If the thought of a cross country road trip causes visions of Chevy Chase in the 1983 classic National Lampoon’s Vacation, airfare costs for a family of five are petrifying, or time is just limited, consider exploring the art of the Staycation. Staying close to home allows more time and room in the budget for more excursions, culinary discoveries and pampering. We’re bringing you three great options across the First Coast that not only offer a twist on traditional bed-and-breakfast accommodations but will have you sipping, splashing and sailing until your heart’s content, all right in our own backyard.
Fernandina Beach: Blue Heron Inn
Best For:Couples and Girls Getaways
If easy and breezy is what you have in mind for your next getaway, then the laid back vibe of the Blue Heron Inn, owned by Juile and David Jones, has you covered. Located on Amelia Island, at the corner of Ash and South 7th Street, in the historic downtown of Fernandina Beach, the Inn is far from the stuffy bed-and-breakfasts of yore. The décor features quaint antiques, beautiful crystal and china, luxurious linens and robes as you would expect in a fine establishment but with a casual elegance that’s both cozy and inviting. The backyard pool, patio and garden area make a relaxing space in which to enjoy the daily poolside happy hour. Julie’s homemade pesto stuffed focaccia bread, fresh fruit and a cheese assortment are served for nibbling, and David makes sure glasses stay full with beer and wine options. As the sunset casts a glow over the backyard, finish that last sip and head downtown to catch dusk on the river before enjoying dinner and live music. Late night snacks at the inn are stocked and ready for guests on the second floor landing. After a restful night’s sleep, prepare to be delighted by the gourmet breakfast. Indulge in Julie’s specialties including a yogurt parfait of wild blueberry sauce and cinnamon granola, glazed bacon, mushroom quiche and butterscotch banana bread. A cranberry spritzer and coffee are the perfect accompaniment. Walk away feeling like royalty, ready for any adventures the day holds.
The Standout:Unquestionably, the best thing this inn has to offer is the attention and company of its owners Julie and David Jones. Whatever guests dream up to make their stay fun, special or romantic the Jones will go above and beyond to provide it. It’s like having a concierge team at a top hotel but with all the comforts of home. Take it from Julie herself, “We focus on keeping the guests comfortable and relaxed. When guests stay with us, all their needs and desires are taken care of. It’s fun as well as challenging to not just meet our guests’ expectations but to exceed them. Our favorite part about running the inn is meeting so many neat, experienced travelers from all over the world and even from the First Coast! It’s rewarding when a guest, who has never tried a bed-and-breakfast before, becomes hooked.”
Jacksonville: Club Continental
Tucked away under giant oaks overlooking the St. John’s River in Orange Park lies a Mediterranean jewel. With 22 guest rooms, courtyard garden, riverfront lawn, pools, tennis courts and on-site dining the Club Continental feels more like a boutique resort. Guests are welcome to enjoy a deluxe continental breakfast in the mansion dining room where fresh fruit, homemade coffee cake, coffee, juices, and a hot ham and veggie casserole are served. After breakfast take a stroll around the gardens or jump in the pool. A cabana offering poolside treats and drinks is open during the summer.
The property was originally built by Caleb Johnson, who was the son of B.J. Johnson, founder of the Palmolive Soap Company. He and his sister had fond memories of winter vacations in the area during their childhood. Beginning with its completion in 1923 the estate was home to lavish parties and guests of the family. The family enjoyed entertaining their guests with games of bridge, horseback riding, boating and swimming and dancing in the ballroom. In the 1960s, it became a private club and expansions since then have included the pools, tennis courts and the River Suites. Today, Karrie Massee, B.J Johnson’s great great grandaughter, owns the estate. She oversees the carefully maintained grounds and flowers she helped plant with her mother as a girl. The club has over 700 members and is also an event venue hosting as many as 150 weddings per year.
The Standout:The stunning views of the River Suites simply cannot be beat. The beautiful fountains, dripping Spanish moss and sprawling lawn allow guests to experience the feel of old Florida.
St. Augustine: Beachcomber Cottages on Vilano
Best For: Couples, Families and Groups
Those that enjoy being beach bums by day and explorers by night can find the perfect vacation spot in the oceanfront Beachcomber Cottages just outside of St. Augustine in charming Vilano Beach. The cottages are essentially vacation rentals, but since they are owned by the proprietors of the bed-and-breakfast Bayfront Marin House in historic St. Augustine, guests get the privacy of a vacation rental with the benefits of a B&B. Cottage guests receive maid service and are welcome to visit the Bayfront Marin House for both happy hour in the evening and breakfast each morning. After a day of beach combing, head to the sister property for hors d’oeuvres, signature sangrias, homemade cookies and beer and wine selections. If cooking breakfast in each unit’s kitchen is too taxing, let the Bayfront Marin House do the work and enjoy cornmeal crusted quiche, hot bacon, pastries, fresh fruit, juice and coffee.
Owners Mike and Sandy Weiber remember when Mike had an office job and lived for vacations. He had his vacation planning down to a science, and Sandy enjoyed all of the amazing places he would find. They favored small properties with great locations and beautiful views. Now they love to help other people find the perfect spot between their cottages on Vilano or the bed-and-breakfast downtown. Sandy says, “As an added bonus, many of our guests are celebrating something fun like a birthday or anniversary. It’s great to be able to come to work and celebrate something everyday with our guests.”
The Standout:The stunning ocean views and the beach amenities to go with them: beach cruisers, beach chairs and umbrellas are all provided. Staying at an oceanfront cottage close to historic St. Augustine offers the best of both worlds.