It’s only about 20 miles from Ponte Vedra Beach to Jacksonville Beach, but the two are worlds apart. Ponte Vedra, in the Guana River State Park, is isolated and undeveloped. Jacksonville Beach is a madhouse.
Even in early spring, Jax Beach was hopping. It’s an urban beach that is lined with high-rises and people in various stages of undress cruising its sidewalk, sands, and pier. While I had seen a small terrier in a pink sweater on Ponte Vedra Beach, at Jax Beach I saw pitbull after pitbull. Fortunately, all of these dogs were leashed, but they were paraded by as if they were hot teenage studs in men’s g-strings. In the background, loud music blared from a crab shack, people looked for places to park, and the sun beat down bright and unrelieved.
I’d have loved Jax Beach when I was 16, but then again I used to think that Myrtle Beach was the be all and end all of teenage party scenes. The types of boys I used to flirt with back in the seventies were all accounted for at Jax Beach, or their sons were; they wandered by with bare chests and sat on surfboards waiting for waves. The girls, tanned and with wild, salty hair, looked the way I used to, except that their derrieres were somewhat more exposed. Jax Beach was a runway walk of stripper bikinis, or perhaps I am just showing my age instead of my gluteus maximus.
Jax Beach is a smaller version of Daytona, but located in a bigger city. As crowded as it is in March, it will explode in July. As an urban beach, it attracts not only beachgoers but people who are just there for the party vibe and probably don’t own a bathing suit; a beach like this requires no car and no commitment to spending the whole day lying on a towel.
Up on the pier, a couple of African-American kids were taking turns doing some dance steps. It was a friendly competition, a dual really, and as one spun and strutted, the other would call out, “I’m jumping in,” and the first one would jump out. This impromptu contest provided a moment of simple enjoyment in what otherwise appeared to be the very serious business of burning one’s skin and exposing one’s love handles to public scrutiny.
We walked from the crowded parking lot to the pier, only to find out that the pier had an admission charge. We aren’t paying admission charges these days unless we absolutely have to; we saved two dollars by not going through the pier’s metal fence. There was a time I’d have had three margaritas at the crab shack and a bucket of clams, too, but there was also a time I didn’t worry that the national workplace was turning into one big minimum-wage job.
We left the beach and headed home with the sun in our eyes. We may both have been cranky. Traffic being what it was, it took us well over an hour to get out of Jacksonville, leading me to recommend the weekday vistor to get there early and leave early, or to have dinner before heading home.
Jacksonville Beach: ** 1/2
If you visit: This is not a scenic wonderland, although it is more attractive than similar urban beaches in the Northeast. A cramped parking lot at the pier filled up quickly. I did not see any public restroom facilities, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. There are restrooms on the pier for those who have paid the admission fee.
This is not the place for a quiet day at the beach, although its urban location makes it easy to get a bite to eat. Traffic is thick and yielding to pedestrians is mandatory. Be prepared for congestion, difficult parking, and for feeling very middle-aged.
The music coming from this restaurant was concert-loud. Bad-sound system-concert-loud music shrieked out from the porch. My eardrums were wasted away in Margaritaville without my having had one sip of booze. This put me in a bad mood and I was worried that my companion might suggest having a drink there, which would make me feel both in a bad mood and old. I seem to have left both my black bikini and my party bones back in 1975.