Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway, family vacation or even a daytrip to the coast, Jacksonville’s 22 miles of wide, uncrowded beaches offer the right combination of beachside restaurants, nightlife hotspots, kitschy souvenir shops and oceanfront hotels sure to satisfy the needs of any traveler.
Sometimes the hardest part of going to the beach is parking at the beach. But that’s not the case on Jacksonville’s beaches. In the town of Jacksonville Beach, most streets along First Street, which runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean and is the first street in from the beach, end at a public parking area and dune-walkover beach access.
On-street parking also is available, and public lots can be found at the Jacksonville Beach Pier along with public restrooms at the ends of Fifth and Seventh avenues. These are great places to make your home base if you want to grab a quick, outdoor shower and change in the privacy of a bathroom before going out to dinner or driving home.
No matter if you’re on dawn patrol, hitting the surf bright and early, or arriving leisurely at mid-morning or early afternoon for the best sun of the day, you’ll probably be hungry. Good thing there’s tons of eats on Jacksonville’s beaches.
Start the day off by grabbing some grub at Beaches Town Center, a swanky shopping district marking the division between Neptune and Atlantic Beach. You won’t want to miss Lillie’s Coffee Bar where hot-pressed paninis, fresh salads and tasty breakfasts are served in a shaded and relaxing courtyard. Here you can find hipster and bohemian locals browsing the boutiques while sipping iced coffee.
If you’re in town on a weekend, hop on the Beaches Trolley to explore all the neighborhoods and attractions for just $1.50. This old-timey bus shuttles surfers and sunbathers up and down the shore every 15 minutes from South Beach Regional Shopping Center to Atlantic Boulevard.
And if you packed your pooch, let it loose at one of the many dog parks in the region. You and your buddy can go off-leash in the fenced-in large- or small-dog areas complete with watering bowls and benches.
For an unforgettable weekend, book an ocean-view room at the Casa Marina Hotel, a historic boutique inn that was once the playground of the rich and famous during the Prohibition era. Now a trendy destination for locals and visitors, the hotel built in 1925 played host to movie starts like Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Chaplin and Katherine Hepburn. It’s the perfect place for you and your special someone to dance the night away while enjoying craft cocktails beneath the wood beams in the hotel’s grand salon before watching the moon rise over the Atlantic.
When you want to leave your love-nest, delve into local arts and culture with a stroll through the Jax Beach Art Walk. On second Tuesdays along Jacksonville Beach’s sandy Sea Walk pedestrian pathway, Art Walk features diverse and handmade works of local artists, musicians and businesses.
You can also explore the contemporary J. Johnson Gallery, which hosts the works of a variety of internationally and nationally recognized artists. For a night at the theater, check out what’s on stage at Players by the Sea. This historic community theater offers full seasons of first-class productions ranging from drama, comedy and musicals.
Craving a little exercise? Venture to the comfortable, laid-back, casual atmosphere of Neptune, which has hard-packed sand great for a leisurely bike ride. Or opt to take the St. John’s River Ferry to Amelia Island and go horseback riding on Little Talbot and Big Talbot Island State Parks. There you can find secluded stretches of the beach with not a soul as far as the eye can see.
Finally, cap off the day with a pint from one of Jax Beach's local breweries like Green Room Brewery and Engine 15 Brewing Co. or a beachy cocktail at Nipper's Beach Grille. Nightlife is also hot in Jacksonville Beach, with oceanfront clubs and intimate pubs like the celebrated Freebird Live, brainchild of Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy, which hosts national and local rock and indie bands. For a beachy slice of paradise, The Lemon Bar offers amazing oceanfront views, live music and great cocktails like their signature Lemon Bar Freeze. Plus tasty nibbles like ahi tuna, local Mayport shrimp, and mouthwatering hamburgers make this lively oceanside watering hole a destination in and of itself.
Florida’s First Coast lives the “Salt Life.” Those two words embody a uniquely Jacksonville Beach way of life, often seen displayed on T-shirts and bumper stickers. What it means is having a passion for the saline bodies of water surrounding the region, whether it be fishing, surfing, boating or simply enjoying the sunset over the St. Johns River. No matter what it means to you, you can’t help but live the “Salt Life” when you’re here.
Jacksonville’s beaches pack in more than enough fun for the whole family. Whether you’re staying a week or a day, you’ll find awesome accommodations at The Four Points by Sheraton Jacksonville Beachfront. Step out front of the hotel and you’re right on white and sandy Jacksonville Beach; out back, you’re in the heart of the area’s commercial center. Here you’ll find towering condos and hotels, a host of restaurants, nightclubs, bars and souvenir shops. The American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps is also right next door to ensure that residents and visitors alike have a fun and safe time along beaches year round.
If the kids have had their fill of the beach, tucker them out by visiting Adventure Landing & Shipwreck Island Waterpark, full of family fun including a go-kart track, miniature golf, laser tag, video-game arcade and batting cages. If your kids love big boats and planes, take them to Mayport Naval Station where the busy seaport is home to the Navy’s 4th fleet.
Mayport is also the epicenter for the region’s fresh seafood. Check out the many seafood restaurants offering their freshest catch including the local specialty, Mayport shrimp.
For those who prefer to rough it with a natural Florida vacation, look no further than Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. More than a mile of beach, wooded campsites and a 60-acre freshwater lake make up this perfect refuge for fishing, paddling, hiking and camping. The lake area also includes a water playground with colorful fountains and squirt guns.
Want to catch your own dinner? Superb saltwater fishing can be had on the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier. For only $1 dollar or free for children under 6, the family can take in the sights, smells and sounds of the quarter-mile-long pier where local anglers reel in catches amidst stunning ocean views, especially at sunset.
Afterward, grab a blanket and head to the Sea Walk Pavilion on Jacksonville Beach for movies and music on select nights. Summer events include the Moonlight Movies Series and Summer Jazz concert series while other events and festivals can be found there throughout the year.