Embassy Suites gets the beach vibe just right at new St. Augustine resort

The Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort sits just beyond the edge of Anastasia State Park.
The Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort sits just beyond the edge of Anastasia State Park.

When I heard that the Embassy Suites had just opened a hotel on the beach in St. Augustine, I was skeptical. I was worried I'd make the drive to St. Augustine only to find out this branded hotel had forgotten it was at the beach. Boy was I wrong.

Traveling south along A1A Beach Blvd, the road curves through the dense scrub on the south end of Anastasia State Park and then suddenly emerges into a beach town. The new Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort is immediately on the left -- not just beachfront, but actually on the beach. The only thing between it and the state park is some public beach parking.

Location: check!

Stepping inside the lobby from the porte cochere, I immediately noticed the decor, which makes driftwood a focal point, from the floor lamps to large, eye-catching sculptures and even to the driftwood-like finish on the ceramic-tile floors. Pendant lamps with starburst fixtures make the seating arrangements feel cozy and intimate in the light-filled and high-ceilinged public space.

Ambience: check!

We'd arrived before our room was ready so we fished our swimsuits out of our luggage and headed straight for the pool, which is really all my 9-year-old wants to do anyway. My husband detoured to the full-service Starbucks Cafe in the lobby to order us each our favorite coffee drink. Heading out through the partially covered back patio with plenty of seating, I was curious to see if the Embassy Suites had embraced its beachfront location.

Stairs from the patio lead down into a courtyard, the space where many beach hotels often place their pool. Here, 10 firepits, each surrounded by cushioned seating, are positioned off pathways that lead to the pool and the beach.

The pool at the Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
The pool at the Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

The moment I saw the pool, I knew this Embassy Suites had gotten it right. The 70-foot-long resort pool (with zero entry on one end) is positioned lengthwise along the beach so when reclined on a deck chair you can see and hear the ocean without sitting in the sand. For those who do want the full-immersion beach experience, teak and canvas chairs and beach towels are included in the resort fee (umbrellas are an extra $15 room charge). The hotel's 500 feet of beachfront is between the pier and the state park so there are no neighboring high-rises or any structures, for that matter.

Embraces its destination: check!

Before our swimsuits were wet, I'd put in a lunch order at the poolside Castaway Cantina, breathed deep the ocean air and immediately felt the pent-up internal pressure from real life just vanish. My daughter had barely finished her burger (and us our tasty steak tacos and blackened mahi sandwich) before she'd made a friend in the pool. Mom and dad were free to relax.

The daily manager's reception began at 4:30 p.m. Plates heaped with hummus and cubed cheese started returning to the pool, balanced on arms whose hands gripped rum punch and sangria (a full bar is offered complimentary to guests until 6:30 p.m.). We still hadn't checked into our room. Because, why?

Feels like a vacation: check!

In a later conversation with general manager Jason Kern, he spoke about the daily manager's reception and the included made-to-order breakfast as Embassy Suites brand pillars. He noted how guests are taking breakfast out to the beach chairs and reception food and drink to the firepits or beyond. "It's fun to see how the Embassy Suites brand is working in this environment," he said. In response, his team is looking at adapting to what guests are looking for by supplying to-go containers and plastic barware. "They don't want to sit at the bar," as is customary at most Embassy Suites locations. "They want to get out and enjoy the hotel's atmosphere," he said.

When we finally checked in, our room reminded me of other Embassy Suites in style and set-up, with a full wet bar and minirefrigerator, a desk that doubles as a table, a sofa that opens into a bed (whose mattress was fine for a kid but not an adult) and a king-size bed. Details that elevated it were the ottoman tops that flipped over to double as trays that were stable on the bed, the large shower with heavy glass sliding doors and a floating drain, the oversize wooden headboard that feels like mission control for the room (such smart design to provide lighting just where you need it, with the wiring masked by tasteful decor), a high-ceiling and wall-mount television that made for some cozy post-beach naps and an enjoyable evening of watching the Oscars in bed.

A suite at the Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort.
A suite at the Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort.

Instead of a primo oceanfront view on this sold-out weekend, ours was a sunset-view room with a balcony that overlooked the beach town and the green canopy of the state park from which I could see the red-topped, black-and-white stripes of the St. Augustine Lighthouse rising above it. We were not at all disappointed.

Among the 175 suites of the brand's new resort-style property (there are only 12 in the portfolio, and this is the only one built from the ground up as such) are two new options: Family Suites with bunk beds and single-room studios. Kern described the Family Suites to me as a traditional king room, including the living room and sofa-bed, but with a walled-off area containing bunk beds and a separate TV. "You can also connect to a second room for extended family," he noted.

As for being there with kids, our family and the family of my daughter's new friend all felt comfortable and relaxed, giving them some freedom within the property: to go to a room on their own, to play games on the event lawn (where there is also daily yoga at 8 a.m.) and order food and beverages directly from the pool bar. My daughter's new friend and her family were vacationing from New York and joked that they hoped I wouldn't write about the hotel so it doesn't become too popular; they flew into Jacksonville and drove an hour to reach the hotel and felt they'd hit the jackpot.

The Embassy Suites is at the center of the lively beach town, St. Augustine Beach. It is between the endless nature, ocean and beach activities available through Anastasia State Park and the pier, and is just a 10- to 15-minute ride on the free trolley into historical downtown St. Augustine. Having said all that, it's hard to leave the place, and if you only have a few days, you probably won't.

Rates start at $189 plus a $22 resort fee (includes guest internet access for two devices; resort pool and beach access; resort activities; two beach chairs and towels; 2-hour bike rental; daily yoga class; two bottles of water daily; local and toll-free calls).

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI