Strolling through one of Jacksonville’s quaint historic neighbourhoods or taking in an open-air reggae concert at the Sea Walk Pavilion, it seems unlikely that this could be the largest land-area metropolis in the U.S., but the River City wears the crown. Despite the sizeable distinction, Jacksonville retains a remarkable small-town feel utterly different than the rest of Florida. This is so not Miami! We’ve put together a Jacksonville guide to give first-time visitors the lowdown on the city’s top attractions.
Florida’s First Coast, which encompasses Jacksonville and surrounding counties, features a wild and complex history, having been occupied by the Timucua people for thousands of years, then colonized by both the French at Fort Caroline and the Spanish in St. Augustine. The British came and ruled the riverfront settlement of Cowford in the 18th century, which ultimately was renamed for Andrew Jackson, the first military governor of the new state of Florida and the country’s 7th president.
The varied historic influences in the area have left an impression on Jacksonville’s 500 neighbourhoods, each offering distinctive charms. Avondale, Springfield, Riverside and Ortega, are protected by the National Register of Historic Places and feature architecture dating from before, and after, the Great Fire of 1901, which left 10,000 residents homeless. What drew the European colonizers and countless snowbirds to the region was, naturally, the temperate climate and access to navigable water.
Since the late 19th century, the area has been a military and civilian deep-water harbour, with two U.S. Navy Bases and the bustling Port of Jacksonville. With endless miles of wide, sandy swaths of Atlantic Ocean beaches, Intracoastal Canal real estate and the beautiful banks of the impressive, sparkling St. Johns River, Jacksonville’s crown jewels are its waterways.
In addition to plentiful fresh and saltwater access, the river city operates the largest urban park system in the country, with 10 state and natural parks covering 80,000 acres. Jacksonvillians and visitors take advantage of the ample sunshine with the simple pleasures like boating, swimming, fishing, sailing, surfing and playing golf at more than 70 local courses. Many of Jacksonville’s residents are sport fanatics, and the city is home to several pro and semi-pro teams, from the Jaguars (NFL) to the Suns (baseball) to the Sharks (arena football). Annually, Jacksonville hosts the Players Championship golf tournament at Sawgrass and the Florida-Georgia college football game at Everbank Field, where tens of thousands of revellers converge at the Jacksonville Landing to celebrate the event affectionately known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
From the streets of Downtown to the laidback cafes of Atlantic Beach and the Spanish moss-draped oaks along the sleepy Intracoastal Waterway, Jacksonville offers all the bells and whistles of a sprawling metropolis combined with miles and miles of beaches and rivers. And, of course, plenty of sunshine.
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Have you visited The River City? What was your favourite experience in sunny, bustling Jacksonville? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Written by Angie Orth