Memo to Florida’s highway signage department: To best assist first-time visitors to the state’s northeastern gateway city, we would humbly suggest posting at its myriad entry points the image of a smiling dolphin or gator that proclaims, “Welcome to Jacksonville: Disorientation ahead!”
Why? Because whether you’re highballin’ eastbound and down on I-10, north- or southbound on I-95 or merely catching a downtown-bound cab from JAX (Jacksonville International Airport), you will soon be surrounded by enchanting water views everywhere with nary a clue as to how to navigate to the beach, meaning in this case, the fair Atlantic.
You’ve got the Trout River, Broward River, Ortega River, Arlington River, the gi-normous St. Johns River, Dunn Creek, Pottsburg Creek. Oy! If it weren’t for GPS, you could spend hours, maybe days, finding your way to mother ocean, and even then, there’s still the Intracoastal Waterway to confuse you.
Even Jax natives wrestle with this embarrassment of rivers, what with the lovely First Coast beaches right over there where the sun rises. In fact, they’ve all but abandoned the “River City” nickname locally in favor of “the Bold New City of the South” update.
Once you get your bearings, here are 10 Jax-tractions not to be missed.
Riverwalk: Jax can thank the St. Johns River and a handful of brightly-lit corporate towers for one of the loveliest skylines in the Sunshine State. The perfect spot for a morning jog and after-work sunset sipping.
Golfer’s paradise: Those with sticks in tow make a beeline to TPC Sawgrass, the golf Mecca at Ponte Vedra Beach that hosts the PGA Players Championship each year at its Stadium Course. Further south in St. Augustine, the World Golf Hall of Fame honors the sport’s best players of both genders.
MOCA Jacksonville: A must-see for all ages, the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville features a dazzling permanent collection as well as touring exhibitions by Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist and Amer Kobaslija.
The Florida Theater: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this beautifully-restored 1927 venue is busier than ever, hosting more than 200 concerts and cultural events and a quarter-million ticketholders each year.
Little Talbot Island State Park: It’s frankly downright amazing that this barrier island has retained its natural charms despite being a popular fishing and hunting for nearly five centuries. Loggerhead turtles, surf fishing, bike riding, beach lounging; if you don’t fall in love with the First Coast here, I’d recommend a cardiologist.
EverBank Field: Jax sprinted into the big time in 1993 when it landed its own NFL team, the Jaguars. Since then, their home field, which hosted the Super Bowl in 2005, has become the site of the annual college gridiron clash between Florida and Georgia as well as a popular concert venue. Its two 362-foot end zone video screens are the largest of their kind in the world.
Fort George Island Cultural State Park: Ever wonder what life was like on a 16th century Southern plantation? Here’s your chance; cross-terrain Segway tours visit the Kingsley Plantation as well as the island’s Roaring 20s-vintage Ribault Club.
The Elbow: This downtown nightlife district, formed by Bay Street to Adams Street and Main Street to Liberty Street, features a growing ensemble of chic eateries, brew pubs and live music venues, all perfectly attuned to Florida’s youngest city, with an average age of 35.
Riverside/Avondale: This historic district southwest of downtown ranks as the oldest and urban-coolest in Jax, with bohemian coffee shops, outdoor cafes and unique shopping and dining experiences. Don’t miss the Riverside Arts Market under the Warren Fuller Bridge every Saturday and the King Street Food and Beer District for sustenance.
Jacksonville, Neptune and Atlantic Beach: Now that you’ve got your bearings, it’s time to relax on 22 miles of fun-tastic Atlantic coast beaches. Or better yet, buy a $1.50 all-day ticket on the Beaches Trolley and search for your perfect place in the sun and sand.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.com