Arrival at The St. Francis Inn
Arriving the night before, I choose to stay at The St. Francis Inn, a rustic and historical Inn dating back to 1791. The owners, Joe and Margaret Finnegan, are celebrating an anniversary of running the Inn for 30 years. They make my stay as comfortable as if I was at home. They insist their staff follow suit, and I am never at loss for a glass of cool tea or comfortable seating. I can do that outdoors in the meticulously maintained quaint garden, or in the parlor, where I can always find someone to chat up.
The stay comes with breakfast, and afternoon tea. At night I listen to the ghost stories perfectly embellished by the long-time employees. The ghosts include Lily, a beautiful black slave girl who had an affair with a young military man. She reportedly haunts the third floor bedroom known as Lily’s room. Some guest come in hopes of having a spiritual encounter, others have been known to leave suddenly after hearing things go bump in the night.
Plug in your Tesla
The Inn even boasts a Tesla charging station for those progressive and wealthy enough to indulge in high-tech automotive technology.
Last night’s arrival was planned with getting an early start. As a photographer, blue hour is an important time of day…about a half-hour before sunrise, which is then followed by golden hour. Interrupting my REM sleep did not disappoint as I took some gorgeous photos flooded by intense color overlooking the St. Augustine Marina and the Lions Bridge. This is a good time to walk around before the heat and humidity dampens my brow.
Eco Boat Tour
About 9 am, I board St. Augustine Eco Tours' dolphin, birding and nature tour for a personalized interpretive tours for small groups of 2 to 14 guests. Capt Zack McKenna, starting at age 15 has been at this vocation for 30 years. These are not just pretty scenic romps around the bay, his operation with its mission to be an educational resource for the local and extended community. The goal of their programs is on-water interpretive experiences that focus on environmental education, conservation, and wildlife and habitat protection. The conservation efforts are entirely self-funded by the profits from the tours.
One of the best ways to get a lay of the land is to use the trolley. Taking the full tour allows me to see all of the key features of the city, where they are, and to which ones I would like to return. It’s easy on the feet with the added benefit of having an historical narrative presented by the driver.
Breakfast at Hot Shots – Wall of Flame
With the morning waxing on, I feel it is time for breakfast. The place for one of the best breakfasts in town is Hotshots Bakery. I wind my way the few short blocks to Granada Street, I arrive early enough to miss the line that forms outside. Sherry Stoppelbein serves up the best waffles, but it is hard to resist some of the other offerings, some overflowing with fresh, seasonal, local fruit. After coffee, I dare to be added to the Wall of Flame. In order to achieve such notability, I gingerly take the chocolate covered Datil pepper (Grown only in St. Augustine) and take a bite. The first wave of heat hits my tongue, and then lights up my face a bright red, and finally makes the top of my head sweat. I finish off the pepper in two more bites before the pain has a chance to diminish. My reward for my bravery (or stupidity) is a quick point-and-shoot photo which will find a place of distinction on the Bakery's Facebook page.
A picturesque part of the city is known as the Colonial Quarter. It is peppered with historical recreations such as a blacksmith and shipbuilding exhibits. I take the tour and I am entranced by the character ‘Grimm’, who re-counts the tales of the 17th and 18th centuries in vivid detail and settler’s accent. My favorite part, as well as the kids watching, is the live musket firing. Have your camera ready!
Lunch at Taberna Del Caballo
My growling stomach, tired feet, and heat of the day remind me…it is time for lunch. No need to leave the cozy confines of the timber battlement. I elect to stay in the Colonial Quarter and eat at Taberna Del Caballo, serving “Innovative Cuisine with a Spanish Flair”. Read: Tapas, cocktails and wine. The Sangria is so refreshing! The cheese, meats, and flat-breads selected for the tapas hit the spot.
I was treated to meeting Christopher Froehlich, General Manager / Food & Beverage Director, who served my table with bold attention, never a water glass or tapas plate empty. I received a surprise visit from Jeff Sorg, CEO of Pat Croce and Company, who spent time relating his vision for this restaurant and his other properties.
Dinner at Johnny’s Oyster Bar
To end the day I amble up Menendez Blvd to Meehan's Irish Pub, where upstairs is the newly opened Johnny’s Oyster Bar, I am greeted by Chef Paul Bonanno who had a dream last night. A new creation of tuna tartare with a strawberry and crème fraiche sauce. That was just the appetizer as he plied our plates with bouillabaisse, oysters, and blackened drum. He topped off the night with a freshly made Irish Cream (with real cream…sorry Bailey’s).
Parlor Stories Back at St. Francis Inn
Back at the Inn I mingle with the other guests. Everyone had a full and fulfilling day. We all agreed that one day in St. Augustine is not enough. I guess I’ll stay another day or two or three or…