Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Fifty-two years after Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed there in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine was founded in 1565. Engulfed in history and hospitality, America’s oldest permanent European settlement also is a great place for meetings and events.
Railroad tycoon Henry Flagler definitely impacted the hospitality side of things, building several luxury resorts in the late 19th century that helped elevate St. Augustine’s status as a resort destination. Nicknamed Florida’s Historic Coast, the region drew 6.3 million visitors who spent $1.7 billion in 2015. Average hotel occupancy grew 5.7 percent for an average of 65.9 percent.
“Consistent, incremental growth over the past six years in Florida’s Historic Coast lodging metrics have given the industry leaders here the confidence to make major investments in accommodations and meetings infrastructure,” says Richard Goldman, president and CEO of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. “As a destination, we are separated from our competitors by our link to history, but these recent investments to our already exceptional resorts and hotels will keep our destination relevant and desirable well into the future as the sophistication and expectations of our guests continue to rise.”
Flagler’s legacy comes to life at Lightner Museum, which was originally the industrialist’s Alcazar hotel, but now houses art and historical pieces ranging from typewriters to Tiffany. The former indoor pool was transformed into Cafe Alcazar, which fits up to 400 people. The ballroom also accommodates 400. Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College can seat 795 and features a revolving stage.
St. Augustine Amphitheatre salutes history, as well. Built in 1965 to commemorate St. Augustine’s 400th anniversary, it can accommodate up to 4,100 for concerts. The 16-acre outdoor venue is available to rent.
World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum in St. Augustine honors the history of golf, with exhibitions that include artifacts, works of art, video and photography. For golfers, there’s an 18-hole natural grass putting course and a golf simulator. Event spaces include Shell Hall, which showcases the Wall of Champions and can accommodate up to 400 for receptions. The 3-D IMAX theater seats 299 and can be rented for private screenings and corporate events.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument provides a history lesson that embodies St. Augustine’s treasured stature in the New World. Construction began in 1672 and was completed in 1695. The oldest masonry fort in the continental United States was made from coquina, which turned out to be impenetrable. Originally built to protect Spain’s claims in North America, it also was once occupied by the British, served as a military prison during the Revolutionary War and was a prison for Native Americans in the late 1800s. It’s been a National Monument since 1924.
Meeting Hot Spots
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is a regional landmark that boasts a AAA Five Diamond rating. It offers 250 guest rooms and suites and 25,000 sq. ft. of event space. In addition to its Atlantic Ocean beach, the inn has two golf courses, 15 tennis courts, a fitness center and the largest spa in North Florida.
Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra completed a $25 million renovation in November, adding a VIP wing with 31 guest rooms and butler service. The resort features 511 guest rooms, suites and villas, and 61,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Casa Monica Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection is a restored 1888 landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. St. Augustine’s only AAA Four Diamond property is located in the historic district. It offers 9,956 sq. ft. of event space and 138 guest rooms and suites.