Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Off-Season in Your Own Back Yard Now May Be the Best Time for First Coast Residents to Take a Break in St. Augustine or Fernandina Beach

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Off-Season in Your Own Back Yard Now May Be the Best Time for First Coast Residents to Take a Break in St. Augustine or Fernandina Beach

Article excerpt

Theresa Hamilton says she doesn't have to watch The Weather Channel to know about the weather in the colder half of the country.

"When the phones start ringing off the hook," she said, "we know the storms are kicking in up north."

Hamilton is owner of the Fairbanks House, a bed and breakfast in Fernandina Beach. When the weather hits the teens in the Northeast, the highs in the 60s down here look awfully good.

Luckily, First Coast residents have a shorter drive to the bed and breakfasts of St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach. The weather's good, the crowds are down, there are fewer bugs.

In other words, you don't have to sweat or fight crowds to get to the small shops on St. George Street or Centre Street. There are even some special deals going on at some of the 13 bed and breakfasts in Fernandina Beach and the more than 25 in St. Augustine.

"People don't realize how fabulous the weather can be," Hamilton said. "It's not crowded, you're not elbow to elbow in restaurants fighting for time. But everything's open."

January is always the slowest month of the year, B&B operators said.

"After any holiday there tends to be a drop in activity," said Walt James, owner of the Penny Farthing Inn and president of Historic Inns of St. Augustine. "It'll start picking up again at Valentine's Day."

Slow is, of course, relative. Most of the B&Bs still fill up on weekends. For places like the Fairbanks House, which is on the higher end of scale with rooms $125-$225, that means making reservations three weeks in advance instead of eight, as you would expect to do in summer.

Mid-week traffic slows down more and, because of that, some of the B&Bs are offering specials.

At the Agustin Inn on Cuna Street in St. Augustine, regular rates are $99-135, but owner Vanessa Cushman said she usually discounts the upper end rooms to $99 during the week at this time of year.

James said his $95 rooms are now $85, even on weekends.

In Fernandina Beach, the discounts are more organized. Some of the bed and breakfasts, along with a few motels, are taking part in a promotion called Amelia Island MidWeek Retreat. Special deals are offered for lodging Sunday through Thursday. Two nights gets a third night free. One night gets a second at half price.

Some restaurants in Fernandina Beach are offering 10 percent discounts as part of the promotion.

But hurry, it ends Feb. 10.

Hamilton said she often makes restaurant reservations for her guests, so she knows how hard it can be to get a table during the busiest time: mid-March to mid-November. The fine dining spots -- she mentioned Horizons, Beech Street Grill, Joe's Second Street Bistro, Le Clos and Centre Street Cafe -- tend to fill up.

"Especially since some of the better restaurants are so small. A conference from the Ritz- Carlton or the Plantation can wipe them out. …

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