There are four major beach areas within a short 20 to 30 minute drive eastward from downtown Jacksonville. These beaches are mostly visited between the months of March through November as they tend to be quite cold December through February.
Atlantic Boulevard divides the beach community towns of Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach. To reach these beaches from downtown Jacksonville, hop onto US-90 which will take you across the St. John's River. Next, take the Arlington Expressway toward SR-10 E / Atlantic Blvd / JAX Beaches. Turn left and merge onto Atlantic Blvd / FL-10 heading East. The trip is around 15 miles and takes about 25 minutes. Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach are flat and the sand is very soft. The waves tend to get fairly large during tide changes so the surfing can be very good. These beaches also offer a variety of concessions, plenty of free parking, lifeguards on duty, swimming, kayaking and interesting rocks and shells if you like to look for treasure. Check out Town Center where Atlantic Boulevard meets the ocean for an interesting little community offering shops, restaurants, and a few pubs.
A little further south, you can find Jacksonville Beach. Jacksonville Beach is probably the most popular surfing spot for the locals and also offers a fishing pier, concessions, rental shops, and a fairly flat soft sand beach. To reach Jacksonville Beach from downtown Jacksonsville, merge onto I-95 heading south, this will take you across the St. John's River as you leave town. Next, exit for Beach Boulevard which is U.S. 90 and head east. U.S. Boulevard ends right at Jacksonville Beach The trip is around 18 miles and takes about 30 minutes depending on traffic.
Still further to the south, you will come to the ritzy town of Ponte Vedra Beach. Ponte Vedra (which is pronounced Ponti Vee-dra) is a high-end golf community that annually hosts PGA tour events. This area is best known for its resorts such as the Ponte Vedra Inn, Club (a five diamond resort), and the Marriott at Sawgrass. Because of this focus on resorts, public beach access is limited. Mickler's Landing and Guana River State Park offer the best public beach access. Mickler's Landing offers a smallish parking lot (get there early to find parking) next to the beach. There are public restrooms, fresh water showers but no picnic tables. They have built a boardwalk to take you easily through the sand dunes in order to reach the beach. To reach Ponti Verda Beach from downtown Jacksonsville, merge onto I-95 heading south, take the SR-202 E exit which is Exit #344, which will put you onto FL-202 / J. Turner Butler Boulevard. Follow this east until you reach the coast. The trip is around 20 miles and takes about 30 minutes depending on traffic.