Across the Intracoastal Waterway from the mainland of Jacksonville is a string of beach towns known collectively as the “Jax Beaches.” While Jacksonville Beach is the most well-known, visited and densely populated of these towns, many locals know that Atlantic Beach (pop. 12,000+) is really the most idyllic of the bunch. Occupying two miles of a beautiful white sandy strand with 14 public accesses, Atlantic Beach is characterized by quiet tree-canopied neighborhoods and a beachfront backdrop of creative oceanfront architecture. The largely residential town stretches northward from an attractive Town Center shared with neighboring Neptune Beach and anchored by local fave restaurants and a signature spa resort, One Ocean. Neptune Beach is smaller, and its architecture is a bit more traditional, but its strand of sand and Town Center offerings would be indistinguishable from those of Atlantic Beach if not for the signs. Ever since I was a baby, Atlantic Beach has been my primary oceanfront stomping ground. Today, I relish being able to to bring my own children to both Atlantic & Neptune Beaches quite regularly, watching them scamper about while my wife and I walk barefoot in sands that are neither too soft nor too hard and admire the changing palate of colors that illuminate the dusk sky. In October 2016, the Jacksonville Beaches sustained a rare hurricane blow as Matthew skirted up Florida’s east coast. While structural damage was not so much a concern, aside from some mangled dune walk-overs, the most notable scarring to Atlantic and Neptune Beaches was the obiteration of miles of beautiful sand dunes (dunes featured in some of the pictures below). Fortunately, efforts are underway to restore these dunes. Please enjoy the beach photos below. There is more to read and see after the folllowing collage about Beach Town Center, One Ocean Resort, North Atlantic Beach, and the Intracoastal preserves.
BEACH TOWN CENTER & ONE OCEAN RESORT
Beginning at the Atlantic Blvd. beach access and spanning a few square blocks to the north, west, and south, Beach Town Center is the epicenter of activity for both Atlantic and Neptune Beaches. Here, a host of funky, trendy, family friendly, upscale, and casual dining hotspots are located just footsteps from the sand. Very popular local restaurants of note, along with other smaller coffee and dessert shops, draw patrons from Jacksonville and beyond to enjoy a meal or treat in a very idyllic, friendly atmosphere. At Beach Town Center it is common to see swimsuit-clad bicyclists and sandy-footed just-off-the-beach pedestrians mingled with well-groomed preppies, couples on a romantic date, and families with small children in tow. At Christmas time, Beach Town Center also becomes a wonderland of lights as the blocks of palm trees lining key streets get wrapped with multicolored lights.
For those who can afford it, the Atlantic Beach side of Town Center is anchored by One Ocean Resort, a posh oceanfront resort and spa with its own swanky oceanfront restaurant. If you visited Atlantic Beach in years gone by you may remember the Sea Turtle Hotel which used to be in its place. The long-time landmark was sold, completely remodeled and upgraded to become One Ocean. Given its location on both the beachfront and at the foot of Beach Town Center, One Ocean is THE place to stay at the beach. Fortunately though, the Neptune Beach side is also anchored by a more modest oceanfront alternative, the Sea Horse Oceanfront Inn. The Sea Horse is a nicely renovated vintage throwback to the small oceanside hotels of the mid-1900s, notable for its bright pink color.
NORTH ATLANTIC BEACH
To most people, Seminole Rd. probably looks like just another road that disappears into the nice, tree canopied residential neighborhoods that make up most of the city of Atlantic Beach. Consequently, many of those who do not live in Atlantic Beach never venture down it. The locals know, however, that it is the primary route to Atlantic Beach’s secret gem: its northernmost stretch of beachfront. Those who appreciate quirky, imaginative architecture will love the oceanfront homes along this quiet, residential stretch of northern Atlantic Beach, particularly around the 18th Street and 19th Street beach access. Many of the oceanfront homes here were designed by William Morgan, a famed local architect, and reflect a variety of unique designs. Using your imagination, you may spot a flying saucer, a pyramid, a sandcastle, an underground house (identified by two large circular windows carved into the side of a grassy mound) and other interesting cottages that reflect a mix of New England, Coastal South, Caribbean, and whimsical design influences. The 18th Street and 19th Street beach accesses each offer a block of free parking spaces. From 18th Street, beach access is provided via a narrow wooden stairway that affords a breathtaking view from the top, before descending to a long wooden walkway across the dune valley. From 19th Street, it’s a gradual uphill climb before descending down a sandy path through a gateway of towering sea oats. Of course, the beach that fronts these houses and access points is a treat in itself, characterized by the same features found farther south, but with larger dunes and fewer people. Here, one can really feel like he is free to enjoy the splendor of God’s majestic seashore. Do keep in mind though, that unless you know a local, the nearest public bathroom is quite a hike.
ALONG THE INTRACOASTAL
While the Atlantic Ocean beaches get most of the attention, two noteworthy Atlantic Beach nature areas can also be found along the Intracoastal, accessible via Mayport Rd. The Dutton Island Preserve is a marsh island with a trail and picnic tables. It is perhaps most enjoyed by kayakers, who use it as a launching point. Closer to Atlantic Blvd., Tideviews Preserve offers a sunset pier that takes visitors out over the marshlands that line the Intracoastal Waterway. The pictures above were taken at the Tideviews Preserve.