We never could’ve imagined a two-week road trip/cruise combo vacation but it was the perfect opportunity for some bucket list adventures. It all started when we were invited to a wedding on a three-night Royal Caribbean cruise out of Miami in January 2023 but did not want to travel all the way to Miami just for a weekend. After the cruise, we decided we would go to Disney World for a week to round out the trip. This seemed liked a great opportunity for a road trip, so the planning ensued. Ultimately, we decided we would drive from Richmond to Saint Augustine on the first day as 10 hours is about the longest we can spend in a car at one time. The next morning we would make the five hour drive to Miami for the night before cruise embarkation. After the cruise, we’d drive four hours to Disney World for a week. Finally, we’d drive six hours to Santee, South Carolina for a night which is the halfway point from Orlando to Richmond and then back to Richmond the next day. If we discussed the entire trip in one article, you’d be here reading for days so we decided to break it up into a series format. Over the next few weeks, we’ll break down each destination and experience with you. Today we’ll cover the drive down to Saint Augustine and our time there.
We are both early birds when it comes to leaving for vacation so we decided to leave at 5 AM for the long ten-hour day of driving from Richmond to Saint Augustine. We estimated this would put us there around 5 PM with a few quick stops along the way. This went exactly as planned and even after stopping for the usual quick bathroom and gas breaks, we arrived ahead of schedule in Saint Augustine around 3:30 PM. After a quick refresh and change, we took a ten-minute Lyft to downtown Saint Augustine from the beach area where our hotel was. When we arrived, it was as if we had stepped into a quaint European village right out of a storybook. Dining and shopping around every corner in historic buildings with cobblestone streets – so charming! We walked around and explored for a little bit before heading to our first restaurant stop for the evening – The Drunken Horse. This restaurant was an intimate French wine bar with a cute little outdoor courtyard and small indoor seating area. We always choose bar seats at restaurants if available as we feel we get better service and enjoy communication with the bartenders. We walked in right at opening time of 4 PM and snagged two seats at the bar. We were greeted by the bartender instantly, who also seemed to be the manager. He walked us through the menu and gave us some great entrée recommendations, but we told him we were only going to be having appetizers today as we had a few other stops on our list for the evening. We both chose a glass of wine – Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc and decided on two appetizers – Burrata Heirloom Tomato Salad and Fusion Ginger Tuna Tartare.
The Burrata Heirloom Tomato Salad was served with balsamic glaze and basil oil – simple but done very well and extremely fresh ingredients. The Fusion Ginger Tuna Tartare was fresh tuna marinated with ginger sauce and avocado – again a pretty standard recipe for tuna tartare but done really well. We chose these two appetizers to pair with cold crisp glasses of wine because they were light and would be a good lead-in to our dining rotation that evening. We both were eyeing several more dishes on the menu and said we would definitely like to come back for a full dinner service.
We did a quick search for charcuterie boards on Yelp and found our next stop for the evening, Casa de Vino 57. As we were making our way to this wine bar, the skies opened up and we were able to run into Casa de Vino 57 just in the nick of time. It’s too bad that the weather didn’t cooperate because they have a very spacious courtyard area that is stunning. They only have a few tables inside and we were lucky to snag one. Another family with a small child was able to duck inside too when it started pouring and the owner was sitting at the third table. The owner and server quickly engaged in conversation with us and the family and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other and asking questions about the Saint Augustine area. The owner was also very helpful when providing recommendations for a bottle of wine. We knew we wanted to snag two bottles to take on our upcoming cruise with us and she sold us on the “Wild Thing – Old Vine Zinfandel – 2019 – by Carol Shelton”. We liked it so much that we got two as it was such an easy drinking wine that complemented many flavors. We also decided to each get a glass of wine and a build your own charcuterie board.
Cheese just might be our favorite food of all time so we were in heaven with this option. We chose the Grand Noir blue cheese, a triple cream brie, and the duck prosciutto. We have been wanting to try duck prosciutto for a long time and are not able to find it anywhere local to us so this was a real treat! The board also came with standard items to include: grapes, berries, cucumbers, wafers, water crackers, fig jam, dried apricots, marcona almonds, olives, sliced sweet peppers, and french bread topped with sundried tomatoes in olive oil. The board had a little bit of everything from salty to sweet and paired great with the wine. Like I said before, charcuterie boards are one of our favorite things so we thoroughly enjoyed it. After spending another 45 minutes or so chatting with the other guests and employees, it was time for us to make our way to our last stop for the evening: Marco’s Piano Bar.
We had a reservation at Marco’s Piano Bar and when we showed up, we were seated immediately. This restaurant feels like an intimate lounge with a small bar and roughly ten tables. A grand piano with a live pianist was playing and according to their website there is live music every night. The server greeted us promptly and explained the menu and specials in detail. It was a small menu of about 8-10 items but all of the choices sounded exquisite. We went with the cocoa ancho short rib and the lamb entrées to again pair with glasses of red wine. We really enjoyed the beautiful live piano music and especially loved that the pianist took requests. Our entrees arrived at the table shortly after and were like two beautiful works of art.
The Cocoa Ancho Short Rib was accompanied by a cauliflower puree, blackberry compote, ancho puree, demi glaze, and greens while the lamb was a fine herb crusted New Zealand baby lamb accompanied by beet purée, walnuts, molasses demi glaze, sautéed cherry tomatoes, and rustic potatoes. Both were delicious but the true stand out was the lamb dish due to its colorful plating and perfect pairings. We were pretty full at this point but couldn’t leave without experiencing a couple dessert options – the Lemon Raspberry Mousse Cake and the Chef’s dessert of the day: Flambéed pineapple foster.
The Lemon Raspberry Mouse Cake was a pistachio pound cake with pistachio crunch and layered lemon and raspberry mousse. Refreshing, tart, creamy – everything we wanted this dessert to be. The Flambéed Pineapple Foster while despite having a beautiful table side preparation missed the mark on flavor for us as, as all we could taste was the alcohol that should have been used just barely to flambée the dish. Overall, we had a great experience at Marco’s Piano Bar and would certainly return.
As it was late and we were beyond full, we grabbed a Lyft back to our hotel and called it a night. We didn’t set many expectations for Saint Augustine as it was just a one-night stop on our journey for us but we were so blown away that we are making plans to visit again. The charming quaint feel of downtown Saint Augustine combined with the beach only ten minutes away makes it the perfect combo for adventure and relaxation. Thank you for following along on our Saint Augustine recap – stay tuned for next week’s article in the “Bucket List Series” about our quick stay in Miami, Florida.