Jacksonville Beach offers urban fun with sand and sun, while Amelia Island nearly steals the show with its vast coastline beaches surrounded by high dunes and rustic beauty. St. Augustine’s beach culture holds on to its swashbuckling past in homage to the pirates who roamed there in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Amelia’s rich history includes pirates, soldiers, free spirits and real-estate barons. Today, this 13-mile-long barrier island is home to the quaint seaport town of Fernandina Beach with its Victorian houses and dainty downtown and, on the north end of A1A, its swath of luxury beach houses three-rows deep. From posh to private, from natural to sporty, Ameila Island’s diversity is a vacationer’s dream.
(1) American, (2) Amelia Island State Park, (3) Peter’s Point and (4) Seaside Park allow driving on the beach and are some of the more social beach scenes on Amelia. Amelia Island State Park also has a long pier and drive-up access, which makes for a perfect fishing spot, while Peter's Point is known as a party spot with plenty of 4x4s and bikinis. American Beach also happens to be the first stop on the Florida Black Heritage Trail. Enter through Burney Park for a relaxing day with a side of history.
(5) Main Beach Park is family-friendly with a playground and putt-putt and no beach driving.
(6) South Beach is a secluded spot for getting some alone time. This small public beach opens to a wide, peaceful shore.
(7) Fort Clinch is a natural beach featuring miles of undeveloped beach near a huge, historic fort.
There is no getting around surf and sand when you are visiting Jacksonville. Head east on 90/212 from downtown, and you’ll hit the area known as Jacksonville Beach, which is a collection of beaches with individual personalities. The beach scene in general is more urban with commercial thoroughfares and residential areas close to the waves. To make the most of your time at the ocean, consider one of the many fishing charters in the area or picking up a surf lesson or two.
(8) JAX Beach is a long stretch of beaches closest to Jacksonville’s city core off of Highway 90, where people come to mingle for more of a festive beach-going experience. Plenty of patio bars and restaurants serving fried fish line the beach front. The pier is a popular destination for people angling for a fish or looking for ocean views.
(9) Neptune Beach is where surfers flock, where the breaks are good and the people are dedicated to the ocean’s more sporting side. At the heart of it all, Beaches Town Center at 200 First St. (where the boulevard meets the ocean) is a pedestrian-friendly area home to boutiques, pubs and cafés. It’s also a good place to stock up on beach towels and bikinis.
(10) Ponte Vedra is much quieter and less dense due to all the private beaches. Ask your concierge for the best place for public access, sometimes difficult to find but well worth the effort, or head to Mickler's Landing. Deep sea and freshwater fishing, horseback riding and hiking miles of nature trails at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve are a few of the activities to pursue beyond lounging on the beach. Ponte Vedra is considered one of the most luxurious recreational and residential destinations in Florida, and many famous golfers never miss an opportunity to visit.
Just 45 minutes south of Jacksonville, the nation’s oldest city was founded by Spanish sailors in 1565. Modern-day explorers come for beaches, history and to walk on streets once roamed by pirates.
(11) Anastasia Park—Beachcombers can look for the rare gold coin that may wash ashore from the pirate days, or more likely, a pretty shell on the four-mile stretch of beach. The beach was mined by the Spanish for coquina rock, a limestone made from fossilized shells, to construct the Castillo de San Marcos fortress between 1672 and 1695. Visitors can fish, camp and wander through the dunes shaded by hammock brimming with native birds.
(12) St. Augustine Beach is the closest beach to Old Town, and is conveniently called St. Augustine. The municipal sandscape features a festive mix of boating and fishing recreation around the St. Johns County Pier and sunbathing and picnicking spots along the rest of the two-mile-long beach. Shaded pavilions, a playground, bait shops, volleyball courts and food options are all nearby. On weekends, the pier is often the host to concerts and special events.