Surrounded by inland waterways and the Atlantic Ocean in northeast Florida, the quiet St. Augustine/Ponte Vedra corridor reminds me of gourmet Neapolitan ice cream—a highly compelling triumvirate of flavors. The cultural, golf and beach venues are intertwined so well that groups can easily take advantage of all three to satisfy the most disparate groups.
There are 42 miles of uncrowded sandy beaches, endless nature and America’s earliest history in St. Augustine one hour from Jacksonville International. In neighboring Ponte Vedra, the amazing golf and peaceful communities have their own special blend of traditional white-picket Southern ambiance.
CULTURAL: ST. AUGUSTINE
Cobblestone streets echo with the clip-clop of hooves from the horse carriages swishing past historical sites in St. Augustine. In the center of town, tall trees dripping with moss majestically frame magnificent 18th century Spanish Colonial buildings. Here, three charming Spanish Revival buildings have stood regal since the dawn of the locomotive: the 5-star Casa Monica Hotel; the ex-Ponce de Leon Hotel—now Flagler College; and the ex-Hotel Alcazar, which houses Lightner Museum.
The Lightner makes for an exceptional event venue inside a serene, spacious lobby perfect for receptions, like the one held by Conan O’Brien during Super Bowl in ‘05. I was enthralled by Smithsonian-quality collections such as the old hotel’s Turkish bath and steam room. Another interesting setting for groups, the Spanish Renaissance Ballroom Gallery overlooks the converted swimming pool where you dine in the deep end. I love the cathedral-like ambiance where you can hold catered dinners for groups up to 150, or fabulous evening receptions for 300.
Tour trains, the Fountain of Youth, old forts, ghost walks—it’s impossible not to be enchanted by the historical splendor of this ancient city brimming with so much to do for groups.
The new Pirate & Treasure Museum is filled with artifacts and interactive displays. Attendees can fire off cannons and relive Blackbeard’s final voyage. Use their outdoor courtyard or take over the entire museum for a group function up to 100, overlooking the 17th century bayfront fort and river. I was captivated by the museum quality as well as the passion of the owner, Pat Croche, who moonlights as a motivational speaker.
Also check out the event listings at the Saint Augustine Amphitheater and the new Ponte Vedra Concert Hall for entertainment and casual function space. The music is as eclectic as the area; Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, the B-52’s and Arturo Sandoval have all performed here lately.
You’ll also find a range of really great group dining options in and around St. Augustine. At Aunt Kate’s, you’ll find tented group space for 100 pax to feast on a Low Country BBQ right by the river at a very reasonable price.
In the old city, book the rustic Pizzalley’s Pizzeria and their full-service Chianti Room for handmade fare for groups up to 60 in a fun casual atmosphere.
For more formal events, the Moroccan-themed Casa Monica is the city’s 5-star Kessler hotel, offering today’s meeting delegates all the comforts of home with a flair for the exotic. Try the lightly breaded rings of calamari topped with Moroccan aioli and a blend of tomatoes, olives, asiago and spices at 95 Cordova, another great place for events and dine-arounds.