St. Augustine, Florida is home to a number of Gilded Age landmarks, which started when railroad tycoon Henry Flagler created the tourist infrastructure for his passengers. Among them was the Alcazar Hotel, first built in 1888.
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The History of the Lightner Museum
It was the second of his grand hotels, following the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), located across the street. The Alcazar was built by the famed firm Carrère and Hastings, who also built the New York City Public Library.
The Alcazar gained inspiration from the city’s Spanish roots, with stunning terracotta tiles. Inside, guests could take advantage of the modern rooms, casino, and skylight-lit swimming pool. The grounds were impeccably manicured and the spa boasted treatments to improve health including Russian and Turkish baths.
But the Stock Market Crash and Great Depression caused the luxurious Alcazar to close in 1931. In 1947, the building was purchased by Otto Lightner, the publisher of Hobbies magazine and an avid collector of a variety of items. Opened the following year to the public, the now-Lightner Museum incorporated the architecture of the grand hotel.
What to See at the Lightner Museum
This museum houses all sorts of oddities and artifacts ranging from Tiffany lamps to shrunken heads to an Egyptian mummy and a stuffed lion. The antique glassware is especially impressive. The museum also hosts rotating exhibits including stained glass and paintings from Florida artists.
There are also images and panels describing the museum’s former life as a hotel. The museum also hosts painting classes and yoga classes.
Tips for Visiting the Lightner Museum
The Lightner Museum is located at 75 King Street, St. Augustine, Florida 32084. Tickets are $17 for adults, $14 for seniors, military, and college students, $10 for children, and free for children under 11. Get a skip-the-line ticket before you go.
Where to Eat Near the Lightner Museum
There are plenty of great restaurants just steps away from the Lightner Museum, but there’s also one inside! Cafe Alcazar is on the lower level where the swimming pool used to be and offers lunch daily. The menu includes soups, salads, and sandwiches and reservations are recommended.
The Ancient City Brunch Bar is the perfect place to start the day, where you can build your own board with items like waffles and also have breakfast sandwiches and lunch fare. Nearby Preserved Restaurant is one of the top-rated restaurants in town for its shrimp and grits and fresh seafood.
Where to Stay Near the Lightner Museum
If you’re looking for the true Gilded Age experience, you have to stay at Casa Monica, located across the street from the Lightner Museum. Now a Kessler hotel, it was built as Hotel Cordova, another Flagler property.
Old City House Inn and Restaurant is one of many historic inns in the city. The rooms are large and guests can enjoy daily breakfast in the restaurant and free WiFi. The Collector is an adults-only escape set between multiple historic buildings a few blocks away with a pool and bikes for rent.