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Sweet Pete's

by Alina Kodatt
As far as local beaches go, I’m a Jacksonville Beach girl. My husband, daughter and I regularly load up our towels, chairs and change of clothes, make our way down JTB and swing left on A1A. In short, the normal routine includes wave riding at the 16th Street beach access followed by bacon calzones at Cabo’s Island Pizza. Invariably, we drive home sandy, sun-kissed and totally refreshed.
As you can see, it’s a very good routine, and I never had any intentions of cheating on it. Honest, I didn’t. When my friend Miranda called a few weeks ago and invited Karis and I to go beaching at Huguenot Park (Miranda’s favorite), I hesitated for a moment, unsure if I could be disloyal to my beach. But with the thermometer steadily rising and visions of cool ocean water, I said yes. I dusted off the beach gear, suited up, lathered on the sunscreen and waited by the door for Miranda to pick us up.
We drove down the long stretch of Heckscher Drive, chatting away as the kids giggled in the back and broke their brand new sunglasses (ahem). Over many small bridges we drove, past the ferry entrance, and beyond a half dozen roadside stands advertising “Boiled peanuts” in large, black letters painted haphazardly on plywood. We ignored their salty call and pressed on until we saw the smallish park sign on the side of the road. Three dollars later, we were inside the park, creeping along the sandy roads until we reached the entrance to the beach. Much to my surprise, Miranda kept on driving right past the sign and onto the sand. Everyone parks on the sand at Huguenot, and I decided that beachfront driving is not only super convenient (unloading is a cinch), but it fulfills some latent Baywatch, beach-driving fantasy I never knew existed within me.
Feeling instantly more awesome, we unloaded some of our things, keeping the van doors open to keep it cool. Miranda’s boys were antsy to explore the beach beyond the jetties, so Karis and I followed them to the other side of the rocks where the St. Johns River opens up into the Atlantic. We were alone, nobody else around as the heat of the morning sun radiated off the sand. The water was more calm on this side, the current deflected by the jetties. We waded into the cool, calm waters as a few military aircraft buzzed above Mayport just across the river.
The kids played in little water puddles pooling at the base of the rock pile. A few tiny crabs crawled out from their homes, making for an impromptu science lesson. When their curiosity subsided, the kids dove into the busy ocean. With surfers in the distance, we jumped the waves and laughed as the spray hit our faces.
The rumble in our stomachs eventually became unbearable, so we tossed a blanket on the sand, munched on deli sandwiches and downed slices of cold watermelon. Wide-eyed and smiling, we stared as a massive shipping vessel drifted into the mouth of the river, looming and bigger than any cruise ship I’d ever seen. I felt so tiny in comparison to the ship, sky, sand and water all around us.
Much to my surprise, I was enjoying myself, this beach and the change in scenery. This place seemed quintessential Jacksonville in its fusion of beach, riverfront, military and shipping habitat. It was interesting, and quite unlike typical (often predictable) beach experiences further down the coast. I wasn’t sure what was happening to my beach loyalty at that moment, but I suspect that if somebody handed me a steaming hot bacon calzone at that moment, I might have been willing to swear off Jacksonville Beach altogether.