Jacksonville is a giant metropolitan area at the northern edge of Florida’s east coast. The Jacksonville area has much to offer for all types of vacations. To the north are Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, two quaint southern towns. To the east of the city proper is what residents call “The Beaches”: Mayport, Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, and, farther south, South Ponte Vedra Beach, North Beach and Vilano Beach. The city itself offers lively nightlife and lots to do. It’s not quite a college town, but with a median age of 33 years, Jacksonville has plenty of activities to be enjoyed by people of all ages.
Until very recently, Jacksonville was ignored by sport divers who felt the waters were too deep and dark to offer anything interesting to explore. The only divers were spear fishermen who reported diving in waters so thick with fish they called it “the sea of fish”. Once GPS became popular, dive charter boats began to explore the waters and discovered pristine reefs and ledges harboring thousands of fish. An active artificial reef program has placed many interesting wrecks on the bottom too. Because it has been nearly untouched for so many years, some divers consider Jacksonville the best area for sport divers seeking a “wild dive” experience.
Most of the reefs, ledges and wrecks are 10 or more miles offshore, so expect an hour boat ride to some spots. Depths generally range from 60-100 feet with visibility sometimes as good as 100 feet. Summer is the best time to find warm, calm waters, but the visibility can get low in August.
Divers in Jacksonville say the best part of diving in Jax is the huge amounts of marine life that can be observed on every dive. Silver masses of up to 40 pound cobia, kings, tarpon, amberjacks and barracuda swim by you as you descend. Wrecks are covered in clouds of baitfish and tiny tropicals hide inside colorful corals and sponges. Goliath Grouper up to 300 pounds have been spotted.
If you need a day or two on dry land, explore A1A (the Beach Highway) that runs from Amelia Island in the north to Historic St. Augustine in the south. There are plenty of shopping and attractions along the way. The Mayport Naval Station, one of the largest naval stations on the East coast, offers tours of the base and sometimes the ships in port.