Northern Florida's largest city, Jacksonville (or "Jax") is a beach resort, family vacation destination, sporting center, and cultural hub all rolled into one. If you want to get away to the sunshine and have museums, galleries, and shopping opportunities on your doorstep, it's a great place to visit.
There are bohemian boutiques and a buzzing craft ale scene in 5 Points, gourmet eateries in genteel San Marco, and the chance to lose yourself in the gorgeous gardens of the Cummer Museum.
With the endless sands of Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra a short drive away, Jacksonville is fast becoming one of America's most attractive urban destinations.
Jacksonville may be a big city, but you can easily escape the high-rises of the city center to beaches as appealing as any in northern Florida. Hop on the Beaches Trolley to visit Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and the historic fishing village of Mayport, and be back at your hotel in the evening.
Sports lovers flock to Jacksonville. For some, the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars are the biggest draw, while in golf, the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is one of the biggest events of the year.
Jacksonville has plenty for a rainy day as well. The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and the Museum of Contemporary Art will satisfy art lovers, while MOSH (the Museum of Science and History) and Jacksonville Zoo are great child-friendly attractions.
There aren't many better places to enjoy traditional southern cooking or seafood than Jax. In March, the Seafood Festival showcases the city's best shrimp and fish restaurants, while all year-round, soul food specialists like Soul Food Express and the Potters House serve up collard greens and fried chicken to match anywhere in the USA.
If you love music, Jacksonville always has something to offer. Spring sees the city hosting its Springing the Blues Festival, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival rolls into town over Memorial Day weekend, while Rockville attracts thousands of fans in April.
With over 2,000 animals and 1,000 plants, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens attract more than one million nature lovers each year. This family-friendly wonderland is beautifully located by the water and hosts countless events that keep visitors on their toes. The Range of the Jaguar and the Land of the Tiger are award-winning attractions, alongside perfectly recreated international habitats host to a great diversity of species.
The Jacksonville area is made up of a series of lazy beach communities, Atlantic Beach being the most popular. This sunny corner of the world is famous for its endless sandy stretches and perfect wavy shorelines. Activities like golfing, biking, jogging, and of course swimming fill gorgeous Florida days beneath quintessential palm trees. You'll probably catch sight of some stereotypical beach combers as well, looking for buried treasure!
An undeveloped island is one of the last pristine spots in highly popular Northern Florida, Little Talbots is a haven away from the throngs. Visitors give themselves over to the simple life of camping, fishing, hiking and swimming, and the landscape welcomes and tames the fanfare. Miles of fine sandy beaches and an inland made up of rolling dunes never gets old. Local flora and fauna flourish here, so you might even catch sight of a bobcat alongside the countless migratory birds.
The charming waterside home-turned-museum hosts the largest art collection in the area, surrounded by gorgeous gardens. With a remarkable selection of European and American masterpieces, alongside artefacts spanning from ancient to contemporary times, there is something for everyone in these sun-filled halls. The grounds have been groomed by some of America's foremost landscape architects, now a living exhibition of garden trends through the ages.
Once the world's largest fountain, the park's water feature has been an icon of Jacksonville since it was built in 1965. Its recent renovations keep it up to snuff with the times so that the spectacular plumes still stand out on the waterside, especially when colorfully illuminated after nightfall. Views from the Southbank Riverwalk and the John T. Alsop Bridge are unforgettable, and don't forget to explore the nearby Museum of Science and History.
Jacksonville experiences solid year-round sunshine and temperatures rarely dip below 70 degrees. However, if you are looking to attend music festivals or the Seafood Festival, a spring vacation is the best option (but try to avoid Spring Break as accommodation costs spike dramatically). Otherwise, September to November sees pleasant weather and fewer tourists than the middle of summer.
The easiest way to reach Jacksonville is via the city's International Airport, which is around 14 miles north of the city center. JTA bus route CT3 runs into town every hour and costs just $1. Alternatively, taxis will cost between $35 and $50.
Jacksonville's Amtrak station provides connections to Floridian cities like Miami and Orlando, as well as plenty of cities on the American Eastern Seaboard, including Washington D.C. and New York City (via the Silver Meteor and Silver Star services).
Driving to Jacksonville is another convenient option, particularly if you are coming from Texas or eastern cities. Those coming from the north should take I-95 directly into the city, while drivers coming from the west should follow I-10 along the Gulf coast.
Both Greyhound and Megabus run intercity bus services into central Jacksonville and are affordable alternatives to flying. Both companies stop on N Pearl Street, almost in the middle of the city. From there, it's a 10-minute walk down W Bay Street to Downtown Jacksonville.
Downtown is definitely the best place for vacationers to situate themselves during a stay in Jacksonville. Leading city center hotels include the Omni, the Hilton Doubletree, and Hampton Inn. If you want to be near the beach or the golf courses in Ponte Vedra, the Four Points Sheraton and the more intimate Fig Tree B&B are excellent options.
Downtown Jacksonville - the heart of the city is around five miles inland from Jacksonville Beach, on a bend in the St Johns River. It's where you'll find attractions like the Jacksonville Arena (the city's main concert venue), MOSH, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as many of the best bars and restaurants.
Jacksonville Beach - a short drive down Beach Boulevard, Jacksonville Beach is a first-class beach vacation destination. The kids can splash around at Shipwreck Island Waterpark, there are rides, go kart tracks and mini golf courses at Adventure Landing and even open-air plays and music performances at the Players by the Sea Theatre.
5 Points Jax - located a little way to the southwest of Downtown Jacksonville, 5 Points is home to the beautiful Cummer Museum and its gardens, as well as a thriving arts and crafts community. King Street has craft breweries, galleries, and boutiques while restaurants like Black Sheep are among the best in northern Florida.
Jacksonville Transportation Authority provides buses all over the metropolitan area, with a regular cash fare of $1.50. You can also pick up a Star Card that provides a week's travel for $16 or one day for $4. By the coast, the Beach Trolley is a good way to get around, running from South Beach Regional Shopping Center to Atlantic Boulevard for $1.50.
With long distances between the beaches and the center of town, taxis in Jacksonville can be fairly expensive but are handy for one-off trips. Typical rates are $1.80-$2 per mile, although Uber can be cheaper, with a basic rate of $0.75 per mile.
Jacksonville has a land area of 840 square miles, making it one of America's largest cities. This means that having a car is essential for many visitors. Local rental outlets include Hertz, Enterprise, and Budget and rates can be as low as $15 per day for midsize vehicles.
There are some excellent malls and markets dotted around the city center, including the Jacksonville Landing and the Shops of San Marco, but it's more fun to explore neighborhoods like 5 Points or San Marco to seek out stores you love. Some local highlights include chocolatiers like Peterbrooke, the vintage fashion market Rusted, and That Poor Girl, another vintage fashion boutique on King Street. If you just need a chain store like Macy's, Regency Square Mall in Arlington is a good place to head.
Jacksonville is fairly affordable by American standards, with a gallon of milk costing around $3.70 and 12 eggs about $2.80. There are also plenty of supermarkets to shop for groceries, including Walgreens, Rowe's, and Publix, alongside organic delis like Grassroots Natural Market.
The best dining options in Jacksonville can be found in the Downtown area, 5 Points or San Marco, and there's no shortage of great places to eat. In San Marco, check out the tapas at Taverna or the French cuisine at Bistro Aix, while Indochine is an excellent Asian restaurant in the center of town. 5 Points is great for craft ale gastro-pubs like BREW 5 Points, but there are superb restaurants like Black Sheep as well. Expect to pay between $15 and 30 for entrees at the best places.