Only Disney World manages to cram more holiday happenings into December than St. Augustine, our nation's oldest city, settled by the Spanish 55 years before the Pilgrims set foot on that famous rock in Plymouth. There are parades and regattas, concerts and carolers, townsfolk dressed in the 18th century British manner, torchlight processions, military encampments and re-enactments, and candlelight tours of homes including some of those transformed to bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
In Florida, only Key West has more inns and guest houses than St. Augustine. Here are a few of my favorites -- all with private baths, TV, telephones and other modern conveniences. And remember: You can always go after the holidays; there's usually something special going on in the First City, as you will discover if you call 800-653- 2489.
Alexander Homestead (14 Sevilla St.; 904-826-4147, $105-$160): A beautifully restored 1888 reminder of Victorian glories presented in four spacious rooms, one with Jacuzzi and two with fireplaces and each with private porches and antique fittings. Full-scale country breakfasts get you off to the proper start in the morning, and innkeeper Bonnie Alexander also makes sure you have complimentary brandies at night, along with chocolates and fresh flowers.
Casa de Suenos (20 Cordova St.; 904-824-0887, $125-$190): The House of Dreams is a turn-of-the-century Mediterranean memory bank with a half-dozen guest rooms caressed by gentle arches and fine furnishings. My favorite is the honeymoon suite, but I'll settle for any of the comfortable beds as long as I can fork into the excellent breakfasts.
Casablanca Inn on the Bay (24 Avenida Menedez; 904-829-0928, $89-$225): A smashing setting and scene-stealer in every sense of the word, starting with the quartet of pillared porches out front framing the 10 suites and two rooms, some with private decks for soaking up the view of the bay and the famed Bridge of Lions. My favorite is the Matanzas Suite, close to the kitchen, which sends out the impossible to ignore wake-up smells from preparations for two-course breakfasts served on the grand porch.
Kenwood Inn (38 Marine St.; 904-824-2116, $95-$100): I first stayed in this three-story corner house in the 1970s, shortly after it had been rescued from boarding-house blues and transformed into a fussily maintained home away from home, one with a pool that's perfect for morning wakeups or a relaxing dip after a day tromping the fascinating avenues of the Historic District. The harbor and Oldest House are a block away, and across the street is the St. Francis Barracks with coquina walls from the Franciscan Convent built in the 1720s. My favorite overnight is in the third-floor honeymoon suite with gable windows looking out across the bay and bridge.
Old Mansion (14 Joiner St.; 904-824-1975, $175): Forget the location next door to Ripley's assemblage of poor taste; it's across the street from the Welcome Center, which is loaded with everything you ever wanted to know about the oldest city. It is in an 1872 three-story tribute to the Colonial Revival school of architecture, serving simultaneously as a reminder of St. Augustine's British Era. The English owners exude Old-World hospitality while preparing English breakfasts and English teas, and serving English cookies with sherry.
St. Francis Inn (279 George St.; 904-824-6068, $75-$195): This 1791 survivor next door to the Oldest House lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating B&B in town, with 14 accommodations including suites, a three-room apartment and a five-room cottage complete with fireplace -- ideal for family, couples, close friends or mini conferences.
Westcott House (146 Avenida Menendez; 904-824-4301, $95- $225): A fine old 1880 Victorian two-story cottage built for Dr. John Westcott, one of the developers involved in the first Florida projects of Henry Flagler in these parts (which included the magnificent Ponce de Leon Hotel, the first poured concrete structure in the world, now Flagler College). The location is superb, safely removed from the bustle of the Historic District but on the route where the famed carriages clip-clop along. Alongside the house is a tidy little garden, perfect for whiling away hours and reflecting on all the history. Here, the complimentary breakfast is served on the splendid wraparound porch. The eight rooms are individually furnished with a fair share of dash and class.