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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Meet in St. Augustine on Florida’s Colonial Coast

Looking for the Fountain of Youth in 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon happened upon wild, lovely Atlantic coastal land that he named Le Florida. Begun as a Spanish settlement in 1565, St. Augustine is the country’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Today, the community’s cobblestone streets mix Spanish, English and French architecture, reflecting a fascinating past.

“St. Augustine is an authentic destination,” said William McBroom, director of conference sales for the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. “Many places are built to attract tourists. Instead, ours takes you back to a different era. You get a true Colonial feel in an American city. A lot of its initial layout hasn’t changed, and 1500s-era buildings remain. It keeps things in perspective.”

Even some of the city’s attractions are old. The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, with dozens of strolling peacocks and a 1,000-capacity events pavilion, and the Alligator Farm — with all 24 species of crocodilian, a rookery for up-close photo ops and a zip line for team building — were both begun in the 1800s.

However, this tradition-rich city embraces the new. A case in point is the under-construction Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort, due to open August 1. Snuggled between the St. John’s County Pier Park and the 1,600-acre Anastasia State Park, the city’s first true beachfront property will have 175 two-room suites, 7,000 square feet of event space and a free shuttle to the Historic District.

“We’ll bring an upscale class of service that’s currently not available on the beach,” said Chris Pranis, the property’s director of sales and marketing.

Marketed as Florida’s Historic Coast, St. Johns County encompasses St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Beach and “the Beaches” — 42 miles of snowy Atlantic Ocean sand.

For example, south of St. Augustine in Palm Coast, the 330-room Hammock Beach Resort added a lobby bar and returfed its Jack Nicklaus-designed Oceanfront Course. Its multilevel water park encourages attendees to bring their families.

At St. Augustine Aquarium, Snorkel Adventure and Zipline, a new Florida marine attraction, guests get to snorkel with sharks and stingrays.

“St. Augustine is safe and friendly,” said McBroom. “You can walk across the Historic District in 15 to 20 minutes. All this, and we’re essentially on the ocean.”

Major Meeting Venues

A 30-minute drive from downtown St. Augustine, the splendid Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa has 524 guest rooms, 61,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, four pools and an oceanfront beach club. A recent $25 million refresh increased guest room size and added premium service rooms with VIP access to adjacent The Players Club (TPC) Sawgrass’ two championship golf courses.

“Most of our resorts have two courses,” said McBroom. And 301-room World Golf Village Renaissance Resort/St. Johns County Convention Center is no exception. In addition, the property adds another 60,000 square feet of gathering space. Attendees can relax at Spa World Golf Village, a short shuttle ride away.