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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.

"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

Comments? Email

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 when sharing.

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



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.

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

Questions? Comments? Please email

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

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


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

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

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 when sharing.

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


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.

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 when sharing.

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


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

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.



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!



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