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Light Up Your Holiday: A Guide to St. Augustine's World Famous Nights of Lights Celebration
Thursday November 20, 2014 @ 4:13 pm

Light Up Your Holiday: A Guide to St. Augustine's World Famous Nights of Lights Celebration By Ama Reynolds

BEFORE "NIGHTS OF LIGHTS," WE WISHED YOU "FELIZ NAVIDAD"

Once upon a time, festooned in lovely white lights, bannered across the beautiful Bridge of Lions, visitors and locals on the downtown side of town were greeted with Feliz Navidad, streetlights and lamp posts swirled with lights and green garland. 

Wreaths with red ribbons lined the streets. And tiny white lights glittered hither and yon, lighting up the bay front downtown, upon anchored boats in the bay, across some of the city skyline’s main buildings facing the bay. Modest. But beautiful nonetheless.

My how times have changed. Today, come holiday time, the whole city glows with millions beautiful white lights. From across the bay, St. Augustine looks like a fairyland and Nights of Lights, especially opening night, has become a worldwide attraction and is listed by National Geographic as one of the 10 Best Holiday Displays in the World. In the WORLD.

NIGHTS OF LIGHTS: A WORLD-FAMOUS HOLIDAY DISPLAY

The Nights of Lights Festival begins every year on the first Saturday before Thanksgiving. This year the date is November 22, 2014 and  the celebration runs through February 1, 2015. So there’s plenty of time to plan a trip to the Old City and enjoy the holiday season in milder climes.

The Nights of Lights in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches--even for the most immune and hardened locals, gets to the hearts of everyone who sees the city, the whole city, lit up with those tiny white sparkling lights in trees and bushes, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, businesses, EVERYWHERE. It’s magical. And with the lights lit up for almost three months, you have plenty of time to make a trip to the Old City and enjoy them.

In the Plaza de la Constition, in the city’s historic center, a huge Christmas tree will even light up--and all of it--millions of lights will appear all at once all over St. Augustine, when the switch is flipped to on, saying, “the most wonderful time of the year,” is here.

This is the place to be to celebrate the holiday, so bring your beloved or your family for a weekend or a week-long holiday getaway. We have the perfect guide of tours, attractions, restaurants, nightlife and accommodations all designed to help you make the most of this magical season.

ST. AUGUSTINE NIGHTS OF LIGHTS EVENTS

NIGHTS OF LIGHTS HOLIDAY TOURS TO REMEMBER

Take in the magic of the city in your own style, with a fun guide to light your way. Decked out in holiday finery, each tour offers a one-of-a-kind look at the city and the wonder of it when it’s all lit up.

ST. AUGUSTINE TASTING TOURS

VIP Vittles & Vino Carriage Tour

These tours take place year round in the afternoon--a great way to enjoy the day--then even continue on another seasonal tour--the Nights of Lights Wine and Carriage Tour, Nights of Lights Lover’s Tour and the Haunted Lights Carriage Tour, which take place November 22, 2014 (opening night) through January 31, 2015.

First, before your VIP Vittles and Vino Carriage Tour begins, visit home base, let the charming  Daniel explain the delicious boutique wines. Select your favorite, uncork, and enjoy while your tour guide--in this case, ours was the delightful Jennifer--gives you a friendly warm-up and run-down of all the fun to come. Relax in the warm comfort of the living room, get to know your fellow travelers, and pleasurably anticipate the fun to come.

Your carriage will arrive with a friendly driver and horse to greet you. Now it’s time to board the beautiful carriage with your fellow travelers, armed with a delightful bottle of wine to split with your date as you travel in decadent style through the historic streets of St. Augustine, on your way to get a taste of the best beers, wines, and appetizers at some of St. Augustine’s best restaurants, including Mojo’s, an amazing barbecue place--and ahem, Bill Murray’s favorite St. Augustine dining spot. Such fun, not-on-the-usual-tours tidbits pour like a smooth Pinot Noir or a crisp Chardonnay from her sweet mouth as we make our way in grand, VIP style through the city.

The modern, expansive atmosphere of Mojo’s complements the finest barbecue and its attendant accoutrements--an overflowing basket of well-spiced, HOT, beer-battered, four-bite-minimum MONSTER onion rings to share with your choice of incredible homemade sauces--paired with a great selection of the wine-lover’s favored red or white or even a fine, rare stout.
Mojo’s offers the perfect blend of down-home barbecue cooking with a modern bent everyone will love.

This three-hour-tour is one of the best this local has ever enjoyed.  It’s designed for friendship and celebration, and locals-only tips from Jennifer and other guides on where to go to dinner, what attractions to visit, where to head out for shopping and nightlife--all based on YOU and what you’re into.

This intimate tour allows revelers to learn about the city, appreciate very fine wines and beers of their choosing, savor the most delicious appetizers at restaurants adored by locals, too.

I share my time with a newlywed couple, first-generation Greek, both of them, who live in the United States but met on that gorgeous Mediterranean isle--our other friends? A delightful couple based in Chicago who spend nine months out of the year traveling. They even have an 18-years-long-and-running diary of all of their adventures.

Our carriage driver, Maureen, shares fascinating St. Augustine history about Flagler College, Lightner 
Museum, Flagler Presbyterian Memorial Church, Ancient City Baptist Church and more--and the star of the day, the gorgeous and brilliant and courteous horse aptly named Prince, provided everyone great joy and a smooth ride through all the St. Augustine Streets.

Jennifer kept us up and up on St. Augustine history, too, of course, and filled us in with every perfect detail you WANT to know about the city you’re visiting--back stories about the restaurants and decor, the buildings--and ideal recommendations for wine, beer, food, desserts, and nightlife at the spots we visited as well as wonderful spots she knows and loves herself. And places her guests would love. She’s a great people-reader, and seems easily to determine just what her troupe would best enjoy while in town.

Jennifer not only shared history and guided us through our dining stops; she asked questions and incited lively conversation all the way. She’s the kind of person you want to be your best friend, the one you want at every dinner party and even the one you might want to call in the middle of the night for pressing advice. Yes! After three hours, that’s the impression she emanated--that and she goes above and beyond to ensure the perfect experience. 

Next-stop, local favorite The Floridian, where Southern favorites meet hip, brilliant, and even healthful twists. A variety of local brews and carefully selected red and white wines were offered up for our enjoyment, along with the very popular and decidedly Southern fried-green tomato bruschetta topped with local goat cheese as well as grit cakes topped with seasonal salsa. This is the restaurant where I've celebrated two birthdays and where I bring every one of my many St. Augustine guests. I am biased. But most people here and all over the country feel the same way I do. No one else besides me and Jennifer had tasted fried green tomatoes--not too sure if they'd had grit cakes, either--butour companions loved them--because they were done RIGHT (P.S. They’re done right every time).

After a lovely time spent with Maureen and Prince, we step off the carriage at Lightner Museum's Alcazar Cafe, located in the famous--now drained--pool. Where presidents and still-famous magnates once swam above Spanish tile, diners enjoy delightful fare at this famous spot. We swiftly consumed a to-die-for hummus platter even the Greeks enjoyed, our choice of wine, of course, and another herbal wine specialty called Absentroux, “blended with wormwood and other distinct botanicals to bring your palate the essence of absinthe with the softness of wine,” so reads the lovely art nouveau-styled informational postcard, anyway. Following our illuminating visit of both history, wine, and the cool and spacious atmosphere with three-story-high ceilings, cool cement beneath the feet, and sunlight dappling through the upper-story windows, we stepped outside to meet our carriage.

Our final stop, oh my, was the brand-new and divinely decadent Chocolate Turtle, locally owned and blowing up on the local’s radar, which serves up hand-crafted desserts, coffee and espresso beverages, and selections of red or white wine. Two of us ordered the signature dish--The Chocolate Turtle--and emitted two unbidden and simultaneous shouts of OH MY GOD! A layer of caramel, a layer of chocolate cake and a chocolate mousse filling encased in an elegant chocolate shell (the shape of a turtle’s--okay, a little rounder), encircled by walnuts and presented modestly upon a swirl of caramel and chocolate.  Best with the red. The wide selection of espresso beverages looked positively buzz-worthy, too.


Fully sated and slaked, we climb upon the carriage back to the “home” of Tasting Tours. No one wanted it to end. When it comes to anything, really, you can’t get much better than that--something so good you don’t want it to end. That’s why so many guests always come back. There’s hardly a better afternoon one can have than drinking wine while riding a horse drawn carriage in one of the most beautiful cities in the country, enjoying fascinating history from a friendly guide, and savoring appetizers and boutique wines you won’t find anywhere else. Who in the world would want such a heaven to end? Nobody. That’s who.

Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley

Step into the cozy trolley and travel through the historic streets of St. Augustine for carols, spectacular views of more than three million tiny white lights dressing up the city with magic, and trip the lights even more fantastic with magic viewing glasses. Of course, there's more, including complimentary hot cider and cookies and live performances on select nights. Book online and get even more information at the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley site.

Santa’s Big Red Christmas Train

Ride Santa's Big Red Christmas Train, enjoy carols and take in the millions of lights with your Santa's Magic Viewing Glasses. Lots of holiday extras, like holiday movies, free balloons, a chocolate fountain and more await you at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium . Visit the Red Train Nights of Lights site for all the details.

Nights of Lights & Holiday Traditions Plaza Stroll

Take in the glimmering views and discover the history behind these white lights when you walk through town on the Nights of Lights & Holiday Traditions Plaza Stroll. What began as a Colonial-era tradition has turned modern-day spectacle famous all over the world. Stroll through the Plaza de La Constitucion and learn all about it.

Nights of Lights Cruise

See the lights sparkle upon the water as you cozy up for a wonderful Nights of Lights Cruise from the Vilano Beach Pier.

Holiday Shopping & Wine Experience

Follow a St. Augustine Shopping expert through the historic streets of St. Augustine and enjoy a fine glass of much-deserved wine at the end of your spree. The Holiday Shopping & Wine Experience Tour begins and ends at the Gifted Cork.

RECOMMENDED ST. AUGUSTINE DINING & NIGHTLIFE


RECOMMENDED ST. AUGUSTINE ACCOMMODATIONS


WARM UP YOUR WINTER WITH ST. AUGUSTINE'S NIGHTS OF LIGHTS
You might find it implausible that such a small, subtropical town in the Sunshine State of Florida offers one of the busiest, most beautiful, and widespread holiday celebrations in the country, but you’d be wrong. The Ancient City’s holiday season lasts from the opening Nights of Lights extravaganza on the first Saturday before Thanksgiving--this year that’s November 22, 2014 and lasts long through January, when the holiday lights go down on February 1, 2015, letting the cheer linger while many of us face colder climes and grayer skies after all the festivities have passed.

Come join us! There’s plenty of time to get in on the fun.


Insider Tip: Park at in the HisToric Parking Facility Located off Castillo Drive and take in the sights in all kinds of ways--on foot, by bicycle or pedicab, on the Old Town Trolley or the Ripley’s Red Train, or by horse and carriage. ARRIVE THE NIGHT BEFORE and park early in the day and hang around town to ensure a parking space. Win a FREE VIP Nights of Lights Tour:
Right now, anyone is eligible to win a VIP tour of this incredible display on your choice of trolley, train or horse and carriage. Discover Great Nights of Lights St. Augustine Accommodations Deals: Make this St. Augustine holiday getaway even sweeter with these great accommodations Deals of the Season.
Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure. Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo Credits:
St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitor's Convention Bureau, OldCity.com, Old Town Trolleys, Ripley's Red Trains, Tini Martini, 
Tasting Tours, LLC and Ama Reynolds 

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Spooky St. Augustine Ghost Tours Shine a Light on the Dark Side of the Ancient City
Wednesday October 29, 2014 @ 8:45 am

Spooky St. Augustine Ghost Tours Shine
A Light on the Dark Side of the Ancient City

By Ama Reynolds

When you’ve been around as long as the Old City has, chances are you’re likely to have more than a few skeletons in your closet. And while ghosts and spirits and the supernatural can become an almost controversial subject of conversation, no one doubts the thrill and chill of a good-old-fashioned ghost story.  

The best ghost storytellers around--mean teenage babysitters of yore excluded, of course--seem time and again to be walking, lanterns (or ghost tracking devices) in hand, through the dark and twisted back streets of the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine.

Whether by foot, trolley, shuttle, Hearse and even ship--in St. Augustine, there are as many ways to see a ghost as there are shells in the street’s coquina.

So this local decided she’d haunt the tours herself, and is happy to bear witness to the chills, thrills and history that accompany St. Augustine’s wide variety of ghost tours. We hope you’ll find one or two to your liking.

Ghost Tours of St. Augustine

Ghost Tours of St. Augustine has been offering well-researched and historically accurate ghost tours for more than 20 years. You can even buy your own book of these ghost stories--along with all kinds of fun and spooky ghost paraphernalia--yourself when you purchase your tickets at Tour St. Augustine on Granada Street.

Current tours include: Ghost Tours of St. Augustine: A Ghostly Experience Walking Tour; Creepy Crawl Haunted Pub Tour & Paranormal Investigation; Old Town Trolley’s Ghosts & Gravestone’s Trolley of the Doomed; and the Maritime Haunts & Legends Ship Tour. To book your tours and get more information about them, click on St. Augustine Ghost Tours Booking.

GhoStAugustine Paranormal Ghost Tours

Want to ride around town in a hearse? Was Six Feet Under one of your favorite television shows? How about Ghost Hunters? Are you looking for a ghost tour in the Oldest City that’s relaxed and intimate but pulls no punches when it comes to telling tales of ghosts and murder?  Since 2001, Ghost Augustine has been offering chilling tours to locals and visitors alike, complete with state-of-the-art ghost tracking equipment.

Current tours include: Dead Walk; Everdark Express Shadow Shuttle & The Original Hearse Ride Tour; Haunted Pub Tour; Haunted St. Augustine Paranormal Investigative Tours and  Para Force Investigations. Tours use K-II EMF meters for ghost hunting, Ovilus III, P-SB7, Full Spectrum camera, and more. The Haunted St. Augustine tour is set up under professor Harry Stafford, PhD, internationally famous within the paranormal and metaphyscial community.

To book tours and learn more, visit the GhoStAugustine site or stop by Hammerheads Beer Gear Store on St. George Street.

Dead Walk Paranormal Ghost Tour

Follow your tour guide through dark and shadowy St. Augustine back streets, streets so old and narrow no cars can pass through. You’ll hear rarely told ghost stories in very creepy locations--after dark, of course, as your guide leads you through past homes and current haunts of the long, and quite, dead. Ghost tracking devices are available for your use during these tours.

A Ghostly Experience Walking Tour

Gather at the lantern held high in the dark, open your mind, and grab hold of your loved one’s hand. Spooky experts will guide you through St. Augustine and tell you all about what lurks inside those cemeteries you glanced past during your day’s adventures. Look closely and you might see a shadow passing behind them as they weave their tales of beheaded Indian chiefs, Bishop’s corpses, and hanging rites too torturous for murderers.

GhoStAugustine Haunted Pub Tour or Hearse Ride

You might be feeling a little more brave once you have a drink or two, but that won’t make the twisted tales any less scary. Some of St. Augustine’s most popular watering holes are in some of the oldest buildings in town. Allow our knowledgeable guide to lead you through their ghostly side, allowing for long stop-offs at four very paranormally busy taverns. The tours are available by foot or by Hearse, spirits--and "spirits"--are guaranteed.

Creepy Crawl Haunted Pub Tour & Paranormal Investigation

Your other-worldly guide will lead you through the more haunted buildings in town, and let you stop for a spell at the city’s more haunted drinking locales. Maybe you need a little liquid courage to face the more frightening haunts? Here’s your chance to enjoy some “spirits” with your spirits. You'll get to use the same tools real ghost investigators use when searching for paranormal activity.

GhoStAugustine Everdark Express Shadow Shuttle & The Original Hearse Ride Tour 

Ride in the alarmingly comfortable GhostAugustine hearse--or our Everdark Shadow Shuttle--for an intimate guided tour of both well and lesser-known parts of haunted St. Augustine, featuring visits to haunted buildings and other famously haunted spots in town, including: the Fort (Castillo de San Marco); St. Augustine Lighthouse; the National Cemetery, the "murder house"; and St. Francis Inn. Ghost hunting equipment is provided.

Ghosts and Gravestones Trolley of the Doomed

Your guide may seem quite corporeal, your driver just ready to go home...but don’t let their human appearances fool you. These ghastly guides are very good at what they do. So keep your eyes peeled and your limbs inside the trolley at all times. Missing heads, hanging limbs, orbs of night-swallowed light, shifting shadows, a hangman’s noose, a pirate or two, thoughtless children, upended graves and very disrespected corpses--all come to light on this chilling tour.

Hold tight to your seat as the Trolley careens across the Bridge of Lions toward St. Augustine’s Lighthouse, famous in the ghost world as one of the most haunted sites in the United States. Spend some time INSIDE the most haunted building in town--the “Old Jail,” where your tour guide might bid you adieu for a moment or two, leaving you and your fellow ghost tour companions alone in the dark.

Maritime Haunts & Legends Ship Tour

When the beautiful El Galeon ship is in port, you’d do well to book a seat on this historic ship as it tours the city’s surrounding waters. Your host will let you in on the ancient sailor’s “ghost ship” folklore and the maritime haunts particular to St. Augustine.

Happy Haunting (and Hunting)!

Accurate, passionate, and more than a little alarming, these tales and their tellers are the perfect way to get a little fright and insight into the oldest city’s unseemly and unsettling past, especially during the witching season of Halloween.

Insider Tip:  Book your tickets as soon as possible, especially during Halloween season. You can book online or by phone. Just click on the links above for the tours of your choice.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure. Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo Credits:
GhoStAugustine, Ghost Tours of St. Augustine, and Ama Reynolds

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Don't Miss Out on Raintree Restaurant: A Fresh and Historic Uptown Dining Spot
Friday October 17, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

Historically Delicious Dining at
St. Augustine's Raintree Restaurant

Before you reach the front door, you're already enchanted.

You've passed through the cast iron gates, and perhaps it's evening. Tall lanterns flicker. Under your feet, deep red brick. Perhaps a local musician is playing in the raised outdoor gazebo. Lively diners talk animatedly (or whisper quietly) to one another while enjoying a glass of fine wine. A woman nods her head in assent to someone's comment, all the while savoring a particularly melt-in-your-mouth and fresh-from-the-Atlantic slice of blackened flounder. 

Smiling servers expertly weave through the packed patio, carrying trays of food that, "look too good to eat," but then again, are so out-of-this-world amazing that some Floridians would call it a sin to miss the intoxicating layers of savory flavors that "taste too good not to eat."

Truer words have never been spoken, for once you do get a chance to taste what's on the plates at Raintree, you'll agree.

Raintree Restaurant's Casual Fine Dining:
Stunning Surroundings and Even Better Food

Sitting in what one of the fanciest Florida sun rooms I've ever seen, my dining companion and I take in our beautiful view. It was like we had the restaurant equivalent of VIP tickets to our team's winning game. White linen table clothes and napkins, sterling silverware, crystal wine glasses beaded with ice water, and a glorious view of the restaurant's brick patio and across San Marco Avenue to one of St. Augustine's most famous attractions--Nombre de Dios and Our Lady of La Leche, best known for its beautiful, peaceful grounds and its Great Cross, approximately four stories tall and a stunning structure that you can see clearly day and night. 

We sit in the beautiful sunshine, surrounded by glorious glass windows, and our server appears immediately with a glowing smile and a warm hello. As he pours ice-cold water into our glistening glasses, he fills us in on the specials so well that we can practically taste the food. 

Raintree's Been Serving Up St. Augustine's
Locally Sourced Food--Especially Fish--Since Its Inception

When you order from the Fresh Catch portion of the Raintree dinner menu, you can be guaranteed it's truly a fresh catch, from the ocean to the filet to your plate. If for some reason it's not, your server will let you know. Disclaimer: this writer has been a hardcore vegetarian since she was 15 and was never a fan of fish.

However, having recently felt brave enough to try fish just few weeks or so before this visit, I felt brave enough to get out of my food comfort zone to order another serving of fish. I filled our fine server in on this fact, and he filled us in on the flounder. And as a native Floridian fisherman himself, we could rest assured his word was golden.
"Our fresh flounder tonight is one of the most mild saltwater fish that I've ever had," he says.

 "It’s very light and a good recommendation for someone who has never had fish or doesn't really like a really fishy fish. It’s very light, very mild, and of course the preparation of blackening, the goat cheese and the balsamic vinegar is amazing."

And he was right! It was AMAZING.

In addition to their Fresh Catch of the Day offering, Raintree also serves up seasonal dinner specials and pastas highlighting the best foods of the season, using local ingredients whenever possible.

Fine International Dining in St. Augustine: Menu Blends
Steak, Seafood, Mediterranean, American, and Pasta Perfectly

Reviewing the dinner menu, you find fantastic favorites for every taste, and they graciously offer up vegetarian options, including a black bean burger, Mediterranean pizza and classic pasta dishes. My dining companion asked about the Steak Capresse.

"The serving is between four and six ounces of blackened filet tips. It’s got a lot of flavors there, too," he said. "The cheese, the balsamic, the tomatoes...it’s very nice."

In the dappling light, we eat our Brushchetta Caa pressee starter--roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and mozzarella cheese atop fresh French bread--so quickly that it was gone before we even knew it.

The same went for our dishes. We are both very quiet during dinner, enjoying our dishes with utter in-the-moment enjoyment and concentration.

Raintree's Signature Dish: Beef Wellington

Once we finish our meal, our fearless tour guide of deliciousness points out a his suggestions for our next visit. First of all, he let us know all about the dish that makes them famous: Beef Wellington.

"It’s inside a puff pastry. The chef sears beef filet tips on all sides and puts them in the oven so that when you put them in the puff pastry the meat doesn't soften the pastry," he says.

"So you have a nice, crisp puff pastry and a nice, tender medium rare filet inside there. It’s delicious," he adds. I always recommend it."

Our charming guide's favorite dish? The Rack of Lamb. "It's phenomenal," he says.

The Raintree Dessert Bar:
A Sweet St. Augustine Legend

Everyone in St. Augustine knows about the desserts at Raintree. In the evenings, many theater-goers, having enjoyed a wonderful performance at the  Limelight Theatre, just a few steps away from Raintree. Catch Addams Family Musical, now running through October 19, or any other featured performance, then stroll down to Raintree to finish off your a lovely evening on a sweet note. Another note: if you eat before your visit to the theatre, Raintree offers a special menu just for you.

Famed for their eclectic selection of out-of-this-world dessert crepes, Southern-style favorites like Key Lime Pie, and the sinfully deliciousWarm Dome Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Macadamia Nut Brittle. Plus, the best Cappucino in town, in my humble opinion.

Fantastic Food, Warm Atmosphere, and Incredible Service:
Just the Beginning of This St. Augustine Restaurant's Allure

In addition to delicious dinner and dessert menus and a full bar complete with a meticulous wine list, the Raintree offers delightful extras, including: 

Oh, and The Raintree Has a Fan Club

One particular guest, Mrs. Mullen, even wrote a limerick in the Raintree's honor, titled A RESTAURANT IS:


Where we eat--where we meet
Sooooooooooo--what's the difference in restaurants, you ask?
I shall NOW begin with my task of setting them apart, 'cause Raintree has:

Gardens and gardens, whether dining in or out
Gazebos for six--so romantic I want to shout!
Oh my, oh dear, can this eatery be true?
Such a heavenly place...and great food, too? 

Great food, you say? Why, of course! It's the BEST!
Raintree's set apart from ALL the rest!

We have European atmosphere,
Waiters in uniform--red, black, and white,

We serve your desires, and it ALL turns out right,
'Cause we are the third generation and take pride in what we do,
Please give us a chance to share our cuisine with you.

Three Decades and Counting: There's a Reason
Raintree  Restaurant is Still a St. Augustine Favorite

A Romantic History

All kinds of incidents conspired fatefully to create a restaurant as special as the Raintree: a grand centuries-old Victorian building and a history as romantic as the restaurant itself--that of the MacDonalds--a bright young family of four, traveling across the pond from England, landing in St. Augustine in 1979. Just two years later, the Raintree was born, and has remained in the family ever since, while maintaining its popularity and respectability for more than three decades.

A Family Affair

Passed down from parents to siblings to Lorna MacDonald and her husband, Chris Cantanbene, Executive Chef and General Contractor, Lorna attributes the restaurant's staying power to their attention to every little detail.

From an evolving menu to meticulous attention to the 1879 Victorian building, she says that they both love what they do, and this passion and love for the place and its offerings shines through in the restaurant's ambiance and menu.

"
The menu is ever evolving and we endeavor to change with the times, both in pricing and variety to cater to our customers, Lorna said. 
 

"
We have evolved from a formal restaurant when we opened to what we now refer to as 'Uptown Dining' and the courtyard area outside has been a huge success as al fresco dining is what people are looking for."

The Reward Is in the Details

When asked why the Raintree has remained so popular over so many years, Lorna says, "My husband and myself spend a lot of time on details. The building takes much upkeep, but we enjoy that kind of work." The two pay equally detailed attention to the menu, ambiance and service. And the love definitely shows, so much so that one of the most famed publications in the world--The New York Times, whose particular author had this to say about Raintree:

“There should be special awards for restaurants that manage to combine quality food with historic surroundings, buildings that proudly proclaim their heritage and encourage diners in their own remembrance of things past.”

The special award? Just the Raintree itself, a truly special place of memory and joy and great times with loved ones. A place that makes you feel like all is right with the world, for a little while at least.

Insider Tip: If you're attending a performance at Limelight Theatre, when you make your reservation, let the restaurant know and you'll enjoy a special menu just for Limelight Theatre-goers.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged.  Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo Credits: Ama Reynolds and Raintree Restaurant



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The Ice Age Arrives in St. Augustine
Thursday June 26, 2014 @ 8:42 am

The Ice Age Arrives in St. Augustine

A Jazzy Spot for Dinner and Drinks: The Ice Plant Restaurant and Bar

By Nancy Moreland

The St. Augustine Distillery's next door neighbor, the Ice Plant restaurant and bar, maintains the vintage industrial vibe and lively atmosphere that  made the Distillery a hit with locals and tourists. Opened less than a year ago (September 2013), the Ice Plant draws crowds every weekend and recently expanded its hours to include lunch. Like the Distillery, the Ice Plant underwent an extensive renovation. "We gutted the entire building, while working to preserve the history. We wanted to create an experience that felt like walking back in time," said General Manager Patricia McLemore.

Stepping inside the Ice Plant, I was greeted by Bessie Smith’s plaintive crooning and the yin-yang aroma of spicy shrimp mingling with mild grits. Edison-style lights cast an amber hue on the exposed brick walls and pine floors worn to a patina. The wait staff, who wore their personal interpretations of early 20th century attire, served cocktails with names like Rosie the Reviver and Bees Knees.

The Jazz Age ambiance was so evocative, it made me wish I’d worn a flapper dress and left my cell phone at home.


An Icy Reception

The defining difference at this establishment may be lost on all but the most discerning tastes. True to its historic heritage, the Ice Plant makes its own ice. Using slow-frozen filtered water, the staff  chainsaws large blocks of ice into small "rocks", spheres, pebbles and shaved ice. The result is a cold, hard, diamond-clear ice that doesn't dilute the flavors of a custom cocktail. Three ice machines work 24/7 to slate the thirsts of St. Augustine. Patricia McLemore is especially proud of the Clinebell ice maker. "No one in Florida, except maybe a restaurant in Miami, has this type of machine." Why go to all the trouble of carving massive ice blocks into 1-2 inch pieces? "It makes such a difference because it doesn't dilute the flavor. The drink tastes the same, from the first to the last sip," McLemore said. 

I can vouch for two Ice Plant cocktail creations. As complex and compelling as the Sylvia Plath book of the same name, the Bell Jar is an unlikely combination of gin, strawberry rhubarb jam, lemon and cucumber. Reading the ingredients on the menu, I was skeptical. The result, however, was refreshing. It's the ideal  beverage to savor on a summer afternoon - provided you don't have to operate heavy machinery or meet a deadline. On my second visit, I sampled La Dona, the Ice Plant equivalent of a margarita. Like the Bell Jar, the beautifully pink drink packed a powerful punch. 

The Science of Good Taste

A few folks have told me they experienced inconsistency in the strength and flavor of Ice Plant cocktails. I give the establishment an A+ for effort. In this age of pre-packaged flavors and industrial food production, the Ice Plant's earnest emphasis on hand-crafted food and drink is admirable. The micro-brewed libations and fresh ingredients keep the servers on their toes. "The staff helps plan the menus and drinks. We have to be able to describe the unique flavors. We don't just open a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice. There's one employee who juices all of the fruit that goes into our drinks," said server Karley Faver.

The Ice Plant is a separate entity from St. Augustine Distillery, but shares the same dedication to delicious details, starting with decor and filtering down to drinks and food. "We make everything from scratch, including our condiments," McLemore said. Cocktail recipes are created by individual bartenders, hence the initials next to each drink on the menu. That said, if you want a basic Bud or simple Sauvignon, it's available to get chanel bags outlet

Most people may come for the designer drinks, but the food is high quality, too. Intentionally small, the menu selections reflect the seasonal availability of locally-sourced ingredients. The menu features dishes such as grass-fed Georgia beef burgers and local daily catch. The previously mentioned shrimp and grits were an artful interpretation of an old classic.

Staying on top of trends, whether it's farm-to-table fare or micro-brewed beverages, motivates the staff to tweak the menu and experiment with new approaches. The long hours of launching a business haven't dimmed McLemore's enthusiasm. "We're bringing life and energy back into this building," she said.

It's ironic that McLemore and staff, who grew up in the information age, are inspired by the history and hand-crafted precision of a former era. Ironic, but fortunate for St. Augustine, that a new generation of old souls has revitalized a former factory into an inspiring dining destination.


Insider Tip: To avoid long wait times, visit the Ice Plant Monday-Thursday nights or during lunchtime. The best seat in the house? "At the bar, so you see how the drinks are made," said Patricia McLemore

Comments? Email nmoreland@oldcity.com

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Ice Plant Bar: Cecile Browning-Nusbaum; all others: Nancy Moreland
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Renewal on Riberia
Tuesday June 10, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

Renewal on Riberia

American Ingenuity Shines at St. Augustine Distillery

By Nancy Moreland

A city that’s nearly 450 years old can’t help but have character. Year after year, St. Augustine beguiles visitors with its history and sense of place.  St. Augustine Distillery , a newcomer on the Old City scene, radiates a depth of character that usually takes generations to acquire. The evocative ambiance is what Ryan Dettra and Philip McDaniel envisioned for their craft distillery. Craft distilling was catching on everywhere else, why not Florida? After three years of planning, research and working with distillery experts and community investors, their vision took shape.

Repurposing Florida’s Oldest Ice Plant



















After much negotiation, the partners secured their distillery dream location: the former St. Augustine Ice Plant and Florida Power and Light Building. Located at 112 Riberia Street in historic Lincolnville, it was built between 1905 and 1907 and renovated in the 1920s. Remaining true to the era, Dettra and McDaniel renovated and reused as much of the original building as possible. When that wasn’t practical, they salvaged period materials from other buildings. More than four million in painstaking renovations later, the men have infused the industrial building with new purpose. Florida’s oldest ice plant is now a more elegant version of its former self. In 2014, they received a Florida Historic Preservation Award for their efforts.

Local Libations


A building that cranked out 52,096 tons of ice per year is once again producing a cool product. Head Distiller Brendan Wheatley oversees production of the made-from-scratch spirits using fresh, locally-farmed ingredients. Distilling small batch spirits in copper pots creates flavors that are fuller and more pure.

(Vodka on Ice Photo)The Distillery’s vodka is made from sugar cane. “We separate the heads, hearts and tails of the cane during distillation and only use the hearts,” Dettra said. Rum and gin will soon follow. Whiskey drinkers will be pleased to know the Distillery plans to release its first batch in 2015-2016. The whiskey is created from locally-grown heritage corn and winter wheat. “We’re trying to capture the flavors of our region, what’s known as ‘terroir’. We’re in a prime location for brewing quality whiskey,” Dettra said. Florida humidity makes humans wilt, but works to the whiskey distiller’s advantage.

For now, visitors can wet their whistles on Distillery vodka in the Ice Plant Bar upstairs and at more than 140 Florida restaurants and bars. They can also purchase bottled vodka in the Distillery Gift Shop. (Gift Shop purchases are limited to two liters per year by Florida law. Distillery vodka is also sold in regional liquor stores.)

Tours and Tastings


Like a custom cocktail, the Distillery is an experience that should be savored. Start in the attractively curated museum. It tells a concise, compelling story of the building and Florida’s distilling history.

A short video highlights the Distillery’s innovative partnerships with farmers who produce the ingredients.  Like other 21st century entrepreneurs, Dettra and McDaniel try to keep dollars in the local economy. “It’s more expensive to make a product by hand and to buy American-grown ingredients, but it’s the neighborly thing to do,” Dettra said. They also follow sustainable business practices such as water recycling and redirecting spent distillery grains to farmers for animal feed.

After the video, a gregarious guide walks you through the distilling operations, followed by a vodka tasting. Like many St. Augustine attractions, you exit through the gift shop, but this one is worth your time. In addition to vodka, it sells an upscale collection of culinary and cocktail accessories and books.

(Distillery Tasting photo)

















The St. Augustine Distillery brings a new buzz to Lincolnville, a neighborhood that has experienced ups and downs. Judging from the  weekend crowds, this old building with a new twist is the toast of the town.

Insider Tip: The St. Augustine Distillery offers free tours and tastings, 7 days a week, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Coming Soon: My next blog will visit the Distillery's next-door neighbor, the Ice Plant Restaurant and Bar.

Comments? Email nmoreland@oldcity.com

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: St. Augustine Distillery
                   
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Some Enchanted Evening
Wednesday May 28, 2014 @ 9:34 am

Some Enchanted Evening

Colonial Quarter Conjures Cultural Magic with Downtown Bazaar

By Nancy Moreland

It’s the last Saturday night of the month and what are your options? You could lower your IQ watching reality TV. Or, if you're in St. Augustine, Florida, you could experience cultural magic at the Downtown Bazaar in the Colonial Quarter.

Located in the center of St. Augustine’s historic district at 33 St. George Street, the Colonial Quarter was revamped in 2012 by Pat Croce, who also created the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. Mr. Croce, who attended the Bazaar's opening night on April 27, 2014,  said his vision for the Colonial Quarter was to give visitors an experience unlike any other other on St. George Street. The University of Florida owns the Quarter, but Mr. Croce invested millions of his own money to revitalize the facility.

Stepping inside, it's apparent he accomplished his goal. The difference is tangible from the first moment. It's always a bit cooler in this leafy green oasis of sheltering trees and native landscaping. The second difference is the intimate ambiance. The attraction covers three centuries of St. Augustine history in an up close and personal style, through reenactors and curving pathways leading to interactive exhibits. 

During Downtown Bazaar, the Colonial Quarter transforms into a friendly cultural gathering where artists display paintings, photography, sculpture, jewelry and other expressions of creativity tucked amid trees and Colonial-style buildings. Live music emanates from the Colonial Quarter stage and at nightfall, the setting sparkles with hundreds of white lights, creating a magical atmosphere. It’s hard to believe you’re steps away from bustling St. George Street.

Photographer and graphic designer Stacey Sather said the Bazaar began as a way to showcase local talent. “It can be difficult to get into a gallery. The Downtown Bazaar provides regional artists with access to a public display space. It also gives visitors and residents an opportunity to see how much talent exists here in North Florida.”

Ms. Sather credits Event Director Nico Recore of St. Augustine Art Glass with spearheading Downtown Bazaar. Her gallery is one of several local businesses supporting the event. For a complete list of sponsors, see christian louboutin schuhe web: www.thedowntownbazaar.com.

 Downtown Bazaar happens the last Saturday of each month, April-November, from 6 – 10 p.m.


Insider Tips:

Arrive early if you want to dine in the Quarter's Spanish Taberna del Caballo or British Bull and Crown Publick House. Both restaurants fill quickly on Saturday nights.

The Colonial Quarter and its restaurants are pet-friendly, provided that your dog is leashed and well-behaved.

Comments? Email nmoreland@oldcity.com

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Nancy Moreland                       



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First Friday Art Walk
Tuesday March 11, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

First Friday Art Walk

Gallery Hopping through St. Augustine

By Nancy Moreland

When it comes to culture, St. Augustine doesn't let inclement weather get in the way. Rain or shine, the First Friday Art Walk must go on. If anything, cloud bursts, frigid or humid temperatures just make the atmosphere inside the galleries more convivial.

Established by Art Galleries of St. Augustine (AGOSA) and now in its 18th year, the free event has become an Old City tradition. The first Friday of each month, from 5 - 9 p.m., more than 25 member galleries showcase new exhibits, guest artists, refreshments and live music.  

"Art Walk is a professional, collective presence for our member galleries. It's one of many ways AGOSA provides a strong support system for art venues in a recovering economy. Together, we're saying to the world that St. Augustine is a true arts destination. No matter what your artistic interests are, we have it here," said Aimee Wiles-Banion, owner of High Tide Gallery and secretary of the AGOSA Board.

Although the hub of activity happens near the Plaza de la Constitucion, Art Walk also extends to West King Street and Anastasia Island. Participating galleries are listed on AGOSA's self-guided walking tour maps. Maps are available at all AGOSA member galleries, the St. Augustine Visitor Information Center, downtown St. Augustine B&Bs and Jacksonville International Airport.

From folk to fine art, whimsical to introspective, exhibits are as eclectic as the artists themselves. There's wearable art in the form of one-of-a-kind jewelry and stunning sculptures that could fill a foyer. Building a collection on a budget? Art Walk is full of affordable finds, from the work of emerging artists to smaller pieces with smaller price tags from established creatives - replica prada handbags.

"Art Walk has changed the landscape for artists in St. Augustine. New artists are getting an opportunity to showcase their work and established ones are getting repeat patrons. It is a win-win situation for gallery owners, artists and our visitors," said Tina Verduzco, a local artist and owner of 2ghouls Paranormal.

Insider's Tips: After 5 p.m., gallery-goers can park for free at downtown meters and lots, except for the Visitor Center Parking Garage.

From 6-9 p.m., Red Train Tours and Old Town Trolleys provide free Art Walk shuttles around downtown, except during December and January Nights of Lights.

For more information, call 832-779-2781or visit www.artgalleriesofstaugustine.org.


Comments? Email nmoreland@oldcity.com


Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.



Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Top: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau; others: Nancy Moreland.

 

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Tasty Trysts
Wednesday February 12, 2014 @ 8:23 am


Tasty Trysts

Romance is on the Menu in St. Augustine


By Nancy Moreland
 
95 Cordova RestaurantDrive through the heart of St. Augustine, Florida, on any given day or night and you’ll see them: smiling, starry-eyed men and women, strolling along streets, even stepping into traffic at times. They’re beguiled and bewitched and St. Augustine is to blame. They have fallen in love with the Old City, a place so beautiful, it inspires a feeling of romance every day, not just on February 14th.  

Fortunately for foodies, romance is on the menu in St. Augustine, which has a generous selection of excellent eateries. As of this writing, there were a few tables available for Valentine’s Day at three of St. Augustine’s most romantic restaurants. However, you may find the night before or after the big day more relaxing. Whether for Valentine’s or another date night, the ambience and cuisine of these establishments makes every meal a special occasion.

95 Cordova
Located inside the exquisitely restored Casa Monica, a boutique hotel in St. Augustine’s historic district, 95 Cordova has all the elements of a romantic evening: candlelight, fine food, wine, intimate atmosphere. The main dining room is lovely, but two other dining areas are especially inviting. With fewer than six tables and a gated entry, the cozy Wine Room epitomizes romance. According to staff, it’s a popular spot to pop the question. Another option is the Sultan’s Room, which seats up to 25 people – two of whom could easily be Bogart and Bergman, so Casablanca-esque is the setting.

Chef Aaron Chavarria, formerly of Sarasota’s Hyatt Regency, presents a deliciously diverse array of dishes, influenced by his Nicaraguan roots and time spent living in Europe. The menu is as luxurious as the surroundings, featuring selections like Bahamian lobster tail and pan seared duck breast, with suggested wine pairings.

If 95 Cordova’s location makes it a memorable dining destination, it also presents a problem – one night may not be enough to fully savor the experience. Food and Beverage Director Scott Melton has a solution. “Casa Monica, especially with our revamped Sunday brunch, is a great place to stay for a romantic weekend,” he says. The brunch features free champagne, a chef-attended omelet station, salads, seafood and other culinary delights.  

Insider's Tip: Diners receive a discounted valet parking rate of $5.00 at the Casa Monica parking garage. Ask to have your ticket validated. Or, park in public lots near the hotel, for $1.50/hour; free after 5 p.m., on Sundays and holidays.

 

The Tasting Room

The vivid stylish flair of The Tasting Room’s interior and exterior dining areas make beautiful backdrops for cuisine reflecting St. Augustine’s Spanish heritage. Located on Cuna Street, it feels more like a private home than popular restaurant. Chef Michael Lugo's new spring menu is just in time for Valentine’s Day. The restaurant is well known for tapas and Mediterranean touches such as sun dried tomatoes, Spanish-cured meats and manchego cheese. Chef Lugo also offers innovative dishes like Moorish quinoa paella, a vegetarian version of a classic dish, with pine nuts, raisins, eggplant, tomatoes and kale. Lugo’s appreciation of Spanish cuisine includes a wine list with more than 150 Spanish wines.
 
Like many St. Augustine chefs, he uses locally-sourced, seasonal food whenever possible, including bread baked at the restaurant.

Café Atlantico
St. Augustine may be a small town, but it has a way of delighting visitors (and residents) with pleasant surprises. Café Atlantico on Anastasia Island is one such example. The 1950s architecture and beach location might fool you into thinking it’s another island restaurant serving fried seafood to folks in flip flops. Appearances are deceiving. Stepping inside, you could be in a chic Manhattan bistro. This is exactly what Chef Paolo Pece envisioned when he opened Café Atlantico in 1999. Pece teamed with architect Paul Robinson and artist Peter Leventhal to create a restaurant resembling those he remembered from his native Italy and Manhattan, where he worked as a sous chef. Pece earned his master chef degree from the Italian Culinary Institute in Naples, Italy, and worked as an executive chef at Il Ristorante in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Seated in Pece's 10-table upscale café, diners enjoy artwork on the walls and on their plates, feeling as though they’ve been let in on a special secret. 

Like his small café, Pece’s culinary focus follows a “less is more” approach. Unlike the current trend toward complicated food, he artfully employs a few simple ingredients to highlight the flavors of fresh local seafood, meat and produce.  A new scallop dish, for example, uses just four ingredients, all of which complement each other. His wine list is likewise carefully curated, featuring around 40 Italian and Californian wines. Café Atlantico’s menu reflects all regions of Italy, but you won’t find what Pece terms “Italian-American” lasagna or spaghetti and meat balls. “Those dishes don’t exist in Italy,” he explains. Pece’s seasonal approach to cooking requires frequent menu changes, which feeds his creativity. "I love to cook. When you're happy, it's reflected in your work," he says.

Pece’s quality versus quantity approach earned him a Snail of Approval from Slow Food First Coast. According to the nonprofit organization’s website, it was founded to “counteract the effects of fast food and fast life.” Though Pece’s kitchen is fast paced, the thought he invests into each meal is not. All the small moments – whether he’s picking fresh herbs from his garden or visiting local butchers for the freshest cuts – add up to a presentation that leaves diners smitten and pining for more christian louboutin schuhe.

Both Café Atlantico and The Tasting Room are members of St. Augustine Independent Restaurant Association.

Questions? Comments? Please email nmoreland@OldCity.com.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog. Change is inevitable, however, so before embarking on your Old City adventure, verify hours, fees, etc. with the contact information provided above.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. W
hen sharing, please credit OldCity.com.

Photo credits: Top: 95 Cordova; Center: Paolo Pece.


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A Sailor's View of the Nights of Lights
Tuesday December 17, 2013 @ 8:09 am

A Sailor's View of the Nights of Lights

Hit the holiday pause button on Schooner Freedom's Sunset Sail

By Nancy Moreland

Need relief from the holiday rush? Just add water.

If you've ever glimpsed Schooner Freedom  gliding through Matanzas Bay and yearned to be aboard, wait no longer. There are few sights more breathtaking than St. Augustine's skyline, illuminated by more than three million lights, especially when viewed from the water.

The experience ought to be on everyone's bucket list.

Serenity Under Sail
Step aboard Schooner Freedom and within minutes of drifting away from the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, all land-locked concerns subside. You never lose sight of land on the two-hour sail, yet you're gracefully beyond the grasp of your busy life back home. Sea breezes beckon and dolphins dip playfully among the waves. You sit back, relax and leave the work of piloting the 76' topsail schooner to Captain John Zaruba III or his wife, Admiral Sarah Zaruba and their capable crew of Kim Desmond and Jimmy Fox.  Not that you won't have a chance to help out. Sailing is a group effort; everyone on board gets to hoist a sail if they're so inclined.



Built in 1982, Schooner Freedom is a steel replica of the American wooden blockade-runners that baffled the British in the War of 1812. Weather permitting, she sails twice daily from the Marina. Sailing is an activity attuned to nature; the wind, weather and currents determine your course. On most trips, the Schooner cruises under the Bridge of Lions, through Matanzas Bay and far enough into St. Augustine Inlet to experience a tantalizing hint of open water. The wide, stable craft sets landlubbers at ease, as does the crew, who cheerfully dispense complimentary beer, wine, water, blankets and jokes along the way.
 
The Pursuit of Happiness
As true owner/operators, the Zarubas have run thousands of sails since launching Schooner Freedom Charters in 2001. "Most passengers are surprised to see owners actually on board, sailing," says Captain John. A fifth-generation Floridian, John Zaruba has the easy-going attitude often found in people who spend a lot of time outdoors. In winter 2015, he plans to begin offering private, week-long charters down the Florida coast on his new baby: a 90' packet schooner named "Pursuit."






As Christopher Cross once crooned, sailing does takes you away. An antidote to holiday stress,  Schooner Freedom surrounds you with peaceful moments . . .  sails whispering in the wind, flocks of birds winging through the sunset, the sea buoys' breath-on-a-Coke-bottle murmurs. It's a gentle journey that reminds you of the gift of St. Augustine's beauty.

Nights of Lights Sunset Sails depart daily at 4:15, now through January 31st, from St. Augustine Municipal Marina, 111 Avenida Menendez. Price: $45/person. Sunset, Full Moon, Afternoon and Private Sails run year-round; departure times vary, depending on the season. To book a sail or for more information, call 904-810-1010 or email schoonerfreedom@aol.com.

Insider Tip:
It gets breezy on board, so bring a jacket. Don't forget the binoculars: you may spot dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and waterfowl along the way. There's no parking at the Marina and parking along the Bayfront is limited. The Visitors Center parking garage is a better bet.

Comments? Thoughts? Email nmoreland@oldcity.com

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog. Change is inevitable, so please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Top: Sara LeClaire; All others: Nancy Moreland


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Catch the Holiday Spirit in St. Augustine
Wednesday December 11, 2013 @ 10:18 am

Catch the Holiday Spirit in St. Augustine

Five Places to Get Your Jingle On

By Nancy Moreland

In St. Augustine, like other parts of the nation, some big-box retailers began overlapping holiday inventories in September. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations, stacked aisle-to-aisle, created a surreal display of seasonal whiplash. Next thing we knew, Christmas tunes began belting out of our radios before Turkey Day. And while most of the country was covered in snow, the Old City stayed stuck in 80 degree weather.

It's enough to make a Scrooge of anyone.

Yet, even before National Geographic ranked St. Augustine one of the top 10 places to experience holiday lights, our town was a special spot to celebrate the season. Certain aspects of St. Augustine's personality protect it from falling completely under the spell of over-zealous commercialism: a strong sense of place and history, Southern hospitality balanced by an influx of cosmopolitan residents, a multitude of small, locally-owned businesses. 

Here are five ways to boost your holiday mood, St. Augustine style:

1. Soak up the Nights of Lights on a Country Carriages tour. Viewed from a horse-drawn carriage at a 19th century pace, the display is especially magical. If the weather turns chilly, drivers provide cozy blankets. Private tours are $85/up to four people. Insider Tip: Share a carriage with another couple and you may be able to trim the cost of your fare. Ask your driver.

Nights of Lights tours run through February 2nd and depart nightly from the Bayfront. 


2. Sip a cocoa concoction. On weekends from 5:30-close, The Kookaburra hot chocolate bar allows patrons to mix and match cocoa toppings with glee. The bar includes everything from white chocolate sprinkles to caramel, cherry, blackberry and peppermint flavorings. Overlooking the Plaza, Kookaburra coffee shop is the perfect pit stop. A cup of cocoa will fuel several strolls around town to admire the lights.

Want to sample a sophisticated cocoa drink a bit closer to what the colonials imbibed? Visit Casa Maya, at 22 Hypolita Street. Your server will whip up a mixture of Abuelita brand Mexican chocolate, with just enough nutmeg and chipotle pepper to make it intriguing. It's hot cocoa for grownups, deliciously different from the instant variety.



3. Inhale the scentual delights of Southern Lights Candle Company. As the sign reads, "Come in for the smell of it," and you'll discover tapers, pillars and votives instilled with a variety of exquisite aromas. All are handcrafted onsite by owner Susan Bradley a veteran candlesmith. Housed in an 18th century cottage at 12 Cuna Street overlooking Castillo de San Marcos , the shop comes by its historic patina honestly. It's one of St. Augustine's most enjoyable shopping experiences, akin to Williamsburg's colonial ambience. Insider Tip: Susan's bayberry tapers with jaunty bows make budget-friendly hostess gifts for holiday parties can get diskont christian louboutin.

4. Indulge your silly side. Only the most hardened of humbugs could ride the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley without smiling. Hop on, slip into the 3D glasses that turn millions of  holiday lights into Santa's face and sing Christmas carols as you roll through a city high on holiday happiness. Fun for families, the trolley's a bargain at $9/adults Sun-Thurs; $12/adults weekends; $4/kids, 6-12. Tours run through January 4th and depart 6-8 p.m. from the Visitors Information Center, 10 Castillo Drive.

5. Attend St. Augustine's signature holiday event, The Nutcracker. Staged by the St. Augustine Ballet, this year's production features guest artists from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. December 21 and 22. Tickets are $25 and $30.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog. Change is inevitable, so please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Nights of Lights: OldCity.com; Casa Maya cocoa: Nancy Moreland; Southern Lights Candles: Susan Bradley.

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New Year's Eve 2011 in St. Augustine
Tuesday December 20, 2011 @ 10:38 am

The Nation's Oldest City is the perfect spot to say goodbye to 2011 and hello to 2012! Whether you're looking for family friendly fun or a romantic evening, there is a celebration in St. Augustine for you to enjoy. We've put together some details about the New Year's events happening around town so you can make your plans and reservations for the big night.

New Year's Eve Balloon Drop at the Cultural Center of Ponte Vedra Beach

Don't want to stay up until midnight? You can still celebrate the New Year at the Noon Balloon drop!  The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach is bringing back the bang with their New Year's Eve Noon Balloon Drop.  Grab a slice of pizza pie while the kids decorate cookies and dance away the morning in our bubble-wrap room as you jump to the jingles of our house band tunes.  Create a hilarious hat with eyes that wiggle or make party masks that will make everyone giggle.  Be there before noon to save your spot, they will drop hundreds of balloons at noon on the dot! This event is free to members of the CCPVB or $5 per person for non-members (a family of four can purchase four tickets for $15). Pay at the door, space is limited. For more information, please visit ccpvb.org.

Beach Blast-Off at the St. Augustine Pier

Kick off 2012 in seaside style at this special St. Augustine Beach event! Enjoy a blast of flavor, icy sculptures, and fireworks when several of St. Augustine's favorite restaurants serve up chili for tasting and judging at the Fire and Ice Chili Cook-off from 4 to 8 p.m. After things cool off from the chili - the Fireworks begin at 8:30 p.m. This display will delight visitors and help usher in the New Year! Admission is free. The Beach Blast takes place at St. Johns County Fishing Pier and Pavilion, 350 A1A Beach Boulevard in St. Augustine Beach.



Uptown Saturday Night: New Year's Eve Edition

Join the businesses on San Marco Avenue (just north of the Visitor's Information Center and Parking Garage) for their monthly Uptown Saturday Night gathering. Art galleries, book stores, boutiques and restaurants along the street will stay open until at least 9:00 p.m. (restaurants and bars will be open later) for extended shopping. Live entertainment, refreshments and more will be part of the celebration from 5:00 p.m . to 9:00 p.m. Parking at the  Mission Nombre de Dios is FREE and conveniently located to the San Marco shopping district. Come out and enjoy the night!

New Year's Eve at the Tasting Room

The Tasting Room's annual New Year's Eve tradition continues in 2011-12 with a two options for an incredible tasting experience. Select one of the early seating times (5:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m. or 6:30 p.m.) and you will enjoy a decadent three course meal and live entertainment from Sam Pacetti. The early seating options are $48 per person plus beverages, taxes and gratuity. For the full New Year's experience, make your reservations for the 9:00 p.m. seating which features a four course meal, wine pairings and live entertainment from flamenco dancers and "mental entertainer" Meraux Dantes. A complimentary champagne toast at midnight is included with this option for a total cost of $75 per person plus beverages, taxes and gratuity. Limited seating is available so make your reservations soon!


No matter what you decide to do in St. Augustine to ring in the New Year we wish you a safe and happy evening!


Best wishes for a prosperous, healthy and happy 2012.


- OldCity.com

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5 Things You Need to Know About the St. Augustine Amphitheatre
Monday August 15, 2011 @ 10:37 am

This weekend features not one but TWO concerts at one of Northeast Florida’s premier music venues, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Grammy winning bluegrass artists Alison Krauss and Union Station will play to a sold out crowd on Friday night while acoustic rock and reggae group Slightly Stoopid will take the stage on Sunday night. In its fourth year of operation since a major overhaul was completed in 2007, the amphitheater has become a favorite stop for musical acts from a variety of genres, as well as the preferred venue for St. Augustine residents and visitors.

So what is there to know about the amphitheater? Plenty! We’ve got five pointers for you that will make your next visit to the amphitheater the perfect night out:

The St. Augustine Amphitheatre has seating for just over 4,000 people, that's a lot of cheers when the lights go down!

1. Parking: On the day of an event, limited parking is available at amphitheater itself, but if you don’t make it in time to snag a space in the venue’s lot, go next door to the Elk’s Lodge. Behind the main lodge, the rear parking lot at the Elk’s Lodge is connected directly to the amphitheater’s lot, allowing for a very short walk to and from the concert. Parking is also available in satellite lots at the St. Augustine Pier and R.B. Hunt Elementary with a shuttle that provides a quick ride to the amphitheater. Please respect the rest of the community and do NOT park in the residential areas surrounding the amphitheater, there are plenty of other options!

2. Vending: Once inside, you’ll find vendors stationed on the platform prior to your entry into the seating area of the amphitheater. Most shows feature your typical concert staples–pizza, hot dogs, nachos, sodas, beer and cocktails. Frozen margaritas and daiquiris are usually on hand as well, both at the entry vending and in the lawn areas on the outside edges of the upper level sections. Most musicians also have a merchandise area under the stands in the entry area.

3. Restrooms: This may seem like a silly thing to point out, but if you’ve ever missed half a concert standing in a bathroom line it’s worth noting that there are two sets of bathrooms at the amphitheater, one of which few people actually know about. The main facilities are located off the entry concourses at the top of the amphitheater, but there are also men’s and women’s facilities plus porta-potties positioned to the right (east) of the stage. These are accessible to everyone, not just people seated in the pit area.

4. Weather: The St. Augustine Amphitheatre is an OUTDOOR venue. A canopy covers the lower two sections and pit, but it does not protect from heat or mosquitoes. Dress accordingly and bring bug spray. Patrons in the upper levels (sections 301, 302 and 303) are not covered by the venue’s canopy, so if it looks like rain you may want to bring along a poncho. In colder weather (it’s rare but it does happen in Florida) blankets are also permitted.

5. Seating: The seat numbers at the amphitheater can be just a tad confusing. If you ordered your tickets and were unclear why your two seats weren’t next to each other, you’re not alone. In the odd number sections of the amphitheater (101, 103, 201, 203, 301 and 303) the seat numbers are either evens or odds. So for example, the seat numbers in sections 101, 201 and 301 go 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, etc. so if you have seats 2 and 4 you are next to each other. In sections 103, 203 and 303 the seat numbers are odd, going in order 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, etc. In the center sections, however, (102, 202 and 302) the numbers are sequential. If you’re still confused, fear not, the amphitheater has a knowledgeable crew of volunteers on hand to help you find your seats.

That’s all you need to know to have a great time at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre! Come out this weekend for either of the concerts going on or stop by Saturday afternoon for the Back2School Beach Fest!

- OldCity.com

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