and dungeons, and then climbed to the top for a stunning view of Matanzas Bay. We walked around to the part of the fort’s exterior lawn that’s popular for wedding ceremonies.
After all that walking, we decided to treat ourselves to a snack from one of St. Augustine’s craft donut bakeries. As we strolled down St. King Street, the heady aroma of baking pastries hit us before we even reached The Donut Experiment, where we sampled our made-to-order donuts with our cappuccinos.
Back at Our Beach House, we took one last walk along "our" beach, which had the softest, whitest sand of any we’d visited. After that, we lit another fire and relaxed, savoring the last night of our beach vacation.