If Jacksonville happens to be your first exposure to the Sunshine State, you might be thinking, “This isn’t exactly what I was expecting!” Yes, there are beautiful beaches, but you won’t be swimming in December. And yes, there are palm trees, but they are joined by miles of dense pine forests and coastal marshlands. In fact, it’s a challenge to make any generalizations about Jacksonville, at all, because with its 900 square miles (making it the largest U.S. city by land mass), there are innumerable distinct sections of the city, each boasting its own unique flavor.
Thankfully, this means that you can undoubtedly find a neighborhood fitting your own lifestyle and budget. When adding the adjoining communities of Amelia Island to the north, the Jacksonville Beaches to the east, and Nocatee and St. Augustine to the south, this greater Jacksonville metropolitan area also known as the First Coast abounds in history and culture. The name First Coast refers both to the first U.S. permanent European settlement of St. Augustine, as well as the region being the “first coast” one encounters when entering Florida from the north.
The Golden Crescent™ is the primary market served by Living Luxe magazine, that being the crescent-like shape formed when tracing north from Ponte Vedra Beach through the Jacksonville Beaches, and also south to Nocatee. Why golden? Because this region represents the greatest concentration of wealth and new luxury housing development in all of North Florida.
Ponte Vedra Beach
The premier beachfront community of the First Coast, Ponte Vedra Beach became a household name upon the first nationally televised broadcast of THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass, showing aerial views of the Vedrant golf links and sandy dunes of this elite seaside community. Indeed, if beautiful beaches, world-class golf and tennis, and a top-rated school system appeal to you, then Ponte Vedra Beach would be an ideal place to call “home.” Hosting some of the most prestigious golf course communities in the nation — including Sawgrass Country Club, Sawgrass Players Club, Marsh Landing Country Club and The Plantation at Ponte Vedra — Ponte Vedra Beach boasts year-round mild weather and exquisite residential communities.
Elegant shopping and fine dining also abound in this town, originally made famous by the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, the 5-star resort around which the community first developed. Ponte Vedra Beach is further served by the best public educational system in the entire state of Florida: the St. Johns County School District. Luxury housing includes everything from spectacular oceanfront estates to upscale condo living.
Ranked the “Best Place to Live in Florida” by Newsweek in 2020, this popular master-planned community consistently places as one of the nation’s best-selling developments, and for good cause: Nestled just inland from Ponte Vedra Beach, between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Nocatee offers a luxurious, convenient lifestyle where everything one could possibly want is just outside the front door.
Nocatee boasts an astounding selection of unique neighborhoods (more than 26!), each catering to every stage of life and lifestyle. And the housing options are just as diverse, featuring single-family homes, townhomes, multi-million dollar estates, and even gated senior lifestyle communities.
With its resort-style water parks and more than 5,000 acres of connected parks, protected wildlife corridors and wetland preserves, you’ll never tire of things to do. Visitors to Nocatee will observe residents tooling about by golf cart, bicycling along miles of trails, meeting neighbors at its innumerable dog parks, and shopping and dining at the burgeoning Nocatee Town Center.
The Jacksonville Beaches
Jacksonville Beach Immediately north of Ponte Vedra Beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast, Jacksonville Beach is a laid-back beachfront community offering miles of coastline, a newly designed public golf course and a 1,300-foot-long fishing pier from which to cast a line or watch dolphins rolling in the waves. With an active nightlife scene and countless oceanfront restaurants and bars, it’s no surprise that “Jax Beach” attracts both families and singles seeking that casual beach lifestyle. Its oceanfront offers primarily condo living intermixed with hotels, single-family homes and high-rise condos.
Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach And heading north from Jax Beach you’ll enter Neptune Beach and then Atlantic Beach, both spirited seaside towns with a lively local arts scene and a bevy of shopping and dining options, many found at Beaches Town Center — the charming outdoor retail district situated at the intersection of both towns. These adjoining cities exude small-town charm and offer a variety of housing from stylish condominiums to an eclectic mix of Cape Cod-style oceanfront homes and smaller bungalows. The Atlantic Beach Country Club is a luxury 18-hole championship golf course community serving the area.
Travel just 26 miles south along the Atlantic coast from Ponte Vedra Beach, and you’ll find yourself in historic St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. Downtown St. Augustine and the Uptown San Marco area both include countless museums, boutiques and restaurants — many with stunning waterfront views. Constantly abuzz with festivals and events, this is the most “touristy” section of the city. Along the coastline, adjacent to this historic district, is a barrier island called Anastasia Island which is connected to the mainland by three main bridges, one being the oft-photographed Bridge of Lions. St. Augustine itself is home to just about 15,000 year-round residents but welcomes more than six million tourists each year. Residential real estate ranges from waterfront estates to coastal cottages, condominiums and single-family homes. Also of note is the World Golf Village resort community just north of St. Augustine, best known for its World Golf Hall of Fame.
Immediately south of the Georgia state border, Amelia Island is part of the Sea Islands chain of barrier islands on Florida’s Atlantic coast and is considered the northern-most part of our “First Coast” market. Abounding in culture given its 500-year history of Spanish, French, British and American rule, Amelia Island today is a popular travel destination known for its luxury resorts, upscale shopping, golf courses and sandy beaches.
However, Amelia isn’t just for tourists. Conveniently located 30 minutes north of Jacksonville International Airport, Amelia Island is a scenic hop, skip and a jump from the Jacksonville metropolis, yet offers all the benefits of living on a resort island. From spacious oceanfront villas to private estates within gated communities lined by 100-year live oaks, to preserved historic homes, there’s no shortage of luxury real estate options to capture one’s imagination.
San Marco and San Jose South of Downtown Jacksonville, along the east bank of the St. Johns River, lies San Marco, named for the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. One of Jacksonville’s famed historic districts, San Marco is a melting pot of architectural styles ranging from riverfront estates to quaint bungalows and brick condominiums. Central to the district is San Marco Square with its fountain of lions, local art galleries and boutiques, plus some of the city’s best dining. Just south is San Jose, where American industrialist Alfred I. duPont built his expansive 15,000-square-foot summer home, Epping Forest, in the mid-1920s. Surrounded by the more traditional-styled homes for which San Jose is known, the grand estate has since been converted to a yacht club on the St. Johns River.
Riverside and Avondale The sister communities of Riverside and Avondale wind along the west bank of the St. Johns River and comprise the largest National Historic District in the United States. Featuring impressive historic homes and waterfront mansions, these are two of Jacksonville’s most pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and include two of the city’s best parks — Memorial Park and Riverside Park. The historic Five Points shopping district and The Shoppes of Avondale provide countless shopping and dining opportunities.
Ortega Just south of Riverside/Avondale is the charming peninsula community of Ortega, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in all of Jacksonville, if not North Florida. Many residents are members of the prestigious Florida Yacht Club or Timuquana Country Club and enjoy boating and sailing given the easy access to water. Predominantly residential, the community is graced with massive oaks and manicured parks and is widely considered one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of Northeast Florida.
Luxury Real Estate
Once choosing your ideal neighborhood and home, the prospect of perhaps custom building, or at a minimum, decorating, your new abode likely looms large. Why not make the First Coast truly your coast with a home and decor befitting your new life? Living Luxe has you covered, with articles you can read here featuring topics on residential architectural design post-COVID, how to get that coastal decor feel, and the latest interior design trends such as maximalism and cottagecore.
Consider yourself a wine enthusiast? Learn how to dedicate a wine room to your passion, and expand your knowledge about the special considerations necessary for Florida’s First Coast.
Get inspired with our tips for spa-worthy bathroom design and ways to beautify your boudoir. And when the holidays roll around, find holiday home decor ideas here. We also explore what types of plants will grow and flourish at your new home, and share some surprising news that certain types of cacti can even thrive in our Northern Florida climate!
Our temperate Florida weather provides the perfect opportunity to seamlessly meld indoor and outdoor living. And, not surprisingly, luxury pools are a big part of creating your own serene outdoor oasis. Speaking of the outdoors, you’ll be intrigued to learn of the varied type of bird wildlife that makes Northeast Florida home, from colorful painted buntings to breathtaking bluebirds.