The Absolute Best Things to Do in Jacksonville, FL
A long weekend getaway somewhere in the Sunshine State is always a good idea. If you’re not sure where to go, we’ve found the perfect place: Jacksonville (or Jax, as locals call it). With more than 22 miles of quiet beaches and hundreds of serene parks and green spaces, tons of local art and history and a blossoming food scene, there’s a good chance it will become your new favorite Florida city. Here’s our roundup of can’t-miss things to do in Jacksonville, FL.
Where to Stay
Right across the street from the city’s iconic Main Street Bridge (one of the most beautiful sights in town), the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront is a no-brainer. With spacious rooms and gorgeous views of the river, it’s only a short walk from the center of downtown, making it one of the most convenient places to stay (from $110 per night). If you’re looking for something near the ocean, consider the Omni Amelia Island Resort in Amelia Island (from $300). It’s set up right on the water on a barrier island off the Florida coast. If you want to take it up a notch, consider the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island (from $700), featuring an oceanfront spa, the award-winning fine-dining restaurant Salt and direct access to acres of unobstructed coastline with all-day food and drink service. Talk about heaven.
Where to Eat
The first place on your list should be chef Elizabeth Arana’s River & Post. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because she appeared on Food Network’s Door Knock Dinners with Gordon Elliott. (We’ll have the truffled steak tartare, the broiled market oysters and the blue crab beignets, thank you very much.) Next, head to 13 Gypsies for all things Mediterranean, Catullo’s for Italian, Restaurant Orsay for fine French dining with a southern twist or Blue Fish Restaurant and Oyster Bar for some of the freshest seafood in town. Can’t forget Good Dough either, where you’ll find made-from-scratch doughnuts and pastries. (We’re eyeing the Nutella bomb doughnut hole and the fried chicken “doughwich.”) And if you’re near Amelia Island, make sure to stop at Amelia Tavern, an upscale brewery with drool-worthy pub-style bites like crispy Brussels with sweet chili glaze, truffle fries with garlic and herb aioli and mahi tacos with guacamole.
Where to Drink
With more than a dozen breweries, this city is a pro when it comes to craft beer. Catch us on the Jax Ale Trail, where you can sample the best from them all. Make sure to visit Congaree and Penn, a charming organic rice farm (the only one in Florida and one of the few left in the country) that makes great-tasting hard cider as well as other homemade items like pecan oil and Creole tomato jelly. Cowford Chophouse’s rooftop, which dates back to the early 1900s, is a great spot to sip the vodka-based Dirty Cow, garnished with bacon and blue cheese–stuffed olives, while nibbling on steak sandwich sliders and watching the sunset.
What to Do
Jacksonville is big—like, really big. Measuring 840 square miles, it’s one of the largest cities in the continental U.S. which means there are tons of neighborhoods to keep you busy the entire time you’re in town. One of our favorites is the Riverside-Avondale district, which includes a cool area called Five Points, lined with funky boutiques, bars and coffee shops. The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is also nearby, displaying one of the largest collections of Meissen porcelain in the world. Otherwise, take a page out of Visit Jacksonville’s guidebook and choose one of the many local walking tours to get a taste of all the area has to offer, from public art and architecture to African American heritage and even film history. (Hey, did you know Jacksonville was once nicknamed “the world’s winter film capital”?)
What to See
Jacksonville boasts the largest urban park system in the country—with more than 80,000 acres of parks, including three national, seven state and more than 400 city parks—so you’ll probably want to spend a great deal of your trip outside. (Pro tip: Use this explorer guide to help you experience it all.) Either way, we suggest visiting Cary State Forest first. One of Florida’s original state forests, it has running and hiking trails that wind through wetlands and a cypress swamp. Besides green spaces, Jacksonville is sprinkled with art installations all over town, from dozens of public murals and other works to the CoRK Arts District, which features 80,000 square feet of artist studios and galleries.
Where to Get Some History
Just about an hour away from Jacksonville, St. Augustine is more than worth the drive, especially if you’ve never been. Established more than 450 years ago, this northern Florida town is as charming as it is old (we mean that as a compliment). Located on the Matanzas River, St. Augustine is brimming with history intertwined with European flair and Southern hospitality. Roam cobblestone streets lined with palm trees, take in the Spanish Renaissance Revival–style architecture and experience the oldest fort in the continental U.S., Castillo de San Marcos. If you’ve been pushing off your trip to Rome or Spain, this Florida spot may be the next best thing (within driving distance, of course).
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