DISCOVER ADVENTURE AND ROMANCE – IN AMERICA’S OLDEST CITY.
Established in 1565, one can get swept away by sweet St. Augustine’s history. Walk the brick-paved paths that America’s ancestors once walked. The year-round great climate provides the perfect educational getaway for family trips, romantic escapes, or even your very own destination wedding.The Casa Monica Hotel is St. Augustine’s only AAA Four-Diamond hotel. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is a grandiosely restored landmark. Famous hotelier Henry Flagler saw to it that high- quality service and lavish amenities greeted guests in this Spanish influenced architectural property. There are 138 guestrooms and suites, uniquely designed to further enhance a feeling of old-world with its wrought iron beds, gold accents, and antique furniture.
Awakening in this exquisite hotel, a peek outside the rustic window reveals scenic view of St. Augustine and the Matanzas Bay.
After breakfast, take a ride across Matanzas Bay to visit St. Augustine’s original Lighthouse and Museum, the keeper of our nation’s historical port. 219 steps take you to the top of this 1874 lighthouse tower. The panoramic view of St. Augustine is breath taking. At the top of the climb sits the original glass lens of the lighthouse (with a few minor repairs). This lens continuously rotates because a steady glare from the lens’ prisms could start a wild fire. Tour the light keeper’s house, and view a history timeline, exhibits of maritime archeology, and discoveries from local shipwrecks that are being researched by their own underwater archeologists to this day. The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum will only begin to fill your mind with hearty facts of historical occurrences.
After your mini-hike up the lighthouse, refreshments are nearby across Matanzas Bay and stop at the Casa Monica Hotel to freshen up before lunch. Then stroll across the street to The Lightner Museum, the former Hotel Alcazar, to eat lunch in the deep-end of the pool. No need to worry, the pool is not filled with water anymore. Café Alcazar is located in the deep-end of 1889’s largest indoor swimming pool. After enjoying lunch, take a look around Mr. Otto C. Lightner’s extravagant, three-story museum. Lightner was a passionate collector of 19th century collectable items. His broad collection grew by gathering other people’s collections of glass, furniture, and art.Before you leave, make sure you take a peak in the Music Room, which is a collection of Lightner’s old, but still playable music machines. Demonstrations of these machines occur daily and are very entertaining to watch.
Next, jump on over to the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, located directly across from the Castillo de San Marcos Fort. This museum is truly “one-of-a-kind” with pirate artifacts that date all the way back to 1563 and a technology advanced interactive “book of pirates”. Some of the most treasured exhibits include one of the only two Jolly Roger flags still in existence, the only pirate treasure chest remaining in the world that dates to over 400 years old, and one of the only surviving pirate wanted posters in the world. This interactive museum contains one of the world’s largest collections of rare pirate artifacts and is sure to entertain all ages.
Venture back to the Casa Monica’s AAA Four-Diamond 95 Cordova Restaurant to be seated in the Sultan’s room for a relaxing, savory meal. Once seated, pop open your technologically- advanced, light-up menu to be able to fully enjoy choosing your entree in this dimly lit setting. The chefs at 95 Cordova pride themselves on their seasonally inspired New World, Middle Eastern, and Asian flavors, paired with some of specially selected wines.
After a delightful dinner, enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the Cobalt Lounge. These candlelit table settings provide an intimate mood for a relaxing night of live entertainment and specialty cocktails. Don’t skip the New World Martini Menu. At the end of the night, dive into your king-size, triple sheeted bed and lay your head down on the feathered pillows for a much-needed nights’ rest.
Enjoy a quick breakfast in the Café Cordova. This European-style café attracts guests and locals alike for a quick bite in preparations for a jam-packed day. Across the street to pick up your Old Town Trolley tour
tickets, good for the whole day and see the best of St. Augustine.
Catch the bus in front of The Lightner Museum and start your tour, jumping on and off the train at all the appealing stops. One of the many stops you might enjoy is Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. Recently archeologists and historians have discovered this to be the location of the first successful European Colony in the United States.
Located in a national archeological park, the Fountain of Youth witnesses guests from all over come to drink from this legendary fountain. So come take a dab at your luck, drink from the fountain or dab it on your wrinkles. You just might leave your vacation looking younger!
Hop back onto the bus and ride through historical St. Augustine. Some other exhibits you can see are the original Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the authentic Old Jail from 1953, and Flaggler College, the former Hotel Ponce de Leon. Next, stop at one of St. Augustine local’s favorite stops, the Whetstone Chocolate Factory. Sign up for the “original” chocolate tour, and learn where chocolate comes from, how they roast the beans, watch chocolate being made and packaged, and of course, eat lots of chocolate!
Get back onto the train as you venture to see some of the oldest places in the United States. The Oldest Wooden School House is a great place to take a look back at how people used to receive an education. Also, take a look around a National Historic Landmark at Florida’s Oldest House.
Also, don’t forget to visit the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry reinforcement in the United States, constructed as an English prevention fort. All the cannons seen in St. Augustine, and at this fort, are useable. Castillo de San Marcos fires the cannons daily, sending a loaf of bread flying through the air.
After this fun, educational, romantic trip, you will leave with a special place in your heart for St. Augustine. Known to few people as the nation’s oldest city, this “ancient city” still hides the many untold secrets in history that you can discover on your next trip to St. Augustine.
By Jessica Darensbourg
Photography by J.D.