It’s that time of year when we gals want to get away together and leave the curling irons and hairspray behind. STYLE has found some great places where the best of friends can go without breaking their budgets or feeling guilty about leaving the guys on their own for a long weekend.
Imagine an early morning horseback ride along the beach and through the scrub pines of a pristine state park. People from around the world have visited the Kelly Seahorse Ranch on Amelia Island in Northeast Florida, where Kelly Robinson and her husband Jim Kelly offer trail and shore rides for all levels of riders.
“Riding along the beach is a bucket-list item for many folks, “ says Robinson. “A lot of women are into horses, even if they don’t own one, so we get girlfriend groups all the time.”
Kelly Seahorse Ranch, located directly on the water and next to Amelia Island State Park on the southern tip of the island, is exclusively endorsed by the Florida Park Service. The gentle walk-only trail rides begin at $70 per person.
Back in town, accommodations range from elegant to quaint. If budget is not a priority, the girls can pamper themselves at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort’s luxurious spa or play golf on one of Florida’s most beautiful courses. If the group is more into shopping than golfing, historic Fernandina Beach on the island offers cute shops and several elegant bed-and-breakfast inns. I found the Amelia Hotel at the Beach to be a budget friendly solution. On the corner of Sadler Road and Fletcher Avenue, the hotel is a convenient drive to the historic district and is next door to Sliders Seaside Grill, where a cool drink awaits after all that horseback riding, shopping and beachgoing.
Don’t let 2015 slip away without planning a visit to St. Augustine, considered the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the U.S. The city celebrates the 450th anniversary of its founding on Sept. 8, but between now and then, special events are scheduled almost every weekend.
Spanish explorers and their cannons made a mark on St. Augustine, but women also played a significant role in the city’s history. Apache Chief Geronimo’s daughter, Marion, was born at Fort Marion, which was used to house the Apaches before relocation in the West. The city’s most influential women were responsible for St. Augustine’s first hospital. Henry Flagler offered to build a hospital if they would commit to operate and maintain the facility, which opened as the nonprofit Alicia Hospital in 1890. In more recent history, Flagler College was a girls-only school until the 1970s, and the dorm rooms were actually located in the famous Ponce de Leon Hotel.
A bed-and-breakfast in the city’s Old Town is the ideal choice for absorbing the area’s rich culture. Innkeepers are delighted to share the little-known facts that make history come alive. One such place is St. Francis Inn on St. George Street. Owners Joe and Margaret Finnegan are celebrating their 30th year as owners of the B&B, which was built in 1791 during the city’s second Spanish Colonial period and is the city’s oldest inn.
Don’t fret if you think the St. Francis still creaks with age, because it doesn’t. The elegant rooms, walled courtyard and temperature-controlled swimming pool provide an oasis for a girls’ getaway.
“The bed-and-breakfast visitor today is very different from the bed-and-breakfast visitor 20 years ago,” Finnegan said. “Guests want much more high-level establishments.”
In addition to gourmet buffet breakfasts, St. Francis Inn offers nightly homemade desserts and private porches where the girls can hang out together after a long day of sightseeing.
I am not much of a shopper, but there is something about St. Armands Circle that entices me to spend an entire day lingering and looking — the kind of day that only girlfriends can appreciate.
St. Armands Key, across the bay from Sarasota, offers an eclectic circle of shops and gourmet restaurants, including what is considered the prettiest Columbia Restaurant location. The open-air covered patio of the Florida-based eatery offers a refreshing spot to regroup after a morning of shopping for trinkets and treasures.
With more than 130 shops to explore, some of the girls may want to stay on the circle all day while others will prefer the beach at nearby Lido Key. Known for its ecotourism, Lido Key also offers magnificent sunsets where you can celebrate and toast to your renewed friendships.
All three of these Florida destinations have unique histories that your entire family will enjoy learning. Amelia Island’s 52nd Annual Shrimp Festival this month celebrates the city’s history under the dominion of eight flags during the past five centuries (shrimpfestival.com). Learn more about St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary at staugustine-450.com. And pay homage to circus magnate John Ringling, whose vision for St. Armands Circle began in 1917 (starmandscircleassoc.com).