When you think of holiday and Christmas travel guides, Florida may not be the first place that comes to mind, but you should definitely add Christmas in St. Augustine to your holiday bucket list! From millions of Christmas lights, to tree lightings, sailing adventures and holiday shows, St. Augustine is the most festive place in Florida to visit for Christmas! This little historic town was even placed in the top 10 places in the world to see Christmas Lights by NatGeo, and was just featured in CNTraveler as well (proud of my little hometown!) With so many popular activities to do, here are the best things to experience while visiting St. Augustine for Christmas!
Nights of Lights Grand Illumination
From mid-November to early February, St. Augustine is covered in MILLIONS (yes, millions) of warm white Christmas lights. Downtown St. Augustine transforms into a winter wonderland for blocks. The Grand Illumination is the first day of the Nights of Lights, complete with live music, entertainers, and more! Stand in the Cathedral Plaza to experience the most of the fun!
Travel Tip: Don’t drive into town, parking is difficult to find!Unless you plan on leaving SUPER early and want to deal with lots of traffic, I’d recommend avoiding driving into town for most of the Nights of Lights season. Opt for one of the complementary shuttles, Uber, or even walk from your accommodation!
St. Augustine’s Christmas Parade
A family favorite, the St. Augustine Christmas Parade is filled with floats, performers, horseback riders, dancers, and of course, SANTA! This is a great morning activity for families and friends that want to experience a little more of the local community. The parade travels down the Bayfront, and then turns to go through the Plaza. The parade begins around 9 AM usually, but allow yourself TONS of time for parking if you’re driving into town. Even better, avoid driving and either walk or Uber from your hotel or accommodation.
A white Christmas in St. Augustine isn’t complete with the sand from the beach! St. Augustine Beach boasts colorful lights at the Pier, as well as tropical and holiday shaped lights lining A1A. St. Augustine Beach’s illumination takes place at the Pier, complete with colorfully lit palms, a Christmas tree, and lots of festivities including a Holiday market, live music, and more!
Schooner Freedom Sails
The best way to see St. Augustine’s Christmas lights from the water is by far by taking a sail aboard the Schooner Freedom. With complimentary drinks, as well as mulled wine, hot chocolate, fuzzy blankets, Christmas candy, and lights up and down the entire boat, you won’t find a better way to see Christmas lights from the water. Definitely make a reservation, as sails sell out in advance, you can learn more here!
Christmas Lights on the Bayfront
By far my favorite place to see the Christmas lights in St. Augustine are on the Bayfront! Not only can you see them from the water, but every business on the Bayfront continues to out-do one another! Tini Martini is a local’s favorite to enjoy the Christmas lights, and it’s definitely one of my favorite Christmas spots in St. Augustine!
The Lighthouse Illumination is something I remember going to as a kid every year. With over 20 lighted Christmas trees in the Keeper’s house, luminaries lining all the paths through the grounds, hot chocolate and hot spiced cider, Santa, and carols by local ensembles and chorus singers, the Lighthouse Illumination is like the start of a Hallmark Christmas movie, without all the cheesy storyline. For Christmas in St. Augustine, you can’t go wrong with an event like this one!
The Red Light
Keep your eyes peeled for a single red bulb hung somewhere in town! This is a fun little scavenger hunt loved by all ages, and I even found the bulb for the first time ever this year! It can be anywhere in town, so be sure to look carefully if you want to find it!
Tini Martini: The most lights to see at a bar for Christmas in St. Augustine
Arguably the trend-setter for the amount of lights on the entirety of the Bayfront is Tini Martini Bar. With a wait year round, that is also a local favorite, you’ve got to add Tini Martini to your Christmas in St. Augustine bucket list, and your Florida vacation as well! During Nights of Lights, Tini Martini is lit up more than you can imagine, and the cocktails are just as amazing as the lights! Order a pomegranate martini for a nice fruity touch on a red and festive drink. Just one order will give you roughly two and a half martinis, as the bar serves you the whole shaker! It’s a local’s and a visitor’s favorite, so make sure to visit for Bayfront views, great cocktails, and amazing Christmas Lights in St. Augustine!
Holly Jolly Shopping Spree
A perfect shopping experience to support small local businesses in St. Augustine, while enjoying special deals, Christmassy snacks and drinks, the Holly Jolly Trolly is a perfect morning to celebrate the Christmas season in Florida. Hop aboard one of the Trolley Trains after signing in and getting a complimentary Christmas cocktail, and ride to uptown St. Augustine. Once there, you’ll be dropped off and get to shop, with each storefront offering specials, snacks, cocktails, hot chocolate, and brunch! Proceeds benefit a charitable organization here in town, and if you’ve got Christmas shopping to do (or even if you don’t) you’ll love hopping aboard the Holly Jolly Trolley!
Note that this is NOT the Nights of Lights Trolley Tour that you see driving around town.The Nights of lights trolley tour is great for families that don’t want to walk around town and want to listen to Christmas carols around St. Augustine! Just a heads up though, on weekends the traffic is very heavy, so you may want to opt for a walking experience.
Probably the most iconic area of town (and the area that gets the most attention), the Cathedral Plaza is the location where the lights cover all the old Oak trees. Formally known as the Plaza de la Constitucion, us locals tend to refer to it as the Cathedral Plaza. The gazebos within the Plaza are lit and are hung with garland, wreaths line the light poles, and the Plaza is where you’ll find St. Augustine’s very own Grand Christmas tree! The tree is real, and although not very large, is one of the only spots in town that you’ll find colored lights! Definitely visit the Plaza, and keep your eyes out for special events and happenings throughout the season! This is also a fun place to experience the Grand Illumination to kick off the Christmas season in St. Augustine!
St. Augustine’s Regatta of Lights
Another favorite for those that enjoy boats and the “Florida” side of Christmas. The Regatta of Lights is a lighted boat parade in which vessels from town compete in various categories. The themed vessels can be seen cruising along the Bayfront just north of the Bridge of Lions. Keep your eyes peeled, and you may even see Santa!
One of the newest areas in St. Augustine to experience Christmas Lights is over on West King Street! Beginning this year, the little shops and businesses that lie just outside the Historic District will be lit with over 3,000 lights! With live music and the first year that the neighborhood is lighting 12 businesses, the new Christmas in St. Augustine event is one not to miss!
One of my favorite holiday traditions is watching The Nutcracker! If you didn’t already know, the Nutcracker is a ballet that takes place during a Christmas party, where Clara falls into an enchanted sleep after receiving a Nutcracker from her magician uncle. Not only is it a Christmas classic, but the music is incredible. St. Augustine offers a few different performances of The Nutcracker, performed by local ballet schools. Check out The St. Augustine Dance Conservatory’s performance – that is the same school I spent years dancing with!
Miracle Bar at Forgotten Tonic
Last but not least, you can’t miss this Christmas pop-up bar in St. Augustine! Miracle Bar is actually a Christmas Bar in NYC, but they host pop-ups around the country! If you get the chance to experience Christmas in NYC, you’ve got to check out these things to do, but add the original Miracle Bar to that list! With a completely Christmas-themed cocktail menu, delicious recipes, and more Christmas decor than you can imagine, you’ve got to visit Miracle Bar for this time of year! It is the most Christmas-sy bar in St. Augustine, and be sure to try the drink that’s served hot, it’s perfect to warm you up on a chilly Nights of Lights walk!