"Mandarin & St. Johns" Fruit Cove by HumblyServingChrist

Fruit Cove Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 3 photos

"Old Florida" river life meets modern suburbia

The suburban areas of Mandarin and St. Johns were once just part of a series of quiet riverside hamlets dotted with stables and orange groves and cloaked under a dense hammock of water oaks. Today, both areas still provide visitors and residents alike with scenic drives and waterfront parks that offer a taste of what Old Florida river life is like, despite the bustling corridor of shopping centers, chain restaurants, and residential communities that now line a long stretch of San Jose Blvd./State Road 13. Mandarin, located right off the Interstate 295 beltway, is a part of the city of Jacksonville that boomed in the 1980's as a popular place for a portion of the city's upper and middle class residents to call home. Since the 1990's, development has continued south, spilling out of Jacksonville and into the still unincorporated communities of northwestern St. Johns County, known collectively as St. Johns. While Mandarin and St. Johns have become popular places to live, they are likely off the radar screens of most tourists who come to the Jacksonville area seeking beaches, big city diversions, sporting events, ecotourism adventures, and historic attractions. That said, they do have their own relatively secret waterside gems and scenic highways to check out.

Walter Jones & Mandarin Parks

In Mandarin, aptly named Mandarin Road diverts travelers away from the hustle and bustle of San Jose Blvd on a scenic half-loop that passes under a canopy of oak trees and past riverside estates. Not too far down the road, Walter Jones Historical Park and County Dock are a pair of neighboring scenic spots that, together, make for a great stroll along and actually quite a ways into the St. Johns River. With a historic old house and barn structures dating back as far as the 1800's, Walter Jones Park also has somewhat of a museum component. The main draw, however, is the part-paved, part-boardwalk trail that wanders into the hardwood hammock and along the banks of the St. Johns. In addition to affording views of the cypress trees that dot the shoreline, this trail exits the park at the entrance to County Dock, where the views really get interesting. Here, visitors can walk a great deal out over the surface of the water and not only take in views of the St. Johns River at one of its widest stretches, but also of the distant skyline of Downtown Jacksonville, the Buckman Bridge (I-295), and NAS Jacksonville. Looking back at the shore, one also gets a better view of the cypress trees and shallows that line Walter Jones Park.

Farther down Mandarin Road, the historic home of author Harriet Beecher Stowe is noteworthy to literary scholars. Though not on the waterfront, it sits in a small park and is indicated by a historic marker. Eventually, near where Mandarin Road rejoins San Jose Blvd., at the south end of the city, travelers will find Mandarin Park. Mandarin Park fronts Julington Creek, a wide tributary of the St. Johns River that is home to a large marina. Here, sailboat masts pierce the sky over the glistening waterway, which is also the boundary line separating Jacksonville (Duval County) from St. Johns. A partly covered pier affords great views of the adjacent marina and the oaks and cypress trees that define Mandarin Park's shore. From Mandarin Park, the northeastern shore of St. Johns County and,to the southwest, the more distant shore of Clay County across a very wide stretch of the St. Johns River, are both visible. As for the parkland itself, Mandarin Park also boasts a nature trail, playground area, and public boat ramp.

Alpine Groves Park

San Jose Blvd. crosses over Julington Creek into St. Johns, where the highway is simply known as State Road 13. After passing through Fruit Cove, the most commercialized area of St. Johns, State Road 13 dwindles to two lanes for the continued trek through tiny Switzerland, Orangedale, and other points along the scenic "Bartram Trail." In Switzerland, Alpine Groves Park is St. Johns County's answer to Walter Jones Park. It is likewise a great place to immerse one's self in the ambiance of Old Florida river life. Occupying a broad sweep of riverfront, this passive park features a uniquely curved pier that, while not as long as County Dock, still offers great views of the St. Johns River, the cypress trees that rise from the river's shallow shoreline, and neighboring Clay County, which sits directly across the river. Like Walter Jones Park, it too has a historic house and artifacts from early agricultural life.

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