The State of Florida, as partially evidenced in my AIA travel series, has countless attractive pockets to discover. It’s said that “if you haven’t found yours yet, you haven’t looked hard or long enough”. As one who’s explored the three coasts in depth, I agree, especially after finding what may be my most special pocket too.
My family and I first visited the area now called The Beaches in 1987 for an overnight at the Green Turtle Inn, now the refurbished and upscale Ocean One. To quote Gertrude Stein; “there was no there there” back then. In 2009, I drove my son to a job interview and we discovered a new vibrant community located three miles north of Jacksonville Beach and I stored that mental nugget away.
My girl-friend Patty and I have birthdays two days apart so each year we like to spend a week somewhere celebrating them. We were originally planning to stay in Siesta Key but found the rents uncomfortably high. Patty did some research and suggested Beaches Town Center located on the Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach lines where Atlantic Boulevard ends in the Atlantic Ocean.
That eleven-year old nugget went off in my head and figured that it was time to acquaint myself with one of the last pockets in Florida that I did not know. We selected the oceanfront Seahorse Inn resort to stay and headed down I-75 and across I-10 to our destination.
I describe the Seahorse Inn’s location on the circle where Atlantic Boulevard ends as ground zero for visitors. The ease of access to the ocean, beach, quality hotels, fine varied restaurants, retail and bars may be unmatched in the state.
We found the Seahorse Inn to be clean, attractive, comfortable and fun – the famous Lemon Bar brought life and sweet music to the resort. The hospitable staff is helpful and gracious; housekeeping is particularly excellent.
The intersection of an adjacent alley called Midway with Lemon Street teemed with multi-generational people streaming into the Lemon Bar to groove on live or recorded music filling the spacious sun splashed patio.
Midway crosses from the front of the Seahorse property southward into Neptune Beach residential areas.
Atlantic Boulevard starts right beyond the “ground zero” circle flanked by two appealing hotel resorts. Shops and restaurants line both sides of First Street and march up the boulevard two blocks to State Route AIA.
Below: view of First Street stretching southward. Southern Grounds, a fine breakfast and lunch restaurant, is located a block down in a very popular courtyard.
Below: view of restaurants and shops lining the south side of Atlantic Boulevard.
Two blocks up Atlantic Boulevard is The Local restaurant. Its sign is very brightly lit at night and contributes to a festive evening atmosphere.
The Coop 303 Restaurant is located directly across the street from The Local. It has numerous rooms, decks, bars and porches to dine or imbibe.
The Ocean 60 Restaurant (below) is located on First Street one block north of Atlantic Boulevard. The place has an intimate and compelling outdoor space though the evening was too cold to consider dining out there – the interior is pleasant too.
Below: view of the Seahorse Inn resort from the oceanfront sand berm. The Lemon Bar is the building with the yellow roof.
Below: view of the resort’s attractive grounds and landscaping.
There are plenty of places for visitors to relax – around the pool, inside the bar with a drink or nosh, or out on the sunny patio.
The beaches area has many interesting, even surprising little treasures such as the Famous Oriental Bar-B-Q shack on the edge of the Seahorse property. Its
charm though did not draw us in to snack on the southeast Asian satay kebobs.
Seahorse Inn pool and plaza.
Famous Oriental Bar-B-Q Sticks vendor and patio.
I am always amazed by enterprises that last for generations. Pete’s Bar, located on the far southern edge of the Seahorse property, has been in business for 80 years – that is noteworthy and amazing.
The Ocean One Hotel flanks the Seahorse Inn.
The plush Ocean One Hotel, a good place to stay too, has a luxurious spa and a fine restaurant. We treated ourselves to excellent massages from spa associates that were skilled and professional and we also celebrated my birthday with an outstanding meal at Azurea, their upscale dining establishment.
Public awareness of turtle nesting patterns has grown significantly the past few decades. I have witnessed an excellent public – private program operated in South Padre Island, Texas, and engaged in one on Longboat Key in late January, 2019. Concerned citizens patrol the beach at midnight to watch the turtle’s nest, then rope off the area around their nests and monitor their safety until turtles’ hatch and return to sea.
I like to photograph beach safety signs to support public education efforts that teach appropriate behavior in our sandy recreational areas.
Following the rules assures that all of us will enjoy our time on an idyllic beach.
A relatively passive ocean can encourage swimmers to venture too far out and possibly get caught in a bad undertow. If that ever happens to you, employ the below sign’s directions.
Bad storms such as massive hurricanes, or a poor beach sustainment model, or questionable construction practices can cause erosion that depletes our beaches. The short-term solution is carting acres of sand from one location to another which is expensive and at best a temporary solution or band aid.
Sand berms protect buildings from waves washing over them and dragging dwellings out to sea. Sea oats and mangroves thrive in sand and their roots hold the berm together. If we want to keep our beaches in an age of global warming, we must employ common sense solutions and best practices.
Above: view to north shows high berms designed to keep waves from washing beach into resort’s pool.
Below: view to south shows berms with sea oats protecting homes from a surging ocean.
View of expansive and peaceful beach to the north.
View of beach to the south. Note high rise Jacksonville Beach hotels and condos three miles away.
I always try to include examples of public art in my travel pages and the two beach villages have numerous pieces that enrich the pedestrian experience.
First, the large cat statue with its shadow on the ground beautified a public courtyard.
The large turtle with a yellow submarine painted on chest is located outside the front porch of Poe’s tavern. A passerby joked to me that it looked constipated.
Seafood always seems to taste better at the beach. Joe’s Crab Shack in Jacksonville Beach is a great place for crabs and lobster tails. Patty, who had the lobster tails, noticed that I was in an eating zone, totally absorbed in cracking or tearing through King, Snow, or Dungeness clusters.
Other good restaurants in the beaches area are the Fish Company, the Cantina right next door, and the Beach Diner for breakfast.
The two villages of Neptune and Atlantic Beach obviously worked beautifully for Patty and I. We both wonder if we finally found our special pocket in Florida.