Bright Lights, Beautiful City

Explore the storybook streets of America’s oldest town, St. Augustine, for an electrifying display of holiday cheer.

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HOT CHOCOLATE
Ward off the evening chill with a steaming cup of cocoa at Tedi’s Olde Tyme Ice Cream (65 St. George St.). Try the spiced Minorcan version made with 47 percent chocolate and lavishly topped with whipped cream. To take the taste home, buy a tin
at Whetstone Chocolates (42 St. George St.; whetstonechocolates.com).

SUNDAY BRUNCH
Go seaside Sunday morning at The Reef Restaurant (4100 Coastal Hwy.; 904/824-8008 or thereefstaugustine.com). With a carving station, crab legs, salmon, and shrimp, the buffet has something for everyone. Wash it all down with Champagne. Reservations are suggested for the brunch, served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Adults eat for $30; kids 12 and under, $13.

SHOPS
Within the San Marco Avenue antiques district’s three blocks―San Marco Avenue north from Castillo Drive to Pine Street―you’ll find dozens of stores to browse for treasures. Must-sees include A Step Back in Time (60 San Marco Ave.; 904/810-5829), Jena’s Antiques & Art (56 San Marco Ave.; 904/823-3456), and Antique Emporium (62 San Marco Ave.; 904/829-0544). And this time of year, it’s hard to resist the Christmas Shop (12 Castillo Dr.; 904/824-9898), which features dozens of collectibles.

Browse along quaint Aviles Street, south of King Street in the downtown historic district, for art galleries and boutiques selling everything from souvenirs to leather goods to antique books. See artist Gayle Prevatt create vivid paintings and memorable jewelry at Moultrie Creek Studios (9C Aviles St.; 904/829-2142 or moultriecreek.com), or pick up a vintage gift at Bouvier Maps & Prints (11 D-E Aviles St.; 904/825-0920), which has historic charts, antique botanical prints, and maps. This area is no doubt why Good Morning America called St. Augustine the No. 1 place in the United States to feel as if you’re in Europe.

HOTELS
The AAA four-diamond Casa Monica hotel (rates from $200, 95 Cordova St.; 904/827-1888 or casamonica.com), built in 1888, offers sumptuous elegance complete with a tapestry-draped lobby and crystal chandeliers. Each of its 138 guest rooms and suites has feather pillows, a Bose sound system, and WiFi.

At just 72 rooms, Hilton Historic Bayfront Hotel (rates from $169, 32 Avenida Menendez; 904/829-2277 or hiltonhistoricstaugustine.com) claims to be the smallest Hilton property in the world. Guests are treated to old-world decor, luxurious bedding, and a panoramic view of the city’s bayfront.

The oldest lodging in the oldest city, St. Francis Inn (rates from $169, 279 St. George St.; 800/824-6068 or stfrancisinn.com) stands out for its homey comfort and individual guest attention. Each of the 14 rooms and suites has private baths, and some offer whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, and balconies. Furnishings are traditional with a dash of gingham romance.

(Published December/January 2010)

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