There’s no better way to learn about a new place than from the perspective of a local resident, so we’ve partnered with travel and lifestyle writer Angie Orth from Angie Away to learn about her hometown — Jacksonville, Fla. Planning a trip? Start here!
When you think of Florida, which cities come to mind? The tourism juggernauts – Miami, Orlando, Tampa? What about my hometown of Jacksonville? Did you know JAX has the largest population of any city in the state? It’s also the largest city in the U.S. at more than 840 square miles with the largest urban park system in the country at more than 800,000 acres.
For such a big city, you might expect a whole lot of hustle and bustle. On the contrary, Jacksonville has a surprisingly small-town vibe. Instead of one central hub of activity, Jacksonville has diverse neighborhoods dotted all over its many miles, featuring art installations, parks, an up-and-coming food scene, breweries, nightlife, shopping, a few dozen miles of broad, sandy coastline and the wide, peaceful St. Johns River flowing through it all. There’s so much to do in Jacksonville!
Where to Stay in Jacksonville
The question I’m often asked when folks come to visit is “Where should I stay?!” The fact that the city itself sprawls so extensively means that’s an important choice to make! You wouldn’t want to stay in Town Center if all your fun was scheduled Downtown, and likewise, staying in San Marco if you’re visiting specifically for a festival at the beach would just be silly. Here are some of my favorite things to do and corresponding places to stay all over this great city.
I love that Downtown Jacksonville is unlike any other urban core I’ve ever visited. Traffic, compared to other cities, is usually pretty quick, even at peak times. Around lunchtime, you’ll see lots of folks walking about, but in the evenings, especially when there are no events, it’s a pretty quiet neighborhood.
Despite a tragic, widespread fire in 1901, Downtown retains much of its history and character. Ever-changing street art and installations have become common, so wander at will in search of Instagrammable spots, tasty eats and friendly people. Downtown is also the main entertainment hub for the city, so you can catch football, soccer, baseball and all levels and genres of live music, musicals, comedians, etc.
What’s nearby: The Florida Theatre, Everbank Field (pictured), The Landing, Veterans Memorial Arena, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Hemming Plaza
Where to stay Downtown: Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront
San Marco & The Southbank
From Downtown, it’s easy to hop a water taxi over to the Southbank, home to the legendary Treaty Oak at Jesse Ball duPont Park, a Southern Live Oak more than 70 feet tall with a 25-foot diameter trunk. It’s estimated to be more than 250 years old, which means it predates the city’s founding. So Florida!
Just a few blocks away, San Marco is home to upscale dining, trendy boutiques, art galleries and Riverfront Park, a prime spot to catch a blazing sunset. You’ll know you’ve made it when you see the three lions inspired by the Piazza San Marco in Venice.
What’s nearby: Museum of Science and History (MOSH), Treaty Oak Park, Friendship Fountain, Aardwolf Brewing Company, San Marco Theater
Where to stay in the Southbank: Doubletree by Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront
Just across the river from San Marco is the charming Riverside/Avondale neighborhood. Avondale is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, featuring oak tree-lined avenues and beautiful old homes. Check out Five Points, an artsy district with funky shops, clubs and cafes, and the historic Sun-Ray Cinema, which opened in 1927 as the first theater in Florida with tkalking pictures. And you can’t go wrong in this area for amazing food, so bring your appetite. Some of the top rated restaurants in town make their home in Riverside.
What’s nearby: The Cummer Museum of Art, Bold City Brewery, Riverside Arts Market, Memorial Park (pictured), Sun-Ray Cinema
Where to stay in Riverside: Riverdale Inn
Jacksonville’s beaches span more than 20 miles, so if you drive east until you reach the Atlantic, you’re guaranteed to find yourself on a sunny stretch. Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach are all wonderful spots to surf, stand-up paddleboard, kayak, fish or just do what I do, laze in the sun with a big bottle of SPF.
The beaches are a top dining destination, especially if you’re in the market for fresh local seafood. My ideal food day: breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company, lunch at TacoLu and dinner at Azurea. (All Jacksonville originals!)
What’s nearby: Hanna Park, Players-By-The-Sea Theatre, Seawalk Pavilion, Adventure Landing
The newest big neighborhood in Jacksonville, Town Center is a retail Mecca that’s growing by the day. As its name implies, Town Center is central to everything in Jacksonville, so if you’re planning a visit that’ll have you driving all over the city, it’s not a bad place to rest your head.
What Town Center lacks in history and culture (fairly recently it was a wooded area!), it makes up for in options. Shopping is the priority in these parts, with high-end retailers making their home next to chain restaurants and shops. Check out hometown restaurant Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails for a gourmet taste of the South.
What’s nearby: TopGolf
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