Tempting restaurants, new hotels and plenty of outdoor adventures await.
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NOTNortheast Florida, which stretches from Amelia Island in the north to St. Augustine Beach in the south, is the entry point for many people traveling to the Sunshine State from cooler points to the north. It’s full of surprises – so many, in fact, that you might want to fly straight here for your next Florida vacation.
Come for an ideal backdrop of seaside towns full of ocean-loving locals – where life revolves around dawn patrol on days when the surf is up – and stay for the historic attractions (like the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, the San Marcos Castle in St. Augustine) and an impressive dining and brewing scene both on and away from the beaches.
Know the neighborhoods of Northeast Florida
Each stretch of the coast has its own appeal. Amelia Island to the north is your best bet for pristine beaches and great biking trails. Heading south you’ll reach Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach, which have the more residential vibe of Jacksonville beaches (which also include Jacksonville Beach), with neighborhood cafes where surfers hang out after checking out the waves. and where families meet their friends.
Jacksonville Beach itself is the place for a more party vibe, with plenty of bars and a bandshell – the Seawalk Pavilion – which regularly hosts concerts and festivals. If it’s a side of history you’re looking for with your beach time, head south along the coast to historic St. Augustine (and St. Augustine Beach for sun and sand).
Check into one of the best new hotels
On the beach east of downtown Jacksonville, One Ocean Resort & Sparight where Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach meet, boasts the best beachfront location of any hotel in these neighboring coastal communities, with rooms featuring balconies offering 180-degree views of the coast.
Book now at One Ocean Resort: From $299/night, expedia.com
If you don’t mind being nearby but not on the beach, hotel palm trees is three blocks from the ocean, within walking distance of many restaurants and shops. It’s an affordable and stylish place to stay in the Atlantic Beach area, surrounded by dunes.
The revamped Motor Court Hotel has a vintage vibe that evokes Palm Springs and a chic lobby coffee bar, Show Pigeon Coffee, which brews espresso drinks topped with homemade syrups flavored with burnt orange and maple sage.
Book now at the Palms Hotel: From $159/night, expedia.com
New in 2021 in Jacksonville Beach, Margaritaville Beach Hotel brings the brand’s Caribbean vibe to northeast Florida and is a family favorite, with an oceanfront pool and hammocks to swing under palm trees.
Book now at Margaritaville Beach Hotel: From $179/night, expedia.com
To the south in historic St. Augustine (and also new in 2021), the Renaissance St. Augustine Historic Downtown Hotel was built to replicate the historic San Marco Hotel that stood in the same location during Florida’s late 19th century Golden Age. Stay here to be steeped in history and sleep within walking distance of all the city center highlights, including the restaurants and bars along George Street and the sunset favourite, the 17th Century San Marcos Castle.
Book the Renaissance St. Augustine now: From $269/night, expedia.com
For beachfront luxury in Northeast Florida, Ponte Vedra Inn & ClubThe newly restored oceanfront Peyton House and Ocean House feature 41 new, luxurious oceanfront rooms and suites; there’s a new bocce ball and croquet court to enjoy if you’re feeling fancy (or just want to have fun).
Book Ponte Vedra Inn now: From $399/night, expedia.com
Plan a trip to this booming restaurant district
On the south bank of the St. Johns River, just minutes from downtown Jacksonville, the historic San Marco district is a leafy maze of brick streets and stylish shops, restaurants and bars that look almost like a mini savannah.
Long-standing flagship restaurants like Matthew and Aix bistro (offering fine dining and modern Mediterranean cuisine respectively) share the neighborhood with hip newcomers like the cheese and salumi hot spot, Tavernand Town hallwhere two-time James Beard nominee Tom Gray sources from local vendors for a seasonal menu that typically features produce from the Atlantic Ocean, like local flounder and tilefish.
San Marco has outdoor barbecues and cafes that look like a real local find – and will make you feel like one of the locals, while you sip an ice-cold beer with an ear of elote and Mexican street tacos at Tepeyolot Cerveceria or dig into a brisket sandwich or chicharron pork nachos at the bearded pig.
Come as you are to these popular bars
Jacksonville Beach’s multifunctional brasserie-tapestry-espresso bar, Ink factory brewingopened in late 2021 as the latest addition to the Jax Ale Trail, a self-guided tour of over 20 breweries around greater Jacksonville, including the beaches. Try the brewery’s Acid Test, a fruity sweet and sour beer brewed with lactose and boysenberries from Oregon for a refreshing, zesty taste.
In the beachfront yard of a hidden motel at Jacksonville’s Neptune Beach, Lemon Bar & Grill is a long-standing watering hole that makes a mean piña colada backed by dune and ocean views. It’s a great place to spend a Sunday day (you can even run into the ocean for a swim in between sips).
And set to open later this year in downtown St. Augustine, a new rooftop bar and restaurant, River & Fortoverlooking the waterfront in the heart of the city’s historic corridor, is sure to wow with some of the best high-rise views in the neighborhood.
Find outdoor adventures
Northeast Florida’s towering oak trees draped in Spanish moss and rugged, dune-backed beaches make the area a favorite for visitors drawn to Florida’s alluring nature.
Amelia Island is one of the best places in the state to pedal a bike, with six miles of trails under the tree canopy in the interior Fort Clinch State Park (keep an eye out for white-tailed deer as you pedal) and more terrain to explore around the towns of Amelia Island and nearby Fernandina Beach (just to the north).
If mountain biking is more your pace, the Jacksonville Waterfront Kathryn Abbey Park Hanna has miles of single and dual track trails (covering boardwalk, sand and dirt) suitable for all skill levels. The surf set revolves around the beach break called Mayport Poles, just across from Kathryn Hanna Abbey Park, a consistent spot for waves that break particularly well in north winds.
And for a true treasure-hunting adventure along one of Florida’s most rugged stretches of beach, stake out the sand in search of shark teeth at Guana Tolomato Matanzas Estuarine National Research Reserve on the beach of Ponte Vedra. People have found megalodon teeth here; even if you arrive empty-handed, you can still enjoy views of some of Florida’s tallest sand dunes at the preserve.
New to Northeast Florida in 2022
This year marks the inauguration Fort Mose Jazz & Blues Serieswhich is held during Black History Month from February 18-26 to celebrate St. Augustine’s African-American heritage.
Concerts featuring two-time Grammy-winning jazz artist Gregory Porter, the 18-time Grammy-winning Count Basie Orchestra, and others will take place at Fort Mose State Historic Park, a historic site home to the first legally sanctioned free African. American presence in North America.
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