Top Moments of 2014
Another year has come and gone in the Ancient City, making it even more ancient than it already was (nearly 450 years ancient, to be precise). But our excitement for the new year and 450th celebration shouldn’t overshadow what was essentially an awesome year for St. Augustine. We love helping visitors and locals navigate all the things to do in St. Augustine, so as we draw towards the year 2015, we want to share some of the biggest events and things to do.
Now what do I mean by “biggest” events and things to do? These are the things that vacationers and locals got excited about! They may have been newly introduced festivities, or annual events that locals know and love and always buy tickets to every year (I’m talking to you, Bed & Breakfast Holiday Tour). They might be new businesses that people are excited about, or a classic stopover. Either way, these things made 2014 the amazing year that it was. So before you start toasting your champagne at midnight and kissing strangers, take in some of the best moments of the year 2014 for auld lange syne.
1. World Golf Village Fireworks
The fireworks in St. Augustine attract tons of visitors to downtown, but another big boom on Independence Day was from the show happening at the World Golf Village on July 3rd. Who would have thought? But actually, it makes sense. World Golf Village is a very spacious area— after all, it is home to two award-winning golf courses. People who are terrified by July 4th traffic shenanigans on I-95 can avoid the crowds by heading to the World Golf Village on July 3: same fanfare—different day. This event freed families up to chill and celebrate the country's independence on July 4th from the comfort of their own home, and it looks like a lot of people were happy with that option.
2. Bike Week
Sure, some people attend Bike Week to get rowdy and go all “Sons of Anarchy,” but most are just classy people looking to get away from the grind for a while. Those classy bike week attendees usually make their way over to St. Augustine, where we are happy to welcome bike enthusiasts who have been enjoying the Daytona events. There's no mistaking that this was a big event in 2014 -- it's hard to miss the rows upon rows of bikes in downtown St. Augustine, and the rumble of choppers making their way along the bayfront.
3. Music by the Sea
Music by the Sea was a total hit this summer—all I had to do was ride my bike down there each week to see that! If you didn’t get a chance to stop by St. Augustine Beach for Music by the Sea this year, make room for it on your calendar in 2015. Music by the Sea brought tons of St. Augustine locals and visitors staying at the beach down to the St. Johns County Pier for live music, food, and recreation. Families and people of all ages lounged near the pavilion and on the beach to listen to cover bands jam out. I even saw some amazing games of volleyball happening on the courts nearby. Here’s an accurate reenactment. Regardless of what you decide to indulge in while there, Music by the Sea is a great way to take in the Florida experience and see the St. Augustine community at its finest.
4. Chowder Debate
If it sounds like this is an event where restaurateurs are pitted against each other in a verbal debate to answer big questions about chowder like “What is Chowder?” or “Why?,” then you’re not far off. Only in the city of St. Augustine does cooking and eating the core components of a bowl of soup become a competitive sport. The players are trained to concoct the finest flavors, and the fans determine the ultimate champion. People love the chowder debate, probably because we get to eat a lot of food, share our opinions, but mostly because the debate never really ends. If you think the debate was settled this year, then buckle up because there’ll be more “debating” in the coming year and every year after. That’s right; the Chowder Debate is an annual occurrence, and not a tired annual occurrence, but like a fine wine (or chowder?) one that gets better with age.
5. Civil Rights Anniversary
I personally attended this event this year, and what an event it was. On the anniversary of the signing of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, people in St. Augustine gathered at the Treasury on the Plaza and the Foot Soldier monument to recognize civil rights movement heroes in the community. One such hero was Dr. Robert B. Hayling. Hayling shared the truly inspirational story of his journey fighting for civil rights. As a newcomer to the city, it was amazing to see the role people in our small town had in enacting the historic legislation -- how far our city and our country have come, and what it took to get there. It was heartbreaking to learn about the tribulations and fear the community was faced with, but it was truly uplifting to see how strength of character and commitment to an honorable goal ultimately brought about such significant change.
Along with honoring the Civil Rights Anniversary, the Visitor Information Center hosted its Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience exhibit. This exhibit gave an in-depth look into St. Augustine’s rich African-American history which goes all the way back to the 1600s, starting with Fort Mose. The exhibit, along with the march on MLK Day and the Black history walking tours made available to visitors helped make 2014 a special year to celebrate St. Augustine history.
6. Chocolate Turtle Opens
Chocolate Turtle arrived on the scene with a bang and suddenly life in St. Augustine became so much richer. Sometimes a place pops up in St. Augustine and you can walk in and just say “Yeah, this is gonna work.” With Chocolate Turtle, it was more like “Duh, this is gonna work.” It only took one visit for most people to realize it was the best idea to bring chocolate, desserts, wifi, board games, wine, and coffee together in one amazing place, and very quickly we began seeing lines at this popular dessert spot. Frankly, it made my year.
7. Dine Out Thanksgiving
Some people would be outraged that any business would open their doors on Thanksgiving, but in St. Augustine, visitors love making the old city their home away from home. And what are we as locals supposed to do? Let them starve?! In the spirit of the first Thanksgiving where the pilgrims welcomed the natives to their table, business owners want to make sure that every visiting family has a proper Thanksgiving feast. Tons of viewers came flocking to our Thanksgiving Dining Guide to see who was serving around town, and hopefully got the kind of feast they were searching for.
8. Corazon Cinema & Café Opens
Pot Belly’s left us this past year and was quickly replaced with a new owner and new name. The Corazon Cinema & Café, as it’s now called, served up delicious food and delightful movies in 2014, and not just your mainstream blockbuster hits, but independent films and classic favorites. They have show times available online so that visitors and locals can see what’s coming soon. The Corazon is the only place in town where you can now enjoy a glass of wine while attending a movie screening. What’s more, the sandwiches on their menu are all named after famous characters and actors.
9. Pal Day
With bases located all over the state, Florida has a long and proud military history. The life of soldiers and military personnel is not easy, and businesses in St. Augustine want to do what they can to bring some joy to the lives of those serving. That’s why Pal Day is celebrated here in St. Augustine. On Pal Day, attractions in St. Augustine offer complimentary admission to active military and their families in order to give them a day of memories--free of charge--in one of the best vacations spots in the country. This year a lot of people took advantage of that, and we’re glad they did.
10. Sykes and Cooper Farms
Florida doesn’t really see the seasons the way that Northern states do. Fortunately, we have places like Sykes and Cooper Farms that provide us with a patch of fall without having to drive thousands of miles. The Sykes and Cooper Farm was on point this year with its usual non-creepy, zombieless family-friendly corn maze, as opposed to the slightly unnerving corn mazes I am used to. Every year at the corn maze is unique because they etch a different design for visitors to navigate through—this year was an image of the Castillo with St. Augustine’s founding year.
11. Sugar Cane Harvest Festival
If you didn’t know what this was until this year, then you’re not alone. It’s okay, the Sugar Cane Festival is only two years old; it’s just a toddler. But man, do they grow up fast. The event has officially obtained “annual” status, featuring live musical talent, restaurants, drinks, and the highlight event—the old-fashioned sugar cane boil. If you don't know what a sugar cane boil is then congratulations, I've just given you a reason not to miss 2015's festival. It's hosted by the St. Augustine Distillery, and along with live entertainment, guests can tour the sugar cane fields and learn more about our local KYV Farm. This event in 2014 raised $15,000 for KYV Farm and Slow Food First Coast.
12. Fiesta de Aviles
The oldest street in St. Augustine is also home to one of the biggest events of the year. Like many festivities in St. Augustine, the Fiesta de Aviles carries Spanish roots. Guests can experience a family-friendly running of the bulls with a costumed volunteer who gallops down the street as kids and adults race for prizes. On Margarita Sunday, local restaurants offer margarita tasting and guests vote on the best drink. Being an art district, visitors to the Fiesta de Aviles on Aviles Street also get a glimpse of local art vendors.
13. Datil Pepper Cook Off
The datil pepper is St. Augustine’s pepper—the plant isn’t grown anywhere else. So of course if there’s a Datil Pepper Cook-Off anywhere, it’s going to be an exciting and unique occasion. This cook-off invites local chefs and hot sauce lovers to compete for the prize with their best datil pepper dishes. The event has been increasing in popularity every year, and is a special favorite for visitors who love to try new culinary experiences and for those "some" who "like it hot."
14. 72-Mile Super-Scenic Garage Sale
Whether selling or shopping or both, the 72-Mile Super-Scenic Garage Sale gave visitors and locals plenty to do on a Saturday in November. I made a cool 10 bucks from stuff I'd thrown together that morning, so you can imagine the kind of dough people made who actually participated and put some effort in it. The weather was great, the garage sales were many, treasures were everywhere, and everyone went home happy. This is another event that becomes more popular each year, so maybe by next year I'll have some really good items to sell.
Romanza gave St. Augustine residents and vacationers something to be excited about this past spring. Visitors and locals had plenty of live events to check out that showcased St. Augustine's penchant for art. Poetry readings, classical guitar, food tastings -- the oldest city showed off its flair for art and culture for 10 days in the month of May. This event was an amazing way to experience the creative spirit of St. Augustine in 2014, and will continue to be in years to come.
16. Celtic Festival
In 2014, lots of people celebrated their Irish, Scottish, and Gaelic heritage (or their desire for said heritage) with the Celtic Festival in St. Augustine. The festival is an annual event that pulls in Celtic rock performances, live step-dancing, beer, whiskey, vendors from around the region, and whiskey to Francis Field. We drank and were very merry, all in the name of Celtic culture, and because it's another annual St. Augustine event, we'll be drinking and obtaining merriment next year as well.
17. St. Augustine Lions Seafood Festival
If there's one thing St. Augustine does right, being an East Coast city, it's seafood! Once a year, local restaurants serve up their best seafood dishes for vacationers and residents to try. All wonderful forms of shellfish, deep sea fish, red fish and blue fish are enjoyed by hungry patrons. Calamari, fried fish, mussels, and even chowder! See...I told you we don't stop debating about chowder. It's a very important issue in St. Augustine!
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