Trip to Florida Historic Coast

Over two decades had passed since my last trip to Florida’s Historic Coast. One of the sunshine state’s lesser known gems, the region encompassing St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Beach and The Beaches is steeped in history and the inherent beauty of Florida’s northern Atlantic Coast beaches.

A Florida resident for nearly 25 years, I’ve come to realize that communities across the state are as varied as the people who live here. And while it’s hard to believe that my travels had not brought me back to this culturally-rich part of Florida in so long, I was instantly reminded of the region’s appealing old-world charm—dating back to 1565, the year St. Augustine was founded as the nation’s oldest permanently occupied European settlement.

While the appeal of Florida’s Historic Coast may date back centuries, groups are certain to find modern, up-to-date amenities and offerings. From seasoned convention properties and resorts to historic, upscale boutique offerings and one-of-a-kind facilities like TPC Sawgrass, there’s a fit for small and large groups alike. Here’s a look at my group’s action-packed four-day experience.

Hammock Beach Resort

Located in beautiful Palm Coast, Hammock Beach Resort offers full-service amenities, and some of the most spacious rooms I have ever stayed in. One- to three-bedroom suites are available with upgrades, adjoining living rooms, kitchenettes and balconies overlooking the area’s pristine beaches.

The first evening for our group of five journalists featured a delightful selection of hors d’oeuvres and entrees at an intimate banquet hosted by the property’s chefs. Along with delicious food and drink, we enjoyed exquisite balcony views of the Super Moon over the Atlantic Ocean.

Day two began with a healthy oceanfront breakfast on one of the property’s numerous event lawns, followed by a putting green lesson at the Tom Watson Signature design Conservatory Course. The challenging course is sought after for its elevated play, and while my golf experience is nearly non-existent, I did manage to pick up some advantageous tricks of the trade for finishing off a hole.

Following lunch at the club house restaurant, we ventured to the area’s renowned Marineland for a tour and dolphin encounter. The 1.3-million-gallon aquatic facility celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2013 as the world’s first oceanarium and is known for pioneering interactive, in-water programs through such icons as the celebrity dolphin Nellie. Groups can enjoy the rich history of the venue as well as dolphin encounters that range from feeding experiences to swimming with the mammals.

Our group’s experience at Hammock Beach Resort was topped off by an oceanfront dinner complete with fire pits and s’mores on one of the resorts many outdoor meeting venues. The property offers newly-renovated ballroom and breakout space for groups of up to 500, and event lawn space for much larger functions.

St. Augustine

The full St. Augustine experience would undoubtedly require more than the day our group was allotted. A lesson in history, art, culture and small-town charm, groups are sure to find more than enough entertainment and uncommon offerings to suit varied tastes.

Our day started with breakfast and a tour of the exquisite Casa Monica Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection. Located conveniently in the middle of the downtown district, the restored 1888 landmark hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the city’s only AAA Four Diamond hotel. The meeting space—able to accommodate groups of up to 360—was simply breathtaking and fitting for this castle-like property, reminiscent of old-world Spain.

Following a pirate kidnapping in celebration of the city’s adventurous heritage, our group visited the Lightner Museum, housed in the former Alcazar Hotel built by Henry Flagler in 1888. Today, the museum has one of the best collections of fine and decorative 19th century art in the country and is available for group tours and events.

For an uncommon experience, groups can sample some of the adult beverage offerings at the St. Augustine Distillery Company—including my favorite, the facility’s own version of the Moscow Mule. The facility distills handcrafted bourbon, vodka, gin and rum and is available for group events and outings.

St. Augustine is also home to such well-known historic sites as Flagler College and Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United Sates. Additionally, the city offers the annual Nights of Lights Festival, featuring two months of 2 million Christmas lights—a future experience I hope to enjoy.

Ponte Vedra Beach/Sawgrass

Our time in Ponte Vedra Beach featured a stay at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, an experiential upscale convention and meetings property. Chef creations at an intimate, evening gathering for our group did not disappoint. The next morning’s team-building exercise at the property’s oceanfront beach club was also well-received. From a table full of beach odds and ends, individuals in our group were tasked with choosing a word and designing a unique piece of art reflective of their current experience.

Following this unique encounter, our group enjoyed lunch and tour of nearby TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship and the headquarters of the PGA Tour. Groups can get a rare glimpse of golf legends and historic moments of the PGA in this elegant setting or take advantage of one-of-a-kind opportunities to play on this heralded, world-class course.

The full-service Marriott property also offers numerous restaurant options, a spa, recreational facilities, four outdoor pools and 61,000 square feet of combined function space.

By Selena Chavis