Florida’s Historic Coast Has Wide-Open Spaces, New Exhibits, New Hotels and Restaurants
St. Augustine, Fla. (September 2020)– This northeast Florida destination with its 42 miles of pristine Atlantic Beaches, has been a favorite getaway for 455 years. And there are always new adventures to be had.
What’s New Attractions & Tours
Lightner Museum, located in the former Hotel Alcazar, one of the Ancient City’s architectural centerpieces, recently completed a major first floor renovation and opened its latest exhibit, Illuminate: Lightner Museum’s Stained Glass Rediscovered.
And, Lightner Museum had a total renovation of its ground floor galleries, returning the former hotel’s 19th century Renaissance revival-style open floor plan into a bright airy space able to accommodate groups. The Museum’s eclectic collection ranges from human hair art, cigar labels, buttons, salt and pepper shakers, to cut glass, porcelain, fine art paintings, furniture and sculpture all housed throughout the four floors of the original Alcazar Hotel. The Museum’s Director took advantage of the March – May 2020 shutdown to conduct some renovation projects including renovations on the Museum’s ground floor level to accentuate the building’s brilliant design creating bright open spaces in the new Museum Gift Shop, the Music Room and Science Room. The result is a brighter, airier look beginning with the museum's lobby where new flooring replaces carpeted walkways.
The Museum’s Mezzanine level above the pool features the stunningly unique Illuminate exhibit of 12 stained glass windows and the Museum’s Dragon Fly Lamp, all from the collection of Otto Lightner. Each piece has been carefully restored for visitors to enjoy for generations. While some of the windows in this collection were made by Tiffany Studios, this display brings to light lesser-known manufacturers that worked with Tiffany during the late 1880s such as Willet Stained Glass and Rudy Brothers Glass Studio. The display focuses on portraiture, mythology and Art Nouveau, the theme at the forefront of stained glass in the early 1890s. Lightner Museum is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum on Aviles Street in St. Augustine not only offers tours that demonstrate life in the mid-1800’s in old St. Augustine, but the museum is now also offering night-time tours and experiences that make history fun.
St. Augustine has long been known for its haunted history, and the Ximenez-Fatio is not an exception. The Museum offers Twilight Tours that reflect on tales about Spanish merchants, soldiers stationed at St. Augustine, and the single ladies who ran their businesses. This house has centuries of stories within its coquina walls. And, the Museum’s night tour, Heist at the Museum has guests as pieces in a fun game of sleuth. The investigation is focused on a rare 17th-century Caravaca Cross that was produced in the late 1660s to celebrate the end of the Black Plague in Europe. The cross was stolen, and the villain is still on the property and has hidden the cross in one of nine rooms. Guests move about the house to catch the culprit and return the cross.
The St. Augustine Aquarium, interactive, educational and fun attraction allows guests to interact with some of Florida’s most beautiful marine species and touch invertebrates, feed the sharks in the shark and ray cove, or dig for shark teeth. For the adventurous, snorkeling up close and personal with sea life and hand-feeding fish and rays is all part of the fun. New this year is the shark painting experience where guests can get their very own shark masterpiece painted on a t-shirt.
The Tasting Tours has added a fun Friday night tour, Pints with Pedro, where small groups of guests can take a walking tour with the city’s founder Don Pedro Menendez while learning about the city’s history and tasting ales and brews along the way.
The Classic Car Museum of St. Augustine is now open and showcasing a collection of classic cars, providing visitors the opportunity to experience cars from the 1800s to modern day sports cars. One Saturday morning a month at the museum features Classic Cars and Coffee where auto enthusiasts grab a coffee and chat about their passion with others.
What’s New with Lodging
There are plenty of options for lodging in St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra Beach. Accommodation choices include luxurious oceanfront resorts, posh boutique hotels, quaint and historic inns, numerous vacation rentals on the ocean and in the historic districts, several RV and camping parks, along with dozens of known and trusted branded hotel chains.
A sprawling beachfront property since 1928, the historic AAA Five Diamond Ponte Vedra Inn & Club remains a storied refuge for outdoor recreation, family vacations, corporate retreats, weddings, and social events alike. The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club’s signature Ocean Course has recently re-opened following a complete course renovation by Bobby Weed. Additional resort enhancements in the past year include renovations to the Golf Club Dining Room and Golf Pro Shop and remodeling of the resort’s family pool.
In September 2020, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club unveils the historic Ocean House and all-new Peyton House, featuring 41 new oceanfront guest rooms and suites. 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.
Several resorts in the area offer packages to accommodate today’s new remote work conditions. For example, Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach is offering the Work Resortly package as a way for families to take a break from their new norm. Guests who book the package receive pet-friendly accommodations in a Villa, complete with home-like amenities including a kitchenette and separate bedrooms—perfect for taking virtual meetings in private; high-speed WiFi and complimentary access to a printer for those important documents and other amenities. The Work Resortly package is available now through December 23, 2020 with rates starting at $250/night with an additional connecting Villa available for $99/night.
In the coming months, there will be even more hotels and inns opening in St. Augustine. There are currently several hotels under construction including the Renaissance St. Augustine Historic Hotel, Hyatt Place Hotel on Vilano Beach, Homewood Suites Hotel along the San Sebastian River and several others.
What’s New with Food and Beverage
Blend authentic cuisine, a year-round abundance of fresh seafood, and inspiration from centuries of diverse heritage and you have the bold and diverse tastes to be found on Florida’s Historic Coast. Dine al fresco at one of the many waterfront eateries or side-walk bistros located throughout Florida’s Historic Coast. The menus are teeming with flavors that tell the culinary heritage of the diverse peoples and cultures of today and those that have called this area home since 1565.
While closed during the Spring 2020, some restaurants on Florida’s Historic Coast took advantage of the quieter time to renovate and refresh. For example, in St. Augustine Raintree Restaurant, located in a Victorian mansion in the city’s Historic District, performed a total kitchen renovation and dining room refresh, making their award-winning food service even more efficient to handle larger groups.
New restaurants open for business in 2020 include the latest gem in the Southern Table Hospitality Group crown of Northeast Florida restaurants, the St. Augustine Fish Camp. This new location on the San Sebastian River, along with their other Fish Camp locations in Northeast 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. The restaurant’s interior is open and inviting, the seafood is fresh off the docks, and the waterfront dining is a simple gift.
Also new to the waterfront dining scene this year is the new location of a long-time St. Augustine favorite, Culinary Outfitters. The 250-seat restaurant overlooks the San Sebastian River from the St. Augustine Shipyards and features 8,000 square feet of outdoor dining space on a patio surrounded by fire pits and boat docks. The new location features a lunch menu similar to the original restaurant including popular favorites, with a new dinner menu created focusing on locally sourced, seasonally fresh ingredients.
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.
Also on Aviles Street, explorers for St. Augustine treats will find Peace Pie which has become one of St. Augustine’s favorites dessert spots. Peace Pies makes the ultimate artisan ice cream sandwich - with a layer of pie filling and using specialty premium house-made ice cream along with home-made pie fillings, brownies and caramel. Peace Pie has just expanded its offerings to include a selection of tasty mini pies. Lemon-meringue, pecan, raspberry custard and many more traditional pies that take on Peace Pies’ artistic approach to ice cream and pies which are perfect for take-away treats to share with friends and family.
Boat Drinks Bar in St. Augustine, a nautical tropical tavern with balanced cocktails and a bounty of fresh local seafood, recently opened its doors on St. George Street in St. Augustine. And of course, it was immediately honored by the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Spirited Awards® as a Regional Top 10 Honoree for Best New Bar!
Restaurants all-across Florida’s Historic Coast offer the option of dining in, delivery and curbside pick-up.
Distillery tours, wine bars and breweries are another spirited way to explore St. Augustine, and there are several wine bars and craft beer tap rooms where locals and visitors alike can enjoy local IPA’s and Ales. New to the collection of distillers, St. Augustine Distillery and City Gate Spirits, 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.
Dog Rose Brewing Co., Ancient City Brewing, Old Coast Ales, and Bog Brewing, among others have made a tasty impression here. And wine continues to make a splash here as well. Visitors can tour San Sebastian Winery to learn about and taste this Florida vintner’s award winning wines or visit the Carrera Wine Cellar, where there is no limit to the themed wine classes offered; and Bin 39 Wine Bar at the St. George Inn pours the best boutique wines from Sonoma and Napa valleys. Casa de Vino 57 offers wine lovers a charming walled garden atmosphere where they can enjoy a bottle of wine, cheese and charcuterie, and live music.
What’s New with Art and Music
Concerts are coming back online at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, The Colonial Oak Music Park and the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.
The Amp, is ranked in the top three of best open-air music venues in the world by Pollster Magazine. This “green” venue will re-open with live performances in November 2020 featuring performance by Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. Some of the additional performances scheduled for 2021 include Aaron Neville Duo and Casting Crowns in March and Justin Moore & Tracey Lawrence in May.
The Colonial Oak Music Park, a hidden gem with open-air seating under a live oak inside the Colonial Quarter is a small-stage venue where local musicians perform for free each weekend night.
This Fall, the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall will feature Lu's Jukebox: Lucinda William's Live Studio Virtual Sessions (December 3, 17 & 31). Concerts and performances scheduled for January 2021 include Leo Kottke and Chris Hillman “Time Between: And Evening of Stories and Song”.
Located midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, Florida’s Historic Coast includes historic St. Augustine, the outstanding golf and seaside elegance of Ponte Vedra, and 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches. For more information on events, activities, holiday getaways and vacation opportunities in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, go to the Visitors and Convention Bureau website at www.FloridasHistoricCoast.com, become a fan on Facebook or call 1.800.653.2489.