It’s the largest city in the continental US (that’s the lower 48 states) in square miles. It has an exciting NFL football team. It sits along side one of the slowest, laziest rivers in the world. And you’ve probably never been there.
Welcome to Jacksonville, Florida, the northern most city in the Sunshine State. So the weather can be darn near perfect for many people who consider winter optional. Or any other time of year.
JAX is waiting. For the absolute most-current things to do, check out www.jaxtoday.org.
The east side of Jacksonville is, basically, the Atlantic Ocean, so no matter where you are in the city itself, you’re never far from surf and sand. There are buses and shuttles that serve the city and the beaches, which are 15-20 miles away. Find out more at jtafla.com.
Some beaches are wide enough for biking. Try a different beach each day you’re in town, starting with Atlantic Beach, followed by Neptune, then Jacksonville Beach (over 4 miles long), down to Mickler’s Beach (pronounced Mike-ler) to the south near the exclusive, golf-oriented community of Ponte Vedra, where a small group of Nazi spies landed during World War II (quickly captured). Each beach is a little different (better surfing, fishing, kite flying, etc.) and there are ample dining and entertainment options along the boardwalks, especially at the town square that sits between Atlantic and Neptune. If you like just strolling through firm sand, surrounded by ocean breezes, looking for interesting shells and shark’s teeth, Jacksonville is the place. Pack a lunch, put up a tent, and sit back and relax.
The shrimp, et al:
Jacksonville area residents are so proud of their local shrimp, they have been known to refer to any outside versions as “trash.” The modern shrimping industry was created on nearby Amelia Island, but the city of Mayport, where the St. Johns River meets the ocean, is a great place to get your first taste. Restaurants there offer relaxing harbor views and expansive menu options that would satisfy the most picky pescatarian. “Fresh” would be an understatement, as you can watch the boats unloading their catch. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to find Mayport shrimp at restaurants and fish markets throughout the area. Don’t settle for anything less.
But shrimp is just the beginning. There are garlic crabs, datil peppers (hot!), Minorcan chowder, lots of low-country Gullah-Geechee cooking, and something called “camel riders,” invented by the large Arab-American community in town, for a protein packed pita sandwich meal on-the-go. No one goes hungry in Jacksonville.
Let’s put down your knife and fork and start digesting some culture and knowledge. Lots of towns typically have ONE BIG museum to explore, but Jacksonville offers at least three. There’s MOSH, MOCA and the Cummer, each one adds a unique Jacksonville spin to your experience. The Museum of Science and History can take you from the Stone Age to the Space Age and beyond really, with a next generation planetarium. The Museum of Contemporary Art offers 14,000 square feet of art covering five floors in a converted Western Union headquarters. And the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens sits right on the river bank and offers a pleasant view with your views. They’re not too far apart, but you will have to cross the river to see them all.
In the Fall you’ve got NFL football (the Jacksonville Jaguars) and the Spring and Summer feature triple AAA baseball. Both stadiums are easy to get to from the main downtown area and both are pretty new, part of an overall boost for entertainment and business along the whole river front. The Jumbo Shrimp baseball team also opens the stadium for family events, like movies on the field, so check what’s going on. The Jags field also has concerts and festivals. And as long as you’re heading to the area, you can take in one of the many river tour cruises for a pleasant view and casual lecture about St. Johns River itself, one of the few rivers in the world that flows backwards, from south to north, like the River Nile in Africa.
Not just a zoo, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is highly awarded and regarded among regional zoos. You could easily spend a full day tracking down their over 1,500 animals. You can start with a perimeter train ride, catching a glimpse of the many unique zoological zones like the Land of the Tiger, the Range of the Jaguar, and African Plains. Don’t miss Wild Florida or the eye-to-eye giraffe feeding bridge. Then find the Komodo dragon (if he’s out), stop in Stingray Bay, and ride the classic Wildlife Carousel.
That about covers the JAX highlights. However, a trip to Jacksonville wouldn’t be complete without one little side excursion, if you have the time and a rental car. Go north to Amelia Island by way of the ocean coast road and take in kayaking, Indian lore, nature walks, even a former plantation. Or go south to St. Augustine (the nation’s oldest city), for a Spanish fort and the first wooden school house in the country, stopping at the Caddyshack restaurant in the World of Golf Village and Hall of Fame.
Other ideas – so much to explore in this beautiful city:
— The neighborhoods: Five Points, San Marco and Springfield (just north of downtown)
— A craft beer/brewery tour: Bold City, Aardwolf, Intuition, Hyperion, Veterans for sure
— Fort Caroline and Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve
— Kathryn Abbey Hannah Park, broad beaches with picnic spots, where the river meets the ocean
— Fort Clinch and Fernandina on Amelia
— New outdoor art/mural Art Bike tours
Planning a trip to Jacksonville? Let GO pick you up at the Jacksonville International airport!