Though long overshadowed by its more well-known neighbors, under-the-radar Jacksonville, or “Jax” as the locals calls it, is fast becoming known for its exciting array of tourist-friendly activities. Laze on spacious beaches, spot wildlife in its waterways, admire striking 20th-century architecture and explore fascinating museums that reveal little-known facts about local history.
The first outsiders to settle in this part of Florida were the French Huguenots, who established a village here in 1564. The French settlement was later destroyed by the Spanish. Visit Fort Caroline National Memorial to see a reconstruction of the original French fort.
For most visitors, Jacksonville’s biggest appeal is its sandy coastline, which stretches for 22 miles (35 kilometers). To the north is the casual, surfer hot spot Atlantic Beach. Bordering it to the south is family-friendly Neptune Beach. Head even further south to Jacksonville Beach for lively bars, restaurants and nightlife, or go further south again to the dune-bordered Ponte Vedra Beach for up-scale beachside resorts and golf clubs including the famous TPC Sawgrass.
The city is crisscrossed by waterways, with more than 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) of navigable routes to explore. Rent a kayak and paddle through Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve or take a water taxi across St. Johns River, between Downtown and the neighborhood of San Marco. Admire the Henry John Klutho-designed Bisbee Building, a 10-story high rise dating back to 1909 in Downtown, then stroll around the boutique, gallery and restaurant-filled historical district of San Marco.
For a culture fix, tour the galleries of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, which features both indoor galleries stocked with paintings, decorative art and antiques, as well as gardens planted in English and Italian styles. The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville spotlights contemporary works, including installations, photographs and film.
To reach Jacksonville, fly into Jacksonville International Airport, located around 20 minutes from the city’s downtown area. Buses, trolleys and a river-spanning monorail can be used to get around. As the city is large and sprawling, renting a car is advisable.