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Living in Florida, I know beaches. From the party beaches of Miami to the quiet beaches at some of the state parks, there’s a different beach for each person throughout the state. Jacksonville is one city that isn’t always top of mind when thinking of Florida beaches, but it should be. Located in the top northeast part of the state, the city and country offer a variety of different offerings, from laid back to bustling with energy, along its 22 miles of beaches. Here are the ones to seek out next time you’re in the area.
Developed by Henry Flager and an important connection to the nearby Naval base, Atlantic Beach is a small community with a laid-back attitude. A more popular beach than some others in the area, the sands are compacted and easily walkable. The downtown area is full of restaurants and shops to explore. And, unlike some beaches in the area, dogs are allowed on the beach and in the water.
Since residents first built summer homes in the 1930s, Neptune Beach has been a popular destination known for its laid-back feeling. Home to the area’s oldest bar, the city has plenty of shopping and restaurant options to keep visitors busy when not on the beach. When you are on the beach, there’s no need to worry about obstructing views. This beachfront doesn’t have big resorts or hotels to interfere with the atmosphere. With a more relaxing feeling than some other beaches, Make sure to stop at Castaway Island Preserve while you’re in town. The raised hiking boardwalk lets you see the ecosystems that work with the ocean to provide habitats for animals and help protect the shorelines.
Once known as Little Coney Island, Jacksonville Beach has been a place for visitors to head for a fun time on the water for over 120 years. Home to some of the best surfing in the area, this top Atlantic Coast beach in Florida also offers beach volleyball and wide sand areas for relaxing. The area has restaurants close to the beach to grab a bite to eat, while the quarter-of-a-mile fishing pier provides sightseeing and fishing opportunities. While there, make a stop at the Beaches Museum. With multiple exhibits, pieces from local artists and events, this free museum is a great way to get a feel of the expansive history of the Jacksonville area beaches.
One of Florida’s best state parks, Big Talbot Island is home to both Boneyard Beach and Black Rock Beach. Formed at the end of the last ice age, Black Rock Beach offers a landscape only seen in four percent of other locations worldwide. While at Boneyard Beach, you’ll see the giant driftwood trees that once lined the beaches. Bleached and scattered across the sands, they’re perfect for climbing and photographing. Both beaches are quieter than ones you might find in other parts of Jacksonville, so they are a perfect place to relax, kayak or go fishing.
A smaller state park at 2,500 acres, Little Talbot Island offers five miles of undeveloped beaches to explore by foot or bicycle. Boardwalks allow easy beach access, while showers and changing areas help after a day in the sun. Visitors should also explore the four-mile Dune Ridge Trail, which takes you through oaks with Spanish moss to the seashore. It’s also a great location for birding and observing wildlife. There are charcoal grills and pavilions to enjoy a cookout, along with campgrounds to spend the night on the barrier island.
Located between the St. John’s River and the Atlantic Ocean, Huguenot Memorial Park Is the only beach in Jacksonville where driving directly on the sand is legal. Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, the park is a protected nesting area for shorebirds and a great location for birding. Head to the beach in your car to get an up-close view of the ocean and relax in the sun. Just be cautious, as the sand is soft and driving on it is at your own risk. Those who can’t get enough of the park can make reservations to camp in a tent or RV near the water. Huguenot Park is also a well-known spot for experienced local surfers to ride the waves.