This story was originally posted to GettingHungary.com’s “Side Trips” in November 2019
It is time for the annual St. Augustine Nights of Lights celebration, an event recognized by National Geographic Traveler as one of the ten best holiday lighting displays in the world. The festivities begin November 23rd and continue through January 31, 2020.
- St Augustine’s (and the country’s) oldest hotel—The St. Francis Inn, built in 1791—has a special package for those who stay for two weeknights. Each of these guests receives free passes to a 30-minute Holiday Old Town Trolley Evening Tour, champagne, Claude’s Chocolates, and a free coupon for a chocolate drink at Claude’s. The holidays bring crowds and full lodgings, for the annual celebration, so book early!
The Inn also has special desserts designed especially for the 12 Days of Christmas.
St. Francis Inn has several rooms and the breakfast room in the main Inn as well as nearby cottages that offer various room sizes and suites with access to the main Inn and its amenities. The B&B Casa de Suenos is theirs, too. A few of the Inn’s beach properties, ranging in size from a one-bedroom studio to a 1400 s.f. house, are all a short walk to the dunes. Guests staying at the beach also enjoy the Inn’s amenities, and guests at the Inn have free access to the beach with chairs, towels and combo-locked bathrooms available.
Innkeepers Joe and Margaret Finnegan have owned the Inn for over 30 years and they think of every small detail their guests could need—from board games and non-stop coffee and tea in the sitting room right off the lobby, to pre-bedtime desserts and late-night snacks, bikes, golf umbrellas, and cut glass decanters filled with cream sherry in all the rooms. And, of course, chocolate on the pillows. A pool, complete with floats and fun water items, surrounded by shady seating areas, is tucked away behind the Inn, and a fire pit area for making s’mores at night is set up under trees strung festively with twinkling lights and illuminated balls.
Another tour opportunity for the holidays, provided by The Tasting Tours, includes private and group carriage rides (some driven by Santa), An alcohol-free family-oriented Roadster Ride features the Grinch at the wheel doing his “Grinchmas” antics.
At other times of the year, The Tasting Tours packages include 3-hour wine (or beer) pairing “adventures” in the form of walking tours, carriage rides, and roadster tours with options for private groups such as corporate events and bridal or girl getaway parties. Roadster driver (and Grinch), Corley Chapman, was named the 2018 Tourism Employee of the Year, and he makes sure the guests have a good time and get safely where they need to go. Wine tastings include locations from Carrera Wine Cellar to Smoked Southern BBQ at the Fountain of Youth, and Chocolattes for a wine pairing with decadent chocolate desserts.
Corazon Cinema and Café celebrates a Very Harry Holiday on December 14 with a Harry Potter-themed theater that has been transformed into a magical holiday dance party. The Corazon regularly offers food, drink and entertainment all at the same time with eat-in movie and event theaters, and rooms for weddings and private parties. Stop by any Saturday or Sunday for Afternoon Tea. Other events on the schedule include comedy, trivia, story tellers, plays, open mic poetry readings and much more.
Those interested in wine and spirits, as well as “spirits” (the spooky kind), won’t be disappointed. The San Sebastian Winery offers free tours and tastings every day, except major holidays. The St. Augustine Distillery offers a taste of a good craft spirits and a tour of the distillery and museum. The Ice Plant Bar at the end of the tour serves food and drink with the chance to look around their gift shop with bar items, barbecue sauces, drink mixes and more. Remember that it’s five o’clock somewhere, because the tours begin before noon, most days as early as 10:00 a.m.
St. Augustine’s history as the oldest established city in the U.S., along with some vicious fights and battles in determining who would take ownership of the area, and some sad stories of love lost, lives lost, and dreams dashed, has led to ghostly legends, not to mention claims of actual otherwordly encounters by visitors and those who live and work in the city. In addition to private tours, Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure is one of the most well-known tours available. But, just ask at your hotel or restaurant if they have any ghost stories to share, and you are sure to hear some interesting tales. St. Francis Inn sponsors Ghostly Getaways for just those kind of thrill-seeking guests..
[Full disclosure: The editor was invited to tour St. Augustine on a media trip to visit some of the places mentioned in this article.]