"Jacksonville & America's First Coast" Top 5 Page for this destination Jacksonville by HumblyServingChrist
Jacksonville Travel Guide: 391 reviews and 760 photos
Imagine wide beaches of fine white powder sand highlighting a distinctive natural scenery where colorful, sub-tropical flowering plants and palm trees intermingle with magnolias and shady water oaks dressed in Spanish moss. Imagine a major, curvaceous river slices through these lush coastal hardwood hammocks, flowing into numerous finger tributaries and watering acres of expansive wetlands teeming with nature.
Now, imagine you're staying or living right in the middle of it, in a vibrant, cosmopolitan hotbed of culture, entertainment, recreation, commerce, and relaxation. Yes, you've just imagined many of the reasons why visiting or living in Jacksonville can be a special and unusual big city experience.
WHERE ALL THE ACTION IS
Downtown Jacksonville, located 12 miles from the sea, is bisected by the St. Johns River. Both the Northbank and Southbank business districts boast spectacular modern skyscrapers, pedestrian riverwalks, and museums. Water taxis and a skyway transport pedestrians from one side of the river to the other, along with the city's iconic bridges. Friendship Fountain, on the Southbank, is one of the largest fountains of its kind, and is brilliantly illuminated at night.
Lining the river south and east of downtown are numerous tree-covered neigborhoods including the stately "old money" wealthly neighborhoods of Ortega, Riverside/Avondale, Epping Forest and popular San Marco. Jacksonville's chic artsy types and yuppies come together in this part of town at the sidewalk cafes and bistros of San Marco Square, Five Points and the Shoppes of Avondale, close to downtown.
Jacksonville's beach communities include three laid-back beach towns popular with surfers, families, tourists and yuppies -- Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach -- each of which offers a lively "Town Center" or downtown shopping, dining and nightlife district in addition to sharing the same wide strand of soft, white powder sand. Jacksonville Beach also boasts an ocean pier and a water park. In addition, Jacksonville's beaches are bookended by two exclusive playgrounds of the rich and famous -- Ponte Vedra Beach and Amelia Island -- known for their world-renowned 4 and 5 star oceanfront resorts as well as their top-notch golf courses and tennis facilities. Amelia Island also boasts the historic pirate town of Fernandina Beach and a beachfront Civil War fort, Fort Clinch. Intermingled with these diverse communities are several stretches of pristine natural beaches including Hanna Park, Huguenot Park, the Talbot Islands, and the Guana River Reserve. Mayport, located at the mouth of the St. Johns River just north of Hanna Park, has a dual identity as both a weathered, rustic fishing village with a fleet of shrimp boats and a major navy base. Part of famous route A1A, the only public auto ferry in Florida shuttles drivers across the river every half hour between Mayport and Ft. George Island on Jacksonville's Northside.
Like any big city, Jacksonville has numerous cultural options highlighted by the Museum of Science & History, the renown Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, the Museum of Modern Art, the Jacksonville Symphony, the Florida Ballet, and the numerous concerts and traveling shows that hit the Florida Theater and the Times-Union Center, respectively. Other major attractions include the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, with its penguins and acclaimed "Range of the Jaguar" exhibit; the water slides of Adventure Landing; and the World Golf Hall of Fame, which also has an IMAX Theater. 45 minutes south of Jacksonville are the historic sites of St. Augustine, and about an hour south, Marineland offers visitors the opportunity to interact or even swim with dolphins.
As you might expect, the best restaurants and nightlife are found along the downtown riverfront, in the central historic neighborhoods, and throughout the beaches, as well as in the booming Deerwood area of the city's Southside. St. Johns Town Center, located in the Deerwood area, is an outdoor "Main Street" style mall that mixes upscale retailers (e.g.: Tiffany & Co., Louis Vitton, etc.) with upscale and trendy "destination" restaurants (e.g.: The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang's, California Pizza Kitchen, etc.). Of course, standard chains are also plentiful throughout the city, especially around the Avenues, Regency Square, and Orange Park malls.
If you think of Florida as a fake, Disney-fied playland then you might be surprised to find that Jacksonville is also rich with authentic history. In fact, the first Europeans to reach North America are believed to have set foot on the shores of what is now Guana River State Park, half way between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, in the year 1513. (By the way, St. Augustine, located 40 miles south of downtown, is the oldest city in North America!) For centuries, the area that now consists of the Jacksonville metropolitan area (from Amelia Island south to Marineland) saw many conflicts between the Spanish, French, British and Native Americans before it ever became part of what we now know as the United States. The Eastern Jacksonville neighborhood area of Fort Caroline, located half-way between downtown and the beach, is home to Fort Caroline National Memorial, a replica of a French encampment on a high bluff overlooking the river. It is here where it is thought that French Hugenots seeking religious freedom built a cross, perhaps first bringing Christianity to the New World. It is also thought that the first port transaction in the New World also took place here. The fort's visitor center also serves as the entrance to the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, acres of protected land suitable for kayaking, hiking and other outdoor pursuits, which serves as a centerpiece for the largest urban park system in the country. This park system also includes 2 oceanfront city parks and the unique Talbot Islands State Parks. The Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens is an awesome natural area that straddles Jones Creek, with trails that take visitors over small bridges, up ravines, through dense foliage and past babbling brooks. Other great nature walks can be had at Howell Park in Atlantic Beach, Walter Jones Historical Park in the Mandarin section of the city, and at the University of North Florida, which boasts its own nature preserve.
Many know that Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl in 2005, but many don't know the city's full sports spectrum. Annual football events include the Gator Bowl and the Florida-Georgia games. The NFL's Jaguars also play their home games at Everbank Field. In addition, the JU Dolphins play college football and the Sharks play arena football. For golf fans, the TPC draws top pro golfers to Ponte Vedra. Jacksonville is also home of the Suns, a AA baseball team, and two NCAA baseball and basketball teams at JU and UNF.
11TH LARGEST CITY IN THE U.S.
Jacksonville is the 11th most populous city in the US and the most populous city in the Southeast with an estimated 821,784 residents (2010). That said, Jacksonville also covers more land than any other in the lower 48 states, so its metro area only has a population of nearly 1.5 million (40th).
Most of the city's recent development has occurred between downtown and the beaches. This area covers much of eastern Jacksonville, a mix of neighborhoods ranging from tranquil to bustling, scenic to commercial, and eco-sensitive to cosmopolitan. Like all big cities, Jacksonville also has some bad areas too, like the neighborhoods northwest of downtown, but there isn't reason to go there. Additionally, boom towns south of the city, like Orange Park and Fruit Cove, are experiencing rapid growth. Of course, there are still places in the fringes of the metro that remain quite rural, like Callahan.
JACKSONVILLE DESTINATION AREA
Atlantic Beach | Neptune Beach | Jacksonville Beach | Ponte Vedra Beach
Talbot Islands State Parks | Mayport & Hanna Park | Ft. George Island
Downtown | San Marco | Riverside-Avondale | Southside | Ft. Caroline | Mandarin
SOUTH OF JACKSONVILLE
St. Augustine | St. Augustine Beach | Crescent Beach | Marineland
Vilano Beach | St. Johns | Orange Park | Palm Coast | Guana Reserve
NORTH OF JACKSONVILLE
Amelia Island & Fernandina Beach | Jekyll Island | St. Simons Island
Brunswick | Kingsland & St. Marys | Callahan | Yulee
- Pros:An ideal yet underpublicized mix of big city, inviting beaches, and natural beauty!
Divided by Atlantic Blvd., the pedestrian-friendly communities of Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach share a the lively,... more travel advice
The Jaguars, Jacksonville's National Football League franchise, play regular season games and a couple of preseason... more travel advice
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