Distill the pleasure of Florida dining into a single experience, and here’s what it comes down to: enjoying a meal of locally caught seafood served up with water views. And Jacksonville’s many waterways — from the St. Johns River and Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean itself — offer that experience in spades.
But there’s something particularly lovely about Jacksonville waterfront restaurants where you can arrive by both land and sea. Even if you don’t roll up in your own boat, you can still ogle the watercraft bobbing nearby. Follow the lead to these restaurants for Jacksonville’s most delicious dockside dining.
Boaters flood in for weekend feasts at this atmospheric fish camp in Jacksonville’s Northside neighborhood that fronts Clapboard Creek, a waterway off the St. Johns River. Shrimp boats docked nearby are the source of all the menu’s shrimp dishes. And you can even bring your own filleted fresh catch to have it prepared for you onsite and served up with southern sides.
Sunsets here are syrupy, and that’s the best time to snag a waterfront table on the rear deck where you’ll be surrounded by gently blowing sawgrass and views of the unspoiled coastal wetlands of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve.
The parking lot gets packed, and the lines often snake out the door at this rustic seafood market and dockside restaurant in the historic shrimping village of Mayport. But it’s worth the wait for some of the freshest seafood in the state.
In Safe Harbor’s market area, the on-ice offerings include everything from shrimp delivered straight to Safe Harbor’s docks daily to locally caught mahi-mahi, Gulf oysters and Cedar Key clams.
The great little restaurant on the water side of the building has views of the shrimping fleet and serves up fresh-catch sandwiches, oyster po’boys, Mayport shrimp baskets, clam strips, seafood gumbo, smoked fish dip and an extra helping of good vibes.
Boat traffic likely won’t be the only passing entertainment while you dine dockside at this sweet little spot along the Intracoastal Waterway in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Dolphins are frequent visitors to Lulu’s Waterfront Grille, a casual spot where you can fork into everything from linguine studded with Cedar Key clams to fried oysters, Mayport shrimp, crab cakes, fish tacos and even huevos rancheros. The daily happy hour, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., aligns nicely with sunset.
Overlooking several marinas on Julington Creek in the Jacksonville suburb of Mandarin, the Julington Creek Fish Camp is a perfect pick for a special meal out. Helmed by the same owners as Palms Fish Camp Restaurant, this place takes things up a notch on the elegance scale with a gracious outdoor patio overlooking the boats and an upscale atmosphere.
The menu features contemporary takes on classic Southern dishes and includes such treats as the blackened mahi with collards and grits; Low Country boils with andouille sausage, clams and shrimp; and classic fried-seafood platters. Even if you just pop by midday for a glass of rose and an appetizer of spicy pimento cheese, you’ll feel transported.
Right across from the Jacksonville Landing, on the south bank of the St. Johns River, the River City Brewing Company is another dockside delight. While you eat, admire yachts docked at the River City Marina — the slips are right in front of the restaurant, with courtesy dockage if you’re dining.
The reasonably priced Sunday brunch buffet draws crowds for bottomless mimosas and bloody marys as well as carving, omelete and waffle stations. And the Brew House menu skews Southern, with dishes like crab fondue, fried green tomatoes, jambalaya and the like — all of which pair beautifully with the craft beers brewed onsite.