Girls’ Getaway to America’s Oldest City, St. Augustine

Cuisine Noir Magazine. April 2019.

Best known as the oldest European settlement in the United States, the charming town of St. Augustine, Fla., is a well-kept secret. It’s rich history, Spanish-style architecture, European-style promenades and beautiful Florida bay, make it idyllic to treat your mom or escape with your girlfriends this spring or summer.

St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Monument in the plaza
Pictured: St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Monument | Photo credit: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau

Getting to St Augustine is easy. Just fly into Jacksonville and take a 45-minute cab ride to the city. Once in St. Augustine, you don’t need to drive. The 144-block city filled with B&B’s, restaurants, museums, shops and homes, is accessible on foot and by the Red Train trolleys that stop at major attractions.

Stay at the family-run Bayfront Marin House Inn, a cozy home with porches and hammocks to relax and enjoy a view of the gardens and the bay. Mingle with the owners and other guests over a free cocktail hour offered every evening. Alternately, splurge at Casa Monica, a luxury hotel set in a Moorish Revival-style building built in 1888 in the heart of the historic district. Even if you are not staying at the hotel, stop by for a glass of chilled sangria and spicy Kessler calamari at the Mediterranean restaurant, Costa Brava. The Moroccan inspired interiors and artwork spread throughout Casa Monica are worth looking around.

The Birthplace of African-American History

St. Augustine is the birthplace of African-American history. Fort Mose (two miles north of St. Augustine) is the site of the first free African settlement legally sanctioned by the Spanish in what is now known as the United States in 1738.  It is also the headquarters of the first Black armed soldiers commanded by a Black officer, who actively engaged in military combat with English colonists from the Carolinas and Georgia. St. Augustine was one of the few places in Florida to enforce emancipation during the Civil War. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to St. Augustine and was arrested on the steps of the Monson Motel (now the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront). It is believed that King’s arrest along with demonstrations he organized are what led to Senate passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

St. Augustine is also the longest European inhabited city in the United States where you will find descendants of its original European settlers still running establishments. As a result, excellent quality restaurants are serving international cuisine with a Florida twist. Taste the best Majorcan clam chowder at Catch 27, French escargot in white wine at Cafe Alcazar, Polish pierogis at Gaufre’s & Goods Inc, authentic Cuban sandwiches at La Herencia Café and fried green tomatoes at The Floridian Restaurant.

Fried Green Tomatoes at The Floridian Restaurant in St. Augustine, FL
Pictured: Fried Green Tomatoes at The Floridian Restaurant | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Eat and Drink St. Augustine

Have a southern brunch of Mayport shrimp and grits on the porch of Preserved Restaurant, located in a Victorian home, once occupied by Thomas Jefferson’s great-granddaughter and ran by James Beard-nominated chef Brian Whittington. Head a block over to see the first stop (#101, 79 Bridge Street) on the ACCORD Freedom Trail in the Lincolnville neighborhood, which was settled by freed slaves and played a significant role in the Civil Rights movement.

Take a tour of Florida’s first distillery set in a former ice plant from 1917. Here you can learn about the process of making spirits and taste bourbon, gin, rum and vodka at the St. Augustine Distillery. Make sure to check out The Ice Plant, a cool bar upstairs known for its handcrafted cocktails and a breezy patio overlooking the city.

Guests at the Ice Plant in St. Augustine, FL
Pictured: Guests at the Ice Plant | Photo credit: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau

Award-winning San Sebastian Winery, celebrated for their premium, sparking and dessert wines from muscadine grapes offers complimentary wine tasting tours. A great way to round up the afternoon is by learning how to make chocolate during a Whetstone Chocolate Factory tasting tour.

You may not find any “magic water” at the Ponce de Léon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, but it’s a good place to indulge in some history and nature. Stroll through the lush 15-acre park among majestic peacocks and stop at the open-air exhibits featuring Timucua civilization and the Spanish conquests.

Perhaps a better way to detox your mind and body is by spending time in a sensory deprivation floating tank at the St. Augustine Salt Spa. Inspired by the world-famous Polish Wieliczka Salt Mine, this is the first 5-star halotherapy (salt therapy) health resort in Florida featuring a salt cave made with imported Polish and Himalayan salt, infrared sauna and float tank therapies. Plan to spend approximately three hours to enjoy all the amenities.

The Lightner Museum, housed in the former Alcazar Hotel, has an eclectic collection of items including art from Africa. The interior of the hotel once had the world’s largest indoor swimming pool in 1888 and is now used for weddings and events.

African Art at the Lighter Museum
Pictured: African Art at the Lighter Museum | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

An entire weekend is not enough time to visit St. Augustine’s many museums, art galleries, and boutique shops. A guided tour of the Flagler College, former Hotel Ponce de León, known for its Spanish Renaissance architecture and a prestigious guest list, is a must. Tours are usually sold out so book in advance.

For more information for planning your trip to St. Augustine, go online to www.visitstaugustine.com and follow the city’s adventures on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine.

South Florida – more than just South Beach

DIWYY

Miami is a major attraction for people who are looking to soak in the sun, shop for brand names and party like a rock star. But if the South Beach scene is “been there, done that” for you, consider driving out a short distance to one of the smaller beach towns where you will be able to find a more affordable nightlife, accessible beaches and young professional crowds.  Palm Beach County in south Florida offers city life with an urban vibe without any of the congestion.  It is the ideal destination to relax, shop, eat and party.

West Palm Beach is only an hour drive from Miami, but a world away. Just drive down South Ocean Blvd. and you will see why. With rows of one-of-a-kind Spanish bungalows overlooking quiet and pristine beaches, this place gives you the feeling of being a millionaire (without actually having to spend like one.) Chances areyou will be able to find a spot on the beach where you can spend some alone time. If however, you prefer the crowds, head over to the Palm Beach which is always buzzing with activities. There are free concerts, festivals and food events throughout the year all around downtown.

The area attracts students from Palm Beach Atlantic University, weekend vacationers from Miami as well as tourists from South America. No wonder you can find everything from Mediterranean cuisine and sushi to ice cream and burgers – all within the 5 blocks stretch of Clematis Street. Head over to Rocco’s Tacos for the best tasting margaritas and tacos at an affordable price. While there, don’t forget to try the Mexican chocolate pie, a rich dense chocolate pudding in a coconut crust with a salted caramel sauce. The rooftop of the Sky 309 Bar is the happening place to be for music and dance overlooking all of Clematis Street. Once you are hot from boogying, head over to the outdoor patio bar at ER Bradley’s and cool off by the waterfront.

The arts scene at West Palm Beach will also grab your attention when you need a break from partying. Clematis Street’s 500 Block has live murals, glass blowers, block parties, bands and more, exhibited late into the night. Cityplace, located just around the corner from Clematis is a great place to shop, grab a coffee or watch a movie.  Walk over or hop on the free trolley that goes around downtown. Whether you are a beach body, a fashion diva, a self proclaimed foodies or a music buff, there is something for everyone to do here, only within a few feet of each other.

Another charming downtown and an abundant nightlife is Delray Beach, which is located 20 miles south of Palm Beach, 28 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale and 50 miles north of Miami.  Delray Beach was named All-American City in 1993 and in 2001, the only city in Florida to receive the award twice. Only 10 communities in the U.S. receive this award each year.

Also knows as the “Hamptons of the south” or “Village by the Sea”, Delray Beach boasts 130 restaurants, 110 spas and fitness centers, 20 hotels and 20 art galleries. Everything is conveniently located within walking or short driving distance. During the day, you enjoy the sun, beach and water, indulge in water sports or pamper yourself at the spa. Evening is time to hit the restaurants, bars and clubs on Atlantic Avenue. Most people end up on Atlantic Avenue, the heart of Delray, a one mile stretch of restaurants, bars and shops that ends on the beach. Travel Holiday magazine voted Delray’s Beaches as the top public beaches in thesoutheastern United States for swimming and one of the top 35 beaches in the entire country.

The scene on the street changes completely after 10pm. Bars are open till 2am after which the crowd heads over for pizza. You will only find four and five star restaurants here but at affordable prices. Start at Trysts for a drink. They have variety of beers on tap and bottles from around the world.  Eat at Cut432 if you like to try aged beef and upscale seafood in a sleek setting. Or for a homey ambience, go to Dada where they have poetry readings while serving fondue.  After dinner, chose from a number of locations playing live music everything ranging from 80’s to salsa. Don’t miss The Blue Anchor, a 19th century British pub and the Cabana Club at the Colony hotel, a private oceanfront beach club.

Chances are you will never have a dull moment in Delray. Every month there are events and activities hosted by the city that will blow your mind away. From Florida’s largest dinging table (of 1,000 diners) at Savor the Avenue in March, a 5-hour restaurant crawl called Tastemakers in August to a 100 feet tall Christmas tree in December, Delray will want you keep coming back for more.

Perhaps the best part about the small beach towns in South Florida is the people. They are extremely friendly and welcoming to visitors of all ages. There is strong neighborhood feeling that ends up making the cities very safe and sociable.  That combined with affordability, nightlife and pristine beaches, makes it a great place to visit anytime of the year.