The Jacksonville area offers a variety of family fun activities from swimming to boating, fishing, kite flying, surfing, golf, and tennis.
On the Beach
Jacksonville Beach, 12 miles east of downtown Jacksonville, lies in the heart of nearly 35 miles of broad, open beaches. Because of its location, it tends to be more crowded on weekends than Atlantic and Neptune beaches north of it. You'll find the beach itself to be the main attraction, but you may prefer to watch people along the Boardwalk or fish from the pier. You can rent rods and reels and buy bait here. Good swimming and lifeguards make these perfect family beaches. If you want to get some exercise, you can pedal on the beach with a bike from the American Bicycle Company in Jacksonville Beach (904-246-4433).
To see what Florida looked like before the dawn of the Condo Age, visit Little Talbot Island State Park, located on a 2,500-acre barrier island north of the mouth of the Saint George River. Here, wild sea oats and flowering morning glories hold a series of wild dunes in place against the ravages of the sea. You can take long walks along the 5 miles of beach, accessible by two dune crossovers or along the 4-mile Island Hiking Trail, passing through a hammock of holly, magnolia, and live oak trees before ending by high sand dunes at the beach. Admission is $4 per car. (Open daily 8 A.M.–sunset, 904-251-2320)
Amelia Island Beach, at the island's southern tip, is unquestionably the most perfect beach on Florida's east coast. Its 5 miles of dark, fine, packed sands are uncrowded and often covered with shells. An almost perfect backdrop of multiple dunes covered in waving sea oats makes for excellent horseback riding, biking, and hiking, plus there's good surfing and scuba diving. Climb up to the observation deck for a fine view of Fort George Inlet. You can rent horses by the hour from Sea Horse Stable (904-261-4878) or bicycles from Fernandina Beach Schwinn Cyclery (904-277-3227).
Anastasia State Recreation area, near Saint Augustine, is one of Florida's most popular oceanside parks. Its 1,722 acres of hard-packed beaches, dunes, salt marsh, and coastal hammock covers the site where the Spaniards quarried coquina rock to build Castillo de San Marcos. Besides excellent swimming, you'll find a myriad of shore birds feeding in the tidal marshes. For a quieter time, explore the shores of the Salt Run Lagoon. Admission is $2 per car. (Open daily 8 A.M.–sunset)
Unlike other Florida beaches, at Daytona you can drive at 10 miles per hour along the 23 miles of 500-foot-wide, hard-packed beach all day for $3. Just be sure to park on the beach perpendicularly to the ocean, and stick to the marked “lanes.” And be wary of high tides.
Except for the crazy time during Spring Break and March Bike Week motorcycle races at the Daytona racetrack, Daytona Beach is a typical family seaside resort where you can just relax in a sand chair, letting the waves wash over you while your kids fly kites and swim in the surf. Actually, only 4 miles of this beach lie within the city limits. To the north it's called Ormond Beach and to the south Daytona Beach Shores. You can rent bicycles at Ormond Schwinn in Ormond Beach (904-677-2425) or at Volusia Schwinn South in South Daytona (904-756-0008) for a ride along the Intracoastal Waterway on John Anderson Drive.
On the Water
With so many miles of beaches, surfing and windsurfing have become popular around Jacksonville. To find out the latest sailing and surfing conditions, call the Aqua East Hotline (904-246-9744). You can rent surfboards, boogie boards, sailboards, and wetsuits from several shops along the coast, including:
Aqua East Surf Shop: Neptune Beach, 904-246-2550
Blue Sky Surf Shop: Saint Augustine, 904- 824-2734
Surf Station: Saint Augustine, 904-471-9463
Daytona Beach Surf Shops: Daytona Beach, 904-253-3366
Sandy Point Sailboards: Holly Hill, 904-255-4977
If you love to fish for trophy-size largemouth bass, you'll find plenty in the Saint Johns River. This same area produces bluegills, speckled perch, and shell crackers from January to April. Should you prefer to go for saltwater game fish, especially during spring and summer, you'll find sailfish, dolphinfish, amberjack, and bonito abundant. During the spring and fall, king mackerel and tarpon follow the shrimp boats closer to shore near Saint Augustine. You can get onboard a half-day or full-day fishing charter from the following outfitters:
Conch House Marina: Anastasia Island, 904-824-4347
Sea Love Charters: Saint Augustine, 904-824-3328
Sea Love Marina: Ponce Inlet, 904-767-3406
Tradewinds: Fernandina Beach, 904-261-9486
King Neptune Deep-Sea Fishing: Mayport, 904-246-0104
In the Jacksonville area you'll fine four canoeing routes, along the Saint Mary's and Santa Fe rivers and Pellicer and Bulow creeks. You can rent canoes at Daytona Recreational Sales and Rentals in Ormond Beach (904-672-5631). Club Nautico in Saint Augustine (904-825-4848) provides motor boat rentals. If you prefer to go sailing, you can rent a boat from Marina Port Orange in Port Orange, south of Daytona Beach (904-767-6408).
On the Links and on the Courts
In the last decade, amateurs and professionals alike have discovered a treasure trove of golfing opportunities in the Jacksonville area. Some courses rank among the most beautiful and challenging in the country. Greens fees range from $50 to $295. Here are several to choose from:
Amelia Island Plantation: Three 18-hole courses by top designers. 904-261-6161
Daytona Beach and Country Club: Daytona Beach, 904-258-3119
Jacksonville Beach Golf Club: Jacksonville Beach, 904-247-6184
Pine Lakes Golf Club: Jacksonville 904-757-0318
Queen's Harbor Yacht and Country Club: Jacksonville, 904-220-2118
Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass: Ponte Vedra Beach, 904-273-3230
Windsor Parke Golf Club: Jacksonville, 904-223-4971
And if you're in Saint Augustine, be sure to visit the World Golf Hall of Fame to discover little-known facts about golf's best players. In addition to the exhibits, the price of admission includes a viewing of a film in the IMAX theater. Admission is $15 per adult, $10 per child. (Open Monday through Saturday 10 A.M.–6 P.M., Sunday noon–6 P.M., Toll-free 800-948-4653, www.wghof.org)
You can play tennis almost all year in the Jacksonville area. There are a number of public courts, including twenty-two lighted ones, from which to choose:
Boone Park: Jacksonville, 904-384-8687
Cypress Courts: Daytona Beach, 904-258-9198
Hendricks Avenue Courts: Jacksonville, 904-399-1761
Huguenot Park: Jacksonville Beach, 904-249-9407
Ormond Beach Tennis Center: Ormond Beach, 904-677-0311
Home to dozens of well-known retail shops like Banana Republic and the Sharper Image, the two-story Jacksonville Landing offers a pleasant shopping experience along the Saint Johns River. The Avondale District is known locally as “Antique Alley.” Here you can browse for several hours for that piece you're missing from your collection. Down the road from the Avondale shops is Saint Johns Landing, a smaller version of Jacksonville Landing. There's also the Regency Square Mall. (904-725-1220)
Daytona Beach Outlet Mall has forty outlet stores selling clothing and such for half off department store prices (904-756-8700). And, of course, there are loads of seashore souvenirs at the beach.