St. Augustine’s annual Bed and Breakfast Holiday Tour, held each December, is true nirvana for the B&B lover, a chance to roam in and out of two dozen historic inns in America’s most historic city. I attended the two-day “Music of Christmas” B&B tour in 2014, when each inn chose a musical theme as its inspiration, ranging from the classical to the whimsical.
For information on the latest tour, go to the Holiday Tour website. Tickets usually sell out in advance, so get yours early if you don’t want to miss out.
“Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly”
The most rewarding experiences were at the homes that allowed visitors free rein, such as 63 Orange Street, a two-story Victorian-style inn built in 1888 and facing a park. We strolled through all the rooms, upstairs and down. In the living room, a tall Christmas tree decked in long, silver icicles set the scene. In the kitchen, a local restaurant, Florida Cracker Café, served tasty samples of chowder.
A real gator head filled with white lights served as the quintessential Florida Christmas decoration.
Upstairs, I was drawn to Maud’s Room, which overlooks the front porch and a big tree in the front yard and is furnished with a marble-topped dresser and an English walnut bed covered with a crocheted bedspread. (However, the sloping second-floor porch could use some work and the bathroom is in the hall.) Guests have four rooms and one suite to choose from at 63 Orange Street, each named for one of the previous occupants, furnished with antiques and decorated with lace curtains.
My next stop was the Alexander Homestead, which had an Elvis impersonator singing on the front porch. Unfortunately, the inn has since closed.
“A Jimmy Buffett Christmas”
Another B&B that took the tour’s musical theme to heart was the Inn on Charlotte. As visitors crossed the threshold, they were regaled with Jimmy Buffett tunes. Tiny drink umbrellas hung on the Christmas tree, flip-flops adorned a wreath and greeters wearing Hawaiian shirts and pink flamingo glasses boasted of the inn’s antique furnishings, large whirlpool tubs and breakfasts of poached pear and Spanish soufflé.
The Inn on Charlotte was built in 1918, opened as a bed-and-breakfast with eight rooms in 1993 and was restored in 2003. Unfortunately, only one bedroom was open on the holiday tour and it was roped off at the door. It was attractively decorated and furnished, with a loveseat that could convert into a bed for an extra guest.
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
Architecture-wise, the Saragossa Inn was a complete change of pace. Formerly a Sears 1924 Craftsman bungalow, the inn now houses two suites in front and four guest rooms in back, all with separate entrances and private baths. To eat breakfast, guests go outside and upstairs to the second floor.
The layout of the Saragossa – with the rooms separated – may not appeal to the traditional bed-and-breakfast fan, but it’s ideal for those seeking privacy and an apartment-like accommodation. The rooms are impeccably decorated, with canopied four-poster beds and hardwood floors, and the two-room suites include microwave, refrigerator, fireplace and porch.
“Let It Snow”
The sight of “snow” falling on a warm Florida day drew my attention to the Old Powder House Inn, which took its name from a gun powder and ammunition facility built on the site in the 1700s. The inn was moved to the Cordova Street location in 1901, but didn’t open as a B&B until 1989.
On the Holiday Tour, the innkeepers served a heady grog, but allowed visitors to see only one bedroom, Splendid Time. In the ground-floor room, in the front of the house, a wall of windows provides a view of passing horse-drawn carriages. The room has hardwood floors, contains a unique collection of clocks and is accessible to the wide front porch.
The Old Powder House has one two-room suite and eight regular rooms in all, each offering its own luxuries, including a wet bar, a private porch, a skylight and a two-person whirlpool tub beneath a chandelier.
The Agustin Inn is the ideal place to stay if you’re looking for a spot near St. George Street, St. Augustine’s five-block-long pedestrian thoroughfare of shops, restaurants and museums. The inn is less than a block off busy St. George, in the heart of the city.
The Victorian-style inn was built between 1899 and 1904, with major renovations done over the years, including adding a third story and an elevator. Now completely restored, with a walled garden paved with antique bricks, the Agustin offers 18 modern guest rooms with private bathrooms.
My favorite rooms were No. 2 and No. 9. The Windsor, No. 2, features a king-sized bed, a Jacuzzi tub and, the best part, a private little balcony with cozy wicker chairs on the side of the house. No. 9, the Wellington, is on the third floor. It also has a king bed and a private balcony.
“The Night Before Christmas”
After touring as many B&Bs as I had time and stamina for, I spent the night at the Peace & Plenty Inn, located steps away from two of St. Augustine’s most important landmarks – the Lightner Museum and the Ponce de Leon Hotel (Flagler College).
The Peace & Plenty was decked out for the holidays, with a yard full of decorations, a moving Santa Claus greeting guests on the front porch and costumed Santas on the Christmas tree. The inn, built in the early 1890s, was restored by the current owners from 1996 to 2001. It includes eight guest rooms, some with canopied or four-poster beds. One unique feature is a tranquil walled garden with a fountain, between the main house and carriage house.
I stayed in the Happiness Suite in the Carriage House, a small, Japanese-style room with a large bathroom. A kimono hangs on one wall and a sliding shoji door separates bedroom and bathroom. A stained-glass window hangs over the bed.
The impressive part of the “suite” is the ultra-modern bathroom, nearly as large as the bedroom. The bathroom features a shower built for two, a separate Jacuzzi tub, an electric fireplace and a vessel sink.
The Happiness Suite was a good deal for $99 a night, but if I return to the Peace & Plenty, I’ll try a room in the main house.
My 2014 visit to St. Augustine was my third. I will certainly return to the city, with its diverse collection of historic bed-and-breakfasts and many other attractions. And, thanks to the bed-and-breakfast tour, I have a long list of inns I want to visit next.
For information about the next St. Augustine B&B tour, check the website at the end of the year.
(Note: As always, I accepted no compensation in exchange for writing this review and did not reveal my intentions to the innkeepers.)