A quiet oceanfront town for the people who want a laid-back alternative to Jax Beach.
- A spacious beach.
- Dogs are allowed.
- Good surfing nearby.
- Parking is scarce.
- Not as much to do as in Jacksonville Beach.
Atlantic Beach is the homey getaway from the crowded Jax Beach, with a bit more than 14,000 residents.
The city is part of the group of barrier island communities known collectively as the Jacksonville Beaches, or just the Beaches. The tightly-packed white sand and clear, shallow waters make this one of the more scenic beaches on Florida’s East Coast.
Atlantic Beach’s shoreline spans a little over 2 miles from north to south. Since Jax Beach is just a short drive away to the south, the crowds stay over there. Here, you’ll find a more local crowd — and plenty of dogs.
The Atlantic Beach community grew when Henry Flagler created the Mayport station for the Florida East Coast Railway in 1900, just north of the beach. He also built the Continental Hotel, which was later renamed the Atlantic Beach Hotel.
Development began in earnest after the railroad and residents filled the area. People were scared to come to the beach during World War I, however, leaving the area more or less deserted. The problem worsened when the Atlantic Beach Hotel burned down in 1919.
By 1926, the city was incorporated and growth came with it. The Mayport Naval Station was built, bringing in more families. To this day, Mayport remains a major U.S. Navy base with a protected harbor for vessels. If you get a chance to head up there, the neighborhood’s seafood and quaint homes are worth a visit.
Duval County consolidated with Jacksonville in 1968, leading most communities to join together as one giant city — the largest by geographical area in the United States.
But Atlantic Beach, like some other towns, is still largely independent from Jacksonville, maintaining its own municipal government. People who live in Atlantic Beach, who sometimes refer to the town simply as AB, still vote for Jacksonville’s mayor and are represented on the city council.
Most of the town is residential, which is why it remains a quieter area. But food and entertainment are just a bike ride away.
Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) is the most convenient airport to fly into, only 26 miles from the beach.
Once you land there are shuttle, rental car, ride-sharing and other options to get out to the Beaches from the airport.
If you have a large party, East Coast Transportation does chauffeur service from JAX airport.
When your in Atlantic Beach area it’s possible to bike around, but to eat out or go shopping, a car is necessary. A free option called Beach Buggies operates in the Jax Beach area as a tips-only car service, but it only covers a small portion of Atlantic Beach.
There are four main roads into the Jacksonville Beaches area. Florida State Road 10, a.k.a. Atlantic Boulevard, is the one leading directly to Atlantic Beach from Interstate 295, over the Intracoastal Waterway.
Other roads leading to the Beaches are S.R. 116 (Wonderwood Drive), which goes to Mayport; U.S. Highway 90 (Beach Boulevard), leading to Jacksonville Beach; and S.R. 202 (J. Turner Butler Boulevard), terminating at the north end of Ponte Vedra Beach.
State Road A1A runs north and south, coming up from St. Augustine in the south, but requiring a boat trip on the St. Johns River Ferry from Mayport north to Fort George Island.
Since AB is largely residential, parking can be tough to find.
Your best bet is to find roadside parking along the main road, Beach Avenue, and other streets close to the beach. You’ll be parking in neighborhoods, but the parking is free. Pay attention to signs.
On the edge of Atlantic Beach, bordering Neptune, there are free spots along Atlantic Boulevard and First and Second streets in the Beaches Town Center.
There are several spaces at the eastern terminus of 10th and 15th streets, too, plus a gob of spots on 18th and 19th streets before the beach approaches.
Finally, there are several spots along Seminole Road up by Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park (an entry fee is required, however).
If you’re looking for a discreet, dog-friendlier version of Jax Beach, Atlantic Beach is for you.
There are few options for shopping or going out in Atlantic Beach, so it is basically just the sand and surf. Neptune Beach, which shares Atlantic Boulevard with Atlantic Beach, has the Beaches Town Center, which features plenty of shopping and nightlife.
The main part of Atlantic Beach extends north to Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, and beyond that is the Mayport Naval Station, which is closed to the public.
Alcohol is not allowed on the beach, but charcoal and gas grills are allowed on Atlantic Beach, as long as you pay attention to them.
Dogs are allowed on the beach at all times, but must be on a leash, unless the owner and the dog are in the water together.
The village of Mayport is technically a neighborhood of Jacksonville, not its own town. It’s still considered part of the Beaches, because of its proximity to the other, independent towns on the barrier island.
Mayport is on the St. Johns River, not the Atlantic Ocean, and is known primarily for shrimping and attracting daytrippers. The village is shoehorned between the river and the sizable Mayport Naval Station, which dominates the north end of the island.
There’s a beach to the east of the base, but you’re not allowed on it unless you have a reason to be on base.
KATHRYN ABBEY HANNA PARK
For an even more secluded beach day, drive a bit north to this park, which is run by the city of Jacksonville. This park features volleyball courts, pavilions, walking trails, a splash park for the kids and a fishing dock.
Tent, RV and cabin camping are available. A big freshwater lake is in the park, where paddling and swimming is allowed.
There are a few caveats to choosing this beach, though: The sand isn’t as soft as Atlantic Beach, the insects are abundant and there’s a fee to get into the park (annual passes are available). Once you make it in, however, it’s parking near the beach is free.
Hanna Park is a surfing spot, thanks to an area called the Mayport Poles, or just the Poles, after the line of poles erected on the beach at the north end of the park to keep people off the Mayport Naval Station beach. This area on the beach is known for the breakers amplified by the jetty at the mouth of the St. Johns River, and is popular with the surfboard crowd.
WHERE TO STAY
This is a pricey option, but comes with truly luxurious treatment. Experience a massage and fine dining at an Atlantic Beach oceanfront setting, and be assigned your very own docent, who performs all sorts of concierge services.
This hotel is a bit farther from the beach, but the walk is worth it. The rustic/modern design of the suites is beautiful, and the accommodations focus on making you feel like a local.
A new jazz festival started in September 2018 features Florida jazz artists. Local food and drink vendors accompany the party to give everything an AB feel.
THINGS TO DO
This car and passenger ferry takes you across the St. Johns River between Mayport and Fort George Island, departing every hour. Not only is it a short, scenic ride, but it gives you access to the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, a cool spot to spend the day.
Atlantic Beach’s largest park! You can visit to fish on the pier, kayak, walk the trails or even camp. This park along the Intracoastal gives you insight into one of Florida’s natural habitats.
The name says it all. It’s a wooden boardwalk in the marshes, which gives you the best view of the Florida sunset. It’s actually located inside of the Dutton Island Preserve (see above).
WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS
This shop, technically in Neptune Beach along Atlantic Boulevard, rents out all types of boards (surf, skim, paddle), bikes, kayaks and more. They also offer lessons.
Similar to above, but this time north of AB in Hanna Park. Paddling lessons are in the lake, but they also offer tours all over the environs.
Make your circus-performer dream a reality by trying the aerial silks here. The place specializes in aerial yoga and pole fitness, which are two not-so-typical ways to work out. The silks are intimidating, but not impossible to get into as a beginner.
The City of Jacksonville operates this public ramp near the Oak Harbor subdivision, south of the naval base. It leads out to the Intracoastal Waterway.
PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK
Try the tacos here, because they’re the best around. They experiment with ingredients you don’t usually find on tacos, like watermelon and fried green tomatoes. The bar is a cool local hangout at sundown.
Poe’s meets all of your burger needs. The gourmet sandwiches are the star of the menu, but other American cuisine options are offered.
To cool off, stop by this custard shop for a treat. Custard is much creamier than ice cream, and Whit’s makes it fresh daily. You can get it as a sundae, a sandwich, a cone or just plain.
Try this authentic Peruvian restaurant to change up the culinary pace a bit. Start with the namesake ceviche and go from there.
This late-night dive bar has been serving drinks to locals for years. The place is known for its smokey charm and reasonable prices.
For the fine-diners of the group, this high-end eatery is a must. The New American cuisine restaurant touts varied and seasonal appetizer, main course and dessert menus.
Let this be your seafood go-to while vacationing here, with dishes that come right from the ocean. There are three locations, in Neptune Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach and Jacksonville.
Locals come here to eat traditional Irish food and join the nightly celebration. Depending on the night they’ll have karaoke, trivia or a special happy hour.
For those looking for a scenic poolside hangout, try this bar on Neptune Beach. Locals rave over their frozen cocktails and friendly service.
Many of the businesses above, reside here. It’s where Atlantic Boulevard meets the ocean, on the border of Atlantic and Neptune beaches. In addition to the restaurants and bars, there are plenty of boutiques and specialty stores.
Not too far up the road from the Beaches Town Center are these shopping plazas. There are cheaper food options here, plus a Publix that can take care of your grocery needs.
If beer is your thing, you must stop in. The lone craft brewery in Atlantic Beach holds its own against the competition in Jax Beach, and has events almost every night of the week.