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Casa Marina

Jacksonville Beach, FL - Hotel Review

Everything's Better with a Beach View

by Patricia Mack

The entrance of Casa Marina in Jacksonville Beach, Florida
The entrance of Casa Marina in Jacksonville Beach, Florida

A word to the wise for those who like to sleep in: if your room at Casa Marina is on the beach side (and most are), be sure to draw the blinds before you go to bed. Otherwise, you'll be awakened at dawn by the sun rising spectacularly over the ocean waves. This happens to be just one of the many charms of this legendary, century-old property on the sands of Jacksonville Beach, a small city just eighteen miles from downtown Jacksonville and 26 from St. Augustine.

During the Roaring Twenties, Casa Marina was the hotel of choice for the likes of Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin and Al Capone. Its glamorous past still echoes throughout the corridors, and the hotel is considered a grand dame of Florida's northeastern coastal lodgings, maintaining its standing as a reigning beauty by — how do we say this delicately? — having a little work done after a long and varied history.

The Great Depression took a terrible toll on popular vacation destinations like Jacksonville Beach, and Casa Marina suffered along with the town. During WWII, it was appropriated by the U.S. Army as housing for military personnel, and after the war, a succession of owners transformed it variously into an apartment building, tea room, clothing store, environmental center and restaurant. All eventually closed, and by the 1950s, the property was an abandoned shell. Fortunately, new owners in the early 1980s recognized the building's potential, and thanks to a respectful, decade-long renovation, the Spanish-Mediterranean-style Casa Marina stands as a tribute to — and the only remaining hotel from — Jacksonville Beach's heyday.

The hotel is small by today's standards, but it makes up for its size with architectural grace, which includes original high ceilings, master-craftsman woodwork, polished wood floors and uniquely grained pecky cypress paneling in the public areas. At the same time, the needs of modern travelers are met with up-to-date services and facilities, beginning with the 23 elegant guest rooms and parlor suites. Each has fixtures and decorative touches that reflect the hotel's history, as well as fine linens, cable TV, voicemail, coffee makers, hair dryers, alarm clocks and irons and ironing boards.

Cozy guest room at Casa Marina in Jacksonville Beach, Florida The view of the beach from Casa Marina in Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Cozy guest room
View of the beach

For the business traveler, the location is ideal (near A1A and Interstate 95), and a boardroom offers amenities for small corporate gatherings. Business groups can also meet in the grand salon dining room or on the covered outside verandah with a panoramic ocean view. This vista of sand and boardwalk is also a highlight at the new third-floor Penthouse Bar and expansive beachfront courtyard.

On Sundays, the Casa Marina kitchen, under the direction of chef Aaron Webb, is especially busy with what has become one of the most popular and lavish Sunday champagne brunches in the area. Guests will find all the customary favorites, such as a carving station for prime rib and a comprehensive omelet station, along with more unusual offerings such as a dramatic whole snapper platter, seafood paella and eggs Benedict over fried green tomatoes dressed with a sweet chili Hollandaise. Webb's "New Beach Cuisine" is served at the restaurant daily, highlighting local seafood prepared an international flair. Tapas are offered throughout the day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

As for activities off the property, Jacksonville Beach has been certified by the Clean Beaches Council, making it ideal for swimming, surfing and fishing. The area also has some intriguing attractions, from the Historic American Red Cross Lifeguard Saving Station to the Jacksonville Beach Pier. For golfers, the top choice is The Players Club at Sawgrass, while shoppers will enjoy an array of charming antique stores. It's safe to say that Jacksonville Beach is on the rise again as a prime holiday destination, anchored by the historic, atmospheric Casa Marina hotel.


Casa Marina
691 N. 1st St.
Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
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(Updated: 11/23/11 CT)


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