Discover adventure- and romance – in America’s oldest city.
Need a vacation? Take a trip down the historic Florida coastline. Nestled between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, you’ll find the nation’s oldest port and city: St. Augustine. Established in 1565, get lost in sweet St. Augustine’s history. Walk the brick-paved paths our 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.
Head to the Casa Monica Hotel, St. Augustine’s only AAA Four-Diamond hotel. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this grandiosely restored landmark is the most luxurious and most historic properties in the Kessler collec- tion. Famous hotelier Henry Flagler took pride in his high quality service and lavish amenities, and this Spanish influenced architectural property does not disappoint. As a guest, you stay in one of the 138 guestrooms and suites, uniquely designed to further enhance your historic experience with wrought iron beds, gold accents, and antique furniture. Upon check-in, you are greeted by the relaxing sound of the origi- nally created Kessler Collection soundtrack, a turned down bed, and sweet delight atop your pillow.
When you awake from your sweet slumber, take a peek out your rustic window to see the scenic view of downtown St. Augustine and the Matanzas Bay. Energize at 95 by sampling French toast, eggs and grits. Now that your body is fully energized, take a ride across Matanzas Bay to visit St. Augustine’s original Lighthouse and Museum, the keeper of our nation’s histor- ical port. It’s 219 steps to the top of this 1874 lighthouse tower. The panoramic view of St. Augustine will take your breath away. At the top of your climb discover the original glass lens of the lighthouse (with a few minor repairs). This lens constantly rotates because a constant glare from the lens could potentially start a wild fire. After your walk down, you can take a walk through the light keeper’s house, and view a history timeline, exhibits of maritime archeology, and discoveries from local ship- wrecks 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, you might be hungry and in need of some refreshments. No worries, head back across Matanzas Bay to the Casa Monica Hotel to freshen up before lunch. Once ready, 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 wor- ry, 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 mu- seum. 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, a collection of Light- ner’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 Pi- rate 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 season- ally 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 entertain- ment 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.
Next morning, awaken from your great slumber and have a quick breakfast in the Café Cordova. This European style café at- tracts guests and locals to grab a quick bite in preparations for their jam-packed day. Wander across the street to pick up your Old Town Trolley Tour tickets. The tickets are good for the whole day and emphasize the best of St. Augustine.
Catch the bus in front of The Lightner Mu- seum 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 view 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 reinforce- ment 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 theair.
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 Darenbourg