Coastal Retreat in Jacksonville Florida

March 10, 2024

Enjoy A Coastal Retreat In Jacksonville Florida

Did you know that Jacksonville Florida is the largest city in the Continental United States by land mass? Though I didn’t get to see all of Jacksonville in the 3 days I was there, I did see enough to know that a Coastal Retreat in Jacksonville Florida was just what I needed.

Sandy Beaches And National Parks Await Your Visit

Located in Northeast Florida on the Atlantic Coast, Jacksonville is home to over 20 miles of white sandy beaches and over 900 square miles of space. There are city parks, state parks, and even a couple of National Park sites to explore during your visit. The Arboretum & Gardens is the perfect place for an afternoon picnic or walk with your furry friend. A lot of the places I visited were pet-friendly, making Jacksonville a must-stop when I travel with my pups.

For those of you who don’t road trip everywhere like I do, the Jacksonville International Airport is perfectly located to fly in for weekend getaways.

Related – Road Trip Safety When Traveling

Coastal Retreat Jacksonville Florida

Things To Do 

Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary

My first stop on my trip to Jacksonville was Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary. The former zoo employee in me came out during this visit. This wildlife sanctuary rescues big cats and other exotic animals that cannot be released back into the wild. Some of them were previously owned by private citizens, other wildlife sanctuaries, or injured in the wild. The facility is run strictly on donations, and admission from visitors to the park. They are currently expanding the big cat habitats, and have plans to expand the enclosures for all of their animal residents.

Coastal Retreat Jacksonville Florida

This visit made me miss my days at the local zoo. It was nice to see the animal keepers creating a habitat for Leo the bear that encourages him to explore his surroundings looking for food. He ate things like crab legs, berries, and other nutritional snacks.

Coastal Retreat Jacksonville Florida

It was great to see that each enclosure had a sign with the name of the animal, and when it was born and acquired by the sanctuary. These signs also included a back story for some of the animals.

Coastal Retreat Jacksonville Florida

There were two lions, and a one-eyed mountain lion named Dolly. The male lion was so friendly to his keeper, and Dolly was one of my favorite big cats. She lost her eye to a venomous snake bite, but she wasn’t letting that stop her from living a great life.

  • 1860 Starratt Road, Jacksonville, FL 32226

Coastal Retreat Jacksonville Florida

Jacksonville Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

As you stroll through the entrance to the Jacksonville Arboretum & Botanical Gardens there is a picnic area. This was a great place to pull out the cooler and rest while we had a snack and a drink. The entry fee is only $3 a person, and the grounds are pet-friendly.

Coastal Retreat Jacksonville Florida

Though we didn’t see any, there are signs all over the gardens to watch for alligators. And if you do take your furry friend, be sure to keep them on a leash, for their safety, and the safety of others.

Coastal Retreat Jacksonville Florida

There were plenty of places to stop and take in the beauty of this 120-acre garden, including a beautiful pavilion that had an amazing view of the lake. As I strolled through one of the 7 hiking trails, I saw beautiful flowers, dragonflies, and even a couple of lizards.

  • 1445 Millcoe Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32225

Coastal Retreat Jacksonville Florida

Catch The Sun Rise On Jacksonville Beach

Whether you are staying close to the beach or need to drive there, I highly recommend a walk on Jacksonville Beach and the beachside boardwalks to catch the sunrise. I think most of the pictures I took on this trip were of this beach. It was absolutely beautiful. I made sure to catch it every morning I was there. After you enjoy the sunrise head over to the Jacksonville Beach Pier and enjoy the view from there. It is open from 7 am to 7 pm. Pier admission is $3.

  • 503 1st St N, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250

Visiting National Park Sites On My Coastal Retreat in Jacksonville, Florida

One thing I have started to do on every adventure is to visit all of the National Park Sites in the area that I am exploring. I was able to stop by two of them on this coastal retreat in Jacksonville, Florida. There are 420 National Parks, Park Sites, Memorials, and forests to visit, and I have currently visited around 100 of them.

Fort Caroline National Memorial

Fort Caroline National Monument is the first of the two National Park sites I visited on my trip to Jacksonville. I learned so much about the exploration, survival, religious disputes, territorial battles, and first contact between American Indians and Europeans.

The history of the short-lived French presence in this area. In the 16th century, a French colony was established, and they built a fort and a village along the St. John’s River in 1564. The French challenged Spain for resources in the New World. And in 1565 about 400 Spanish troops led by Pedro Menendez stormed the fort. The French that were not massacred are believed to have fled back to France. Fort Caroline National Memorial commemorates the men, women, and children who created the French Huguenot settlement.

  • 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, FL 3 2225

Kingsley Plantation And Timucuan Ecological Historical Preserve

As I drove into another section of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, I felt like I was stepping back in time. With the beautifully lined tree canopy and gravel road, you could get an idea of what it felt like living in this area many years ago. Kingsley Plantation is located on Fort George Island. Zephaniah Kingsley moved his family to the Sea Island plantation in the early 1800’s.

As you enter the plantation, there are remnants of white stone cabins. These were the slave cabins. They are built with tabby, which is an oyster shell concrete. I saw this type of building material at many of the historical sights we visited on this trip. The Sea Island plantation was a cotton plantation. After you park your car, you will pass a garden on your way to the barn, kitchen house, and main house. The view of the Fort George River was visible from all of the structures, I imagined how amazing it must have been back in the day to catch the sunrises and sunsets from the shoreline.

  • 11676 Palmetto Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32226

Boneyard Beach Big Talbot Island State Park

Boneyard Beach is one of the most beautiful and interesting beaches I have ever been to. It is located very close to Kingsley Plantation. After you park your car and pay the $5 parking fee, you will follow a short trail to the shoreline access. One tip, bring bug spray as the sand flees and gnats are pretty bad after you exit the trail onto the beach.

As you walk onto the beach, you can see why it is called Boneyard Beach. No, these aren’t real bones, but the 3-mile-long shoreline along the Nassau Sound is filled with bleached oak trees. The driftwood mimics the look of bones in a graveyard. This makes for a perfect spot to take amazing photos, we even saw a bride-to-be taking her bridal pictures on the shoreline.

  • 12157 Heckscher Dr., Jacksonville, Florida 32226

St. Johns River Ferry

The St. Johns River Ferry is a car and passenger ferry that connects the Ft. George Island to Mayport Village and Neptune Beach. It’s only about a 5-minute ferry ride, saving you almost an hour of driving if you were to drive the route. There is a minimal cost to ride the ferry and it runs throughout the day.

  • Ft. George Side – 9618 Heckscher Drive/SR A1A, Jacksonville, FL
  • Mayport Village Side – 0 Atlantic Blvd, Neptune Beach, FL 32266

Where To Stay

Element Hotel By Westin

The Element Hotel by Westin is a boutique hotel just a block away from Jacksonville Beach. It is a pet-friendly hotel, with a cocktail hour and breakfast included. Their cocktail hour consists of light snacks and 2 free glasses of wine or beer that guests can pour themselves out of the wine fridge. They also have a store where you can purchase small meals and snacks, sodas, water, beer, and wine.

The rooms are very spacious with every amenity you could think of. From filtered water in the fully equipped kitchen to a large work area, living room area with a flat-screen TV, and extremely comfortable beds. There is a workout room, laundry facilities, and an in-ground pool located outside. This is a great location for a girl’s getaway, spring break, or family vacation.

I travel a lot, and I stay in a lot of hotels, but the breakfast at The Element was one of the best I have ever had. They have a chef on staff who creates a made-to-order fresh breakfast every day.

  • 208 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250

Where To Eat

There are so many places to catch a great bite in Jacksonville. Though I ate breakfast at the hotel the first day, because it was so darn good, I am always on the search for a great coffee shop when I travel. Seafood was top on my list because, well, you know, when in Rome. It was also fun finding some hole-in-the-wall places that the locals love. That is always my tip when traveling, ask the locals where they love to eat.

Breakfast Options Around Town

  • Southern Grounds – Local coffee/tea joint with great eats, one of multiple locations around Jacksonville.
  • Jax Beach Brunch Haus – Bustling eatery with colorful artwork, providing American breakfast & lunch grub
  • Grumpy’s Neptune Beach – Down-to-earth, family-run standby fixing up homestyle comfort food.
  • Maple Street Biscuit Company – a regional restaurant chain founded in Jacksonville, serving biscuit sandwiches & Southern sides.
  • Lunch Options By The Water

For lunch, I was treated to the Palms Fish Camp. They offer indoor and outdoor seating. It was a beautiful day, so I opted to sit outside. I ordered the grilled shrimp plate that came with 2 sides and hushpuppies. That was some of the best shrimp I have ever had, and the view of the fishing boats coming in was pretty great.

  • 6359 Heckscher, Dr, Jacksonville, FL 32226

Dinner Options Loved By The Locals

The first night I decided to head to Dockside Seafood Restaurant. You could tell the locals loved this place, as it was packed. They offer valet parking, but there is also plenty of parking within walking distance of the restaurant. You order at the counter when you walk in, and they give you a buzzer to put on your table.

They have a large fresh fish selection, but I opted to try the shrimp tacos, it was Taco Tuesday. I also ordered their crab dip, which let me tell you, was fantabulous, I should have gotten some of that to go. You can also catch a beautiful sunset from the patio seating outside.

  • 2510 2nd Ave N, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250

Salt Life Food Shack- Did you know the Salt Life brand was founded in Jacksonville Beach? This restaurant is located within walking distance of my hotel and I had the pleasure of eating dinner at this restaurant on my trip to Amelia Island, so I know this is a great choice as well.

Grab A Drink And Enjoy The Night Life

We all know I love to check out the cocktail scene when I travel. After we arrived at Mayport Village and Neptune Beach I headed to Pete’s Bar. This is the oldest bar in the Jacksonville area and was the first bar to open in Duval County after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. The bar has its fair share of famous visits from Hemingway to John Grisham, two of my favorite authors. John Grisham also wrote about the bar in his book, “The Brethren,” and is known to have written a part of the book while in the bar.

  • 117 1st St, Neptune Beach, FL 32266

After Pete’s bar, I headed over to the Lemon Bar for a quick bite and cocktail. They offered beautiful ocean views and a very creative cocktail menu. I was told that the world-famous Lemon Bar is a must on any visit to Jacksonville’s beaches.

  • 120 Atlantic Blvd, Neptune Beach, FL 32266

Dessert At Cookies And Creme Jax Beach

I was on this trip with a wonderful friend, Jennifer Broome, and when we travel, we are always on the lookout for ice cream. Well, we found a great ice cream place, and by the looks of this hole in the wall that was connected to a gas station, it is the hit of the neighborhood.

The menu at Cookies and Creme Jax Beach was music-themed, so I knew I was going to love this place. I ordered the Def Leppard, which is sea salt caramel ice cream with toffee bites, and Jen ordered the Thin Lizzy, mint ice cream with thin mint Girl Scout cookies mixed in. They also offer ridiculously amazing milkshakes, but only on Wednesdays.

  • 241 13th AVE N., Jax Beach, FL

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park

My last stop on this coastal retreat to Jacksonville, Florida was a stop at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Bring Your Binoculars for this next stop. Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park has 1.5 miles of sandy beach access and a 60-acre lake. It is a 450-acre park in Mayport and it’s the perfect spot to catch some birds in their natural habitat.



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