Hello friends and happy Monday. How was everyone’s weekend. Here in Connecticut if finally broke 40 degrees so pull out the bathing suits!! Summer is here. (eyeroll)
I have been dreaming about the warm winter days I had a few weeks ago in northern Florida. These below freezing temps we have been getting along the shoreline in Connecticut have been killing me. If it’s going to be cold can’t I at least get a snow day out of it? Instead mother nature has been hovering at a whopping 24 degrees for the past few weeks. Instead of sitting through this crazy weather, I decided I needed a mid-winter break and headed down to St. Augustine, FL for a few days.
Did you know St. Augustine claims to be the oldest city in the country? I’m not really sure how they can back that claim because Florida wasn’t part of the original 13 colonies but its okay. I’ll let them have it. So, in St. Augustine, you can see the oldest house, oldest street, oldest school house, and pretty much oldest EVERYTHING. It became the running joke of the trip, but they sure are proud of their history.
What We Did
We decided to take the Old Town Trolley Tours. Essentially it is a hop on, hop off trolley tour of the town, which happens to be a fantastic way of getting around town. We ended up getting a three-day pass which was perfect because we were there for just that amount of time and we were able to see everything we wanted with those three day tickets.
The first day we spent the morning on St. George Street, the uber popular pedestrian-only street that is full of original buildings that are now chalk full of restaurants, candle shops, clothing boutiques, ice cream shops, and handmade pottery stores. Walking the streets, especially so early in the morning, before the crowds came out, it was easy to feel like you stepped back in time.
We wandered down to the Plaza, which we learned was a requirement that Spain had for every major city in the new world. Lining the Plaza was also the Government House and Cathedral Basillica of St. Augustine, also both required by Spain, plus a ton of shops and restaurants (required by the present day tourists).
On the far end of the Plaza is a trolley stop where you can pick up a beach shuttle. This was perfect because we essentially never needed our car during the day. We hopped on the beach shuttle and crossed the Bridge of Lions over to St Augustine Beach. Here you can make stops at the Alligator Farm, the super popular St. Augustine Lighthouse and museum or head out to the beach like we did to relax under the Florida sun.
The shuttle runs every hour so you can really spend a good amount of time on the other side of the bridge.
After a long day of exploring we needed to check out the libations that St. Augustine had to offer. We took the trolley over to the St. Augustine Distillery, an old ice plant turned small batch distillery who specializes in whiskey, vodka, and gin. The quick half hour, free tour tells the history of the locally owned distillery and how they are involved in their community, shows tourists how the different spirits are created and what makes them different, and ends in the tasting room where you can try three different mixed drinks. All curated from the spirits created right there in that building.
What I really loved about the distillery is their dedication to their carbon footprint. For instance, all of their bottles are hand bottled, sealed and labeled. Because to ensure their whiskey can be labeled bourbon, all of their char-oaked barrels can only be used once. So instead of getting rid of the barrels at the end of the aging process, they share them with local wineries and other distilleries to create other spirits.
One of the wineries the St. Augustine Distillery shares their barrels with is the San Sebastian Winery just up the street. This was our next stop on the trolley. The San Sebastian Winery was built in an old railway building and they get their grapes from the west coast of Florida at their sister property, Lakeridge Winery. San Sebastian Winery focuses on dessert wines. Sweet wines are not my favorite and I didn’t honestly love any of them but they have won a ton of awards for their wines so if sweet wine is your thing, defiantly check them out. They also have an amazing roof top that I would absolutely check out again. Thursdays through Sundays the rooftop is open where they have jazz performers. The view from the top is beautiful.
Another one of my favorite stops off of the Old Town Trolley was the Castillo de San Marcos. This was the main fort for the village of St. Augustine to protect against intruders. In the 17th century, if the city of St. Augustine was under attack all of the towns people, and their animals could fit in the fort and in the dry moat that borders the base of the fort. This National Monument covers 20.5 acres of land and is run by the National Parks Service so there is a small fee to enter. If you like history, check it out. It was really interesting. And if you don’t like history, check it out anyway. There are some beautiful views from the top of the fort.
The Old Town Trolley Tour had so much to offer. Below I listed some other stops that I would love to check out next time I’m in town.
- Lightner Museum and Café Alcazar – This was formerly a hotel which Henry Flagler (who pretty much built up St. Augustine) built for his famous and rich New England friends according to the Old Town Trolley Tour guides. The Café is super popular for lunch and is in the base of the pool of the hotel. Like what!
- Flagler College – Named for the city’s founder this college has the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows. Can you imagine being in college and stumbling into the cafeteria hung over to sit next to the largest collection of Tiffany’s stained glass. What the heck!
Where We Ate
We didn’t get to explore the food scene in St. Augustine the way I would have liked. I have a cousin that lives a half hour away so we spend one night with them having a little cocktail party with amazing appetizers that filled us up completely. But I do have a list of a ton of restaurants I’ve heard amazing things about, and some that my cousin’s wife recommended first hand.
Maple Street Biscuit Company – I’ve heard so much about Maple Street Biscuit Company that when I found out there was one in St. Augustine, I dragged my non-breakfast eating mom to try it out. (She’s fine, she had kid’s mac and cheese at 9am and was a happy camper.) I totally over indulged and got the Ralphie and added a fried egg on top. It was A LOT! One of the breakfast sandwiches would have probably been enough but how do you go there and not try their gravy?? I may need to try to push a trip to the Maple Street Biscuit Company for our Charleston trip in April.
The Kookaburra – This Aussie-American coffee shop is located right on the Plaza in St. Augustine and was a perfect spot for an afternoon pick me up. Their cold brew was everything I needed and their Aussie pies were an awesome snack. The actual location was so small and got pretty tight when a group of 8 business men came in to place their order also. Just a little tip- they have a small location just outside and across their patio for a sitting area.
Salt Life Food Shack – I would LOVE to check out Salt Life during the summer. This restaurant was across the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine Beach, it had a huge outdoor patio with a fire pit and outdoor bar. There was, what looked like, a pretty big rooftop that during the day you would have views of the beach. The rooftop was closed while we were there, I’m assuming because it was January.
I started my dinner with a bowl of Bahamian Fish Chowder which was delicious… but HUGE. Definitely only needed a cup of that to try the soup. I ended up having Lobster and Shrimp Pasta and it was amazing (and again, huge). My parents both had tacos and they looked amazing. They have a full raw bar and sushi as well as burgers and sandwiches. Anyone can find something there and I’m pretty sure everything would be awesome!
Here is the list of other restaurants we didn’t get to try but came highly recommended:
- A1A Ale Works
- OC White’s Seafood and Spirits
- The Tini Martini Bar
- Raintree Restaurant
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Florida. It’s hot and sweaty, and sticky and yuck but this trip gave me a different perspective of our southern most state. St. Augustine was so charming and historical. I’d love to go back to St. Augustine and explore a little more. Have you ever been?