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As the undisputed star of northeast Florida’s First Coast region, Jacksonville welcomes visitors to explore its famous waterways. The bikini crowd doesn’t shy away from this water-centric city, but it’s about way more than surfside party zones in The Jax. Eco-tours on St. Johns River, deep-sea angling in Mayport fishing village and kayaking on the Intracoastal Highway compete with 22 miles of white-sand beaches on Jacksonville’s Atlantic coastline. History runs deep here as well, with museums and historical parks keeping the city’s rich heritage alive.
REASONS TO GO:
Blast to the Past: Museums are big in Jacksonville, with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society considered one of the best things to do in the city. Tour the recreated village featuring an 1875 homestead, general store and post office. You can also pay homage to the city’s African American heritage at the Ritz Theater and Museum, or stroll the grounds of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s gardens at Walter Jones Historical Park.
Fish Camps for Foodies: Rising from the ramshackle sheds of 1940s fishing camps, modern-day “fish camp” eateries in Jacksonville spare you the chore of hauling in your own dinner. Cross the gangplank to the former bait shop of Clark’s Fish Camp perched on Julington Creek and pass the entirely serious signs warning you not to feed the gators. Once seated, sample your way through platters of cheese-stuffed catfish, crawfish etouffee, steamed oysters, gator poppers, frog legs and hush puppies. Hundreds of taxidermied animals fill the walls and ceilings, adding to the wild, rustic vibe.
St. Johns Riverwalk: Join the locals strolling, jogging, skating or picnicking along the approximately three-mile Northbank and Southbank Riverwalks. Take a river taxi from the Southbank to Jacksonville Landing for shopping and people-watching, and don’t miss the enormous 100-foot dancing sprays of the Friendship Fountain at St. Johns River Park. Top off the day with local brews at the River City Brewing Company, located near the fountain.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE:
Beaches: Three distinct beach communities along the Atlantic Coast provide plenty of options for a day of sun and surf. Jacksonville Beach is the iconic Florida beach strip with waterfront activities, rollerblading, surfing, snack shacks and a fishing pier. Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach intersect at Beaches Town Center when you’re ready for some shopping, dining and pubbing. Join surfers at The Poles, a local spot inside Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, where you can also rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and canoes.
Intracoastal Highway: The Intracoastal Highway runs for 3,000 miles along the inland coastlines of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, meandering its way through Jacksonville. Hook up with fellow nature lovers to paddle the Jacksonville Intracoastal Salt Marsh Paddling Trail, with several launch sites throughout the city. View the Greater Jacksonville Paddling Guide online to map your adventure, or take a guided eco-kayak tour with Kayak Amelia, departing from Amelia Island about 30 minutes from Jackson International Airport.
WHEN TO GO: Northeast Florida has warm temperatures and a humid, subtropical climate most of the year, so weather shouldn’t be a deterrent for visiting Jacksonville. Take full advantage of the city's active outdoor culture during the summer season. Looking to bypass the summertime crowds? Travel during autumn or spring for pleasant weather, or visit Jacksonville in the winter—the perfect time to enjoy indoor activities like the Museum of Science and History, located on the Southbank Riverwalk.
TRAVEL TIP: Avoid the traffic and parking woes along the beach strips of Jacksonville by taking the Beach Trolley that runs on weekends from the end of May through Labor Day. It covers the coastline from South Beach Shopping Center to Atlantic Boulevard, making numerous stops and offering pickups every 20 minutes. Visit the Jacksonville Transportation Authority website for full details.