The oldest city in the country is open with minimal damage after Hurricane Irma passed through. And it’s back with a kick!
St. Augustine’s history comes alive with a new exhibit at the Lightner Museum, formerly the Alcazar Hotel built by railroad magnate-turned-wealthy-hotelier Henry Flagler in 1888. The costumes from the TV series Downton Abbey have come to town, and along with some of the hotel’s restored original furniture, has made quite the exhibit. But Downton fans should act fast to get tickets before the run is up in January 2018.
The museum has also recently started an “Upstairs/Downstairs" tour as well, showcasing the museum’s former life as a hotel for the elite, but also taking visitors up to the museum’s previously unopened fourth floor to experience behind-the-scenes of how the hotel’s employees lived. Don’t miss the chance to dine at the bottom of a swimming pool—what was previously the hotel’s pool is now a delightful cafe serving afternoon tea (all in the spirit of Downton, of course)!
Visit the city for a memorable holiday for St. Augustine’s Nights of Light. Inspired by the tradition of lit candles displayed in windows of homes around town during the holiday, it has become a citywide tradition on a grander scale. Three million white lights make the city aglow during the season, just the thing to put you in the holiday mood.
St. Augustine is a city full of history, but there’s no shortage of culture. From its Spanish founding before being taken over by British rule, and eventually purchased by the U.S.—with additional strong influences from the city’s early residents of Mediterranean and African descent—the cuisine and architecture tell the city’s story. Here are the best options for soaking up the best of what St. Augustine has to offer.
Relax at the cozy Casa de Suenos located in St. Augustine’s downtown historic district. This historic bed and breakfast, built in the early 20th century, has all the modern amenities needed to feel like home. And it’s within walking distance of the best restaurants, museums, shopping and attractions the city has to offer.
Another intimate option is the gay-owned At Journey’s End Bed and Breakfast, this 5-room inn is also located right downtown. Park your car and make your way around town on foot, the city’s trolleys—or if you really want to step back into the past, take a guided tour by horse and carriage.
Of course, before you eat, it’s time for cocktails. Take a tour of the city’s distillery, St. Augustine Distillery. Known for distilling rum, gin, vodka and whiskey bourbon, it’s a great way to taste the city and experience locally crafted spirits made in an environmentally conscious distilling process using only locally sourced ingredients.
The distillery will whet your appetite for the upstairs Ice Plant Bar & Restaurant. Both are housed in what formerly was an actual ice packing plant. The warehouse space was transformed into a vintage bar that will keep you in the mindset of the early 1900s, but with a detailed list of cocktails crafted with the distillery’s house-made spirits and a delicious local farm-to-table menu made from fresh seasonal ingredients.
Pay a visit to a local classic, The Floridian. The restaurant’s farm-to-table menu is comprised of Southern dishes with an intriguing twist (like Shrimp ’n Grits made with purple rice grits), fresh seafood and vegan options. Don’t forget to order dessert—choose from a curious list of delights like apple pie with sour cream or the butternut squash pie.
Though there are no “official” gay bars in St. Augustine, check out a local favorite, Tini Martini Bar at the Casablanca Inn. You can select your martini of choice from an extensive list, like a watermelon or cucumber tini, or peruse the wine and craft beers. Relax on the outdoor patio with a waterfront view while listening to live jazz and blues.
Make an escape to the Guana Tolomato Reserve for an afternoon. Listed as one of the top 10 gay beaches in Florida, this seaside reserve in Ponte Vedra Beach is situated between Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Besides gorgeous beaches, lofty sand dunes, salt marshes, tidal wetlands and estuarine lagoons, there’s an unofficial gay meet-up at Guana’s first beach access point. Just follow the boardwalk down the 40-foot dunes to a secluded spot on the beach along A1A.
Explore St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park. The park is home to every species of Crocodilia in the world, including the American Alligator. The attraction has been home to the giant reptiles since the late 19th century. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with one of nature’s most frightening beasts. Be sure to stick around for one of the park’s feedings to get really up close and personal. If you’re feeling even more daring, the park also offers Crocodile Crossing, a zipline course soaring over the park’s enclosures.