One of my all-time favorite beach locales is St. Augustine, Florida. As the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States, it's an obvious choice for history lovers. But the 42 miles of Atlantic beach outside the historic town invite relaxing walks along the shore, water sports, and a sunny slowdown from our normal hectic lives. The friendly town on this northern strip of Florida’s coast welcomes guests year-round. Here are some of my favorite spots around town for lodging and dining.
The Inn on Charlotte is a fine choice for a romantic bed and breakfast, with owner Lynne Fairfield pampering guests with her homemade breakfast around the dining room table or with tasty hors d’oeuvres served with afternoon wineshe'll even share her recipes. The small homey inn is within walking distance to restaurants, shopping, and attractions.
For more decadent treats, head around the corner to Claude’s Chocolate, where you’ll catch a lovely aroma drifting through the door. The renowned chef specializes in handmade chocolate-covered almonds and pecans made with fresh ingredients and no additives.
Casablanca Inn is another comfortable choice for a place to stay. It fronts Matanzas Bay where there’s always some activity. The inn also hosts a lively social hour and hot breakfast on the veranda.
Don’t miss local spot Barnacle Bill’s for a family-friendly atmosphere and great fresh-fish sandwiches or seafood platters. (Yes, as a beach frequenter, I do try to eat at least one fish sandwich everywhere I go!) One of my traveling friends says you can have a blackened grouper meal in St. Augustine for $7.99 or $39.99, the difference being the shirts people are wearing and the availability of valet parking—true in many of our favorite coastal towns!
A new restaurant hot this year is Bistro de Leon, owned by Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard, one of the top 100 chefs from France. This restaurant resembles his five restaurants in Lyon, with a casual ambiance and local produce and seafood selected daily for an ever-changing menu. His wife Valerie contributes her family’s winery savoir-faire to the dining experience. Choose late breakfast, lunch, or dinner for an excellent French meal. And don't worry about it being stuffy or expensive—for the all-around quality, it's worth the still-reasonable prices.
Cellar6 is a cool, intimate night spot where everything revolves around wine. This new choice delivers a speakeasy feel with smooth contemporary jazz to accompany fine wine and light fare in a romantic setting. The nightlife in St. Augustine is easy to enjoy just by walking around town and discovering live music in several spots.
Between meals, jump out to the street and take a horse-drawn carriage or trolley tour, a ghost walk at night, or a boat tour along the bay for a narrated look at the town. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth is said to be North America’s first historical site. If you visit this archaeological park and drink from the spring, let us know if the legendary benefits are true! Be sure to see the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the Government House Museum, the Lightner Museum, as well as Castillo de San Marcos, a 1695 fort and prison. You can often find a farmers' market or a festival happening in the square, and the historic district includes dozens of art galleries and antique shops.
One visit to St. Augustine is never enough. The pristine beaches, shopping, golfing, eateries, and plenty of activities for families will be sure to lure you back.
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