On Nov 16th, we flew from Austin to Florida to escape winter, spend time with family for the holidays, but also explore on our own. Though we did visit with family in Stuart, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Orange, the next few posts will be mostly about the places we explored on our own, starting with St Augustine, FL. I’ve found that we experience places a lot differently when we are on our own. And the adventure continues!
After spending time with my in-laws and my family, we decided to adventure out on our own a bit. Our first stop was the beautiful and historic St. Augustine! I had been here before with my grandparents once in college, and again a few years later for a ghost tour, but had never actually stayed in the city for more than a few hours. Did you know that St Augustine, FL is the oldest city in America? Because it is the oldest city, there’s also a lot of history, ghost tours, and great sights to see.
We actually stayed in beautiful Vilano beach, right over the bridge from the touristy area of Old St Augustine, FL. We stayed in a guest house through Airbnb, where we ended up being the only guests, and got upgraded to the in-law apartment of the place. This part of the house had the most amazingly comfortable king bed, which was quite the upgrade after sleeping on some hard mattresses and twin beds! The neighborhood was very quiet, with a short walk across the street to the beach.
Since it was December, we had the beach ALMOST to ourselves to relax, walk, or sprint on! This was shortly following hurricane Matthew which hit this area pretty hard. Check out the photos below for an example of what the storm did.
A mile down the street, there was a local’s restaurant called Aunt Kates. This was recommended by our host, so we went one night to watch the sunset and have an early…SUPER early, 5:15pm dinner! Great spot to watch the sunset, fabulous happy hour, and a light, delicious dinner!
Activities by the Bridge
On another day, we ventured over to The Beaches at Vilano, which was a nice spot for lunch or to watch the sunset. It is right next to the bridge on the water, which gives you plenty of nice views. You can eat in, or they have lots of seating on the porch and sand. Bonus! They have a tiki bar outside! We came here to get some sunshine for lunch, and I got the ahi tuna which was very fresh and delicious.
If you are into getting some exercise, there is a small parking lot at the end of the bridge on A1A, across from Publix (my FAVORITE grocery store btw!) where you can park and access the nature trail or go for a walk or run over the bridge. The little lot was full, so I simply parked at Publix and crossed the street.
Nights of Lights in St Augustine
If you have never been to St Augustine, FL, try going around Christmas! The Nights of Lights is truly a beautiful way to get into the holiday spirit! The Nights of Lights runs from mid November to the end of January. They light up the whole downtown area with white lights, and each business has their own beautiful holiday décor.
You can get tickets to ride a train through the city which is a fun way to see the lights. You will get magic glasses that make all lights look like a snowflake. They also play Christmas carols to really help you get in the spirit. For me, being in Florida for Christmas was so weird but this really helped get over that! Be sure to check out Castillo de San Marcos, aka “the fort.” It is only $10 for each adult, and you can learn a lot about the history of Florida and the US!
Things to do in Downtown
Being huge chocoholic, we had to go to Whetstone Chocolates for some goodies. Luckily, we were able to get a few gifts here, as well as some other yummies for us too! We also took a free tour and tasting at the St Augustine Distillery which was really nice. When we got hungry, we stumbled upon the Burrito Works Taco Shop for a delicious meal. I highly recommend getting the UFO bowl!
Another great dinner we had, which was a recommendation from my in-laws, was the Floridian. This place has some great craft cocktails, as well as farm to table food. We got the “Company’s Coming” which was such a great combo, in addition to chips and dip, and the amazing pork belly salad! A few other places I recommend are Flagler College and the Lightner Museum! There are a lot of other great touristy things to do here as well, including the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, Fountain of Youth, trolley tours, and plenty of other sight-seeing.
St Augustine was a beautiful mix of history, great food, fun atmosphere, and the serenity of Vilano Beach at our amazing airbnb! If you ever go, be sure to stay at either a bed and breakfast downtown, or get an airbnb on Vilano Beach! Lots to see and do here for the whole family!