Enjoy Laid Back Luxury and Natural Beauty in Ponte Vedra


by Debbie Stone


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Debbie Stone talks about her experiences in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Listen here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Spreaker, PodBean, or SoundCloud.

I thought I had good eyes until I went shark tooth hunting on a beach in Ponte Vedra, Florida. I didn’t realize that these teeth are very tiny and blend in well with shells. They are black and shiny and usually triangular in shape, but that fits the description for so much of the beach matter that is mixed in the coquina sand of the area. This type of sand is comprised of crushed shells and crunches when you walk on it. The effect is akin to having microdermabrasion for the feet, an added bonus to this ultimate scavenger hunt.

My mentor for the activity was Barbara Golden from St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau. Barbara has hunter’s blood in her DNA, as her great-grandfather was a gold miner in Alaska. She’s been searching for treasures along the Florida coastline for many years and has become very successful in this pursuit.

The best time to look for shark teeth, according to Barbara, is at low tide. To assist in the hunt, she uses a strainer-type gadget, which helps to separate the shell matter and make it easier to spot the teeth. She cautions that there are lots of imposters, particularly turtle shell pieces.

At the get-go, Barbara started finding teeth. I, on the other hand, found plenty of imposters. It was a lesson in patience. Finally, after many false attempts, I brought what I thought was a tooth to Barbara and she said, “yes!” After that, I had more faith in my vision capabilities and was able to spy the teeth more easily. I amassed a small collection of teeth that might actually be suitable for a bracelet.

Hunting for shark teeth is just one of the many experiences you can have in Ponte Vedra. This northeast Florida coastal jewel, situated between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, has much to offer visitors, from miles of unobstructed beaches and pristine habitat areas to legendary golf, upscale dining, relaxing spa experiences, and recreation and upscale accommodations. And let’s not forget the warm, sunny climate.

I’m all about the outdoors and was thrilled to discover this destination. The beaches are sublime and even when there are lots of people, there’s ample space to spread out. I particularly enjoyed North Beach. At the entrance to the parking lot is a life-size, bronze statue of Ponce de Leon, who in 1513 sighted land at this very spot. There are also interpretive panels describing the explorer’s journey at a dune overlook platform nearby.

Additional Ponce-related sites can be found in nearby, historic St. Augustine, where you can visit the Fountain of Youth at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Maybe the healing waters will magically restore your youthful appearance. I’m still waiting for that to happen!

If you’re interested in wildlife, head to Bird Island. This waterfront park showcases the ecosystems and native flora and fauna of the area. It has interactive art sculptures, water features, a boardwalk, and charming gazebos. Though small, it’s packed with wildlife. I saw numerous birds and turtles swimming around the pond.

The Environmental Education Center at GTM will also appeal to nature lovers. The interactive displays and aquariums allow visitors to get an up-close view of baby alligators, snakes, and turtles. Despite being just babies, the alligators still creeped me out – their cold stare, jagged, sharp teeth…

GTM has over 70,000 protected acres of tidal lagoons, dunes, and forests, and is an ideal place to kayak. Which leads me to my evening kayak experience on Guana Lake, to witness bioluminescent sea creatures in action.

I went on this excursion with Ben Brandao, North Guana Outpost’s lead guide and owner of Geotrippin’ Adventure Company, and was rewarded with an incredible, dazzling light show. The glowing organisms, called Comb Jellies, put on an Oscar-worthy performance, which was complemented by the twinkling stars above. As we paddled, the creatures glimmered in the water like fireflies. When we paused, we only had to swirl our paddles back and forth to spur them to the surface anew. It was an other-worldly, magical experience.

The magic continued once we got out of the water and Ben, who had collected some of the specimens, put them in a tub of water. We were then able to observe the creatures close up and noted that some appeared to morph together or consume one another in a calculated, cannibalistic fashion.

  • Ponte Vedra is known for its spacious beaches
    Ponte Vedra is known for its spacious beaches

Ben is actually the one who discovered Guana Lake’s bioluminescent scene a few years ago. Since then, he has escorted hundreds of curious people on this memorable adventure, with the goal of sharing this unique phenomenon with them.

Golf is another highlight in Ponte Vedra, as it’s home to the PGA and TPC Sawgrass, and the host of The Players Championship, one of the PGA Tour’s signature events.

There are two courses at TPC Sawgrass: The Players Stadium Course and the Valley Course. Both were designed by acclaimed golf architect Pete Dye, though the Stadium Course was the result of joint efforts from Dye and his wife, Alice.

The Stadium Course, known as one of the most difficult in the world, was created specifically to host the Players Championship and is famous for its par three, 137-yard hole, the “Island Green.”

Unlike many exclusive courses that are reserved for members only, the public can play at both these courses and earn bragging rights

If you happen to visit Ponte Vedra in March, you can catch the best golfers in action at The Players Championship, as they compete for the largest purse of the entire PGA Tour. I’m told it’s quite the event!

Non-golfers and even those who know very little about the game – guilty on both accounts! – can also enjoy TPC Sawgrass. Complimentary guided tours are offered to the public and it’s an opportunity to get inside one of the most storied clubhouses in the golf arena.

The tour gives visitors an in-depth look at the history of the place, with details about the people behind the dream, and how it all became reality. There are photos and paintings, stories about golf’s legendary players, championship-winning golf clubs on display, and more within these hallowed halls. I found the tour informative and entertaining, and my golf IQ went up tenfold in the process!

Afterward, I had lunch at Nineteen, the clubhouse’s onsite restaurant, where I dined on the verandah with a view of the eighteenth hole. Nineteen features innovative, fresh, and seasonal cuisine, and I thoroughly enjoyed my delicious kale and quinoa salad with shrimp.

Finding good food in Ponte Vedra is a non-issue, as there are plenty of restaurants to appeal to a wide variety of palettes. At Valley Smoke, a lively establishment on the Intracoastal Waterway, you’ll find finger-licking, slow-smoked BBQ, southern-inspired seafood, wood-fired steaks, an extensive wine list, and a rare selection of bourbon and scotch located in the Bourbon Library.

For dinner and drinks with the best view in town, head to Cap’s on the Water. Get there in time for a fiery sunset, as you munch on a slew of appetizers – everything from peel and eat shrimp and crab cakes to ceviche tacos, grilled octopus, and gator tail.

Palm Valley Fish Camp is another scenic spot on the water, which will also appeal to seafood aficionados. The menu includes such specialties as blackened Mahi, shrimp and grits, iron skillet fried trout, and some of the freshest oysters in town.

Ponte Vedra is well-regarded for its top-notch accommodations. I had the pleasure of staying at the world-class Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa during my trip. This amenity-rich property, situated right next to TPC Sawgrass, boasts lush, landscaped grounds with waterfalls and lagoons, over 500 spacious rooms, suites, and family-friendly villas with all the comforts, and 60,000 square feet of indoor meeting space. There are four pools, a pampering spa, a fitness center, multiple restaurants and lounges, and the resort’s nearby, private oceanfront Cabana Beach Club. You really don’t need to leave this relaxing retreat for anything!

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Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness, and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and all seven continents.

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About the Author:

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners.

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