Weekend in St. Augustine

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
  • Columbia

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?

Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival: Adults Only Disney

Last week was a little slow moving. I got home late Sunday from a three-day weekend away to Disney World. You know I love me some Disney. I’ve written about Disneyland here, here and here in the past. But this was my first trip to Disney World in over 12 years. What was so unique about this trip is this was a bachelorette party.

A lot of people asked what we were going to do at Disney World for a bachelorette but there is actually a lot of adult activities at the different parks and resorts. In our three days at Disney World, we really never felt overwhelmed with children or families.

We stayed at the Beach Club Villas near Epcot. This was perfect for our group. Because there were nine of us we got two, two-bedroom villas. In each villa there was a room with one bed, and a room with two queens. We had a kitchen, living room, two bathrooms, washer and dryer and three balconies. This gave us plenty of room to spread out, and not be on top of each other.

The bride’s mom (who is a Disney professional) ordered us groceries from a local store so we had everything prepared for us when we arrived. Breakfast options, coffee, snacks for the pool, and cheese and crackers for our wine before heading out for the night. This was perfect for us as adults, but also such an amazing service that you can do not just at the villas, but any of the resorts. This is great for families or groups that don’t want to eat out every meal, or want to save a little money during their trip.

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival
We only went into the park one day. And for our adult Disney trip, we went into Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival they have each fall. This is a perfect adults only vacation trip idea. There are hundreds of food options from all around the world around Epcot’s World Showcase. There were not many kids at all at Epcot during our trip. This was just a short walk from our hotel at the Beach Club. We started our day around 11 in the morning and ate our way through the park until about 7pm.

The food was absolutely amazing. We had Bellhaven Brewery Scottish Ale from Scotland, wine from Germany, “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon from Canada and so much more. My favorite was probably the seafood options we got at the new Coasts Eats booth. There was Lump Crab Cakes, Bake Shrimp Scampi Dip and Seared Scallops, all of which I really enjoyed. Prices ranged depending on what you got but anywhere from $4.50 to $12 seemed pretty average. What’s important to remember is this is a tasting.

These are not big portions of food because you want to try everything and anything. I didn’t think anything was too overpriced, but as the day went on, I stopped ordering wine. Most of the wine tastings were around $6 and you only got between 1 and 2 ounces. That to me wasn’t really worth it. But the food and cocktails were fantastic.

Pro Tip: If you do want wine, head over to the Germany and Italy areas. Germany has a nice quiet tasting room where you can order a glass of wine and Italy had a fantastic little wine cave with great food.

Disney Springs
Downtown Disney, now Disney Springs, had a major facelift since I was there 12 years ago. I was blown away by the number of new stores, restaurants, shops and places for live music that were all around. I was really impressed that every store front we walked by there was music coming out of the restaurant.

We had dinner at Raglan Road, an Irish pub at Disney Springs. The food and drinks were fantastic. I ordered their Gnocchi Sea Gnocchi Do, a scallops and gnocchi dish that I wish I could find anything similar to here. During our meals we watched an Irish band and Irish step dancers which were all amazing performers.

Besides Raglan Road, you can watch a concert at House of Blues, go blowing at Splitsville, watch a show at Cirque du Soleil, or take a boat ride around Lake Buena Vista on a Vintage Amphicar and Italian Water Taxi. Or simply shop around at some of the amazing stores like Zara, Anthopologie, Everything But Water, Francesca’s and so much more. I will defiantly be stopping her during the day next time I am at Disney as well as at night.

The resorts actually have less Disney features than you’d expect. Besides a few hidden Mickeys and maybe a character breakfast, otherwise not too much screams you’re at a Disney resort. Each resort has amazingly themed pools. At our resort, the Beach Club, we shared a pool with the Yacht Club and this is dubbed one of the best pools on property according to a few different cast members I talked to over the weekend. There was plenty of different areas around the pool that never made the pool feel crowded.

Spas and golfing is always an option at many resorts, but besides the normal resort options some of the resorts have 8-person bikes, boats you can rent, ferry rides, watersports like tubing, waterskiing and parasailing, and even fishing. Animal Kingdom Lodge even has a Safari that you can go around the property and check out the animals they have on site.

Restaurants, Bars and Sports
A lot of people don’t know this but the Atlanta Braves actually use ESPN’s Wide World of Sports baseball field for their spring training. So, if your visiting Orlando in March, check out a game. Mickey most likely won’t be in the stands.

One of my favorite things we did during out trip to Disney World was a monorail bar crawl. We took a taxi over to the Grand Floridian where we began our tour of a few bars in that hotel, at the Contemporary, and the Polynesian. We finished off the night at a dueling piano bar at the Boardwalk hotel. So much fun. And no kids.