Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida’s Romantic Hideaway

What images come to mind when you think of Florida? Alligators? Hip-swinging dancers? Disney characters? What if I told you that a 50-minute drive from the city of Jacksonville is a dreamy place with miles of pristine beach and a 1920s boutique hotel with a rooftop terrace and an endless starry sky. As a guest of Casa Marina Hotel & Restaurant, I discovered that Jacksonville Beach is one of Florida’s romantic hidden gems.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

The rooftop lounge is the place to take in the view with a cocktail.

It's mid afternoon, and a friend and I are enjoying drinks and tapas on the rooftop of the Casa Marina Hotel & Restaurant. From our perch, we can see for miles up and down Jacksonville Beach.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

The Jacksonville Beach Pier is almost a quarter mile long.

Earlier in the day, sky gazers dotted its white sand as the U.S. Navy Blue Angels practiced their weaves and curves over the Atlantic Ocean. Now, as late afternoon slips into the balmy evening, the beach is almost empty and slowly turning from white to pinkish, to blue.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

In 2005, the hotel was recognized as one of the Historic Hotels of America.

A Hotel on the World's Finest Beach

Casa Marina Hotel makes quite a first impression with its Spanish-Mediterranean architecture that speaks of a by-gone era of glamor and gangsters. Both were part of Jacksonville Beach's roaring 1920s past, and the celebrity guests rumored to have stayed at the 60-room hotel include Jean Harlow, Al Capone, and John D. Rockefeller. During WWII, the hotel was used for military housing, and after a few decades, it closed its doors.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

Guests can walk from the hotel right to the 22 miles of beach.

In 1991, the hotel reopened, and today, it offers 23 bedrooms and parlor suites (six have direct ocean views) with individually appointed antique furniture and decor inspired by various eras.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

Room decor highlights different hotel eras.

We stayed in a second-floor two-room parlor suite with a partial beach view, wood floors, soothing green walls, floral and palm pictures and wood furnishings. The bedroom featured a queen bed with leopard patterned bedding, and the sitting room a cozy queen hide-away bed.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

The two-room parlor suites offer more living space and a hideaway bed.

Shared amenities included a bathroom with traditional fixtures, and an additional sink and mirror.  The hotel's bedrooms also display similar Old World charms, and all rooms have televisions, coffee makers, and refrigerators. A complimentary continental breakfast  is set up in the lobby that includes pastries, yogurts, and two hot items.

Jacksonville Beach by Bike

We arrived before check-in and decide to tour Jacksonville Beach by bike.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

You can bike on the beach in Jacksonville Beach

We brought our own, but during the season, Beach Life Rentals sets up in front of the hotel and in the off season they offer free delivery. They rent beach cruisers, surfboards, SUPs, kayaks, chairs, and beach umbrellas and give hotel guests a 10% discount.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

Beach Life Rentals rents beach gear and gives Casa Marina Hotel a 10% discount. Photo courtesy of Beach Life Rentals.

A four-minute ride away is Beaches Museum and History Park. The museum has a permanent exhibit that focuses on local community history, and a rotating exhibit, which might cover a range of topics such as local artists, neighboring beachfront communities, and military life. Admission is free and also includes access to the History Park, which is a collection of historical structures like the 1900 Mayport East Coast Railway Depot, the 1887 Beach Museum Chapel, 1903 Pablo Beach Post Office, and a 25-ton steam train built in 1911.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

St. Paul's By-the-Sea is one of the oldest buildings in the area.

We take our time cruising back to the hotel and pass notable landmarks like the seventy-year-old American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps building, a historical marker for the SS Gulfamerica which was attacked by a German U-boat off the Jacksonville Beach coast, and Jacksonville Pier, which was closed due to the recent hurricane.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

The American Red Cross building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A Reward on the Rooftop

At the rooftop bar, we indulge in happy hour with wine ($3) and a strawberry tequila drink named You and Tequila ($6). We also order a selection of tapas like pulled pork sliders ($2), blue cheese chips ($2), and a spicy shrimp sauté with fruit salsa ($4). With a prime view of the beach front, we drink and eat slowly, taking in the sounds of the birds and the shifting colors of the sky. Nothing about Jax Beach, as the locals call it, says hurry.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

Enjoy happy hour on the Rooftop Bar

Guests of the rooftop have the option to dine outside with endless beach views or inside at the contemporary bar with lounge seating. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and they also have late night specials and a lighter fare dinner menu with items such as crab cakes, shrimp and grits. On Sunday, they host a popular brunch buffet in the first-floor dining room.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

Sunset is the perfect time for romantic walks on the beach.

Bike Ride to a Brewery

Zeta Brewing Company hosts us for dinner. To get there we ride our bikes on the beach (yes, on the beach!), passing lovers walking hand in hand and wishing our paramours were with us on this tropical Florida night.

Escape to Jacksonville Beach: Florida's Romantic Hideaway

Zeta Brewing Company

We order a beer sampler, a classic Caprese salad ($8), a taco trio ($10), and for dessert strawberry shortcake and monkey bread with caramel, cinnamon, and walnuts ($6). We linger here too, enjoying the food and drink, conversation, and beach life vibe.

When we return to the Casa Marina Hotel it's draped in moonlight and above us is the soft glow of twinkling stars. As we make our way through the hallways and stop to gaze at the historical pictures on the walls of the eras past, I can almost hear the sounds of its past life—cooing lovers, conspiring gangsters, and frolicking partygoers mingling with the crash of the waves.

For more information on the hotel, visit Casa Marina Hotel & Restaurant and for more information on the area, check out City of Jacksonville Beach and Visit Jacksonville. If you're looking for something fun to do in the area, and up for a short car ride, be sure to see what's on the schedule so you can enjoy Jacksonville Broadway at Thrasher Horne. You will discover that an escape to Jacksonville Beach leads to Florida's romantic hideaway.


Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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Written by Lara Dunning

Lara Dunning lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest and freelances for a variety of travel magazines. Her work can be found at Experience Anacortes, Bainbridge Island Magazine, Northwest Travel & Life Magazine, RealFoodTraveler.com, WaggonerGuide.com and Whidbey Camano Islands. She also owns the travel site Small Town Washington & Beyond (http://smalltownwashington.com/), where she shares her passion for small town travel. Lara has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, writes young adult novels, nonfiction essays, and likes to hike with Hazel, her Australian Cattle Dog.

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15 Comments

  1. Viki

    If I make it back to the states this is on my list!

  2. Jenn

    Wooo my kind of trip! Happy hour, breweries, lots of yummy food… The beach looks divine, also. It’s been so rainy where I am that the beach is NOT happening any time soon. I’d love to check this spot out right now. 🙂

  3. Travellingdany

    We missed this beach on our first Florida trip! This time I’ve noted it down so I won’t miss it again, it looks breathtaking and very romantic!

  4. Clare

    This place looks stunning and like a place I would love to visit. It looks so quirky and in a great location. The beach looks amazing too. Next time I am in florida I will be there 🙂

  5. Bethanny Sudibyo

    Jacksonville looks really nice. I love a good beach! I’ve never been there, but I would really love to one day!

  6. Skye

    What a great spot. I’ve been to Miami but it was so much more hectic than Jacksonville. It really seems like the perfect weekend getaway spot. Love that you can grab bikes and explore and stop off for cocktails. Sounds like the perfect activity.

  7. Eemma

    It looks like such a quaint town! Which is hard to find in Florida! Looks beautiful!

  8. Carmen's Luxury Travel

    You had me at cocktails on the rooftop lounge! This is a beautiful part of Florida. Great photos, thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. Lara Dunning

    Viki, You’ll love it!

  10. Lara Dunning

    Jenn, I hope you get to visit soon. Where I live in Washington we’ve been having the snowy/rainy blues so those warm weather places with lots of sunshine are so appealing.

  11. Lara Dunning

    Dany, I hope you get to go back to Florida and check out Jaxs Beach. There are lots of interesting small towns along the coast there too.

  12. Lara Dunning

    Clare, The location is fantastic and with 22-miles of sandy beach, how can you go wrong? I like too, that it is within an hour of the airport, which makes a trip there much easier.

  13. Lara Dunning

    Bethanny, I hope you get to visit soon! Thanks so much for commenting!

  14. Lara Dunning

    Skye, I haven’t been to Miami yet, but with so many people living there, I’m sure it is more hectic. Being able to ride bikes all through town make it such a pleasure to explore and dine in Jacksonville Beach .

  15. Lara Dunning

    Eemma, Thanks so much for commenting. Visiting Jaxs Beach made me want to go back and do more exploring of small Florida towns.

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