In 2013, Saint Johns County, Florida, was cited by CNN as one of the "Best Places to Live in America". With low unemployment and high job growth, it is a great business environment. According to the CNN report, “It’s the healthiest county in Florida and leads the state in public education, plus, the weather’s gorgeous year-round. No wonder highly educated talent is being wooed there in droves.”
But Saint Johns County is so much more than that; it is a way of life. So much so that many, including myself, have left and found our way back. The old county motto was “40 miles of beach and the rest is history” provides a great segue into what makes this corner of the nation so unique.
Certainly there is history, as county seat Saint Augustine, founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565, is America’s oldest city. Yes, there are beaches galore. From beautiful beaches graced by mansions in Ponte Vedra to wide expanses of sand that you can drive upon in Saint Augustine, there is no shortage of access to the ocean that is the backdrop of every sunrise.
As for lifestyle, it is a twenty first century version of Mayberry. The county is full of stately planned communities from Julington Creek Plantation to Nocatee to World Golf Village. These are communities where life revolves around families. These families are reminiscent of years gone by; be they the Cleavers or the Huxtables, they tend to have a mom, a dad, 2.7 kids, a dog and a minivan. In fact, if America were more like Saint Johns County it is fair to say there would be far fewer problems in our society.
This is a place where kids wonder freely, like we did when we were kids. The streets are safe, and it is a common site to see children lost in the innocense of youth playing ball in the street or using their imagination in local parks or adjacent woods. There isn’t really much crime at all to speak of. The courts and juries are very conservative and there isn't tolerance for lawbreakers with criminals being put where they belong. The county is a place where most people can be found in church on Sunday morning and sharing dinner as a family on Sunday evening.
In many respects Saint Johns County is the antithesis of America's big cities. It is here that we can see political philosophies that differ from those that guide our big cities at work every day. By looking at the quality of schools, neighborhood safety, percentage of two parent households, graduation rates, college degrees, business ownership, unemployment rates and just about every other statistic imaginable we can see the roadmap of how to create a bountiful life in a prospering economy.
It’s no secret that the voters demand that taxes be kept low and spending be held to standards of accountability. As a result, there is good stewardship of the money because it is spent on things that are important, like schools and infrastructure. The focus on education has resulted in the county schools consistently being ranked the best in Florida. In fact, Forbes Magazine said that the Northwest Saint John’s County schools encompassing those of Julington Creek Plantation and surrounding areas were among the top 10 in the nation! This is driven by a highly successful school board that shares a common philosophical bond with the voters and a significant volunteering effort among parents who have substantial presences in the schools.
Certainly Saint Johns County isn't for everyone. It is the essence of suburbia where small town values are paramount. It isn't exciting, unless you like world class golf, sandy beaches, stunning river vistas and the outdoors. Some describe it as "sterile" as the miles upon miles of winding boulevard's are kept immaculately clean. Some say it is like living in a bubble, away from the problems that sadly afflict our society. What it offers is a unique place to raise a family where kids can be kids and grow up in a comparatively "normal" state of being when compared to much of the United States in 2014. It is like living in the era of when we were kids all over again, except with all the modern day conveniences.
For those moving to Saint Johns County, the decision is where to move, as there are an abundance of tremendous communities with more golf courses per capita than any location in the United States. Here are five to consider:
Julington Creek Plantation was one of the first planned communities in the county and really put Saint Johns on the map as a place to live. The motto is “Where Families Come First” and they truly live up to this. Most of the homes are comprised of families, and chances are your neighbors will have kids. The schools, from K through 12, are consistently ranked among the best in not only the state, but the nation. In fact, two elementary schools and the middle school, are located smack dab in the middle of the community. There are multiple swimming pools, tennis courts, sports fields and even an AstroTurf football complex for the Pop Warner and middle school teams to utilize. For golf enthusiasts the community is home to The Champions Club. As for location, it provides an easy commute for Jacksonville workers and those traveling to the international airport that is home to many different airlines.
Nocatee is the fifth best selling community in America. While in its infancy, the master plan calls for 25,000 homes. It has a myriad of amenities, swim parks, lazy rivers and shopping. The new Nocatee Parkway provides for easy access to roads leading to Jacksonville as well as the beaches.
Durbin Crossing was named one of the Top Selling Master-Planned Communities in America. This 2000 acre community is set amidst many nature preserves and his home to its own K-8 school and Creekside High School, one of Florida’s top performing high schools. It has its own park system, two state-of-the-art amenity centers, multiple sports fields and a great location for active lifestyles.
RiverTown is a great place to call home for those who don’t mind a little bit extra commute. This 4700 acre planned community is located near Orangedale, on the Saint Johns River and is the states only riverfront master planned community. It is hauntingly familiar to Mayberry with most of the homes having front porches, encouraging residents to become neighbors. It is a pedestrian-friendly community that embraces the outdoors and its most valuable asset, the river, RiverTown's walking trails meander through the community connecting neighborhoods, parks, the amenity center and Riverfront Park.
World Golf Village is a great place for golf enthusiasts and is home to the Golf Hall of Fame. This community boasts a number of amenities including restaurants, shopping, swimming complexes, athletic fields and easy freeway access. As is the case with all of the communities in Saint Johns County, the schools are always ranked among the best in the state.
Christopher Tidball is a freelance writer and business consultant. After living in many locations, from California to Connecticut and several places in between, he and his family settled in Saint Johns County in 1997, and after a short relocation to Orlando, made their way back in 2005. He is the author of multiple books. including Kicked to the Curb: 20 Essential Rules To Coming Out On Top When Your Life Has Been Turned Upside Down. To learn more, please visit www.christidball.com