Hitting the Beach

You can fish, swim, snorkel, sail, sunbathe, or stroll on the sand dunes -- at least from March to November, as winter can get downright chilly here. All of these activities are just a 20- to 30-minute drive east of downtown at Jacksonville's four beach communities.

Atlantic Boulevard (Fla. 10) will take you to Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach. The boulevard divides the two towns, and where it meets the ocean, you'll come to Town Center, a quaint community with shops, restaurants, pubs, and a few inns.

Beach Boulevard (U.S. 90) dead-ends at Jacksonville Beach, where you'll find beach concessions, rental shops, and a fishing pier. This is also the most popular local surfing beach.

To the south, J. Turner Butler Boulevard (Fla. 202) leads from I-95 to the boundary between Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach. A right turn there will take you to Ponte Vedra Beach (pronounced here as Pon-ti Vee-dra). This ritzy, golf-oriented enclave is actually in St. Johns County (St. Augustine), but it's so much closer to Jacksonville that it's included in this section.

Outdoor Activities

Cruises -- Jacksonville River Cruises (tel. 904/396-2333; www.jaxrivercruises.com) operates sightseeing, dinner, and dancing cruises on the stern-wheel paddleboats, the Lady St. Johns and the Annabelle Lee. They usually dock at 1501 Riverplace Blvd. Cost is $40 to $45 and includes a meal; schedules vary greatly by season, so call ahead or check the website.

Fishing -- The least expensive way to fish for red snapper, grouper, sea bass, small sharks, amberjack, and more, 15 to 30 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, is aboard the Majesty, a modern, 65-foot, air-conditioned deep-sea party boat that has a galley offering hot meals. The full- day trips depart at 7:30am daily from Monty's Marina, 4378 Ocean St. (A1A), a half-mile south of the Mayport Ferry landing (tel. 904/246-7575; www.kingneptunefishing.com); they return at 4:30pm. The price is $75 per adult, $65 per child 6 to 14, including bait and tackle. Those who just want to sunbathe and watch the anglers pay $30. You don't need a license, but reservations are required.

Golf -- The Jacksonville area has a great variety of golf courses, some of which are ranked among the top in the country. In Ponte Vedra Beach, the Sawgrass Marriott Resort sits on the most famous course, the Players Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass ★★★, home of the Players Championship in March. Ranked among the nation's top courses, its island hole is one of the most photographed in the world. Nearby are the Ocean and Lagoon courses at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.

Top courses open to the public include the Golf Club of Jacksonville, 10440 Tournament Lane (tel. 904/779-0800; www.golfbentcreek.com), which is managed by the PGA Tour. It's a great bargain, with greens fees between $27 and $49. The semiprivate Cimarrone, 2690 Cimarrone Blvd. (tel. 904/287-2000; www.cimarronegolf.com), is a fast and watery course with greens fees ranging from $33 to $65. But the best public course in the city, hands down, is the 18-hole Mill Cove course at the Mill Cove Golf Club, 1700 Monument Rd. (tel. 904/642-6140; www.millcovegolfcourse.com), which features a newly renovated par-71, 6,671-yard course with a slope rating of 129, designed by Arnold Palmer. Rates are exceptionally affordable at $25 to $45.

Be on the lookout for the free Golfer's Guide in visitor centers and hotel lobbies.

For course information, go to www.golf.com or www.floridagolfing.com; or call the Florida Sports Foundation (tel. 850/488-8347) or Florida Golfing (tel. 866/833-2663).

Horseback Riding -- For lessons or a scenic ride along the dunes or through Jennings State Forest, try Diamond D Ranch, located 3 miles West of Cecil Commerce Center and the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, off Normandy Boulevard (tel. 904/289-9331; www.diamonddranchinc.com). Call for rates and reservations.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.