Florida Travel – Romantic St. Augustine

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BY MARCIA BIGGS

St. Augustine, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways on a romantic weekend getaway.

An easy 3-hour jaunt from Tampa Bay, I have grown to love the unique charm and history of St. Augustine more with each visit. St. Augustine is all about the history – it recently celebrated 500 years. That’s why it’s worth the splurge to stay at one of more than two dozen historic bed and breakfast inns located in the Historic District.

The esteemed St. Francis Inn Bed and Breakfast is considered the “Nation’s Oldest Inn” built in 1791 as a Spanish residence. With its tropical courtyard, guests are invited to sip a sangria and nosh on social hour appetizers and nightly desserts made fresh daily. Rooms and suites are charming and romantic. Our corner room with a fireplace and whirlpool tub offered a private balcony where we could kick back and listen to the soothing clip-clop of the carriages on the street below.  

Modern but equally romantic is the Casa de Suenos on Cordova Street, which is close to just about everything.  The Mediterranean-style Casa presents breakfast buffets and social hours in a bright, airy dining room, perfect for socializing with interesting guests from around the world.     

The best part about staying in the Historic District is it allows you to park your car and forget it. St. Augustine is a walker’s delight. For a good introduction, start your visit with an Old Town Trolley Tour. Then head out and enjoy!

Stroll the brick-lined streets and pop into the many shops and boutiques and art galleries. In St. Augustine’s early days, St. George Street was the main street, and today the thoroughfare is still considered the heart of the city. However, no trip to the Nation’s Oldest City would be complete without time spent traversing some of the roads less traveled. St. George is just one of many enchanting streets that make up the city’s historic downtown district.

One thing that makes St. Augustine so attractive to me is the amazing dining scene. A diverse array of excellent restaurants makes it difficult to select where to go.  Highly recommended for a romantic evening is the award-winning Michael’s Tasting Room with its extensive wine selection and innovative dishes in a casually elegant dining room. Michael’s Tasting Room has received numerous honors and national recognitions.   Wine Spectator awarded  the wine list its Award of Excellence for the  10th year in a row. Chef Michael has also been recognized as Best Chef of St. Augustine by several the city’s publications.

Other recommended restaurants perfect for couples (intimate, not loud) include Old City House,
Collage, and Catch 27. All offer fine dining and wines, and a unique “St. Augustine experience.” One of my favorite lunch spots is the unique Café Alcazar (not open for dinner), located in the lower level of the beautiful Lightner Museum.  Café Alcazar sits in what was once the indoor pool of the Alcazar Hotel built in 1889 by Henry Flagler. Combine a visit to the magnificent art galleries here with a lunch at the Café.

There are plenty of great drinking holes in this college town, but in recent years the level of sophistication has kicked up a notch.  Martini and craft cocktail bars mix with jazz clubs, outdoor cafes and European bistros.  

St. Augustine harbors a strong cultural scene with a diversity of talented artists. The First Friday Art Walk has gained “must-do” status for both residents and visitors. What could be more romantic than strolling the city’s historic streets, perusing more than 20 galleries. You’ll find everything from fine art paintings to handmade jewelry, ceramics, glass, photography and sculpture.   Galleries are spread out among five distinct districts. Parking is free at the San Sebastian Winery on King Street where you can hop aboard free Artwalk trolleys from 6 to 9 p.m.

Top Romantic Picks

Carriage ride – hands down THE most romantic thing to do.  

A sunset sail on the Schooner Freedom. This 72-foot tall ship departs from the City Marina next to the Bridge of Lions and presents golden, sunbathed city views.

Cocktails on the veranda of Casablanca Inn overlooking the water. Cue the sea breeze, passing carriages  and the sound of seagulls

Step back in time at the Lightner Museum.  Housed in the former Alcazar Hotel built in 1888 by railroad magnate Henry Flagler, today it is home to one of the best collections of fine and decorative 19th century art in the country.

CLASSICALLY ROMANTIC

The St. Augustine Music Festival features two weekends of live classical music performances during the last two weeks in June every year. World-class musicians from the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra join internationally known guest artists to perform in the acoustically splendid St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica. Concerts are free with donations accepted. This year, the festival is set for June 21-23 and June 28-30 with concerts beginning at 7:30 pm. For more information, go to staugustinemusicfestival.org

For information on St. Augustine, contact St. Augustine Ponte Vedra and The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, 29 Old Mission Ave., 800-653-2489  www.floridashistoriccoast.com