Florida’s First Coast
Florida is known as the Sunshine State for good reason. There’s no better way to enjoy fun in the sun than hitting one northeast Florida’s top beaches. This region offers a unique mixture of history, relaxation, and fun in the sun. Join as we explore Florida’s First Coast, which gets this nickname from St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States.
Atlantic Avenue (A1A)
Amelia Island is truly a place of firsts! The beautiful 13 mile island is the southernmost of the Sea Island barrier islands that stretch to South Carolina. It is also home to the northernmost city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, Fernandina Beach.
Explore Amelia Island’s charming, and vibrant community full of history, nature, and opportunities for relaxation. There are a variety of themed tours of the area ranging from history, kayaking, or cocktails!
No matter how you choose to explore this top northeast beach of Florida, it is easy to get around. Visitors can walk, drive, or use the Island Hopper shuttle around the northern half of the 13 mile Island for just $1 per ride.
Fort Clinch State Park
2601 Atlantic Avenue, Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach
Get in touch with Florida’s history and nature at Fort Clinch State Park. Here you’ll find access to the unspoiled beach, hiking and biking trails, and, of course, an historic fort. This park is a great place for history and nature lovers to spend a day, or the night – the park offers camping in cabins or your own tent or RV.
At the northernmost point of Florida’s east coast, you can see just across the St. Mary’s Inlet to Georgia’s Cumberland Island, and the occasional wild horse on the shore. To learn more about this historic area, or plan your Fort Clinch visit, click here.
Fernandina Beach, on beautiful Amelia Island, is a 30 block historic district. Full of character, including Victorian architecture, unique shops, and plenty of eateries and bars, the area offers something for everyone. This laid back community is just a short distance from the uncrowded Atlantic Shore. Wake up early to catch sunrise, it’s worth it.
Enter Fernandina Main Beach Park via the public parking lot at 25 Tarpon Street (arrive early to score a free parking spot ). In addition to the park’s playground, picnic, and restroom facilities. Insider tip: wear your water shoes – the sand here is full of shells, great for collecting, but not for walking barefoot on.
Fur babies will love this beach too – they are welcome as long as they are leashed. For important information about protecting your pets from Florida’s climate click here.
Take a break from the sand and surf and enjoy one of several fun, outdoor events each year. Fernandina Beach hosts food festivals, and concerts throughout the year. LGBTQ Highlight: Fernandina is a welcoming and diverse community year-round. Each fall visitors from around the world attend the town’s annual Fernandina Beach Pride Festival.
Peters Point Beachfront Park
4600 Peters Point Road
Head to Peters Point for a unique beach experience for the whole family. Not your typical beach, this oceanfront county park allows some unusual things on the sand. You can get a permit to bring your four-wheel drive vehicles on the sand. You can make arrangements for overnight camping and bon fires by contacting Nassau County.
Probably the most uncommon thing you can see at Peters Point are horses! There are several licensed companies based at Peters Point offering horseback excursions along the shoreline. Your own four-legged fur babies are also welcome here, but they must be leashed at all times.
The beach is accessible to all visitors, as there is an ADA compliant ramp over the sand that wheeled devices can easily get across.
Insider Tip: Alcohol is not permitted at Peters Point and violators may receive hefty fines.
Big Talbot Island State Park – Black Rock Beach
Cruise along scenic A1A between Amelia Island and Jacksonville Beach through Big Talbot State Park. Make a point to stop at Black Rock Beach within the larger park. Parking costs $3 and is on the honor system (envelopes are provided for you to put your cash in).
While swimming is not permitted here, the breathtaking view of the lava-like rocks and driftwood forest against the Atlantic make this a top northeast Florida beach stop. This stretch of the Atlantic coastline is usually very quiet and relaxing. Not far from this stop there are picnic areas and facilities, making this an ideal break for your coastal drive.
If you’re traveling with pets, they are permitted on trails throughout the main park, but not on the beach itself. Get all the details you need to enjoy this natural preserve here.
501 1st Street North, Jacksonville Beach
Jacksonville Beach’s wide shore offers plenty of room to relax or be active, making it one of Florida’s top northeast beaches. Jacksonville Beach, or Jax Beach, as the locals call it, is also popular with pets, in that leashed pets are welcome to share the sand with their humans!
Park your car for free at the small lot just off Beach Boulevard. Then, rent a bike to cruise along the hard-packed sand at low tide and take in a beautiful sunrise.
Take a walk over the Atlantic on the long pier to catch fish of your own (equipment is available for rental). Or you can catch sight of dolphins, or even a Right Whale as it migrates north in the spring. Get into the water and take a surfing lesson as you enjoy some of Florida’s best waves.
When the sun goes down there are plenty of restaurants, shops, and entertainment to explore around Atlantic Beach’s Town Center district.
Ponte Vedra Beach
Ponte Vedra is known for its dunes – on the area’s well known golf courses and those along it’s 42 miles of Atlantic beaches. The 40 foot sand dunes of Ponte Vedra Beach are among the highest in Florida and make this destination one of northeast Florida’s top beaches.
LGBTQ Highlight: October is the time for River City Pride in Jacksonville. After the festival wind down at Guana Tolomato Estuarine Research Reserve (5050 Guana River Road) at Ponte Vedra Beach for unofficial gay meet-ups along the shore.
Access this beautiful beach with your pet pal! Leashed dogs are permitted at a number of these northeast Florida top beaches.
South Ponte Vedra Beach Recreation Area (245 Crosswater Parkway) offers off-beach parking (the small lot fills up so arrive early). Bring your leashed dog, and your lunch to enjoy the available grills and picnic area.
You and your leashed dog can explore the dunes from the wooden walkovers at Mickler’s Landing (110 Ponte Vedra Boulevard). The pink sand beach has grills, showers, and restroom facilities. Free parking is available in the small off-sand lot.
Plan your visit to this remarkable area by clicking here.
Vilano Beach Oceanfront Park
2750 Anahma Drive
Head just north from downtown St. Augustine, over the breathtaking bridge to check out this quiet coastal community. Known for its beautiful 1.7 acre Atlantic side beach, and it’s long fishing pier over the Tolomato River to the west, this is one of northeast Florida’s top beaches.
Enjoy swimming and even skim boarding (a popular activity here). After your time in the sand and surg explore the area’s history and natural wonders with a walk along the Vilano Beach Nature Boardwalk. Walk west, alongside the Usina Bridge, over the marshlands that have been around since the first Spanish explorers arrived in the area in the 1500s.
Your canine companions are welcome at Vilano Beach as long as they are under voice command and you clean up after them.
Another feature of Vilano Beach, it is one of the few east coast Florida beaches that allow vehicles on the beach. There is a nominal fee to bring your four wheel-drive ride on the beach (sand and weather conditions permitting).
Anastasia State Park
300 Anastasia Park Road, St. Augustine
Visit this park to explore the 1,600 acres of unspoiled beaches, nature trails, and marshes. You’ll quickly see why it is one of northeast Florida’s top beaches.
Located on the peninsula of Anastasia Island, this park feels like it is world’s away from the bustle of nearby historic St. Augustine. The spectacular dunes and miles of beach make this a true oasis for visitors and birds too.
From the shore you can spot the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse that’s been guarding the coast for over 150 years. Hikers can enjoy marsh trail tours offered by rangers, included with $8 (per vehicle) admission to the park. Kayakers will enjoy access to the many tributaries that enter the park from the inlet. You can bring your own or rent from a local outfitter.
Camp here for a relaxing, scenic get-away near the beach. All 139 campsites (RV or tent sites) include access to the beach. There is a dedicated section for tent camping. You can walk or drive to the shore from your camping spot. Some campsites are located within ear shot of the crashing waves making for a peaceful stay. Plan your camping trip to this unique paradise here.
St. Augustine Beach
350 A1A Beach Boulevard
Seeking a lively beach experience? Great views, free parking, and good fishing are among the top features that make St. Augustine Beach among the top northeast Florida beaches.
This bustling strip just south of historic St. Augustine is home to dozens of restaurants, beach shops, and hotels at various price points. There is truly something for everyone here. Active beachgoers will enjoy volleyball courts. Music lovers will appreciate the live concerts on summer weekends. Families can spend time at the splash park and playground park that are popular with young visitors.
The St. John’s County Ocean Pier offers great views for sightseers, and great fishing for anglers. There is a nominal fee to go out on to the pier. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your gear – fishing equipment is available for rental or purchase.
Insider tips: Arrive early as free parking fills-up, especially on weekends. Cellular service and wifi connectivity can be spotty here. Have a back-up plan for communications and entertainment.
Northeast Florida’s Top Dog Beaches
The beaches of northeast Florida are among the dog-friendliest in the state. In addition to those already mentioned, several other beaches allow doggos to accompany their humans on the sand and in the surf.
Play by the rules – the majority of dog beaches require that animals be kept leashed, so assume that’s the case unless you see signage indicating otherwise. Plan ahead and arrive early. Many of the dog beaches are small areas and, therefore, offer limited parking. Likewise, some are only open to dogs at certain times, so please check in advance to make sure you and Fido are heading out at the right time.
Neptune Beach, Jacksonville North
Use the Lemon Street entrance to visit Neptune Beach with your dog. Leashed pups are welcome daily before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. There are plenty of open-air restaurants in the vicinity for you and your pupper to relax and refresh after your time on the beach.
For more fantastic locations to check out in the Northeast, click here.