I recently visited a good friend who relocated down to Jacksonville, FL. I had never been to this part of Florida and really knew nothing about it. Simultaneously I was in touch with the writer Kim Harrington, who has all sorts of tips on the ins and outs of Jacksonville, so it was perfect timing. Below is Kim’s guide to Jacksonville, and everything you need to know to enjoy this big FL city!
Jacksonville, Florida: Tips From a Local
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Jacksonville, Florida has an estimated population of around a million people and is the largest city in the U.S. by land mass. But Jax is so, so much more than that. It’s a city full of history, culture, and diversity, with a low-key attitude and a passion for food. Many people know of Jacksonville because of its size or the NFL’s Jaguars, but I’m here to show you the real Jax. So, buckle up and get ready for the ride.
Where to Stay
While you’re in Jacksonville, Florida, you’ll most-likely go over the Main Street Bridge (One of Jacksonville’s famous 7 Bridges); across the street from the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. The hotel has spacious rooms, and many of the rooms have views of the bridge and downtown skyline (it lights up blue at night), providing one of the best views in the city. It only costs $150 per night, and it’s a short walk to the shops, bars, and restaurants in Riverside, San Marco, and Downtown.
If you’d like to stay in a hotel near the ocean, you’ll want to stay at the One Ocean Resort and Spa, located in Atlantic Beach. It’s a bit pricier than the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, priced at $175 per night, but you get a view of the ocean, and you can enjoy the peaceful sounds of the waves crashing. The hotel offers a variety of amenities, including a spa. It’s also the closest hotel to the Beaches Town Center.
The BTC is an awesome little strip filled with the best restaurants and bars in the beaches. Situated where Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach meet, it’s a must-do for anyone visiting Jax. Compared to Jax Beach, BTC is a better fit for families and those of us over 25. You’ll find at least one restaurant with live music every night and you can catch the moon rise over the Atlantic after dinner and drinks (just make sure you time it right).
Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa is the best resort to stay at for golf enthusiasts. It’s one of the best golf resorts in the U.S. and it hosts the unofficial 5th major, the Player’s Championship. The tournament was recently moved to March to try to have cooler weather, so if you’re not a golf fan I’d recommend visiting at any other time of the year. Ponte Vedra is at its busiest for the Player’s, so traffic and wait times are maxed out.
The resort has over 500 rooms; including suites and villas. One of the best amenities is the ability to enjoy the resort’s private Cabana Beach Club and the Sawgrass Spa. Also, the resort has four pools for all guests to use. The rooms average $200 per night.
What to Do
While you’re visiting the city, you’ll probably want to visit the beaches; there are four major ones. A lot of surfers and college-aged kids are found at Jacksonville Beach. Jax Beach has concession stands, a fishing pier, equipment rentals, and some of the best nightlife in the area. Brix’s and Lynch’s are staples of the beach, but the Surfer Bar is giving them a run for their money. Surfer Bar even has a free yoga class on Sunday morning at 10 am, followed immediately by bottomless mimosas and bloody mary’s.
If you’re looking for a peaceful beach with a smaller crowd, visit Atlantic or Neptune Beach. If you’re visiting Jacksonville to spend some especially secluded time at the beach, you’ll definitely want to head south of Ponte Vedra Beach. Guana Beach is an isolated beach access off A1A with massive sand dunes, minimal crowds, and next-level shark tooth hunting. It’s a bit of a hike, but it’s worth the drive to go see it. And the drive down A1A is a treat in and of itself. Multi-million dollar homes, the Guana River to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east make for a drive worthy of Pacific Coast Highway veterans.
If you’re looking for a place to visit that’ll keep you busy, visit Five Points; it’s located in the Riverside-Avondale district. Five Points has plenty of shops, bars and coffee shops. Five Points is also home to Sun-Ray Cinema. The first cinema to play in-color films in the US still fills the seats. You can buy a bottle of wine for around $15 and top your popcorn with all the fixings you’d find at home.
After Five Points you’ll want to visit the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens. Located on the St. Johns River, the museum has more than 5,000 works of art, and it’s one of the largest fine arts museum in Florida. The admission price for adults is only $10. The admission price for seniors and students is only $6.
Where to Eat
You’ll want to visit Good Dough in the morning or evening after dinner for dessert. Good Dough makes delicious homemade pastries and doughnuts. Their coffee is locally roasted in the Jacksonville area, and all of their menu items are inexpensive.
If you’re looking for the best seafood, you’ll want to visit Singleton’s Seafood Shack (yes, it is a shack). The restaurant is located on the water, so you’ll have a beautiful view while you’re eating. The restaurant has delicious hush puppies with a bit of spiciness that goes well with their coleslaw. Add if you’re feeling adventurous, they’re also home to, hands-down, the best gator tail in Florida. If you visit with someone who doesn’t like seafood, leave them at home. Ok, just kidding (kind of), but Singleton’s also has the classics like hot dogs, burgers and barbecue.
One of the best restaurants in the area is Clara’s Tidbits Restaurant. Unfortunately, they are only open Monday through Friday, but their food is the best in town even though it’s a bit pricey. The place does attract crowds, but the line moves quickly. The restaurant specializes in sandwiches and salads, so if you’re wanting to eat a healthy meal while you’re on vacation, Clara’s Tidbits Restaurant is the place to go.
Man, I’m only just getting started! Looks like you may need to come back for round two. I didn’t even get to mention going to a Jaguars or Jumbo Shrimp game, indoor skydiving, or taking the water taxi on a bar crawl. Oh well, I guess you’ll just have to figure the rest out for yourselves! Happy travels!
This article was written by Kim Harrington