Living in Jacksonville, FL, is pretty great this time of year. Because we are such a large city, we constantly have events going on somewhere, no matter the day of the week. And, when the holidays come, each weekend is packed full of festivities for all ages. It seems like every neighborhood has their own version of a tree lighting, nativity, or light parade. One of my favorite holiday events actually takes place in nearby St. Augustine, FL. I’m talking about the famous Nights of Lights!
Nights of Lights takes place from November 21st to January 31st. From our house, it’s only about a 45-minute drive to the heart of downtown St. Augustine and Ryan and I try to make it a part of our Christmas celebration every year. The whole city is illuminated with glowing white lights and people come from all over to take it all in.
The event has become busier than it used to be. The crowds are bigger and the traffic is heavier but, overall, the event just gets better with time. Last year, when we went, we were entirely unprepared for just how busy it would be on a Saturday night. First, we drove around forever, trying to find a place to park. Then, we attempted to eat at a favorite restaurant of ours, The Floridian, but were told it would be over a two-hour wait. In fact, every restaurant we attempted to go to told us that. We were so disappointed that we ended up leaving early. Thankfully, that did not happen this year.
Ryan and I visited this past Saturday and it was just as busy, if not busier. However, this time we knew what to expect, so we got there earlier in the day. We arrived around four o’clock and headed straight for the parking garage at the Visitor Information Center on West Castillo Drive. It cost $12 but it was money well spent; especially, considering how long it took us to find a parking spot last year. Also, this year, there were several people directing traffic both when we arrived and left the garage. This made the whole process very efficient and much less stressful.
First, we headed to Harry’s Seafood, Bar & Grille—another one of our favorites. Hardly any of the restaurants downtown accept reservations during Nights of Lights, and the same was true for Harry’s. But, because we showed up between the lunch and dinner rushes, we were told it’d only be about a 30-minute wait. We opted for the first-available table, which ended up being in their beautiful courtyard, and were actually seated in just fifteen minutes! (The food was delicious! I highly recommend the fried green tomatoes or anything with their grit cakes.)
It was starting to get dark, so after our meal we headed for the main event, the Christmas tree in the Plaza de la Constitucion! It was gorgeous, as always, and had several families and couples crowding around it, trying to take a good picture. We saw one family in particular, struggling with a group photo, so we offered to take the picture for them. They were very grateful and it made us feel good. Then, we went off to take our own pic in front of the tree.
We were attempting to get our selfie on, when two ladies stopped to offer to take our picture! They said someone had just done it for them and they wanted to pay it forward—which was funny because we had just done the same thing for the family before us. It was really cool to see so many people caught up in the giving spirit! Even the trolley tours were in on it! They were full of people singing Christmas songs and shouting, “Merry Christmas!” The atmosphere was absolutely buzzing with joy and excitement.
Across the street from the plaza, we got coffee at this amazing coffee shop, The Kookaburra. From there, we wandered around downtown some more, checking out all of the lights and visiting some stores. Then, we stumbled upon The Bath Junkie, which had a bubble machine blowing out onto the street from an upstairs window. It looked just like snow and everyone was laughing and playing in it! It was magical!
We loved our visit this year and are so glad to see the many ways the city has improved the event to accommodate all the families that want to make Nights of Lights a part of their holiday season. There’s still plenty of time, so if you get a chance, check it out! And, don’t forget to let me know what you see and do. 🙂