Even though Spain founded the city, the English spent time here, too. You’ll see them during the British Night Watch and Illumination, St. Augustine’s best-known holiday event. On December 4 and 5, visitors can mingle with re-enactors, who parade by torchlight and keep guard as a holiday proclamation is read to the crowd. Then, with church bells ringing, thousands of candles are lit. Accompanied by fife and drum, the costumed British soldiers make their way through the streets, singing carols and firing muskets.
Magically, snowfall appears twice every night for Winter Wonderland at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Families flock to the play area, with an outdoor ice rink and a 100-foot ice slide. After getting the wiggles out, children love to explore Elf Village and the lighted nature trail. There’s also a nightly bonfire, with s’mores kits available from vendors. Don’t miss out on the mini-blizzards at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.; they’re the only ones Floridians are likely to see. (Northerners can enjoy the beauty without worrying about shoveling!)
St. Augustine celebrates from Thanksgiving through January, with everything from a one-time regatta to nightly trolley tours. On December 6, historic residences opulently decked out by St. Augustine Garden Club members will open their doors for the Christmas Tour of Homes. On December 12 and 13, more than 20 historic inns―displaying lavish trimmings including greenery, red satin bows, and, of course, twinkling white lights―offer tastes of signature dishes from local restaurants.
LUNCH AND DINNER
After starting your day with a cup of joe and a pastry at Crucial Coffee Café (26 Charlotte St.; 904/810-2080), you’ll work up an appetite for more. The dining’s casual at restaurant/microbrewery A1A Ale Works (1 King St.; 904/829-2977 or a1aaleworks.com), which has a balcony overlooking Matanzas Bay and much of the holiday street scene. The accent is on seafood: Choose from dishes like grouper piccata, mango barbecue shrimp skewers, and sesame tuna.
At Opus 39 Restaurant and Food Gallery (39 Cordova St.; 904/824-0402 or opus39.com), guests can create their own four- or five-course dinner, or select the seven-course tasting menu that emphasizes organic ingredients. A dedicated wine room features a collection of fine vintages.
O’Steen’s Restaurant (205 Anastasia Blvd.; 904/829-6974) isn’t shy when it comes to the big flavors of seafood. Its fried fish, oysters, clams, and shrimp earn raves; a casual family atmosphere and reasonable prices keep the love affair alive.
Spice things up New Orleans style at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille (46 Avenida Menendez; 904/824-7765 or hookedonharrys.com). From the po’boys to the crawfish étoufée, the menu is pure Louisiana. Opt for the courtyard seating under the lit shady trees, start with crab cakes, and save room for chocolate bread pudding.