Every year since Rick and I met, we’ve made our way to St. Augustine, the Nation’s oldest city, for the annual Nights of Lights celebration. Settled by the Spanish more than 450 years ago, St. Augustine traces the origins of the celebration to the Spanish tradition of displaying a white candle in the window during the Christmas holidays. All throughout December and January, the historic district sparkles with more than 3 million white lights, illuminating museums, business, the bay front, the Bridge of Lions, romantic B&Bs and even private homes.
I’m writing about this tradition because St. Augustine has really been through the ringer in the past few months! You read about our experience with Hurricane Matthew here in Jacksonville. We largely dodged a bullet in Duval County, but St. Augustine, our neighbor to the South, fared much worse. Seeing the St. Augustine community come together to rebuild and bounce back after the hurricane has been nothing short of heartwarming, so I wanted to share the details about this season’s Nights of Lights events in case you’re heading that way. We will be there, warm cider in hand standing #StAugustineStrong!
December 2-3, 2016 | Colonial Nightwatch Weekend
The Colonial Nightwatch is pleased to join the National Park Service in presenting the nighttime tour series called Enemy at the Gates on Friday. This special presentation takes visitors through various vignettes representing historical events during the siege of 1740 in St. Augustine. On Saturday, join hundreds of costumed re-enactors from St. Augustine’s Colonial history as they perform military drills and cannon and musket firing on the grounds of the Castillo de San Marcos. www.hfm.club/nightwatch
December 7, 2016 | Luminary Night at the St. Augustine Lighthouse
The highlight of the holiday season at the Lighthouse is Luminary Night. Visitors and community members are invited to enter the Lighthouse grounds for a free evening of children’s holiday crafts, warm refreshments, live musical performances, including a string quartet inside the Lighthouse tower, and an up-close look at the museum’s Christmas decor. This is a special evening from 7-9 p.m. the whole family will enjoy. www.staugustinelighthouse.com
December 9, 2016 | St. Augustine Orchestra Holiday Concert
The Lightner Museum will host the St. Augustine Orchestra’s Holiday concert. The Historic Pool area of the museum provides a spectacular backdrop and acoustical setting for this popular holiday concert. The performance begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults; students and children under 12 are $5. www.staugustineorchestra.org
December 10, 2016 | Regatta of Lights
This is an annual holiday parade, hosted by the St. Augustine Yacht Club, of motorized vessels – sailboats, trawlers, shrimp boats and many other vessels all-a-glitter with brilliant lighted displays ranging from patriotic to whimsical. Beginning at 6 p.m., the boats will light up St. Augustine’s Matanzas Bay between the Bridge of Lions and Castillo de San Marcos. www.staugustineyachtclub.com
December 31, 2016 | Beach Blast Off
This annual New Year’s Eve fireworks dislay and entertainment at the St. Augustine Beach Pier will ring in 2017. The event features a kids zone, food vendors and live entertainment. The event is from 4-10 p.m. with the fireworks display at 8:30 p.m. www.sabevents.com
January 20-22, 2017 | Saint Augustine Film Festival
This three-day film festival takes place at various locations throughout St. Augustine, including the Corazon Cinema and Cafe, Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College and Limelight Theatre. The festival starts at 11 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and noon on Sunday. There is a party each evening of the festival. Tickets to see the films are $10 for general admission; $8 for seniors and students. www.staugfilmfest.com
This year, visitors can enjoy the sights in one of many different ways – on foot, by bicycle or pedicab, on the Old Town Famous Nights of Lights Tour, aboard Ripley’s Red Train or by horse and carriage. St. Augustine offers a free Park ‘n Ride Shuttle every Saturday through December 24. For information on the free shuttle visit www.ParkStAug.com.
A few fun ways to enjoy the Nights of Lights:
- Old Town Trolley’s Nights of Lights Trolley. The trolley takes guests through the city to view Nights of Lights then provides free cider and cookies for a low-fare of $12.99 for adults and $5.99 for children. The trolleys run from the St. Augustine Visitor Information Center, off Castillo Drive. Through January 2. www.trolleytours.com.
- Nights of Lights Wine & Carriage Tour. Enjoy a glass of wine on this group tour aboard a horse-drawn carriage as you meander the brick-lined streets. Tasting Tours nightly excursions are $49 per person and come with a souvenir wine glass. www.tastingtours.com.
- Harbor Tour. Tickets are $35 per passenger and depart nightly by appointment from the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. 111 Avenida Menendez, www.staugustineeecotours.com.
- Moonlight Sail aboard the Schooner Freedom. On Fridays and Saturdays set sail on this hour+ tour with soda, water, beer, wine and hot chocolate for $40 per person www.schoonerfreedom.com.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum. Old-fashioned Christmas Magic on Friday and Saturday nights with marshmallow roasting, face painting, stage shows, storytime with Mrs. Claus, a visit with Santa and more. Board the Red Train Nights of Lights Tour at Ripley’s Museum, 19 San Marco Avenue. www.ripleys.com/RedTrains.
- Guided historic walking tours. On Friday and Saturday nights, check out unique colonial folklore and holiday traditions. Tickets $18/per person. www.TourStAug.com.
St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights celebrations run through January 31, 2017. For more info, visit www.NightsofLights.com.
All images courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com.