~ Atlantic Beach & Neptune Beach, Florida ~
"Jacksonville's quintessential beach towns"
Just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville sits a long barrier island containing a string of funky, laid-back and cosmopolitan beach comunities known collectively as Jacksonville's Beaches. Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach, with their shared Town Center, are my idea of the perfect beach mix.
The setting of John Grisham's novel, The Bretheren, Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach are anchored by a lively, beautifully landscaped Town Center full of funky, trendy and casual restaurants, coffeehouses, boutiques, galleries, gift shops and nightspots. Atlantic Blvd., which runs west all the way to historic San Marco Square just south of Downtown Jacksonville, serves as the official dividing line through the middle of Town Center before ending in a landscaped, brick circle at the sand's edge. Hip and happening yet quaint and homey, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and their shared Town Center provide a picture-perfect, quintessential beach town setting enjoyed by families, surfers, yuppies and the wealthy set alike.
Stretching north from Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach boasts impressive beach houses reflecting a mix of New England, Caribbean and imaginative architectural styles. Stretching south from Town Center, Neptune Beach is lined with pastel colored beach houses that are a little more modest in size and style. Both communities share the same stretch of soft, wide, sandy beaches backed by dunes covered with sea oats. Pockets of shell deposits and calm, shallow tidal pools are also common along the shoreline here.
"Hang ten toes in the surf, or pamper them in a spa"
For those who happen to find themselves wealthy, the Atlantic Beach side of Town Center is anchored by One Ocean, 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.
A few blocks inland on the Neptune Beach side of Atlantic Blvd. at Seminole Rd., is another local icon, Aqua East. Aqua East is a two-story surf shop that also offers wave runner and boat rentals, in addition to the usual surf shop fare. It is easily recognizable by all the large surf gear poster advertisements plastered in its windows. Aqua East is one of the largest of several Jacksonville area surf shops that cater to a vibrant local surf culture. While Jacksonville's Beaches are not as acclaimed for their waves as East Coast hot spots like New Smyrna Beach, the Space Coast, and Sebastian Inlet, they are home to sponsored professionals who compete in international tournaments. Several blocks into Atlantic Beach on Seminole Rd. is the beautiful Howell Park, which offers a myriad of nature trails that traverse over creeks and through tree hammocks.
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