By Jeffrey R. Orenstein | jorenstein@SimplySmartTravel.com
Jacksonville Beach and its neighbors, originally a town named Ruby, are where the 1.5 million people in greater Jacksonville, Fla., go to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean.
The beautiful Atlantic beaches on this barrier island with no official name stretch 40 miles from Mayport in the north to Vilano Beach in the south and include Atlantic, Neptune and Jacksonville beaches and Ponte Vedra.
Since 1924, Casa Marina, a classic artifact of the great Florida land boom of the 1920s, has been the grand old lady of the beach. It has welcomed gangsters Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly, Dwight Eisenhower, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, hordes of Hollywood stars, and wealthy Easterners taking the train to Florida.
It was used for military housing during World War II, hit hard times after the war, and was remodeled and reopened in 1991 with 24 large rooms. It remains popular for those seeking classic elegance on the beach, a great view from the Penthouse Lounge, or a tony venue for weddings and parties.
Before You Go
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Jacksonville Beach is accessible by car, rail, air and public transit.
- Jacksonville International Airport is 28 miles away.
- The nearest major cruise port is Port Canaveral 165 miles south.
- Amtrak’s Jacksonville station is 29 miles away. It doesn’t offer car rentals.
- Jacksonville Beach is not far from Interstates 10 and 95 and has adequate parking.
When You Are There
Enjoy the beach and the historic pier. If kashrut isn’t a concern, eat breakfast at the Metro Diner, lunch at Joe’s Crab Shack (on the beach) and dinner at Ocean 60 on Atlantic Beach, and visit the ZETA Brewing Co. (also good food).
The must-dos for a short stay:
- A beautiful beach drive to Sawgrass and upscale Ponte Vedra, just south on Highway A1A.
- Exploration of the many good restaurants and shops on the island.
If you more than three days:
- Visit Mayport and take a casino cruise.
- Tour St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, 30 miles south.
- Shop at the tony St. John’s Town Center.
- Explore Jacksonville’s sights and destinations.
What to Wear
- Sunglasses and a big hat.
- Cool, loose clothes in the summer — sundress, shorts, cutoffs, loose fitting tops.
- A lightweight jacket and possible layers for variable winter weather.
- Casual outfits for going out to dinner.
- A bathing suit for the beach or pool.
- Sandals for the beach and comfortable walking shoes elsewhere.
Jeffrey Orenstein is a syndicated travel writer who lives on Florida’s West Coast. He and his wife, Virginia, enjoy simply smart travel. Check out their travel ideas, articles and blog at www.SimplySmartTravel.com.
Jacksonville Beaches at a Glance
Mobility: Good. Most places on the barrier island are handicap-accessible.
When to go: Summer is hot, and winter can be cold, so the best times are spring and fall.
Where to stay: Casa Marina is an excellent choice because of its historical elegance. Many national chains are available.
Special interests: Florida history, beaches and deep-sea fishing.
Jewish Life Around Jacksonville
Jacksonville and its barrier island, encompassing Mayport, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra and Vilano Beach, have about 15,000 Jews out of a population of 853,000.
In addition to an active Jewish Federation, Jacksonville Jews have a newspaper, seven congregations, a day school through eighth grade, a community Hebrew high school evening program, and a full array of organizations supporting Jewish life. New growth is moving toward the beach areas, and Congregations Bet Yam and Beth El are on the island.
Although Jews have probably been in nearby St. Augustine for 450 years, they first settled in Jacksonville in the 1820s. A reasonably sized group of Jewish merchants settled there before the Civil War, and most were loyal Confederates.
Florida’s longest-resident documented Jewish family is the Dzialynskis, who arrived from Prussia by 1850.
Jacksonville suffered a yellow fever epidemic in 1857, and the first Jewish cemetery was established. Several members of the Dzialynski family died of the disease and are buried there.
By 1880, Jacksonville had 130 Jews.
In 1901, a fire swept through 146 blocks of Jacksonville and destroyed a synagogue, among other buildings. Architect Roy Benjamin figured prominently in the rebuilding of the city and the synagogue. He also designed many theaters throughout Florida.
From the late 19th century until the Great Depression, Jacksonville was Florida’s major Jewish enclave.
In the 1940s the area had 3,095 Jews. A naval air station built in Jacksonville brought tens of thousands of new faces to the city, including Jews, who settled there after the war.