As America’s oldest city filled with historic charm, St. Augustine, is known for its romantic getaways. Couples flock to the city to get married, celebrate anniversaries, and just rekindle the romance. From the quaint cobblestone streets to the charming shops and cafes to tourist attractions that showcase the city’s history, St. Augustine has something for everyone.

St. Augustine, America’s Oldest City

Located just 30 minutes south of Jacksonville, St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and the Spanish influence is still prevalent throughout the city. The many historic structures – Fort Matanzas, Castillo de San Marcos, the Lightner Museum and even the Fountain of Youth – make you feel as though you’re in another era.

Luxury hotel

The city’s only luxury hotel is an attraction unto itself. Situated in the heart of the downtown district and just steps from the Matanzas Bay, is the historic Casa Monica Hotel. Built in 1888, the hotel opened with only three guests and struggled through its early years. Rough times forced the hotel to close in 1932, and it then served as the county courthouse for three decades. In 1997, The Kessler Collection acquired the property and, following a $10 million restoration, Casa Monica Hotel debuted once again as the luxurious destination it is today.

St Augustine hotel

The lobby of the Casa Monica; photo courtesy of Casa Monica Hotel

The moment you step into this Mediterranean revival-style building, you’ll know you’re someplace special. The lobby transports you to an ancient era with Moroccan frescos, exquisite tapestries and luxurious chandeliers that feel more like a palace than a hotel. But don’t let that fool you – the hotel is blessed with the best of all modern day amenities. Each of the 138 guestrooms has its own unique style, with furnishings and décor fit for a king and queen. If you’re feeling especially royal, suites are the way to go. The Ponce de Leon Suite is a two-story tower suite with a striking, wrought iron four-poster bed and panoramic views of the historic district and St. Augustine’s picturesque bay. The Flagler Suite is a luxurious three-story tower suite, with two bedrooms and a living room offering views of the magnificent Lightner Museum. Its third floor bedroom features colorful glasswork windows from the hotel’s original construction in 1888.

St Augustine

A guestroom at the Casa Monica; photo courtesy of Casa Monica Hotel

The Casa Monica’s restaurant, 95 Cordova, has been a favorite among locals for years, for its haute cuisine served in an eclectic dining room filled with lavish antiques and intricately hand-painted ceilings. The menu features Spanish- and Mediterranean-inspired small plates that are simple, yet elegant.

Most evenings, you’ll find a mix of guests and locals in the Cobalt Lounge, listening to live music which, in keeping with Spanish traditions, may include the unmistakable sounds of flamenco guitars or classic jazz. Guests come for the music, but also for the hand-crafted cocktails.

Casa Monica is also home to the Grand Bohemian Gallery, an in-house art gallery that showcases local and international artists’ work, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics and jewelry.

There’s certainly plenty to explore within the walls of Casa Monica, from its décor to food and art. Once you step outside and into America’s oldest city, your inner explorer will take over with the city’s famed historic attractions and museums.

What’s nearby:

Much of the historic district is walkable, although the old trolleys and horse-drawn carriages are a great way to see the city. You’ll find both tourists and locals strolling St. George’s Street, the city’s historic district lined with cobblestone streets, quaint outdoor cafes, and offbeat artisan shops.

Castillo de San Marcos, a National monument, is the oldest masonry fort in the United States and the only standing 17th century military construction. It is also one of two forts built of coquina, a soft limestone composed of broken shells.

Fort Matanzas built by the Spanish in 1742 to guard St. Augustine’s waterway as the conflict between European nations raged.

St. Augustine

Fort Matanzas; Photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com

Built in 1887, the Lightner Museum is considered Florida’s Smithsonian, displaying costumes, furnishings and other artifacts from 19th Century daily life.

Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is the original site of the nation’s oldest city, built 42 years before Jamestown and 55 years before Plymouth Rock. You can also drink from Ponce de Leon’s Spring of Eternal Hope.

St Augustine

Fountain of Youth; photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com

Oldest House Museum is Florida’s oldest Spanish colonial dwelling and a National Historic Landmark.

Old Florida Museum is St. Augustine’s only hands-on, interactive history museum. Guests can experience life in this time period through the tools, weapons, and homes featured in the museum. Hour-long educational programs on Timucuan natives, Colonial Spanish Florida, early Florida pioneers, and archeology are also available.

Fort Mose Historic State Park is the first free African settlement in North America and a premier site on the Florida Black Heritage trail, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation by over a century. Fort Mose was the northern defense post for St. Augustine.

I’ve always thought that North Florida has the most beautiful beaches in all of the state. Perhaps in all of the U.S.  I’m talking wide, powdery, white sand beaches. And Atlantic Beach, just north of Jacksonville, has one of the best Florida hotels offering a truly luxurious beach vacation experience. Despite living just a few miles inland, my husband and I would often just sneak away for a night or two to enjoy a luxury oceanfront getaway (fortunately, we could take advantage of Florida resident discounts).

One Ocean Resort & Spa is a luxury oceanfront hotel situated on one of Florida’s best beaches. Whether you’re traveling as empty nesters in search of some true R&R, or looking for a family vacation with activities that will please everyone, you’ll want to check out this property. All guestrooms are spacious and have expansive views of Atlantic Beach. The decor of the entire property is modern and inspired by the ocean with sea glass and seashells, against a backdrop of the azure water.

Each guestroom is assigned a personal docent, or concierge, who tends to guests every need. If you travel with your pet (yes, it’s a pet-friendly resort), your docent will feed (a chef-prepared pet food) and walk your dog while you’re out enjoying a round of golf or long day on the beach. Do you prefer walnuts over almonds as a snack? Or maybe you’re watching your waistline so you like to nosh on fresh fruit. It’s your docent’s job to know that and stock your amenity cabinet accordingly. And unlike most resorts, the products (excluding alcoholic beverages) are free of charge. Docents can also assist with local activities, business needs and may even get you that last minute tee time.

There are plenty of options for taking in what is arguably one of Florida’s best beaches. With an oceanfront pool, covered beach cabanas, and the spa’s morning fitness beach walk, you’ll find ample time to feel the sand between your toes. There’s plenty of family-friendly activities from surfing to paddleboarding to nearby world-class golf. The town of Atlantic Beach is a short walk away with quaint cafes, boutiques and shops.

The Spa at One Ocean Resort was rated one of the Top 100 Resort Spas by Conde Nast Traveler with its sweeping panoramic views of the Atlantic. Treatments are all inspired by the ocean like the Seashell Massage, a treatment that uses smooth, heated seashells to relive sore muscles, or the Ocean Polish & Marine Detox Wrap, a purifying organic bio-scrub of gigartina seaweed, lavender and salts of the earth followed by a seaweed wrap that hydrates the skin. Couples massages take place in one of the suites overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. 

One Ocean Resort’s restaurant, Azurea, has received its share of accolades and is the only restaurant in North Florida to host the prestigious Friends of James Beard culinary organization. The restaurant is one of three AAA four-diamond restaurants in Northeast Florida and has received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.  The seasonal menu features seasonal, coastal-inspired cuisine, like Florida rock shrimp, Maine lobster, Hawaiian sea bass and Diver scallops.

North Florida’s Amelia Island is one of the most overlooked beach destinations for families headed to Florida. This tropical paradise has 13 miles of pristine white sand beaches and one of the region’s best beachfront Amelia Island hotels, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, 3.5 miles of private beachfront property. With the ocean at your fingertips and plenty of activities to keep you busy, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is a great choice for a Northeast Florida vacation.

omni amelia island

This family-friendly resort has something for everyone and you’ll find that you rarely need to leave the self-contained property as it’s brimming with activities, restaurants and sports. The hotel includes 404 oceanview guest rooms but you’ll most likely be spending most of your time outdoors at the 10,000-square-foot family friendly pool, with a splash park and water playground. As North Florida’s largest pool deck,, the complex also include an adults-only infinity edge pool, hot tubs, and fire pits.

omni amelia island

When you tire of lounging, you’ll have access to 23 Har-Tru tennis courts as well as three Audubon International Certified Sanctuary golf courses ranked “Top 121 Golf Resorts in the World” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2012. Both facilities offer a chance to up your game with private instruction by certified professionals.

omni amelia island

The resort’s award-winning luxury spa and salon is the perfect way for guests to unwind after a day of playing, whether it’s in the ocean or on the green. The spa’s relaxation area and zen garden are available to guests who may just want a few minutes to meditate and unwind in a tranquil setting. Once you’re rested and relaxed, stroll through the resort’s on-site shopping village with 14 upscale boutiques and enjoy a glass of wine on the outdoor terrace of Marché Burette, a French-style market.

omni amelia island

Nine on-site dining venues range from gourmet to casual. In keeping with the resort’s philosophy of providing guests with healthy options, Executive Chef Daven Wardynski renovated an old abandoned greenhouse on the property and created The Sprouting Project. The garden and greenhouse, featuring a cutting-edge aquaponic system fed by two 500-gallon fish tanks, produce 6,000 plants for the resort annually, and Wardynski’s beehive turns out 300 pounds of honey each year. The courtyard is the perfect setting for a romantic dinner setting or private event.

omni amelia island

Amelia Island is one of the South’s most pristine natural environments. From the resort, you can go kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding through the preserved marshlands and take in the natural beauty. If pedaling is more your preferred mode of transportation, the resort offers plenty of rentals, Segways and golf carts to explore the hotel’s extensive bike paths. And in the spirit of “there’s something for everyone,” children can hang out in the award-winning kids’ camp with endless activities or visit the educational and interactive Nature Center.

omni amelia island

One of the Omni’s newest features is the Rum + Tequila Experience. Sitting poolside, you’ll be treated to flights of rum or tequila (or both) with over 120 kinds of tequila and 100 bottles of rum. Similar to a wine tasting, the master bartender walks guests through each flight pointing out the tasting notes, distillation process and pairing ideas. What you don’t finish, is artfully mixed into handcrafted cocktails.

omni amelia island

The coastal city of Oceanside, California is one of the best hidden gems you’ll find in the Golden State.  This seaside village — which is located about 38 miles north of San Diego and 83 miles south of Los Angeles — is a throwback to beach towns of yesteryear that has managed to maintain its authenticity and charm.

Set back from its more modern oceanfront hotels, Oceanside has a quaint walkable downtown area dotted with surf shops, art galleries, and cafes. It’s also known for its beautiful year-round weather, stunning coastline, incredible surfing, and the largest wooden pier on the West Coast. Here are my recommendations for experiencing this surprising seaside gem, which makes the perfect long-weekend getaway.

Read more: 36 Hours in Oceanside, CA

1. Visit an Urban Winery

The award-winning Beach House Winery boasts panoramic views and incredible wine. The winery produces a number of varietals including whites, rosés, and reds. Their grapes are sourced locally and from their own two-and-a-half acres of land. OwnersGeorge and Kim Murray are true craft vintners who are warm, welcoming, and always willing to share passion and philosophy for winemaking with visitors. Be sure to visit later in the day and enjoy a glass on the rooftop deck, which offers 360-degree views of the surrounding region.

Read more: The Best Urban Wineries In Or Near San Diego

2. Savor Classic California Cuisine 

Oceanside’s culinary scene is on fire with some hot new restaurants serving fresh, farm-to-fork California cuisine. Local favorites include The Miller’s Table (which serves up an array of decadent sandwiches and savory snacks, including homemade potato chips) and Local Tap House and Kitchen (where diners can enjoy innovative dishes like Crispy Wonton Salad, Orange Miso Crispy Shrimp Banh Mi, and Pecan Crusted Scottish Salmon, to name a few). Masters Kitchen and Cocktails (which is set in an old car repair shop), Beach Break Cafe (famous for its delectable coffee cake, which is pictured above), and the quaint Harbor Fish and Chips (which is known for, you guessed it, their fish and chips) are also worth a visit. 

Read more: The Best Restaurants in Oceanside, CA

3. Explore the California Surf Museum

The California Surf Museum features a permanent collection that chronicles the history of the sport and surfboards. Guests are afforded the opportunity to take a glimpse at rare archives and surfing equipment from world-class surfers including Bethany Hamilton and Kelly Slater. The museum also features an array of rotating exhibits in addition to its permanent collection.

4. Chow Down at Sunset Market 

Every Thursday, the city center turns into a culinary mecca featuring dozens of food vendors. Here, you can binge on pirogies, hand-pulled noodles, Swedish-roasted salmon, Japanese desserts, and African goat stew, among many others. It’s a street food lovers’ paradise. Sunset Market features a whopping 200-plus merchants that occupy four city blocks, which means it’s nearly impossible to be bored. In addition to dining, there is also live music and shopping. 

5. Revisit Top Gun 

Many people don’t realize that many of the scenes in this iconic movie were filmed in San Diego and Oceanside. Two of the memorable sports bar scenes were shot at San Diego’s Kansas City Barbecue. Charlie’s seaside cottage (where Tom Cruise, AKA Maverick, appeared for that flirtatious dinner) is now part of a brand-new hotel complex. Fans will also remember one of the film’s most romantic scenes between Charlie and Maverick, shot at the corner of West Laurel and Union Streets in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood. Viper’s house is the New Point Loma Lighthouse, located near Cabrillo National Monument.

Read more: Top Gun Filming Locations Near San Diego, CA

6. Go Whale-Watching

In Oceanside, you can go whale-watching at any time of year. For a bucket-list-worthy adventure, embark on a two-hour excursion out into the Pacific with Oceanside Adventures to (hopefully!) catch a glimpse of a whale. Dolphins are almost a given (they are abundant in the area, so, chances are, you’ll get to see a large school of them swimming nearby). Also, if you don’t want to spend the money on a private tour, you can always visit the 1,942-foot-long pier.

Sonoma County, California is on the radar of every oenophile, but let’s be honest, sometimes it’s great to experience the region without so much of a focus on wine. I recently spent a few days in the charming town of Healdsburg and discovered there are some great activities that don’t necessarily involve day drinking.

Read more: 12 Things to Do in Healdsburg, CA

Walking and Biking Tours in Healdsburg, CA

Wine Country Walking Tours leads guided walks throughout downtown Healdsburg that will take you on a foodie adventure, with or without the wine. There are a number of food-oriented walks that will show you why this town is a culinary hotspot, including a visit to a craft cocktail bar. On the TasteMakers Tour, guests can hear from chefs, culinary artisans, and fine artists who are using their inspiration and talents to establish Healdsburg as a mecca for wine, food, and the arts.

If you prefer pedaling to trekking on foot, Wine Country Bikes offers guided rides through the bucolic vineyards of Sonoma County, both slow-paced and adventurous. Yes, you can stop at tasting rooms along the way, but it’s not a requirement. Take in the fresh air as you pedal down the quaint country roads just listening to the sounds of nature. You can take a break from pedaling and stroll through the farms and vineyards, or sit on a sunny hillside and picnic before the next uphill climb.

The Best Hiking Spots In (And Near) Healdsburg, CA

Jordan Vineyard & Winery offers a moderate, scenic three-mile hike across their sprawling 1,200-acre ranch, which features amazing mountain views, secluded lakes, and excellent wildlife spotting opportunities. Be sure to bring your camera, too:  Vista Point, the highest point on the ranch, offers postcard-worthy panoramic views. The hike also meanders through the chef’s garden, woods, meadows, rolling vineyards, and olive orchards. The three-hour hike concludes with a delicious picnic spread and wine pairing. $110 per person

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is just a short drive away (about a half-hour from Healdsburg, depending on the traffic) and offers the chance to see some of the tallest trees in the world.  The park spans 805 acres and boasts 9.2 miles of scenic trails. Be sure to take a moment or two to admire the towering redwoods, some of which date back thousands of years. The oldest tree in the park, Colonel Armstrong, is over 1,400 years old; meanwhile, the park’s tallest tree (Parson Jones) is over 310 feet fall,  which is around the size of Big Ben in London. Pack a picnic lunch (there are plenty of places to stop along the way to pick up food; local favorites include the bustling boon eat + drink and the rustic-chic Big Bottom Market) to enjoy after your hike  $10 per vehicle. 

Shopping in Healdsburg, CA

Shopping doesn’t get much better than the market square area of Healdsburg. Here, find a plethora of antique stores, pottery shops, bookstores, chic boutiques, and toy stores. Many of the products (think gifts, jewelry, arts and crafts, gourmet food products, and gifts) are hand-crafted by local artisans. This pet-friendly shopping district also includes several shops selling treats and accessories for your canine friends.

Where to Eat and Drink in Healdsburg, CA

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***GIVEAWAY*** @barndivahealdsburg @hafnervineyard @bontonstudio here and during this uncertain time, we as 3 businesses (& friends) want to spread hope & look forward to happier days. Enter our “Healdsburg Bundle” What’s In It?? ——————— lunch for 2 at Barndiva (dine in when open or take out now), a gift certificate to use online or instore at the new Bon Ton Studio storefront and a tour and tasting at Hafner Vineyard. 1 bundle for the winner and 1 for someone on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis chosen by the winner! How to Enter ——————— Follow… @barndivahealdsburg @bontonstudio @hafnervineyard Like this photo Tag 3 friends in the comments who would love to win this! We’re picking the winner on Sunday, May 3! You must be 21+ to win. We look forward to greeting you soon!

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Relish Culinary Center offers instructional cooking classes and authentic food experiences. Take one of the center’s hands-on workshops and learn to make pasta, and shrubs and pickles or the art of snout-to-tail butchering. You can also take a walk and learn to forage wild mushrooms. Local chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, and artisans like Dragonfly Floral often join in the fun, as well. 

Meanwhile, the town of Healdsburg is home to an array of farm-to-table eateries, buzzy wine bars, and more. For a classic cup of Joe, visit Flying Goat Coffee or Costeaux, where menu staples include avocado toast, freshly baked pastries, and quiches. When it comes time for lunch, pop into Journey Man Meat Co. for fresh meats and cheeses; The Parish Cafe for Creole and Cajun specialties like beignets and po’ boys; and Farolito for tacos and margaritas in an upscale ambiance. Enjoy a romantic dinner at Valette (which serves upscale California-inspired cuisine), Barndiva (modern American fare in a stylish space), or Chalkboard (small plates served in an airy ambiance)

Read more: The Best Places to Eat in Healdsburg, CA

You might be surprised to know that Mardi Gras lasts much longer than the 5-day New Orleans grand event. For some, Mardi Gras lasts all year long, especially those responsible for building the vibrant, iconic floats for the parades.

The magic happens at Mardi Gras World where more than 500 floats are built and housed for the 35+ Mardi Gras parades that happen each February. Thirty full-time artists and 300 seasonal artists work 365 days a year to build these monstrosities, some costing more than $1 million and extending more than 10 trailers long. But there’s much more than the colorful designs – each float’s chassis is custom built to house two bathrooms and storage for the more than 300 pounds of beads thrown by each of the 50 riders. The floats are not just a pretty picture but an engineering work of art.

The history

Roy Kern was a New Orleans artist during the Depression era who painted signs on the freighters and barges sailing out of the port. In 1932, Roy and his son Blaine, also an artist, built their first Mardi Gras float on a mule-drawn wagon. Years later, Blaine would be “discovered” for a mural he painted in the local hospital and was asked to design and build floats for one of the Mardi Gras organizations, or krewes.

In 1947, Kern Studios was formed to create the floats for Mardi Gras. Blaine Kern traveled throughout Europe working with the world’s leading float and costume makers to hone his craft. In 1984, Mardi Gras World was opened to provide visitors a behind-the-scenes look of this magical art of building floats.

The process

Once a float’s theme has been concepted, it all starts in the sculpture area. Eighty percent of the floats are made of Styrofoam with the remaining 20% made of fiberglass. Artists work off of a sketch to create the 3-D shapes that will form the float’s components.

These Styrofoam pieces then make their way to papier-mâché area where the float begins to take on a personality. From there, the floats are painted, many by hand. Next comes the big engineering feat of constructing the floats onto a chassis and adding generators for power.

Get a sneak peek of the process in these videos.