Saint Augustine, Florida, The Penny Farthing Inn

Florida offers a plethora of wonderful beaches, golf courses, resorts and theme parks, but one of my favorite places is Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine has one of a kind offerings that make it special and unique. As the oldest city in America, the area offers historical treasures such as the fort, St. George Street museums such as the oldest school house, and the Saint Augustine lighthouse. In addition to the history, Saint Augustine boasts beautiful beaches and eateries like Harry’s and the Columbia. My husband and I have visited St. Augustine several times and have never been disappointed.

St. Augustine has many hotels large and small, as well as many bed and breakfast lodgings. For families, I would recommend the Holiday Inn or the Hampton Inn on the beach, but if you plan to travel as a couple and want to avoid places with large numbers of children for a quiet or romantic time away, there are many bed and breakfast accommodations. For a wonderful couples experience, often bed and breakfast inns are the best choice. On our last visit to the country’s oldest city, we chose the Penny Farthing Inn. The inn was located around the corner and a short walk from St. George Street, which is our favorite hangout. The building had originally been built in the late 1800s, and had been decorated in Victorian era style with a particularly British feel. The grand piano in the living room and vintage furniture, lamps as well as porcelain dolls gave the inn an elegant feel. Our room was quaint with a hardwood floor, antiques and a small bottle of brandy.  I had to wonder where one of the doors led, however, as it was locked from the other side.

The Penny and Farthing is not only decorated in Victorian style, but the owners offer a hot breakfast each morning such as eggs benedict or pancakes, which was far nicer and more delicious than a continental breakfast. They also offer tea and cookies or wine and cheese in the afternoon, and guests gathered on the covered porch to talk and enjoy the goodies. One of the things I love about bed and breakfast inns is that guests usually congregate in the common areas mid afternoon for interesting chats, and I always make new friends.

What I didn’t know until breakfast Saturday morning, is that the Penny Farthing Inn is supposed to be haunted.  Remember I wondered about the door in our room that we could not open?  The owner told us that there was a set of stairs in the middle of the house that had been sealed when the house was turned into a bed and breakfast.  Former guests who had stayed in our room had heard children running and playing up and down those steps on many occasions.  I think I turned pale, and my husband, Jim, burst out in laughter. I tend to despise horror movies and stay away from places that are haunted. I think Jim was hoping something strange would happen while we were there. All was quiet, much to his disappointment.

There may not have been any ghosts around, but since the Penny Farthing is a short walk away from St. George Street, we wandered around at our own pace and visited some of our favorite restaurants and some new ones as well. We have always loved the Columbia and Harry’s Bar and Grill. The Columbia specializes in cuisine that is a fusion of Spanish and Cuban and always spectacular. I haven’t had a bad meal there, and it remains one of my favorite restaurants. The seafood is always fresh and the sangria is homemade in an atmosphere that is elegant and fun at the same time. Harry’s offers some bar food with a New Orleans twist. Patrons can dine inside, but I recommend the outside area which is lined with trees and landscaped with tropical plants. I opted for the seared tuna salad. The tuna was seared perfectly and the vinaigrette dressing only enhanced the flavor. I was shocked at the size of the salad and the amount of tuna for $15.00 and change. Absolutely incredible. If you love fresh cuisine in an enchanting outdoor atmosphere, Harry’s is a must.

We also tried Prohibition Kitchen for the first time. It’s located on historic St. George Street and the atmosphere is that of a 1920s speakeasy, which was so much fun. A band was playing, and there were seats available to watch the band or tables to order food. It was crowded so we sat at the bar. Prohibition Kitchen, I found out, is not the place to order wine. It’s where you want to order mixed drinks. I am a wine drinker and usually defer to Merlot, so I asked the bartender what I should order. After an initial snarky response, the bartender declared she had been “shitty” with me and specially mixed a drink with tequila, vodka and berries which was delicious. As we enjoyed drinks and dinner, a live county rock band played. My husband and I agreed that the dinner we ordered was not anything special, but the music and drinks were a lot of fun. My recommendation is to head to the Columbia or Harry’s for dinner and then to Prohibition Kitchen for drinks and music afterward. You won’t regret the experience.

Spend the day at the beach or roaming St. George Street, and then head to Harry’s or the Columbia for dinner and Prohibition Kitchen for the evening. Of course, if you are up to the challenge, there are plenty of ghost tours available after dark.  After all, St. Augustine is America’s oldest city and there are ghost stories just waiting to be told.

This is Harry's, a must when in St. Augustine
Harry’s in St. Augustine.
Prohibition Kitchen in St. Augustine.  This joint is jumpin'!
Prohibition Kitchen, St. Augustine This joint it jumpin’!

Key West

Key West is a fun, relaxing, zany, and perpetually sunny vacation spot, and one of my top picks for childfree travel.  You can easily fly into Key West.  If you live in Florida, you can also take a road trip, which is what my husband and I chose to do.  We live near Orlando, so we’ve driven to Key West twice.  Once we were past Miami, the scenery was gorgeous.  The Florida Keys are varying sizes and are connected by a series of causeways, most of which are only two lanes.  Some of the keys are so narrow that you have a view of the sea on both sides of the road.  Be aware that the keys stretch far out into the Atlantic, so once you get just past Miami, you still have about three hours of drive time to get to Key West.  From Orlando, it took us over 7 hours in total drive time.

Both times we’ve vacationed in Key West, we’ve stayed in the “Old Town” section at the Mermaid and Alligator Bed and Breakfast on Truman Avenue across the street from the Catholic church, St. Mary of the Sea.  The Mermaid and the Alligator offers beautifully appointed, spacious rooms in the main house.  If you book one of their preferred rooms, they come with a Jacuzzi tub.  There are smaller rooms with a cottage décor in the cottage across the garden.  We have stayed in both the cottage and the preferred rooms in the main house.  Both are wonderful, but I do admit, I liked the spacious room and the Jacuzzi tub in the preferred rooms.  Each room has it’s own balcony or porch overlooking the gardens.  The gardens at the Mermaid and the Alligator are lush and tropical outdoor spaces you can loose yourself in.  There are lots of comfortable seating arrangements where you can relax and read a book, and a plunge pool to cool off.

In the morning, a hot breakfast is served.  When we were there, we were spoiled with egg frittatas and Belgian waffles.  In the afternoon, lemonade is always available, and at 5:00, wine is served.  All food and wine is served in the gardens under shaded umbrellas.  Of course it gets hot in the Keys, but because the gardens are shaded, it’s never too hot there to enjoy breakfast or the wine hour.  We visited when the previous owners, Paul and Dean owned the bed and breakfast.  (I so loved them that I threatened to leave Jim and stay with them!)   Since then, the bed and breakfast has been sold to Jeri, who has been there both times we visited, and is extremely helpful and wonderful.  She officiated a wedding in the gardens during our last visit and did an excellent job, so I am happy that she was the one to become the new owner.  The most wonderful part of staying at the Mermaid and the Alligator is that there are no children.  The owners understand that it simply wouldn’t work for a bed and breakfast to try to accommodate children, so they don’t!  In addition, Key West and the Mermaid and the Alligator are LBGQT friendly.  You can enjoy your stay at the Mermaid and the Alligator in peace.  Jim has truly enjoyed staying there because he finds it restorative and restful.  Just make sure to book ahead.  Rooms go quickly especially during Fantasy Fest.  Last time we stayed there, we booked our trip a full year ahead.

Other than relaxing in the gardens, there are many things to do in Key West.  There is the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park where you can rent umbrellas and chairs.  Beware, however, the beach is not sandy.  It’s rocky, so you’ll want to wear swim shoes.  There are some nice picnic facilities there as well, so if you want to pack a picnic, it’s a good choice.  There is also the Southern Most Point.  You can walk there from the Mermaid and the Alligator.  The Southern Most Point is the at the Southern end of Duval Street, the main road through Old Town.  There is a restaurant, bar, and a sandy beach where you can rent umbrellas and chairs.

In addition to the beaches, there’s lots to do in Key West.  We went on a day trip with Sabago Watersports both times we stayed in Key West.  We went on their catamaran to snorkel and kayak.  On the way out to the famous reef, we were served breakfast of muffins and pastries.  We then got to see lots of fish as we snorkeled.  (Just don’t imbibe any of the water.  The Florida Straits are very salty, so you will get sick if you imbibe any of it, a lesson I learned the hard way the first time we went.)  After snorkeling, we were served a lunch of sandwiches, shrimp, and all the beer and wine we wanted.  We then headed to a mangrove island where we kayaked, and were treated to a lesson on the Keys ecosystem.

Other cool places of interest to visit during the day are Hemmingway’s House, Truman’s Little Whitehouse, and Mel Fisher’s Museum which is full of his finds from famous shipwreaks.  I would recommend all of these.

Nighttime brings the other thing key West is famous for- bars on Duval Street!  Captain Tony’s, the original Sloppy Joe’s has wonderful Pirate Punch and is the original location of Sloppy Joe’s, where Hemmingway himself spent a lot of his time while in the Keys.  Sloppy Joes, the second location of the bar, is just around the corner.  Both serve good drinks and have live music.  Who can resist having a drink where Hemmingway hung out?  Little Room Jazz Club is a must for music lovers with live music seven days a week.  Nighttime also brings sunset sails.  If you love the water and sailing ships, you must take a sunset sail or a star gazer sail aboard the historic Western Union.  We did a sunset sail, and it was a thrill to sail aboard such a gorgeous ship as we were served champagne and conch chowder.  The Western Union was the ship used in the movie, Armistad.  You can also enjoy the sunset at Mallory Square and watch fun acts, enjoy snacks and browse local artists’ work.  There are also all kinds of wonderful seafood restaurants and live music at the marinas not far from the Mermaid and the Alligator.  We found some of the restaurants near the marinas even better than the ones on Duval Street.

If you want to travel childfree, love boats and the water, bars and live music, Key West is the place for you.  If you want to make sure you have a childfree experience, make sure to reserve a room at the Mermaid and Alligator.