A tiny strip of sand that strikes a literal and figurative balance between sleepy Atlantic Beach and bustling Jacksonville Beach.
- Steps away from shopping and food.
- Dogs allowed much of the time.
- Parking is hard to find on the south end of town.
- Leave the beer cooler at home.
Neptune Beach’s waterfront is only about a mile long, but it manages to serve as both a geographic and atmospheric middle ground between sleepier Atlantic Beach to the north and more raucous Jacksonville Beach to the south.
The town once was a part of Jacksonville Beach, but is now it is its own community among the group of barrier island municipalities known collectively as the Jacksonville Beaches, or just the Beaches.
The “Neptune” moniker comes from a man named Dan Wheeler, who was tired of walking to and from Mayport to take the train to Jacksonville for work. In 1922, he built a Florida East Coast Railway station where the One Ocean Resort (formerly the Sea Turtle Inn) now stands, so that the train would stop close to his house. He named the station Neptune.
In 1931, people who lived north of 20th Avenue — now Seagate Avenue — in Jacksonville Beach seceded over a lack of city services, and the residents took the name Neptune from the train station. For a time they even met in the station, which was technically in Atlantic Beach, for government business. Now the population of Neptune has more than 7,000 residents.
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.
Like other Beaches communities, Neptune Beach has a municipal government with its own officials, but votes in the Jacksonville mayoral election and is represented on the Jacksonville city council.
Since most of the area is residential, the small town feeling of Atlantic Beach carries over. The fun bars and restaurants make the Jax Beach party extend to here as well. It’s the best of both worlds. What you’ll find here, and not anywhere else, is the Beaches Town Center, a large outdoor mall, and some of the best nightlife around.
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 Jax Beach from the airport.
If you have a large party, East Coast Transportation offers chauffeur service from JAX airport.
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 Neptune 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.
Atlantic Boulevard is the northern border of Neptune Beach and the business center of town, where you will find Beaches Town Center.
Parallel to the coast, Third Street (State Road A1A) will be the best street to park and head to the dunes.
It’s possible to bike around since the area is so small. A free option called Beach Buggies operates in the area as a tips-only car service.
There are 21 blocks of oceanfront in Neptune Beach, with Third Street (A1A) usually three blocks off the beach.
From Atlantic Boulevard to just past Cedar Street the street closest to the water is Midway Street, but it’s largely residential. From North Street to Seagate Boulevard, another road called Strand Street picks up oceanfront duty, but is still a residential area.
While there are beach approaches and walkovers at the end of just about every street, more often than not parking is not allowed there. Street parking is hit or miss here, so look for signs and park at your own risk.
Your best bet is Beaches Town Center on Atlantic. The shopping center has plenty of free parking and is just a short walk to the beach. There’s plenty of public parking spots on Atlantic Boulevard, First and Second Street also. There’s a Pay to Park lot at the corner of Lemon and Second streets.
For those who want an easier parking situation, a community valet is offered during certain times between Atlantic Boulevard and Lemon Street on First Street. The best part is, it’s free for customers of certain businesses! Here’s more information.
Think of this beach as a more party-friendly sister to the quieter Atlantic Beach. It’s still family friendly, but plenty of bars and nightlife for adults.
Surfing, biking and other watersports reign supreme here, so crowds fill the water with boards during the peak season. You’ll find kids, young singles and retired adults all lounging here.
That’s not to say it’s rowdy here — at least, it’s nothing like Jax Beach. The area around Beaches Town Center obviously is popular; If you can swing a parking spot on the southern end of town, it can feel positively deserted, especially during the week.
The powdery, white sand is exceptional for an East Coast beach, good for strolling and castle-building. The water largely stays warm all year long.
Alcohol is not allowed on the beach, but dogs are, with some restrictions. Dogs can be on the beach at any time between Oct. 1 and March 31. From April 1 to Sept. 30, canines are only allowed from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. They have to be leashed and have an inoculation tag on their collars at any time.
Outdoor showers and restrooms stand at some of the beach entrances on the north end. There also are handicapped parking spots at the walkovers at the end of both Davis and Hopkins streets.
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.
You can't beat this location. It’s right on Neptune Beach as part of the Beaches Town Center, but it also contains The Lemon Bar. Throw in the usual room necessities plus a spacious pool in the center of the hotel and you’ve got a winner.
THINGS TO DO
For a fun family outing, take a ride down to this neighborhood park. There are walking trails, a lake, a playground and tennis and basketball courts to bring out your athletic side.
If you happen to be in the area on a Saturday, stop by this farmers market, also at Jarboe Park. Local vendors bring fresh fruit, homemade goods and souvenirs to sell every Saturday afternoon.
WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS
This shop rents out all types of boards (surf, skim, paddle), bikes, kayaks and more. They also offer lessons.
For crossfit junkies, this is your home, but they take newbies, too. This gym warehouse offers the muscle-pumping classes perfect to shed some weight or build your stamina.
You can hit the studio for an early morning yoga session just a few blocks from the beach. This local yoga studio also offers all types of classes at many hours of the day.
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.
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.
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.
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.