Although the French Huguenots in 1562 laid claim to the First Coast area, it was the Spanish who first settled the area around Jacksonville Beach, establishing missions from Mayport to St. Augustine. The Spanish ceded East Florida to the English by treaty in 1763 only to regain control twenty years later. In 1821, the Spanish ceded Florida to the United States of America.
The area was settled by river pilots and fishermen as early as 1831 when Mayport, then known as Hazard, was established as a port. The Mayport Lighthouse was erected in 1859 and still stands at the Naval Station Mayport. By 1885 Mayport had 600 inhabitants, a post office and a school. The town was also visited daily by steamships which brought beach-goers from Jacksonville down the St. Johns River.
You can also view the tour on the Visit Jax App! Read more about the beaches history HERE.
Let’s explore the area's most significant sites:
- Huguenot Memorial Park
10980 Heckscher Dr, Jacksonville, FL 32226
The Huguenot Memorial Site is denoted by a marker located at the entrance to Huguenot Memorial Park. The site is dedicated to the Huguenots who left France to seek religious freedom and to escape religious persecution.
In 1562, when France was being torn by religious strife, Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France, sent two vessels to the New World in search of a refuge for the oppressed Huguenots. Leading the expedition was the Huguenot explorer, Jean Ribault, who charted a new course across the Atlantic and arrived off the coast of Florida. On Friday, May 1, 1562, Ribault's party first landed in the New World here on modern day Jacksonville.
Huguenot Park offers 70 primitive campground sites, a playground, picnic areas & fishing. This is the only beach in Jacksonville where you can drive on the sand.
- Catch the St. Johns Ferry
9618 Heckscher Dr/SR A1A
The St. Johns River Ferry is a car and passenger ferry that connects the north and south ends of Florida State Road A1A in Duval County, linking the historic Mayport Village and Fort George Island by sailing across the St. Johns River. The 0.9 mile voyage crosses the St. Johns River mouth and departs every half hour. The St. Johns River Ferry is one of the last passenger ferry boats in the State of Florida, it has been in operation since 1874.
- Across the St. Johns River arrange some time to visit the Marine Science Education Center. The building that the MSEC is housed was originally built in 1927 and was known as Ribault Elementary School. It was named after French Explorer Jean Ribault who discovered the area in 1562. It provided the education for all the students in the Mayport Village. In 1968 the school was turned into the Marine Science Education Center with money from a Federal Grant. Three years later it became a part of the Duval County Public School System, where it has hosted many different programs.The center features 14 wet lab tanks, a small museum on local marine life and fishing.
Please call ahead to schedule tour 904-247-5973.
During the school year tours are best after 3:00 p.m.
During the summer hours are Monday - Friday 7:00a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
- Just around the corner, you can plan another day of nature at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Part of what is now Hanna Park was formerly Manhattan Beach, Florida's first beach community for African Americans during the period of segregation in the United States. The area was founded around 1900s by blacks working on the Florida East Coast Railway. At its height the beach included amenities such as picnic pavilions, cottages, and an amusement park. It flourished until around 1940, when it was superseded as a day-trip destination for African Americans by the larger American Beach in nearby Amelia Island.
Nowadays, the area is a City Park, named after a Chicago-born educator and author who had settled in Florida and served on the board of Parks and Historical Places. It consists of 447 acres of mature coastal hammock, with 1.5 miles of beaches, picnic pavilions, a lagoon and hiking and biking trails.
- Combat Team Camp Atlantic Beach Marker
Location: Jack Russell Park, 850 Seminole Rd, Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
Constructed by the U.S. Army in 1942, Combat Team Camp Atlantic Beach was the headquarters of the Harbor Defenses of Jacksonville during World War II. The camp was tasked with defending Florida’s Atlantic coast from Axis invasion following the sinking of the tanker SS Gulfamerica off Jacksonville Beach and the capture of Nazi saboteurs in Ponte Vedra. Although the camp never saw enemy action, it remained in service for 18 months until the U. S. military began a rapid reduction of its beach defense forces in 1944.
Nowadays, the area houses Jack Russell Park. This is one of Atlantic Beach’s most frequently used parks. This 12-acres park a large picnic pavilion, 6 tennis courts, 2 racquetball courts, 2 playground areas, 2 ballfields and soccer fields. A concession stand is open on weekends. Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- The Continental Hotel Marker
Location: 10 Tenth Street, Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
In the late 19th century, Henry Flagler created the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) and the Florida East Coast Hotel Company, both of which significantly boosted development and tourism for Florida. By 1900, Flagler had purchased the local Jacksonville and Atlantic Railway. The line was expanded to create the Mayport Branch of the FEC. It was along this branch that Flagler opened up a luxury oceanfront hotel in 1901, the Continental Hotel of Atlantic Beach.
Though it was considered one of the smaller and less ornate of Flagler’s line of winter resorts, the Continental Hotel boasted several attractions, including two of the area’s first golf courses and “automobiling” on the oceanfront. Previously, Atlantic Beach was one of the most remote areas of the Jacksonville Beaches.
The arrival of the FEC and the Continental sparked development in the community of Atlantic Beach while creating a new tourism destination for Florida. The hotel was sold in 1913 to the Atlantic Beach Corporation, and was renamed the Atlantic Beach Hotel. The original hotel burned down in 1919, and a second was built on this site in the mid-1920s. Both hotels were a vital part of the community of Atlantic Beach for several decades.
- Le Chateau on Atlantic Beach
Location: 701 Beach Avenue, Atlantic Beach
Built in 1937 as a private mansion, this beautiful home was transformed into a hotel by the same owner of the Atlantic Beach Hotel. Then it became one of Jacksonville’s most famous restaurant and nightlife spot until it closed its doors in 1983. It hosted celebrities like Liberace, Betty Grable, Prince Andrew and George Hamilton.
The restaurant was demolished in 1985 and oceanfront condominiums with the same name were built on the spot.
- Beaches Museum
Location: 381 Beach Boulevard, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
This museum highlights the history and culture of the Jacksonville beaches communities. The history park features several historic buildings in the area including the area’s first Post Office, a 1911 Train Engine displayed near the original location of the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad tracks, which became the Florida East Coast Railway. The Mayport East Coast Railway Depot circa 1900, the Oesterreicher-McCormick Cabin from 1873 and the Beaches Museum Chapel from 1886 are all located on the museum’s history park. There are several historical markers on the museum’s grounds:
- First Settlers At Ruby, Florida Marker: In 1883 construction of the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad begun to serve this undeveloped area. The track was narrow-gauge, running 16.54 miles from the south bank of the St. Johns River to the beach. The first settlers were William Edward Scull, a civil engineer and surveyor, and his wife Eleanor Kennedy Scull. The Sculls built the first house in the area in 1884. The settlement was named Ruby for their first daughter. On May 13, 1886 the town was renamed Pablo Beach. On June 15, 1925, the name was changed to Jacksonville Beach.
- Doolittle’s 1922 Record Flight Marker: Florida's mild climate made it attractive to aviation pioneers. This area, served as takeoff or terminal point for several early coast-to-coast flights, the first of which occurred in 1912 and required 115 days to reach Pablo Beach from Pasadena, California. On September 4, 1922, Army Lieutenant James H. ("Jimmy") Doolittle piloted a DeHavilland DH-4 biplane from Pablo Beach to San Diego in an elapsed time of 22 hours and 35 minutes. He made one stop during his flight for fuel, at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. Doolittle's feat established a new speed record and helped demonstrate the practicality of transcontinental flight.
- SS Gulf America Marker and Memorial
Location: Beach Boulevard and Second Street North, Jacksonville Beach
On a Friday night in 1942, Germany brought World War II to within eyesight of the bustling amusement parks and bars of Jacksonville Beach as a U-boat torpedoed a giant oil tanker, setting off an explosion that could be seen from St. Augustine to St. Marys, Ga., and perhaps even beyond. Nineteen of the 48 men on the SS Gulf America were killed. Some died in the initial explosion. Some died by drowning. Some died in the burning water around their ship. The wreck of the USS Gulf America is now a reef of our coast located at 60 feet of depth.
Source: Florida Times-Union
- The Jacksonville Beach Lifeguard Tower
Location: 2 Ocean Front N, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
In 1912, following the drowning of a prominent citizen, Dr. Lyman Haskell and Clarence MacDonald established and trained Florida’s first U.S. Volunteer Life Saving Corps (VLSC) at this location to protect the lives of bathers on Jacksonville Beach (then Pablo Beach). On April 17, 1914, the American National Red Cross chartered this unit of lifeguards as its first American Red Cross VLSC in the U.S., and the unit served as a training model for other beaches around Florida. The VLSC celebrated its 100th anniversary of uninterrupted volunteer service at this station in 2012 after recording more than 1,500 life-saving rescues and 1.3 million volunteer hours at the site. Since 1913, three permanent VLSC stations have stood here. The present station, constructed of concrete block and stucco in the Art Modern style, was designed by architect Jefferson D. Powell and completed in 1948. Among the traditions of the VLSC is the Annual Ocean Marathon Swim, which has been sponsored continuously by the Meninak Club of Jacksonville since 1934.
If you want a guided tour of the beach Go Tuk’n has a few ways to make that happen for you. Be sure to call and reserve your private tour in advance.