Where to stay? Where to stay? Well, that really depends on a couple different factors, doesn’t it? The first factor is probably going to be based on budget. The second factor would be based on the type of experience you’re hoping to have. With that said, I can only relay my own experience.

Grant and I have stayed at various bed & breakfasts, a variety of hotels, and even a motel. So, I’ll try and give you a feel for each.

Bed & Breakfasts

Bayfront Marin House Bed and Breakfast Inn
Well, I ain’t gonna lie, this is pretty much our favorite place to stay in St. Augustine when it comes to the Bed and Breakfast experience. The rooms are beautifully appointed and obviously decorated by an experienced interior designer with great color schemes and attention to detail, the beds are actually comfortable, the towels and sheets are soft, and some of the rooms have jacuzzi tubs for two. I’m kind of a linen snob, and have been delighted each time we’ve stayed. The place feels homey and despite its age, doesn’t feel haunted-even a little. For St. Augustine, that is saying something. It’s located on the Bay and you can even see the Old Lighthouse from the gazebo in the courtyard and watch the pirate ship go by at sunset. Breakfast is served in the garden or gazebo, or at any of the cozy sitting areas outside each room, and the food is tasty and boutiful. Cocktail hour is at 5:00 and they have a lovely white Sangria. The staff are friendly and sincerely care about your comfort. They offer loaner bikes for guests and are just a few blocks from the heart of downtown.

Trip Advisor reviews give it 5 stars (208 ratings at this writing) and I’d have to say that I agree.

St. Francis Inn
This is the inn for those who truly want to experience St. Augustine of old. Tales of hauntings, and an inn that is older than most other structures in the “Oldest City”, this is old world St. Augustine. The staff are friendly and caring, the rooms vary from small to suitelike, all beautifully appointed, the stairs are a little crooked and the place is full of old world charm. We stayed in two separate rooms there. One was tiny, the other comfortable. The TVs were small and across the room and felt out of place in such old world splendor. I’m not surprised to hear that it’s supposedly haunted, but it didn’t feel creepy. It’s located on the far south section of St. Augustine and not quite in the hub of everything. They do have a pool, and a lovely courtyard, and bikes for guests to borrow during their stay. I thought that was a sweet touch.

Trip Advisor guests gave it 5 stars with 260 reviews (at this writing). I believe that these are people that truly have a love for the very old fashioned charm that St. Francis Inn offers, and I’m glad to have experienced it myself, but I’d give it 4 stars because I do prefer some more modern luxuries as well as the old world charm.

Hotels & Inns:

St. George Inn
If you’re looking for the old fashioned comfort of a hotel that’s simple, tastefully appointed, clean and comfortable, St. George Inn is perfect. Located in the heart of the historic district, it’s walking distance to nearly everything. There’s more than one building, so the rooms and views will vary. We’ve only stayed in the building that surrounds the courtyard (St. George Square). They always have some kind of promotion or special package deal that includes trolley passes.

Trip Advisor 4.5 out of 5 stars with 191 reviews. I’m inclined to agree with that rating.

The Hilton St. Augustine, Historic Bayfront
A little more pricey than St. George Inn, this is what you’d expect of a Hilton. Modern ammenities, lovely rooms, a pool, and all around more luxurious. If that’s the experience you’re looking for, then this is perfect. You can get a room that literally overlooks the bay, too. We enjoyed our stay, but for the price, we have other preferences. The room was kind of small, and the balcony was smaller than it looked in the pictures and neighbors are literally right next to you on the balcony. I preferred the privacy at St. George Inn, personally, and didn’t feel that the price difference was worth it.

Trip Advisor rates it 4.5 out of 5 stars (146 reviews). I’d probably give it 4 stars at the most.

Casa Monica Hotel
This is considered a truly luxury hotel. The staff and service is excellent. The hotel is over a century old, so it carries that old world charm. If you want to experience St. Augustine as a historic experience, with modern, luxury ammenities, I would recommend the Casa Monica Hotel. We’ve stayed there a couple times, and both times the hotel staff were very accomodating.

The restaurant downstairs has great food, and I loved their Caesar Salad (they actually grill the lettuce – weird, but strangly delicious).

Trip Advisor ratings put it at 4 out of 5 stars, (237 ratings) and I’d rate it similarly.

Obviously, these are based on our own experience, and different times of the year, occasions, and even rooms may make the experience different for each person. I’ve tried to impart enough information to be useful here.

I’d love to hear your own feedback and experience, and any great places that we haven’t tried yet.

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When I visit a new place for the first time, I find it difficult to relax when I feel lost. The place often feels big and overwhelming, and I’ll get this nagging suspicion that I’m missing out on something important. So for me, I want to know what there is to see, and where it is located in relation to me, my hotel, and any potential dining establishments. So that’s why I believe that to truly appreciate St. Augustine, it’s a good idea to wrap your wits around this little town, because it’s loaded with gems you could easily miss. And that would be really too sad, because there’s so much worth seeing.

To simplify this process, I recommend first buying a ticket to the Old Town Trolley Tours, settling down in the very last seat, and doing the full driving tour at least once all the way through. The tickets are about $20 each, however, they are good for three full days, and there are a dozen places where you can get on or off, so you can park your car and leave it for a few days and actually see St. Augustine in all her splendor!

You don’t, of course, have to take the trolley tour. This just happens to be how Grant and I saw St. Augustine the first time we ever visited, and I’m so so so grateful that we opted to see it this way. We took the whole tour, then got off the trolley at the next place we wanted to see. I never felt disoriented, and I had my bearings like someone who knew the town. This made for a relaxing and organized method of sight seeing * happy sigh * We did that for two full days, getting off the trolley here, climbing back on there. We walked a lot, but we also got to see more of St. Augustine than we would have otherwise, and because of the tour guide’s narrative of each little spot, we already knew a little about it when we visited. By the end of the second day, I could have given the tour (not really, but I felt that comfortable and confident). Another point to consider is that there are also places that aren’t really comfortable walking distance from the Historic District proper (like the Old Jail, The Fountain of Youth, etc). These are clear across town, so the trolley tour is a quick and easy way to get to those attractions without missing anything.

It has a number of other advantages as well:

  1. You’ll get to hear a detailed (though very mildly fabricated) history tour of St. Augustine. This is excellent because St. Augustine happens to have a rich and fascinating history that is a key ingredient in what makes it such a cool place to visit.
  2. In a little over two hours, you’ll get to orient yourself with the layout of St. Augustine visually. They’ll give you a map, but seeing all the actual landmarks in person, along with the map is perfect.
  3. After you’ve done the whole trolley tour, you’ll know what is where, and you can plan which places to see and when. Then you can disembark at the nearest trolley stop, and start enjoying the sights up close and personal.
  4. If you get tired of walking at any time, you can just mosey up to the nearest trolley stop, and in the next 15 minutes, a trolley will pull up and rescue you (unless it’s after hours and the trolley isn’t running, of course).

If you want to orient yourself quickly, and familiarize yourself with what this town has to offer, this is perfect! So there you have it. My advice to first time visitors of St. Augustine.

Savings Tip:
The St. George Inn is a great place to stay. It’s clean and well managed and right off the main walking street (St. George Street), and they usually have a special where you can get 2 FREE trolley tickets, free parking during your stay, and a free continental breakfast included in your room rate (which is really reasonable, by the way). We’ve stayed there a few times, and enjoyed it, the rooms were pretty comfortable.

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The nation’s oldest continuously occupied city, St. Augustine is a bit of nostalgic delight located on Florida’s east coast.

May 2008. It was our 19th wedding anniversary and having never been to St. Augustine, I’d been itching to visit for years. Once we were there, I cursed my husband for making me wait so long. Years later, and it’s far and away my favorite little romantic weekend get away. Now we venture there often. Any excuse will do, and I find that when I’m home, I miss it.

It’s a little city that’s loaded with character; with its cobble stone streets, brick paved by ways, gorgeous Matanzas Bay, old Victorian homes, Spanish Villas, and exquisite buildings that are dripping with fascinating histories. It is reminiscent of New Orleans, but still has a flavor all its own. The historic Downtown district is the hub of all activity, and is a vibrant mix of locals, college kids and tourists, but most of all, it’s a perfect place for couples. It’s a great place to fall in love with, and to fall in love again. At least that’s how it makes me feel.

Because of my passion for St. Augustine, I talk about it a lot. Not just in daily conversation, but on Twitter and Facebook, too. And because of that, I get a lot of questions from people asking for my recommendations. To keep it simple, I’ve elected to blog about it, so that anyone who’s interested can benefit from my advice (or toss it if they think it’s rubbish). These recommendations are, of course, based on my preferences and tastes. I love St. Augustine, and I hope that my suggestions will help others feel the same.

If you want to fully enjoy what St. Augustine has to offer, here are some links with detailed advice on getting the most out of your visit.

Ever wonder what happens when you have a website that’s written for search engines instead of real people? Well, last week I had the opportunity to find out first hand.

I was researching a topic of personal interest and I stumbled across a website which ranked well for this topic. I clicked on the various links within the website, hungrily searching for the answers to all my questions, when I realized that this website would not have the complete answers I was looking for. Not because they aren’t experts on the subject, but because the copy on the website is so “keyword rich” and “search engine-friendly”, that they forgot to tell me, the visitor, what I came to find out about. Ouch! I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed as I delved deeper into the site, because I found that they used these inane phrases over and over throughout each page instead of intelligent, well structured copy which ANSWERED my questions.

I have a whole chapter in my seo book dedicated to editing and writing copy for the best possible search engine placement, however, I do point out that it is important to write for people and I do remind the reader that it is still a marketing piece that needs to create a desire for the product or service. Yet, here I was, a victim of my profession’s circumstances. Weird. Especially because the pages were so “keyword, search engine perfect”, obviously – considering that I had found them at the top of the search engines. In fact, I could probably use that website as a case study for good search engine copy – but as a visitor seeking information, it kind of sucked. Even worse, I found myself wondering if the copy was more gibberish than facts. I started wondering if the content was valid or just some “SEO firm’s” interpretation and editing of the original facts, because that’s what we do in SEO!

Then I wondered what I would do as a professional if I had to manage this particular website and their SEO as well. After all, their SEO guy is getting the job done. At least the website ranks well. But I am absolutely their prime target market, yet I was left with unanswered questions and so not impressed.

So, how does a website owner (or designer) balance these points? The website should create a demand for the product or service, yet if it doesn’t rank well, how do people find it? And if it ranks well, but the copy sucks and creates no demand, then how is that any better?

First of all, I would take the core services and/or information and I would get a GOOD copywriter to write the copy so that it explained them succinctly and created a demand. I would do that without bothering with keywords at all – at first.

Then I would take that same copy and edit it to include the correct keyword phases. I would replace words as applicable, but I would retain the integrity of the copy so that it still fulfilled the primary purpose (to create a demand). Another alternative would be to have links on these pages of pseudo-information which go to pages with the full information within the website. Either way, the website still accomplishes the purpose intended (creating a demand for the product or service), and still has the potential to rank high in the search engines.

So I guess the answer is to write for people first, then make it work for the search engines without ever losing sight of the primary purpose of the website.

When it comes to websites, content is king. In fact, content is everything. It is the honest-to-God heart and soul of a website, period.

In case there was any question of what is considered “content”, it is the words, pictures and even videos, it is, essentially “the guts of a website”, meaning everything that website contains, and it is all that really matters.

In my line of work, getting all the content together for a website is often the greatest hurdle to completing a website. Depending on the budget and the client, it is sometimes something that is just “thrown together”, which makes my job that much harder. However, once they understand how important the content is – which is waaaay more important than the design itself – they will usually  invest the time or money to get it together properly.

Here’s a simple analogy: let’s say you went to a museum to spend the afternoon and when you arrived at the museum you discovered that the objects on display were boring, not engaging at all, and in some cases were of poor visual quality. Could you imagine? If that were the case, then you would probably take a quick look around to be sure that’s all there was, then you’d find the nearest exit. That’s exactly what visitors do when they “click” on a website that has lousy content. They arrive, take a quick look around and if there’s nothing interesting, they exit. In fact, better than 70% of all visitors commonly exit in less than 30 seconds. Sometimes that’s okay because the visitor is was not really your target market anyway, but it’s not okay when the visitor is your public and should have stayed a while and eventually bought whatever you’re selling.

The bottom line is that content is that little slice of magic that keeps the visitor engaged and interested in your website. Take a look at Facebook or YouTube. Both are prime examples of websites that keep the visitor engaged.

In truth, any website which has something of value to promote can be engaging to the visitor as long as the products or services being offered are of interest to the visitor. In other words, if someone is looking for something specific on-line and your website has it, then your website can and should be engaging to that visitor.

The key is to actually create content that fulfills what the visitor is looking for, and which entices them to “read on”, “click here” or “watch this”. This may involve some creativity on your part, or if lacking in creativity, you may have to hire a professional. I don’t mean a professional web designer either, because it is their job to design a website, but it is not generally their job to create the content for the website. In fact, the content may even come from more than one source. For example, you may enlist the services of a professional copywriter to write the copy for your website (do not underestimate the importance of this), or a video/media specialist to create a video or combine and edit existing video footage. There are companies that do create the website, all assets and the content as well. They are called Creative Firms, Ad Agencies, and the like. If they know what they are doing, their services can be invaluable, but they will generally charge accordingly.

At the end of the day all that really matters is whether your website is achieving its purpose, which is to entice those unsuspecting visitors to want what you have, whatever that may be. So when it comes to your website, don’t skimp on content, it really is all that matters.

Is it their mad flash skills? Their perfect code? Their flawless css?
Their stringent application of Wc3 compliance? Their perfect balance of composition and color? Their endless web design awards? Maybe. Maybe not.

While there are many successful working and freelance web designers, there are, of course, hundreds of thousands more that never make a significant living doing what they love to do. There are a number of  reasons why web designers don’t make it, but I’m only addressing one, which I believe is the defining point that separates the best from the mediocre.

So what makes a great designer GREAT? I mean the kind of designer that gets people talking, that pulls in design jobs without even trying because they are so damn good that EVERYONE wants their website created by them, AND their clients don’t even mind spending a small fortune to get it done.

First of all, you should know that this designer is a rare breed and may not be who you think it is. It’s not the guy who has all his code in perfect rows or knows all the coolest color pallets, or the guy who can make the most complex and high tech flash elements, or even the guy who always creates Wc3 compliant websites. Of course, these points help and should be worked towards as part of an overall skill set, but this is not it.

The truth is that the same principles apply to being the best in this industry as in any other industry; hard work, practice, always working to be better, staying on top of all the latest technologies, trying stuff out for yourself, experimenting, learning from someone better and more successful, patience, diligence, and let’s not forget, a passion for what you do. If these ingredients are in place AND the designer has the raw skill and aptitude, then you get a truly GREAT designer.

But the single most defining feature (I think) is a passion to be the best. This will manifest itself in many ways, and when it is truly present, it is unmistakable. Here you will find the designer that ALWAYS strives to be better. Who is like a sponge, always thirsty for inspiration and knowledge. They will make it a point to learn the ins and outs of their craft, and will take the time to understand what exactly a website has to do with the subject of marketing. They understand that a website is a tool designed to generate leads, sales, PR, interest in a product or service, information of interest, or some combination of all of these. They do concern themselves with trivial subjects like how to actually build a website that can rank high in the search engines. They do analyze the statistics of their clients websites from time to time just to see if they designed a website that is doing what they wanted it to do in the first place. If it’s not, they work to correct and improve their technique. Most of all they genuinely have a sense of pride in the work they do. They give every project 100% and they NEVER skimp on the details (because they know in their heart that the details are what matter most).

They are these things because that is what it takes to be a great designer in today’s web design.

©2008 Siouxie Boshoff. All Rights Reserved.

I started designing websites in 1999, although looking back, I suppose “designing” is a strong word. Actually, it was my husband, Grant who started this business “because he wanted to do something on the internet”. His father is a programmer and he had taught Grant the basics in programming when he was just 9 years old. So, he started this web design business and I watched and gave him the necessary support to  help get it off the ground.  My husband is a brilliant programmer and problem solver, he always has been, which is one of the many reasons I fell in love with him nearly 19 years ago. However, he was never much of a visual artist.

Anyway, he started this company and I watched and helped where I could. We had 4 children at home and I home-schooled them, so I was there every day to watch it grow. I remember watching him create these websites on the computer in our bedroom, and after a couple weeks I was no longer content to just watch from the sidelines. I asked him to show me how he did what he was doing, and he did.

I had already been an artist for as long as I could remember, so that part came naturally. As Grant taught me how to manipulate images within the confines of a computer program and create a website in Front Page :), I became addicted to web design. I loved it, and within a short time, I was creating designs that surpassed my husband’s artistic skills. I still have to laugh when I think back at the early designs we created because they were, well, 1999 designs. Kind of like the clothes that we wore in 1980 were, well, sooooo 1980.  My design skills were seriously wanting, but I never knew it (thank goodness!). I marveled at being able to create elements and pages, and I thrilled at seeing my creations on-line. Sort of like my mini claim to fame – at least in my own mind – which was a good thing.

I say it was a good thing that I thought I was great even when I wasn’t because I still believe that this had a lot to do with our rapid and continued success. Seriously, from the very beginning we had a “web design firm”. We got an 800# and we created our own company website (which was horrific, but that is beside the point). The real point is that we were owners of a professional web design firm, and we were professional web designers. This was never a question, and over time, our business became what we had already envisioned and impressed upon others. 

Now, this does not mean that I was so arrogant that I didn’t see the need for improvement because that is not the case. I thought I was good (and in retrospect I probably wasn’t as awful as I think I was for that time period), however, I ALWAYS wanted to be better. As a result, I scoured the Internet for inspiration and ways to create better websites, more beautiful graphics, ways to make web pages that would rank high in the search engines, etc. I would literally spend at least 2 hours a day combing the web for breathtaking designs and the newest technical tips, and then I would spend hours trying to recreate these designs or implement these techniques. And over time, it paid off.

Of course we moved on to Dreamweaver for creating the websites, and Fireworks and Photoshop for creating the design elements. I have designed probably 300-400 websites personally since 1999, and to this day I have created sites that still take my breath away. But, is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Which is exactly why I still scour the web for breathtaking designs and the latest techniques. Technology is constantly changing and will continue to do so, but that is precisely what makes this industry so exciting.

So, there you go. We all have to start somewhere. But what’s important is not where you begin, but where you end up – and hopefully you enjoy the journey along the way. I know I have.

©2008 Siouxie Boshoff. All Rights Reserved.