The First Coast doesn’t lack for food and drink with a view, specifically a water view. Here’s a rundown of a few of the places you can find with varying water vistas.
For a view of the St. Johns River and Downtown Jacksonville, there are two places you might try: the River City Brewing Company (835 Museum Cir, Jacksonville, 398-2299) and Charthouse (1501 Riverplace Blvd, Jacksonville, 398-3353). If you go to the Charthouse for the view, it’s a good idea to come during happy hour for bar snacks. Prices are exceptionally high on their dinner menu. River City Brewing Company is more casual and less pricey, plus they brew their own beer onsite. We recommend ordering their Red Rooster Ale to go with your meal!
Out in Mayport, the two places you ought to seek for views are Singleton’s Seafood Shack 4728 Ocean St, Jacksonville, 246-4442) and Safe Harbor (4371 Ocean St, Atlantic Beach, 247-0255). Both are on the St. Johns River, just before it spills out into the ocean. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see a shrimp trawler hauling in that precious Mayport shrimp. Fare at both places isn’t upscale, but it is delish, plus, Safe Harbor has a seafood market onsite, so you can pick up some fresh seafood to cook at home. All the fried ocean things are good, but those shrimp nachos are phenomenal.
Take the ferry across and you’ll find Palms Fish Camp Restaurant (6359 Heckscher Drive, 240-1672). Grab a table on their outdoor patio for supreme sunset watching. Come by boat or car, stay for the live music and fried alligator ribs.
When it comes to a beach view, the main problem is dunes. There are places (which shall remain nameless) located right on the beach, that talk about beachside dining, but where you never shall see a single sliver of the ocean from your seat. The best Jacksonville Beach ocean-view, as far as I’m concerned, has to be at the Casa Marina Inn (691 1st St, Jacksonville Beach, 270-0025) with their elevated lounge overlooking Jacksonville Beach. Order appetizers whilst you imbibe an excellently crafted cocktail. The deck outdoors can get crowded around sunset, because that’s when and where the view is spectacular.
Every tourist visiting our beaches should have at least one drink at The Lemon Bar (2 Lemon St, Neptune Beach, 372-0487), if they’re looking for a view and fruity drinks. At this slightly hidden gem, drinks are tropical and refreshing, and the food consists of bar bites. It’s long been a local favorite, tucked away behind brightly-painted Seahorse Inn, a wonderful place to stay for the view as well.
On the Roscoe Boulevard corridor in Ponte Vedra, there are many waterfront dining options featuring the Intracoastal Waterway. At times, it’s just a narrow band of water, one shore strewn with driftwood and Florida scrub, the other with the docks of multi million dollar houses and restaurants. A parade of boats and yachts go by, scaring away the occasional egret. If you don’t get out to Ponte Vedra often, Valley Smoke (11 S Roscoe Blvd, Ponte Vedra, 285-3235) is most likely new to you, as it’s a little less than two years old, owned by the Groshells, who know what they’re about as far as the restaurant biz goes (they’re behind places such as Marker 32, Palm Valley Fish Camp and more). While most places along the waterfront tend to showcase seafood or have a neighborhood bar vibe, this place is all about barbecue. And bourbon. They’ve even got a delightful little bourbon nook, with an impressive collection of bourbon bottles (many of them rare enough not to be for sale). Big picture windows in their two main dining areas give you a view of the Intracoastal without the devastatingly moist heat of Florida, and outdoors they have a tiny one-hole putting green.
A little further down you’ll find Barbra Jean’s (15 S Roscoe Blvd, Ponte Vedra, 280-7522) where the theme is Southern and seafood, and you can order anything from fried chicken to the crabcakes or their beloved shrimp fritters. The food mostly isn’t modern, but they’ve got old-school charm.
For super casual family-oriented fried seafood seafood eating, you’ll want to try the neighborhood fixture and bar Lulu’s Waterfront Grille (301 Roscoe Boulevard N, Ponte Vedra, 285-0139)
Right next door is the decidedly more upscale Palm Valley Fish Camp (299 N Roscoe Blvd, Ponte Vedra, 285-3200). It’s one of those places that’s a fish camp in concept rather than practice (like its sister restaurants, North Beach Fish Camp, and Julington Creek Fish Camp). Food, service, and atmosphere are excellent, but it’s more a fish-camp-inspired-and-made-upscale restaurant than it is a genuine fish camp experience.
Speaking of fish camps, we do have some of those genuine experiences here in North Florida. The real deal is an eatery that started out as a place where boats refueled and people got sandwiches. There must be a dock on the property that leads to actual water. The two orignal that come to mind, as the genuine article are: Whitey’s (2032 County Rd 220, Fleming Island, 269-4198) and Clark’s (12903 Hood Landing Rd, Jacksonville, 268-3474). The food you’ll find at both will be mostly deep fried and bar fare, though Clark’s has some exotics on the menu (kangaroo, snake, excellent frog legs). Mainly you’re taking folks there for the atmosphere and the gator tail. Whitey’s still sells bait, boat rentals and they have an RV camp onsite, with the the best evening entertainment of the the two. Clark’s is the wackier of the two, with taxidermied deer, big cats and more, peering out from every corner of the room. We recommend going during the day to either Clark’s or Whitey’s for the water view, but both are open for dinner.
Lots of Jaxons day trip up to St. Augustine on the weekends, so knowing where the best views and the best food coincides is paramount. The Conch House Restaurant (57 Comares Ave, St. Augustine, 829-8646) has a touristy tiki vibe, but a solid Carribean-inspired menu and view of the Salt Run. At low tide you can see the broken oyster beds, small crabs scrabbling about, and water birds going about their business from elevated tables with palm thatched roofs. For an even more unusual view, head out on the docks to the separate Conch House Lounge, which features a metal grate in the floor, giving you a top-down view of the oyster-encrusted dock posts and the water beneath. A frequent St. Augustine favorite is Cap’s on the Water (4325 Myrtle St, St. Augustine, 824-8794), where you’ll come for the view and stay for the oyster bar. The Reef Restaurant (4100 Coastal Hwy, St. Augustine, 824-8008) is just a few miles away in Vilano Beach, a great place for either an old-fashioned white table cloth experience or a Sunday brunch. On St. Augustine Beach, The Beachcomber (2 A St, St. Augustine, 471-3744) is a place where the dunes are a feature, not a bug. The restaurant abuts the pretty dunes and are used to define the space of an outdoor lounge. While the place does get tourists, it’s a very casual local haunt as well, and has been open since the 1940s. If you just want drinks, slip into the Tini Martini Bar (24 Avenida Menendez, St. Augustine, 829-6099) inside the Casablanca Inn. The view here gives you the streetscape of historic downtown St. Augustine, the fort, plus a bit of the Matanzas River. They only serve martinis, but they do make your drink and give you the shaker, so it’s well worth it for booze hounds or anyone who just likes getting their money’s worth when it comes to alcohol.