Although I lived in Florida for 8 years, I never had a chance to visit St. Augustine. What a shame! It wasn’t until this past weekend that I finally went, and although it was technically for business, there was a lot of pleasure involved in the trip.
St. Augustine’s Historic Inns host an annual charity tour of the Association’s 25 B&Bs and my mother and I decided to take the tour this year. The main reason was because the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association, of which the Blake House Inn is a member, is looking to start an annual tour as well. While the Association has had holiday and garden tours in the past, we are hoping to start an annual event. Since the St. Augustine tour has been going on for 16 years, it’s obvious they have a good thing going down there and after speaking to the Chairperson earlier this year, I felt it would be a good idea to see the tour in action.
Leaving the business aspects for the Association to consider, we had a wonderful time. The tour is over a two-day period and you see half the Inns on the first day and the other half on the second day. The historic district of St. Augustine allows you to walk from B&B to B&B and for those who may not want to, there are two trolley tours that have regular stops near several B&Bs on the tour.
When we arrived in St. Augustine, the weather was chilly and in the 40s and 50s. By Saturday, the first day of the tour, the weather had warmed up a bit, but there was a virtual downpour all day. That did not keep the tour goers away and there were crowds at just about every B&B we visited. Some of the Inns were side-by-side, but the walking tour takes about 2 – 2 1/2 hours to complete.
One very cool thing about this tour is that there was a different restaurant represented at each Inn and besides viewing guestrooms and common areas (all done up in their best holiday finery), tour goers got to sample food from all over the city. It was definitely filling and we went to one of the restaurants from the tour for dinner. We would never have gone to or found this restaurant had it not been for the tour. A few of the B&Bs also had products and items for sale from local artists and stores. We visited several of the stores as well.
The second day of the tour was completely different, weather-wise. The day was sunny and the temperature was close to 80. We were sweating halfway through the second day, but we made it nonetheless. I even snapped a few photos at some B&Bs if they offered something I liked, mainly in their decor or holiday decorations.
Look! Even Florida can have a snowman. This was an ingenious decoration at one of the B&Bs. It looks pretty simple to make. Now why didn’t I think of it?
Oh, and we did stay at one of the B&Bs on the tour. The Casablanca Inn on the Bay met our needs quite nicely. One thing about St. Augustine that I picked up on very quickly as I was looking at places to stay, is that parking is a definite issue. Most places do not have adequate on-site parking so several B&Bs will share a parking lot, and the lot can be 3-4 blocks away from the Inn itself. What I also found to be common is that many of the Inns consist of several buildings (the main house and a Carriage House and/or multiple cottages), possibly connected, but not necessarily. When I came across the Casablanca Inn, I noticed that they offered a Secret Garden which is behind the main house and across a street, but that the Secret Garden Suites each had a parking space on site while parking for the Inn was a block or two away and around the corner. So, we got to park right next to our Suite and didn’t have to search around for a parking spot. I’m sure that parking is a major bone of contention for many innkeepers.
Our Inn overlooked Matazanas Bay and at night, the city is lit up with holiday lights and decorations. The B&B tour coincides with the city’s Nights of Lights and one thing that St. Augustine offers are horse-drawn carriage rides and night ghost trolley tours. This is a city that stays up late.
In all, we had a very enjoyable visit and I have a lot of good information to report back to the Asheville B&B Association. Who knows what we’ll come up with.