By Kathleen Mansfield
Photography by Hammock Beach
The carefree Palm Coast locale of Northeast Florida sets the stage for a relaxing vacation with appealing beach houses and condos, a vibrant coastal landscape, and active couples and families outside enjoying the sunshine. I cross the Matanzas River and drive through the resort gates of The Club at Hammock Beach, where my views are idyllic – a combination of shade and sand promising comfort and entertainment. A salty warm breeze blows past as the valet takes my bag, reminding me that I’m on vacation time now.
The city of Palm Coast is a newer city, with white sandy Atlantic beaches, 125+ miles of trails for walking or bicycling, and some of the prettiest parks in Florida. It is also a quick drive from Daytona or St. Augustine – “not even two Full House episodes and we’ll be there” as my mom would say on my childhood family trips – so for visitors wanting to experience a lot in a short time, there is plenty to see and do. Hammock Beach Resort, a private community within Palm Coast, offers many activities on property or nearby for personal and professional enjoyment: swimming and lounging at the Resort, fishing, paddle boarding, or boating at the Marina, and my personal favorite – up close encounters with dolphins at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, a research and education facility that is part of the Georgia Aquarium’s conservation program.
The beachfront Hammock Beach Resort is bright and inviting, with a coral pink and sand yellow exterior and wide balconies facing the sunrise. The interior is a soothing blend of tan and soft blue décor, spaciously designed with seating areas, event spaces, dining, and comfortable ocean view suite and villa accommodations for more than 1,000 people. My room overlooks a 9-hole miniature golf course, the recently renovated Atlantic Grille, and beyond that, the sea. Surrounding the resort are upscale residential homes, scenic walking and biking paths, and invigorating resort amenities like the lazy river, outdoor pools, and a spacious seaside lawn for games or lounging.
Hammock Beach is a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort, and boasts a world-class spa located at the resort hotel. The 10,000 square foot Spa offers body, massage and facial treatments as well as nail and hair salon services and a fitness center. A Hammock Facial leaves me feeling uplifted and bright. For outdoor fitness, bicycles are available to Club members and guests for sightseeing expeditions around Palm Coast. I coast through the residential streets and take mental notes of my favorite homes – for my future beach house, of course.
Two prestigious 18-hole golf courses are also part of Hammock Beach, open to members and resort guests. The award-winning courses, designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, are ranked among the top courses in Florida and have played host to multiple PGA tournaments.
Tom Watson’s Conservatory Course at 7,776 yards long is reputed to be the longest course in Florida. Its design of waterfalls, brooks, and “dramatically undulating greens” are unique in Florida courses. The Conservatory has an impressive club house, with spacious, thoughtfully designed locker rooms and The Terrace restaurant. The Conservatory’s spacious patio overlooks a pool and marsh grasses. These facilities are popular for weddings and other special events.
Jack Nicklaus’ Ocean Course skirts the Atlantic Ocean on six holes, including a challenging finale of four holes known as the “Bear Claw.” The 7,201 yard course is considered to be one of Nicklaus’ most challenging designs, providing an “elevated experience” for guests and club members. It is currently undergoing a full restoration to counter damage incurred from Hurricane Matthew the year before; part of the restoration includes installation of salt-tolerant Platinum Paspalum grass and reshaped bunkers. The revitalized course is set to open in October 2017.
After a golf lesson at the Conservatory, I enjoy lunch at The Terrace restaurant, just one of multiple dining options at Hammock Beach. Each restaurant or bar is suited to its environment. The poolside Ocean Bar and Café is bathing-suit friendly and casual, overlooking the 18th hole of the Ocean Course. The Sushi Bar complements the trendy Lobby Bar with freshly made fish and seafood rolls in the evening. Loggerheads recently reopened with a new gastropub concept tailored to fine bourbons and craft beer. And the Atlantic Grille shore-to-table experience is an intimate part of the new Lodge at Hammock Beach for romantic beachside retreats. Executive Chef Kevin Luque and his culinary team produce menus for each restaurant that appeal to different palates, satisfying changing tastes throughout a guest’s stay.
I spend a fair amount of my weekend sampling Chef Kevin’s craft, so it’s imperative that I stay active and work off some of that culinary indulgence. I head north with my companions about 30 minutes to St. Augustine, the oldest city in America and a perfect destination for a walking history lesson (and more good food, unfortunately). Founded in 1565 by Spanish settlers, the Old City has continued, as Old Town Trolley Tours puts it so well, to be “a popular tourist destination because of its dedication to the preservation and education of its past.”
The walking tour, led by Visitors Bureau Communications Manager Barbara Golden, begins at the Lightner Museum across from Flagler College. The museum is a beautiful space filled with art and artifacts, and the building was once home to the largest indoor swimming pool in the world, now an intimate café below the museum. As my group prepares for the next leg of our tour, we take a moment to observe a wedding rehearsal taking place in the Museum’s courtyard on a small bridge above a koi pond. St. Augustine has many romantic settings for weddings of all shapes and sizes.
Our walk continues through Plaza de la Constitucion, a park dotted with historical monuments, and along the Bay front to Castillo de San Marcos. This 17th century Spanish fort, made of coquina stone, is the oldest masonry fort in the country and has never been taken in battle. Its walls offer a beautiful view of Matanzas Bay and the Old City, and today a National Park Service ranger explains the fort’s history and use as we explore the grounds.
As evening sets in, the tour heads to St. George Street for some shopping and live music. The street is a popular tourist destination with beautiful architecture and miniature museums hidden between shops. I buy an ornament for my holiday travel tree, and then meet the group for dinner. St. Augustine is rife with cuisine from different cultures, and tonight we dine at Michael’s Tasting Room. Michael’s team has prepared for us a wonderful multi-course meal paired with heavenly wines.
Post-dinner, our guide leads us on another much-needed walk through the original gates of St. Augustine to a trolley stop, where the “Trolley of Doom” picks up my group for a spooky guided tour to some of the city’s most haunted sites, including a cemetery, wax museum (formerly a pharmacy) and the Old Jail. It’s a fun way to end the night, and I think I’ve walked enough. I’m ready to return to Hammock Beach Resort for a nightcap at the Lobby Bar.
Back at the resort, I finish my cocktail and head upstairs. I pass a party of well-dressed revelers continuing the celebration from a wedding on the lawn earlier that evening, but on my floor all is quiet. I open the balcony doors of my suite to let the scent of the ocean drift in, and unwrap the chocolate that turn-down services has left on my nightstand. I hate to leave vacation time tomorrow, but at least I can dream about my adventures here in Palm Coast… until next time.
Dressing Downton at the Lightner Museum
October 2, 2017 – January 7, 2018
The Lightner Museum will be the final stop for a traveling exhibition of 36 Gilded Age costumes and accessories from the award-winning television show Downton Abbey. The collection of original and historically inspired pieces from the show, which will be on display in the Museum’s Grand Ballroom Gallery, represents “Changing Fashion for Changing Times” from 1912 through the 1920s.
Tickets are on sale now at www.LightnerMuseum.org/Dressing-Downton for exhibit tours and special programs such as celebrity lectures, behind-the-scenes tours, and daily High Tea at Café Alcazar. Other community businesses have partnered with the Museum to continue the Gilded Age experience throughout St. Augustine; information on these experiences is available through the Museum website.
In addition to Dressing Downton, the Lightner Museum permanently displays unique artifacts from collections acquired by Mr. Otto Lightner over his lifetime. These exhibits include typewriters, Tiffany glass, fine art, cigar labels, buttons, musical instruments, and furniture to name just a few. The Lightner Museum is housed throughout four floors of the original Alcazar Hotel in St.Augustine and is open for tours daily.