Give the gift of a special experience by spending the holidays in historic St. Augustine


Rather than doing the traditional holiday gift giving, visitors to St. Augustine during the holiday season can give the gift of new experiences and creating special memories.

St. Augustine is home to one of the most famous holiday lighting displays in the world. It’s also the nation’s oldest city having been continuously occupied by European-established settlements since 1565. The city is also situated on the Atlantic Ocean and boasts miles upon miles of white, sandy beaches.

Here are a few of the experiences St. Augustine has to offer over the holiday season.

■ Nights of Lights: Every year, millions of twinkling lights cover the cityscape of St. Augustine from Nov. 18 through Jan. 31, 2018. Nights of Lights was selected by National Geographic in 2011 and 2012 as one of the best holiday lighting displays in the world. Journey through old town by trolley, on foot or from a horse and carriage ride.

■ Support Small Businesses: St. Augustine has hundreds of small, locally owned shops with one-of-a-kind items. Dozens of art galleries dot the cityscape featuring local artists creating everything from glass wind chimes to metal art. Tour an artisan chocolate-maker or pick up some holiday spirit at the St. Augustine Distillery, which produces small-batch gin, rum, vodka and bourbon.

■ Holly Jolly Trolley: One of the best ways to experience St. Augustine’s famous Nights of Lights is aboard Old Town Trolley’s Holiday excursion dubbed the “Holly Jolly Trolley” by locals. The trolley tour offers complimentary cider, cookies and caroling, as well as winter-themed viewing glasses that turn millions of tiny lights into snowmen, Christmas trees and other holiday favorites. Tickets are $6 for children and $14 for adults.

■ “The Nutcracker:” Mother Ginger, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Mouse King all come alive in St. Augustine Ballet’s annual rendition of “The Nutcracker,” with shows scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17 at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Flagler College’s Lewis Auditorium. Some of the area’s most talented dancers join local celebrities and guest artists in this holiday classic. Tickets are $20-$30 each.

■ Christmas Tour of Homes: Each year, The Garden Club of St. Augustine hosts its annual “Christmas in the Flagler Era” inspired by the Gilded Age opulence of oil tycoon and railway magnate, Henry Morrison Flagler. This year, the Christmas Tour of Homes will be held on Sunday, Dec. 3 from noon to 5 p.m., and will feature a walking tour through historic downtown to six private homes dating back to the early 1800s.

■ Historic lodging: Downtown St. Augustine boasts a bevy of historic inns, hotels and bed and breakfasts. Built in 1865, The Kenwood Inn on Marine Street is an ideal locale for the holidays. Individually decorated guest rooms feature hardwood floors, four-poster and antique beds for a mix of Old Florida elegance with a hint of the tropics.

■ Rest and relaxation: Erected in 1888 and a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America, the Casa Monica Resort & Spa is a great place for rest and relaxation while taking in the famous Nights of Lights display. Located on Cordova Street across from Flagler College, Casa Monica blends Moroccan-inspired decor with modern conveniences and the brand new, full-service Poseidon Spa.