In the thick of winter you may find yourself in need of a warm getaway. Ponte Vedra, the quiet Florida beach town tucked between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, offers a warm respite. While the rest of Florida tends to be pretty expensive during the winter season — rooms at beachfront hotels in Naples can run upwards of $1,000 a night — this part of Florida is affordable and accessible. Because of its proximity to bustling Jacksonville and historic St. Augustine, there’s no shortage of fun activities if you need a break from the beach.
Ponte Vedra is home to TPC Sawgrass, a golf course that hosts the Players Championship. Historically, the tournament was held in May, but, starting this year, the tournament will be held each March, with this year’s event taking place March 14-17. The course is one of the most famous in the world, known for its famous 17th hole island green. You can play the Stadium course (where the tournament is held) or its neighboring course, Dye’s Valley. There’s also a performance center staffed with pros who can provide additional training and tweaking to golfers of any level.
Whether you’re a golfer or not, you’ll definitely want to move Ponte Vedra to the top of your vacation bucket list. Grab your bags — and golf clubs. We’re going to Ponte Vedra!
How to Spend 48 Hours in Ponte Vedra
Hit the road to Ponte Vedra (or fly into Jacksonville and rent a car), and check into the Sawgrass Marriott. The hotel offers recently renovated rooms that are spacious and bright, several with views of the manicured property. The hotel’s amenities really push it over the edge: two pools, plenty of outdoor spots to curl up with a book and cocktail, and access to a beach that’s only a little over a mile away (with a free shuttle to get you there). TPC Sawgrass is right next door (you can see it from the hotel’s lobby).
After checking in, head over to the Cabana Beach Club. Think of it as a country club, only instead of golf, there’s a beach. The club is only open to private members and hotel guests, which ensures that it never gets too crowded. Step through the gate, and you’ll feel instantly relaxed. The beach is within sight and there’s a large heated pool next to Sharkey’s, a tiki bar with food and libations. If you’re hungry, grab a table at Sharkey’s (there are plenty overlooking the beach) and order some of their casual pub grub, like nachos and burgers. They also make tropical blended drinks that are irresistible when you’re in beach vacation mode.
It’s time to get changed and get ready to kick off your vacation in spectacular fashion: with a sunset sail in St. Augustine. The drive to St. Augustine is about 30 minutes down A1A and through a protected estuary. Along the way you’re treated to marshy views on one side, beach and beachfront homes on the other.
Set sail with the Schooner Freedom, a 76-foot beauty with 2,400 square feet of sail. The excursion lasts about two hours and takes you along the coast, giving you a chance to peep at coastal houses. If you’re lucky, a dolphin may say hi, too. The sail includes beer, wine and sodas making it easy to kick back and relax. It’s pretty magical when the sun drops behind the historic center of St. Augustine, casting a glow on the country’s oldest city.
Head back to the hotel for dinner. A suggestion to dine at Vernon’s, the hotel’s restaurant, may give you pause — hotel restaurants aren’t usually known for their exciting cuisine — but Vernon’s is worth staying in for. The restaurant is upscale but in a relaxed Florida way: floor-to-ceiling windows, a coastal palette and unpretentious (you can come in jeans).
Setting it apart from most hotel restaurants is its emphasis on locally sourced food. There’s a densely packed garden on the ground floor of the hotel. Even in February it was brimming with lettuce, tomatoes, and other goodies thanks to Florida’s warm climate. To enjoy the garden’s bounty, start with the charred romaine salad with crispy prosciutto and Caesar dressing. Another starter worth ordering is the broken burrata. The burrata is made in-house and then spread atop a thick piece of charred sourdough with blistered tomatoes.
If you’re a seafood lover, you’ll want to order the fruitti de mare as your main course. Bucatani is tossed in a velvety, creamy butter sherry sauce and studded with fresh scallops, shrimp and lobster. It’s a rich dish but worth every bite. If seafood isn’t your thing, try the fork and knife burger topped with mushrooms.
Rise and shine, it’s time to hit the links and play like the pros — that is, if golf is your thing. You can set up a reservation for TPC Sawgrass through the hotel and then hop on the free shuttle that drops you off right at the beautiful clubhouse. As you try to hold your tee shot on the 17th green or stroll down the 18th fairway, imagine the course lined with fans cheering you on.
If golf isn’t for you, head to the spa. The Sawgrass Spa is in a separate building on the resort’s property, allowing you to feel like you’re on a retreat. While the main part of the resort may be kid-friendly, have no fear, the spa is for adults only, and the building’s separation ensures that there won’t be any little feet scampering by the spa’s pool.
Besides an outdoor pool, there’s also a relaxation room, indoor hot tub, and steam room. You can’t go wrong with any of the spa services, but the Marine Dream facial is a standout. It uses Elemis pro-collagen products that are anti-aging and ideal after time in the sun. It’s 80 minutes of bliss that incorporates the facial treatment along with a shoulder and foot massage.
Once you’re feeling recharged, it’s time to head to Jacksonville and explore the Riverside neighborhood. Only a 30-minute drive from the hotel, this area is home to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The beautiful modern structure sits on the St. Johns River and houses art spanning several eras including the Renaissance and modern times. Just outside is two-and-a-half acres of gardens that are perfect for exploring (and photo snapping).
Since you’re there on a Saturday, go up a block to the Riverside Arts Market. You’ll find it under the I-95 Bridge from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The market is revelrous with live music, farmers selling produce, local honey and treats, and several local artists vending their crafts. If you need a snack, there are plenty of vendors and food trucks.
Stroll over to Hawkers Asian Street Fare when the hunger pangs kick in. Hawkers is in Five Points, a pocket of the Riverside neighborhood known for its eclectic eateries and shops, and is a quick walk from the Cummer Museum.
Hawkers specializes in small plates so it’s tempting to try everything. Two people can share about four small plates and one of the larger items and not feel too full after. Standouts here include the dim sum crunchy balls (shrimp and pork rolled into a spring roll batter and fried), the golden wontons, the five-spice green beans, the roti cani (flatbread served with curry sauce), and the yaki udon (udon noodles stir fried with chicken, eggs, onions, and bean sprouts). Most dishes are zesty, so complement the heat with one of the sake cocktails like the lemongrass limeade, a refreshing concoction of rum, lemongrass simple syrup, lime, mint, and soda.
You may want to head back to the hotel for a recharge. On your way there, stop at Bold Bean Coffee Roasters on Jacksonville Beach. The beachy cafe serves their own roasted coffee and makes a killer cold brew. It’s a nice spot to sit a little and take in the local vibe as people stroll and bike by on their way to the beach.
Saturday evening calls for a swanky night out. Azurea is found at One Ocean Resort on Atlantic Beach and is one of the area’s best fine dining restaurants. It offers views of the beach from its plush, intimate banquettes, and the dining room is small which keeps it buzzing but never too crowded.
Stick to the seafood options here and you’ll be more than delighted. Start with grilled prawns with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic croutons and a cheese plate constructed with locally-sourced cheeses. The Alaskan halibut is a treat, served over a brown butter sauce with four beet ricotta ravioli that are earthy and provide a nice balance to the mild fish.
If you want something more casual, go to Cap’s On the Water in St. Augustine. It’s laid back and has beautiful views of the estuary.
Sadly all things must come to an end, like this North Florida getaway. Before heading back home, grab some breakfast. Mini Bar Donuts on Jacksonville Beach creates swoon-worthy, freshly fried doughnuts that are, you guessed it, mini. If you’re sharing, order an eight pack and try four different flavors like the strawberry sprinkle, coffee cake (Nutella, vanilla icing, and streusel) and cookies ’n cream. They also have an espresso bar and mimosas available during brunch. No one will blame you if you take a few doughnuts on the road with you.
When you’re ready to start planning your trip to Ponte Vedra, check out visitflorida.com.
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