Jacksonville - Ponte Vedra Beach: Nature & Outdoor

Guana River Reserve

The reserve in entirety comprises a massive 73,352 acres of wetlands from the coast going inland, with St. Augustine in the middle. Within this, a 2,000-acre sanctuary (the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, or GTM) is a must-visit for all ages and interests. Whether for an educational day, an eco-adventure or simply a day of relaxing on a completely unspoiled beach – the GRR has options to last weeks and more. Outdoorsy highlights include hiking, fishing, four miles of protected, natural beach, and canoeing on Guana Lake (on the other side of the A1A from the beach). Trails span over ten miles, while beach-goers and boaters have four access points and two boat ramps to choose from. Cap the day off with a picnic!

3 facts about the GTM:

  • The GTM is as far north as you'll see mangroves on this coast of the U.S.
  • Sand dunes at the GTM measure up to 40 feet high - amongst Florida's tallest.
  • The right whale (an endangered species) visits here each year to give birth


Learn about the unique ecosystem of this part of Florida in a learning center that's part museum, part aquarium and will capture any number of interests. Exhibits present the area's natural history, while aquariums showcase just what's swimming out there in the ocean and estuaries. Also, get the chance to watch marine scientists at work in their labs.

  • Website: www.gtmnerr.org/index.html
  • Address: 505 Guana River Road, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082
  • Children: Check the website for kids' programs and to adopt a sea turtle nest
  • Pets: Prohibited on the beach, allowed on-leash elsewhere in the park
  • Keep in mind: Open daily except on state holidays


See page 162 for details on this upscale, outdoor mall – ideal for keeping teenage girls happy and adequately accessorized.

An easier (and cheaper) intro to the world of water-sports, buy a boogie board at any local beach shop (or Publix) & your kids' vacation is sorted. (Or see equipment rental details on page 143). You might want to grab one for yourself – it's fun!


If traveling with younger children, this is a great book to tuck away for vacation bed-time stories. Once Upon a Summertime by Marion "Muffet" Whatley Cowart recounts a young girl's experience growing up in 1930s Ponte Vedra - a very different place back then, with far more cows! Cowart recommends this book for "beach children of all ages". Buy your copy on Amazon in advance of your trip.


Medical treatment and research facility with over 40 specialties.

  • Address: 4500 San Pablo Road, Jacksonville, FL


This YMCA fitness center and swimming pool welcomes anyone with a YMCA membership from elsewhere.


Peruse local specialties or graze on an eclectic breakfast or lunch at this once-a-month farmers' market. Find the usual market offerings of local produce, handicrafts and home-made jam, with a tasty regional twist of St. Augustine crab cakes and pulled pork.

  • Website: www.nocatee.com
  • Address: 245 Little River Road, Ponte Vedra, FL 32081
  • Keep in mind: Every 3rd Saturday of the Month from 10 am - 2 p.m.