St. Augustine Lighthouse

We do not pretend to any objectivity when it comes to lighthouses-we love 'em! The beautifully restored St. Augustine Lighthouse is a favorite, as handsome inside as out, with a great view from the top and a magnificent first-order Fresnel lens. (Climb those 219 steps and that second breakfast muffin is gone.) Visit Wednesday, December 5 for a special treat, when the Light Station and surrounding park are decorated with hundreds of glowing luminaries and the tower is open for nighttime viewing. Entertainment, Victorian crafts, refreshments and a visit from Santa round out this evening of holiday cheer.

Regrettably, the Amelia Island Light is not open to the public, but the tower can be glimpsed from the A1A near Fort Clinch State Park, near the mouth of the St. Mary's River. You can also see the flashing light while enjoying an evening stroll along the island's beaches. The closest you can come to overnighting in a Florida lighthouse is Katie's Light, a replica of a Chesapeake Bay Lighthouse, with a circular deck that extends over the beach and around the hexagonally shaped guest house.

St. Augustine & Amelia Island, FL

Getting Around

Bailey House, Amelia Island
If flying to northeastern Florida, Jacksonville airport is convenient, uncongested, and affordable. Amelia Island is 35 miles north, and St. Augustine is just 43 miles south. When driving between the two, take the A1A to the scenic little Mayport ferry, for a delightful taste of old-time Florida, and lovely ocean vistas. For a historic coastal city driving tour between Florida and South Carolina, consider stopping in St. Augustine, Amelia Island, St. Marys, Savannah, Beaufort, and Charleston. It's only an hour or two between each one, and the only challenge will be deciding which destination you like the best.

When to Go

As always, midweek visits offer the best rates and availability, minus crowds, traffic and congestion. Although cold fronts may bring occasional chilly weather, average winter temps around 70 degrees are perfect for beach walks, most sports, and general exploration.

If you're planning a December visit to Amelia Island, consider December 1-2, when many B&Bs of historic Fernandina Beach will be decorated and open for the annual Christmas Tour. In St. Augustine, we'd especially recommend Sunday afternoon, December 9, 2001, when many area inns will be open for a Holiday Tour. Another option is the Saturday evening Nights of Lights program, beginning just before Thanksgiving and running through January, when garlands of white lights illuminate the city's dramatic architecture.

Sights & Activities

St. Augustine: Although it dates back to 1565, much of St. Augustine's current charm is thanks to Henry Flagler, an oil and railroad magnate, who arrived in town during the winter of 1883. He built the Spanish Renaissance-style Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College) and the Alcazar (now the Lightner Museum), both well worth a visit. The historic downtown area is compact and walkable, from the scenic Bridge of Lions to the Castillo San Marcos-a 300-year-old fort-to the many shops and galleries. Just outside of town is Old City Stained Glass, a great source of antique stained glass windows. More info.

Amelia Island: Be sure to take a walking tour of the village of Fernandina Beach, at the northern end of Amelia Island. This 50-block area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and includes ornate Victorian mansions and the sturdy brick commercial buildings along Centre Street. A favorite shop at 205 Centre Street is the Island Art Association, a co-op gallery featuring the work of local artists. Equally worthwhile is a visit to Fort Clinch State Park, with a restored 19th century fort, hiking and biking trails, beachfront and a fishing pier. Civil War re-enactments are held the first weekend of each month. North of Amelia, in the historic village of St. Marys, Georgia, you can catch the ferry for Cumberland Island National Seashore.

St. Augustine B&Bs

Beautifully decorated with careful attention to detail is the Casa de la Paz, with an ideal location overlooking Matanzas Bay and the Bridge of Lions. Sherri and Marshall Crews do their best to ensure that their guests have a relaxing and enjoyable visit.

A few blocks away is the Casa de Suenos, recently purchased by Kathleen Hurley, who left a career of extensive corporate travel to provide her guests with gracious, relaxed hospitality and artfully decorated guest rooms.

We had a wonderful dinner at the Old City House Inn, combining delicious food, pleasing atmosphere, and affordable prices. Fascinating owners James and Ilse Philcox proudly showed us through the newly redone upstairs guest rooms, some overlooking a private terrace for overnight guests.

In the heart of the historic residential area, just a block from the "Oldest House," is the affordable St. Francis Inn, with a garden courtyard and small swimming pool.

More St. Augustine B&Bs.   More Jacksonville B&Bs.

Amelia Island B&Bs

Elizabeth Pointe Lodge
It's hard to go wrong with Amelia's appealing B&Bs, most located within the compact historic area. The Florida House Inn is Florida's oldest surviving hotel, beautifully decorated with uncluttered charm, highlighted by owners Karen and Bob Warner's extensive collection of quilts. Even if you don't stay over, stop by for a boarding-house style lunch or dinner. For a memorable fine-dining experience, we loved Who's on Fourth (904-261-7700), on the street behind Florida House. Chris Franz works wonders in the kitchen, while his partner Richard Stratton makes your evening magical at his keyboard.

Within a block of one another are the Addison House, the Bailey House, the Fairbanks House, the Walnford Inn, each offering their own distinctive brand of owner-operated hospitality, Victorian décor, modern amenities, and romantic indulgences. Check out each inn's website to see which one best suits your style and pocketbook.

Our favorite inn on the beach is the Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, just two miles away; book early to get a water-view room. Even if you're not staying over, stop by for a soup/salad/sandwich lunch and a great ocean vista from the dining room or porch.

An alternative about 30 miles north is the Spencer House Inn, in historic St. Marys, Georgia, just a short walk to the Cumberland Island ferry. Innkeeper Mary Neff combines Southern hospitality with modern comforts and historic charm.

More Amelia Island B&Bs.   Additional area B&Bs..

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