What to Do When You Visit Jacksonville: Surf Lessons! VIDEO #Visit_Jax

by Desiree Miller on August 10, 2017

jax beach surf lessons

When you think of Jacksonville, Florida, what first comes to mind? Maybe the Jaguars NFL team, the Florida-Georgia college football game played there each year, or is it the beach that kicks off the rest of the coastline of the Sunshine State?

For me, it will now eternally conjure up memories of surfing lessons with my daughter, a funky, renovated motor coach inn, and bike rides on the beach.

While on a recent ‘lobsters and lighthouses’ road trip down the coast with my daughter, my friend, and her daughters, we made the Jacksonville area our first overnight stop.

Amelia Island Lighthouse

We popped in at the Amelia Island lighthouse, but our timing was off to see much of it. It turns out that the oldest existing lighthouse in Florida is tucked away in a little corner of a neighborhood of Amelia Island, and is only open to the public for a few hours each Saturday, or as part of a tour every other Wednesday. The 68 foot light was built in 1838 and is the only light from the Territorial Period that has survived without major rebuilding. Yes, that means the light was shining before Florida was even a state! We could only see it through a chain-link fence, so we didn’t get a great view, though we did see it better as we left the neighborhood for the nearby beach.

About an hour later, we made our way down to Atlantic Beach and our home for the night, the Hotel Palms (video above). From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but once you step foot inside its swinging gate, you’re met with a modern, beachside motor court hotel. It’s about three blocks from the ocean and within walking distance to the shops and restaurants of Beaches Town Center, a beachside community in the heart of Atlantic and Neptune Beach.

hotel palms room chimney

The boutique hotel has been renovated with care, using reclaimed wood headboards, palm trees, concrete floors, and uncluttered design touches that you’ll want to duplicate in your own home. There were five of us and we were hosted in two rooms…one with two queen beds and another with a set of bunk beds. Each room had its own bathroom. There’s a fireplace outside for everyone to gather around and a couple of beach cruiser bicycles you can borrow for a trip down to the shore. That little touch made all the difference for us in our stay, and we used the bikes both at night and the next morning, to catch the sunrise.

hotel palms room

hotel palms bunks

hotel palms other part of room

fire pit

bike ride on beach

After watching the sun rise we geared up for our swim lessons over at Jax Surf and Paddle, just a couple blocks from Hotel Palms. We had no idea how much fun we’d have when we pulled up for class.

lessons on shore

When we first met Walker and Amelia, our surf instructors, it was hard not to be intimidated. Both 20-something and super fit, I wondered whether I needed to be in their shape to learn to surf. They reassured me that I’d be fine, and they were right.

We were each given boards, shown how to pop them up on and balance them on our heads, and then headed down to the sand.

Amelia guided us through all the how-to’s, had us give it a try on the sand, and then sent us out into the water.

About an hour after we started lessons, I was on my board with Walker at my back, demanding, “Paddle, paddle, paddle!! And go…”

I caught my wave just as my daughter caught hers, and as we both stood on our boards, our eyes met in sheer glee, laughing at the fact that we were surfing together. My 12-year old and I were riding a wave into shore. Then, mom-mode took over and I realized I didn’t have the first clue on how to control my board to keep from colliding into hers, so I threw myself down into the water, board attached at the ankle. But there was no wiping that grin off my face after that quick thrill.

We rode wave after wave after wave that day, in the surf of the Atlantic Ocean (this region is ideal for gentle waves, making it perfect for beginners). We enjoyed it so much that we even bought our own board to come back and surf again some day (video below of our day on the water)!

des surfboard on head

We checked out of Hotel Palms and headed down to St. Augustine after that. We climbed the lighthouse there and were rewarded with stunning views of the nation’s oldest city. Bonus: there’s a nice, cool breeze at the top. This light was built in 1874 and is 164 feet tall. That translates to 219 steps, in case you’re counting.

St. Augustine lighthouse

We continued with our road trip down the coast after this, but will forever remember our trip to Visit Jacksonville as one that filled our hearts with memories that we know will last a lifetime, though we’re eager to go back and make more.

lobsters lighthouse sand toes

(Note to readers: The Visit Jacksonville CVB arranged our visit, including hotel stay and surfing lessons. I was not otherwise compensated for this review, and as always, my opinion remains my own.)

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