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Did You Know … ?
- Jacksonville is the largest city in the 48 contiguous U.S. states (840 square miles).
- The first Technicolor film, “The Gulf Between,” was filmed in Jacksonville (1917).
- A judge attended a 1956 Elvis Presley performance here to ensure the singer’s moves weren’t too suggestive
- Theatre Jacksonville is America’s oldest continuously operating community theater (1919).
- The original settlement was called Cowford, meaning a place where cows could cross the St. Johns River.
Jacksonville in the northeast corner of state, flanks the wide St. Johns River where the river, which generally flows north, turns east to enter the Atlantic. On its way to the ocean, St. Johns passes through generous stretches of state parks and crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. Four beach sections are just beyond the waterway and situated in a string up and down the Atlantic coast.
With geography like that, Jacksonville was a port waiting to happen. It was a busy commercial center well before the U.S. Navy tapped it for significant installations.
Tourists discovered Jacksonville in the 19th century, and early in the 20th, filmmakers — loving the winter climate — made it the world’s winter film capital (the movies were silents). Tourism marketers dubbed the area First Coast, referring to two facts: Jacksonville was the first part of Florida settled by Europeans (1560s) and early visitors, arriving by land transport, would encounter northeast Florida’s coast first.
Geography and climate still dictate the city’s appeal — i.e., the ocean, the beaches, watery activities like fishing, sailing, surfing and swimming, plus lots of warm sunny days. The climate makes for an ideal duffer’s destination, too.
Nature lovers have access to parks and more parks. Jacksonville counts more than 80,000 acres of city, state and national parks and preserves in the urban area.
But then, not all attractions are nature driven. Jacksonville has a rich African-American history, and now a themed heritage trail designed for interested visitors and residents alike.
Nightlife options include a range of dance clubs and live-music spots, whether in the downtown area or out along the beaches. A night out could also mean hearing the Jacksonville Symphony or attending theater or a ballet. Other diversions vary from spectator sports, including most notably the NFL team, Jacksonville Jaguars, to the city zoo, where the jaguars have four feet.
Days in Jacksonville can be very hot in midsummer, but the rest of the year, the temperatures are just fine. Finally, crime can be an issue. The best advice says use commonsense when out and about.
Things to do for Venturers
- Make time for the George’s Music Springing the Blues Festival, held in April, or the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, held over Memorial Day weekend.
- Tour one or more of the city’s craft breweries. Brew your own at Engine 15 in Jacksonville Beach.
- Head to the beaches for a surfing session. Or, go for stand-up paddle boarding or kite surfing.
- Hike in the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, following the same paths once used by Timucuan Indians.
- Join other creative types at the annual springtime One Spark Festival, a crowdfunding event devoted to connecting creators and entrepreneurs with the resources they need to make new ideas a reality.
- Check out the nightlife in the downtown entertainment area. The same goes for the beaches across the Intracoastal Waterway.
Things to do for Centrics
- Catch a game. Some choices are the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars and a Minor League baseball team, the Jacksonville Suns. Or, go to the races, greyhound racing, that is.
- Spot dolphins, manatees and birds on a boat tour to the point where the St. Johns River crosses the Intracoastal Waterway to meet the Atlantic. Or, you could kayak with the dolphins.
- Go deep-sea fishing from Jacksonville or from any of several coastal ports.
- Hike on one of the University of North Florida Nature Trails.
- Use the Jacksonville-Onslow African American Heritage Trail as a guide for following the African American story in Jacksonville. Sites include the Kingsley Plantation with slave quarters, plus the Norman Film Studios, which in the days of silents, focused on movies using all-black casts, designed for the African American community.
- Tour the local Budweiser Brewery. Taste the beer, too. Or, see how fine chocolate is produced at the Peterbrooke Chocolatier and taste those samples.
Things to do for Authentics
- Go to the zoo (want to try the “zookeeper for a day” experience?), and in the same neighborhood, drop by the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary for rescued big cats.
- Play golf by day and hear the local symphony by night. Or, attend a production at Theatre Jacksonville.
- Visit the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in the historic Riverside district. Besides the extensive art collection, the site boasts spectacular riverfront gardens.
- Take a scenic drive to Amelia Island for a day of kayaking, shopping or just relaxing.
- Find your way to the quaint village of Mayport at the north end of the city’s beaches to shop, eat local seafood and generally experience the Old Florida and the sea.
- The kids (and you) can make a bear or other stuffed animal at the Teddy Bear Factory found at Adventure Landing, a family amusement center.
For more information, consult Visit Jacksonville at www.visitjacksonville.com