Florida

Jacksonville Travel Guide

As the first major town that travelers encounter upon crossing over the Florida border from Georgia, Jacksonville leaves a remarkable impression on its visitors. While downtown Jax, as locals call it, is truly an urban metropolis, the town also flanks the idyllic St. Johns River and Atlantic Ocean coastline, where travelers will quickly unearth Jacksonville's Southern coastal charms. Jax's stretch of windswept beaches as well as its world-renowned golf courses have made it the perfect town for vacationers looking to relax at a waterfront sanctuary, or get active on iconic greens. Grab your beach bag and bathing suit; you're about to discover one of Florida's best beach towns.

Where to Eat
bb's
Jacksonville's dining scene is often associated with super-casual seafood shacks or stuffy, upscale restaurants. It's little surprise, then, that the uber-hip and super-sleek bb's restaurant has become one of the hottest meal tickets in town. The decor alone is a revelation: concrete floors, an industrial-style bar and clean, modern furnishings ooze cool.

The restaurant specializes in American continental cuisine with European influences, serving up innovative entrees like pan-seared scallops with housemade parsnip pierogies, grilled brussels sprouts, marcona almonds, red Russian kale and cauliflower puree, or a Thai barbecue-glazed pork tenderloin with mandarin orzo “fried rice,” candied walnuts and cabbage-apple salad. Be sure to try one of the appetizers; we recommend the cheese plate, which rotates selections such as Gouda, Maytag blue and goat cheeses, served with medjool dates, dried apricots, candied walnuts, local honey and toasted baguette.

Seafood Shack
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Singleton's Seafood Shack
When in Jacksonville, you'll want to make like a seafaring local and head to one of the nearby seafood shacks for the freshest fish dinner around. If you've only got time to try one, make it Singleton's Seafood Shack, a rustic waterfront haven for old salty dogs and seafood lovers. Don't bring any pretenses with you to Singleton's -- just a love of delicious, fresh seafood. While Singleton’s is bigger than your typical shack, its décor is largely the same: unpainted plywood walls, crooked wooden floors, styrofoam plates and plastic utensils are de rigueur. But hey, you're here for the fish!

Eat your fill of the briny oysters, plump shrimp, clam strips, catfish, conch fritters and blackened mahi-mahi. Be sure to save room for the sides -- the hush puppies are spicy, fried doughy perfection, and pair well with the tangy coleslaw. While Singleton's also dishes up hot dogs, burgers and barbecue -- trust us, and stick with the seafood.

Clara's Tidbits Restaurant
You're on vacation -- of course you don't feel like whipping up your own lunch! That's not a problem here in Jacksonville, where you can let the folks at Clara's Tidbits serve you some of the town's best down-home afternoon grub. The restaurant's hours are scarce, Monday through Friday, and it remains one of the town's most popular haunts, with regularly long lines. The upshot? The line moves quickly.

Clara's is the perfect place to pick up sandwiches or salads before a boat trip, fishing charter or day at the beach (Jacksonville's must-dos, really). Try a Tidbits Special, seasoned chicken breast chunks, pasta salad, avocado and cheddar over greens, or The Triple pita sandwich, stuffed with ham, turkey, roast beef, cheddar, provolone and Swiss cheese. Above all else, order Clara's potato salad, the creamy concoction is the stuff of legends here in town.

One Ocean Resort & Spa
One Ocean Resort & Spa
Where to Stay
One Ocean Resort & Spa
Most beachfront accommodations near Jacksonville are a distance away from the town center. Not so, One Ocean Resort & Spa, a family-friendly, waterfront hotel with a contemporary aesthetic conveniently located in Atlantic Beach, and within walking distance of downtown restaurants.

All well-appointed guest rooms and suites in the 8-storey hotel offer ocean views, and guests are privy to luxe amenities such as unpacking services, and a "guest historian" who contacts guests prior to their arrival so One Ocean can stock their favorite snacks and beverages in their room before arrival.

Families can make reservations for their children to spend the day at the resort's Sea Turtle Kids Club, a half- or full-day camp with activities that include building sandcastles, playing on the Atlantic beach, joining watersports, watching movies, cooking lessons and making beach-themed crafts. When they're not lounging at the beach, adults can indulge in a relaxing massage at the resort's spa, or enjoy a locally sourced meal at the beachfront restaurant, Azurea.

Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
One of the Jacksonville area's -- and the nation's -- top golf resorts, the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa caters to travelers hoping to enjoy tee time at one of the region's finest greens, as well as those looking to relax on Ponte Vedra Beach's stunning shores.

Golf is the premier activity at Sawgrass, and resort guests have exclusive access to 2 world-class golf courses, TPC Sawgrass Stadium and TPC Sawgrass Dye's Valley courses, though the resort also lies in close proximity to 3 other courses open to the public. The hotel even overlooks the TPC greens, as well as one of the many lakes that dot the course's landscape.

Guests can stay in any of the property’s 519 rooms, suites or villas, and take advantage of amenities that include access to the resort's private Cabana Beach Club as well as an array of body treatments at the hotel's 25,000-square-foot Sawgrass Spa. When not enjoying the beach, families can make a splash in the resort's 4 pools, tee up with the kids for a game of miniature golf or sign children up for a day at the Sawgrass Explorers Kid’s Klub, a supervised recreational program.

Ponte Vedra Inn & Club
The historic Ponte Vedra Inn & Club has been dazzling travelers to Jacksonville and Ponte Vedra Beach since it was established in 1928. The charming, beachfront inn stretches across 300 acres, chockfull of luxury amenities, recreational activities and of course, prime access to the Atlantic shores.

When guests aren't enjoying the inn's 217 rooms and 33 suites spread across 10 low-rise buildings, they can sign up for tee time at one of the resort's 2 golf courses. The acclaimed courses feature lagoons, rolling fairways and elevated greens, promising a fun challenge for golfers of all levels.

For a more relaxed experience, guests can unwind with a day at the beach, or with a deluxe spa treatment, like the Fii Isle Tropical Coconut Sugar Scrub or a Lomi Lomi Massage. As evening falls, take a drive into downtown Jacksonville, or enjoy cocktails and a meal at one of the hotel's 4 restaurants, like the Seahorse Grille, which boasts dramatic ocean views and a fresh seafood-filled menu.

What to Do
Jacksonville Beaches
Whether your trip to the beach includes lounging under the Florida sun with a good book or more active pursuits like swimming, boogie boarding or ocean kayaking, a trip to Jacksonville's beaches will fit the bill. Jacksonville's beaches technically stretch for 4 miles around the town proper, but popular adjacent beach communities, like Ponte Vedra, have been folded into the mix for beachgoers to enjoy. Visitors can choose from 4 major beach areas, each with its own draws.

First, there's Jacksonville Beach. Popular with surfers, Jacksonville is a busy hub filled with concession stands, equipment rentals and even a fishing pier (see below). Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach lie directly to Jacksonville's north, and offer a more quaint beachfront appeal than hectic Jacksonville Beach. Finally, no trip to Jacksonville is complete without a visit to the stunning, palm-fringed shores of Ponte Vedra Beach. Just south of Jacksonville, the calm, family-friendly vibe at Ponte Vedra makes it a true waterfront sanctuary for beach lovers.

Golf
Perhaps even more popular than Jacksonville's beaches are the town's verdant golf courses. The region has become a bastion of exceptional golfing, attracting experienced and novice putters to face some of the finest golf courses on the East Coast. The most famous course, hands down, is the TPC Sawgrass, located on the Sawgrass Marriott Resort's grounds, and home to the Tournament Players Championship. Its 17th hole, a small island, is one of the most photographed in the country. Other courses of note are the challenging Cimarrone Golf Club, which features 17 lakes throughout the greens, and the Panther Creek Golf Club, which is one of the Jacksonville's newest and trickiest courses.

Fishing
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Fishing
Ahoy, mateys! Jacksonville isn't merely a landlubber’s paradise. Boaters and fishermen flock to the town's shores for more watery pursuits, namely -- you guessed it -- boating and fishing. The most obvious spot for fishing is from the scenic Jacksonville Beach Pier. The town's pier is no boardwalk entertainment complex; this quarter-mile-long pier means serious fishing business.

Open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., the pier features a concession shop selling bait and tackle, and offers visitors spectacular, up-close views of the Atlantic Ocean. It's here you'll find the town's serious fishermen, hooking their lines and hoping to catch a big 'un.

Of course, you don't have to be a local to fish here. The pier charges a small fee, and anyone is welcome to try their hand at fishing. If you're hoping to fish via boat, book a full- or half-day trip through one of Jacksonville's many charter companies. Popular and well-regarded charter companies include Backwater Fishing Adventures, Big River Fishing Charters and North Florida Fishing Charters.

River Cruise
Kayaking and paddle-boarding remain popular ways to explore Jacksonville's scenic waterways. Still those physical activities aren't fit for all travelers, and weary paddlers aren't always able to travel as far as they'd like. Another option is a river cruise along Jacksonville's waterways, past the region's flora and fauna, including dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and even wild horses.

Book a trip with one of the Jacksonville area's most favored outfitters, Amelia River Cruises. You'll be able to reserve one of 3 daily boat tours, and discover the charming Fernandina waterfront, the Cumberland Sound and even head as far north as Cumberland Island, GA, the nation's largest wilderness barrier island that’s also home to those stunning wild horses.

About the Author

Valerie Conners is a freelance writer, editor and producer who has worked with the Travel Channel for more than 14 years, specializing in travel topics including the world's best beaches, outdoor travel and romantic getaways. Her work also appears in many online and print publications including, Aol Travel, Discovery Channel, World Hum, Frommer's Travel Guides, the Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer. She's happiest when eating spicy Thai food, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets. She blogs about her travels at PassengerConners.com.

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