Outdoor gems are abundant in Northeast Florida. Whether you want to take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean, fish in the St. Johns River or take selfies at a park, there are plenty of options.Throughout the region, there are also ample opportunities for boating, kayaking and swimming.
Marineland Dolphin Adventure in St. Augustine has two new resident dolphins born in 2015 and 2016. Marineland teaches visitors about the beauty of dolphins and provides interactive attractions.
When you’re ready to chill on the beach, you can’t go wrong with a visit to St. Augustine Beach. In 2016 alone, this popular destination was named one of America’s Favorite Beach Towns by Travel & Leisure Magazine, one of the Best 30 Beaches in the World for Families by the Travel Channel and a Top 10 Beach in the U.S. by TripAdvisor.
At Neptune Beach, Jax Surf and Paddle offers standup paddleboarding (SUP) and surfing lessons 365 days a year. Private or group lessons are available. The shop can outfit you with board and gear in addition to swimwear, beach apparel and accessories. Lighthouses are favorite attractions. Visitors can tour the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum (open daily) or the Amelia Island Lighthouse, which has limited-access viewing on Saturdays from 11 AM to 2 PM.
In an area blessed with 90 miles of oceanfront, 101 miles of St. Johns River and its 12 tributaries and 104 miles of Intracoastal Waterway, water activities rule. Outfitters will equip and guide you through the marshes and rivers, where you share the views with egrets, herons and even eagles. Urbanites can board a water taxi in Jacksonville or St. Augustine. Environmentalists love the “veggie boat,” a vegetable oil–powered craft operated by Ripple Effect Ecotours in Flagler.
The Atlantic coastline is known for thrilling surfing, especially during the winter, and aspiring windsurfers can take lessons in the waters at St. Augustine’s Anastasia State Park (floridastateparks.org/anastasia). Kiteboarding and stand-up paddling are the latest extreme sports to hit the area, plus Amelia Island is one of the few places in Florida that offers horseback riding in the surf.
For the ultimate rush, Adrenaline Outdoors offers visitors the chance to spend a day with one of its licensed trappers capturing nuisance gators (adrenalineoutdoors.co).
If you’re visiting Jacksonville area beaches on weekends in the summer, hop on board the Beaches Trolley. For only $1.50, you can explore all of the area’s beachy neighborhoods and attractions.
For more picturesque adventures on the water, Amelia Island offers Amelia River Cruises and Charters or a privately chartered sunset cruise with Windward Sailing. If you’re looking to reel in fish, Amelia Boat Club & Rentals provides rentals for fishing, cruising or sightseeing. For something a little more adventurous, the island’s Flying Fish Adventures organizes jet ski tours.
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Atlantic Beach and the 46,000-acre Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, a national park that encompasses parts of Jacksonville, Fort George and the Talbot Islands, are the stars. The Timucuan Trail State and National Parks is a unique co-op involving city, state and national park services to preserve one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the east coast. Boating, swimming, fishing, camping, birdwatching, ranger talks and historical sites, such as Kingsley Plantation, attract thousands to the parks’ ocean, lake, river and stream shores.
Jacksonville’s Huguenot Memorial Park features 71 campsites at the mouth of the St. Johns River,as well as water sports. The park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, where a wildlife area for nesting terns and shorebirds is roped off to protect them in season.
Take a guided kayak tour, led by a professional naturalist guide, and paddle the backwaters of the 40,000 acres that have been preserved at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM-NERR) in the Ponte Vedra area, voted the best place to kayak in Northeast Florida.
Surfers head to Hanna Park, north of the Jacksonville Beach pier, and hang ten at Mickler’s Landing in Ponte Vedra Beach. In November, Flagler Beach is aglow for the Tommy Tant Memorial Surf Classic night-surfing event.
Washington Oaks State Gardens preserves 425 acres of coastal scenery along State Road A1A in Palm Coast. The park’s eastern boundary holds a large outcropping of coquina rock, creating a picturesque boulder-strewn beach especially favored by photographers. Visitors also find 20 acres of formal gardens. Pellicer Creek in Faver-Dykes Park is a popular site for birding, with more than one hundred bird species seen during spring and fall migrations.
Charter fishing boats, with guides, are plentiful, but you can also fish from piers at Flagler beaches, St. Augustine, Jacksonville and Amelia Island. Fort Clinch, in Fernandina Beach, makes an excellent fishing spot because artificial reefs (created entirely by accident by the Corps of Engineers while trying to fight beach erosion) produce an ideal underwater habitat for sea creatures. The half-mile-long fishing pier calls to anglers ready to cast a line. Don’t tell too many, but Fort Clinch’s isolated beaches make an ideal getaway for those wishing to avoid crowds.
State parks abound in the area, from the profusion of azalea blooms at Palatka’s Ravine Gardens State Park to the four miles of beaches at Anastasia State Park, which offers paddleboard, kayak and sailboat rentals. Explore the bass-fishing paradise of Lake George, set sail on the Amelia River at sunset or rent a houseboat on the St. Johns.
Golf is another passion in the area—there are more than 1,000 holes to play. Located between St. Augustine and Green Cove Springs, World Golf Village is a mecca for duffers, with its World Golf Hall of Fame, the Murray Bros. Caddy Shack restaurant, PGA Tour Golf Academy and two unique golf courses—Slammer & Squire, co-designed by Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen, and King & Bear, co-designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Other stand-out signature courses are The Players Stadium and Dye’s Valley courses at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Golf Club of Amelia Island, the two public courses at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort and the Hammock Beach Ocean Course in Palm Coast.
The great outdoors is a staple of Northeast Florida, so be sure to visit some of the beautiful destinations.
Now it’s your turn! Which places have you been? Where do you want to go? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us all!