Jacksonville Beaches

Perhaps because the Intracoastal Waterway isn't all that wide where it separates the mainland from the beaches, people here aren't likely to think of themselves as "islanders." But they are, indeed, living on a barrier island, functioning with its own rhythms and led by its own elected officials. And, although there's only one island, there are four beach communities, each with its own mayor and city officials, tax base, and local legislation. They are, from north to south, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach. Technically, Ponte Vedra, which is home to the PGA Tour, crosses the border between Duval County and St. Johns County, but the four communities are all considered "Jacksonville's beaches." Farther north are two other popular coastal destinations, Mayport and Fort George Island. Some of the communities maintain height restrictions on beachfront buildings, adding to the old-fashioned shore vibe.

Oceanfront properties here can be worth millions, but a few blocks from the beach, things become more affordable. That means kids grow up and go to school together, and then stick around to live in and govern the towns together. Instead of pouring money into attractions designed to rake in tourism dollars, locals are likely to concentrate on projects such as good schools and parks. There's a real sense of community—and a laid-back tempo that surprises some visitors. You might want to embrace it all. In fact, many vacationers like the easy pace so much that they decide to make the area their permanent home.

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