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IntroductionStraddling the St. Johns River 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Jacksonville hums with waterfront activity. A thriving downtown area lines the banks. Water taxis transport passengers between the SouthBank Riverwalk and The Jacksonville Landing, the center of the city's entertainment district. Restaurants, shops and outdoor concerts afford a view of kayaks and yachts floating by peacefully.
But the river is just one of Jacksonville's bountiful natural resources. The city has the largest urban park system in the country, comprising 57,373 acres of hiking trails, neighborhood playgrounds and preserved wilderness. And a stroll on miles of bleached sand is only a short drive away.
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In DepthJacksonville embraces more than 500 neighborhoods within its 757 square miles, an impressive expanse that makes this busy seaport the biggest city in the contiguous United States. Its size inflated by a consolidation of city and county governments in 1968, the mammoth community also boasts the largest population in Florida.
The vicinity was home to the Mocama Indians when French Protestants known as Huguenots arrived in 1562 and founded Fort Caroline. Spanish troops from nearby St. Augustine destroyed the ill-fated Huguenot village just 3 years later.
Spanish control of the area ended in 1763, when Spain traded Florida to Britain. Under British rule, The King's Road between Savannah, Georgia and St. Augustine was completed. A settlement developed where the road crossed the St. Johns River, roughly where downtown Jacksonville is today.
As a result of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Britain returned Florida to Spain. Despite Spanish ownership, citizens of the new United States of America began settling in northern Florida. In 1819, Spain struck a deal with the U. S., trading its interests in the Oregon Country and Florida in exchange for recognition of Spanish sovereignty over Texas. Soon after the U.S. took formal possession of the Florida Territory, Jacksonville—named after the region's first military governor, Gen. Andrew Jackson—was founded.
The town prospered as a port of entry until the Civil War, during which it was burned and abandoned several times. Though the city was resurrected as a winter resort for wealthy tourists in the 1880s, by the end of the 19th century, Jacksonville's status as a popular vacation destination had declined, partly due to yellow fever outbreaks. In 1901 tragedy visited the city again when a fire destroyed nearly the entire downtown area.
But the resilient city rebounded. During the early 20th century, more than 300 silent movies were shot in the area. Naval bases built during World War II contributed to the city's further growth. Today, three Fortune 500 companies—CSX Corp., Fidelity National Financial and Fidelity National Information Service Inc.—are headquartered in this distribution hub set in the double loop of the St. Johns River. And the armed forces' presence is still strong, with military bases, including Naval Station Mayport and the Marine Corps' Blount Island Command, contributing about $6.1 billion annually to the local economy.
While the Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to bring home the Lombardi Trophy, the city's first professional football franchise has won two division championships and made several playoff appearances since joining the NFL in 1995. Gridiron fans in this rivalry-loving destination cheer on the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field, Super Bowl XXXIX venue and continuing host to such annual college games as the Florida vs. Georgia Football Classic and the Gator Bowl Classic. Nearby Ponte Vedra Beach, home to the PGA Tour, also attracts golfers with THE PLAYERS Championship in May.
But while touchdowns and eagles electrify the city, the St. Johns River remains at the heart of modern-day Jacksonville, with downtown's opposing Riverwalks attracting sightseers and natives year-round. The Museum of Science & History is the highlight of the 1.2-mile Southbank Riverwalk, which also shelters the Friendship Fountain. Across the water along the Northbank Riverwalk is The Jacksonville Landing, a shopping and dining venue and longtime focal point of the city center. With its bricked courtyard flaunting a large-screen display, boisterous special events—particularly those revolving around hometown athletic matchups—frequently take over at the 9-acre complex.
By CarTwo important interstate highways, I-95 and I-10, intersect in the Jacksonville downtown area. I-95 traverses the United States from north to south beginning in Maine and ending in Miami. It is frequently congested as it approaches downtown.
I-10 connects Jacksonville on the East Coast with Los Angeles by way of New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, Tucson and Phoenix.
I-295 loops around the city, connecting with I-95 both south and north of downtown. I-295 also intersects with I-10 directly west of the city.
A more scenic approach is SR A1A, which follows the coastline through Jacksonville. Northeast of the city, SR A1A travels through historic Fernandina Beach.
US 1 is another important route. This highway runs the length of America's east coast, from Lubec, Maine, to Key West, Fla. US 17 approaches from the west and provides yet another route into Jacksonville.
Street SystemLike most newer cities, the street system of downtown Jacksonville is a simple grid. Bay Street divides the city north-south, while Main Street is the east-west divider. The city does not adhere to a street naming convention, and thus a road's name (that is, whether it is called a street, avenue or boulevard) does not indicate its compass orientation.
The downtown speed limit is 30 mph. Traffic is most congested 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.
ParkingBoth on-street parking and several parking garages are available downtown. A parking area under the Main Street bridge is convenient to Jacksonville Landing and other businesses. Parking meters require 25c per half hour ($6 maximum per day).
About the City
Sales TaxThe sales tax is 7 percent in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties and 6.5 percent in St. Johns County. The bed tax is 4 to 6 percent in St. Johns County and 6 percent in Duval County; the tourist development tax is 3 percent in Clay County and 4 percent in Nassau and St. Johns counties.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(904) 630-0500
Fire (non-emergency)(904) 630-0434
HospitalsBaptist Medical Center, (904) 202-2000; Mayo Clinic, (904) 953-2000; Memorial Hospital of Jacksonville, (904) 399-6111; St. Vincent's Medical Center Southside, (904) 296-3700; UF Health Jacksonville, (904) 244-0411.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersJacksonville's daily paper, The Florida Times-Union, is distributed in the morning.
RadioRadio station WOKV (690 AM and 104.5 FM) is a news-talk station; WJCT (89.9 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationVisit Jacksonville 208 N. Laura St. Suite 102 JACKSONVILLE, FL 32202. Phone:(904)798-9111 or (800)733-2668
Air TravelMore than a dozen major and regional carriers serve Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), which is about 13 miles north of downtown near the northern junction of I-95 and I-295.
Several taxi and limousine companies serve the airport, although the baggage claim area is served exclusively by Gator City Taxi, (904) 999-9999 or (904) 741-0008. Taxi fares to downtown average $35.
Rental CarsHertz, at the airport, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (904) 741-2151.
Rail ServiceThe Amtrak station is at 3570 Clifford Ln., 5 miles northwest of downtown. For arrival information phone (904) 766-5110; for reservations and information phone (800) 872-7245.
BusesThe main Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 10 N. Pearl St.; phone (904) 356-9976.
TaxisMajor cab companies are Checker Yellow Cab Co., (904) 345-3333 or (904) 765-9999; Coastal Cab, (904) 246-9999; and Gator City Taxi, (904) 999-9999. Base fare is $2 with a rate of $2 per mile.
Public TransportationJacksonville Transportation Authority operates a system of buses, trolleys and shuttles that serves Jacksonville and the beaches. A Baldwin Wildcat Commuter Shuttle offers weekday service to Baldwin and Macclenny. The Skyway, an automated monorail system, provides downtown transportation between the Prime Osborn Convention Center, Hemming Plaza and Rosa L. Parks Transit Station on the Northbank and San Marco and Kings Avenue Station across the river.
The fare for buses, trolleys and shuttles is $1.50, free (ages 65+); express buses are $2, $1.50 (ages 60+). Unlimited one-day fare is $4, $1.50 (ages 60+). The Skyway is free. Discounted fares are available through the purchase of a multiday STAR card. For information phone (904) 630-3100.
BoatsRiver taxi service between points along the St. Johns River is available from Jacksonville Water Taxi, departing every half-hour Tues.-Thurs. and Sun. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. (also holidays) 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; phone (904) 630-2489. A daily pass is $10; $8 (ages 3-12 and 65+). Fare to the stadium or Downtown Loop during football games and special events is $10 (round-trip); $20 (unlimited all day); cash only.
Mike Licht / flickr
EssentialsDiscover the magic of the lazily looping St. Johns River, which made Jacksonville an important port. The rare, north-flowing river takes center stage at The Jacksonville Landing (2 W. Independent Dr.) and borders a mix of restaurants, shops and attractions.
Ride a water taxi from the Landing to the Riverside Arts Market (715 Riverside Ave.), where you can buy food and handmade gifts on Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from March to December from more than 100 vendors. Or just walk around and observe the singers, jugglers and balloon artists entertaining the locals.
Learn more about Florida’s founding at the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. The oldest site, Fort Caroline National Memorial (12713 Fort Caroline Rd.), marks the ill-fated spot where French Huguenots settled in 1564. A more “recent” settlement is Kingsley Plantation (11676 Palmetto Ave.) which a former slave operated for her slave trader husband. Built in the late 18th century, it is Florida’s oldest remaining plantation.
Dip your toes into the Atlantic Ocean. Or just dive in! Jax has more than 22 miles of alabaster-sand beaches not far from downtown. Better yet, stay in a beachside resort and wake up to the sound of the surf lapping at the shore.
Continue your lesson in state history—from prehistoric times onward—at The Museum of Science & History (1025 Museum Cir.). Walk through the Florida Naturalist’s Center, learn about science from one of many hands-on exhibits or stay for a show at the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium.
Check out the brewing-to-bottling process at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery (111 Busch Dr.). The Jacksonville facility, which is one of 12 in the United States, produces nearly 10 million barrels of beer annually. So if you’re an adult 21 or older, don’t miss your chance to sample the fresh and finished product.
See the world—or at least many animals in it—at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (370 Zoo Pkwy.). The Zoo Train meanders through themed areas such as South America and Africa featuring animals such as endangered jaguars and elephants. Garden lovers will want to reserve time to see its lush gardens before they hop back on the train to get to a Keeper Talk.
Gary Eyring / flickr
Get back to the city at pedestrian-friendly San Marco Square (Hendricks Ave. and Atlantic Blvd.) Named after St. Mark’s Square in Venice, the neighborhood intersection is home to chic stores and four-diamond Matthew’s Restaurant (2107 Hendricks Ave.).
Step through 8,000 years of art history at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens (829 Riverside Ave.). A former private residence, the museum opened its doors with 60 pieces of art in 1961 and now contains nearly 5,000 objects. Cast your eyes upon works by Winslow Homer, Auguste Rodin, Peter Paul Rubens and John Singer Sargent. The surrounding gardens, ornamented with reflecting pools, fountains, arbors and sculptures, draw visitors from throughout the Southeast. Don't miss the Italian Garden.
Satisfy your appetite for contemporary art at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (333 N. Laura St.). Owned by the University of North Florida, the collection includes more than 800 pieces of art created after 1960. Visitors lucky enough to come on the first Wednesday of the month should take part in the Art Walk, a free event showcasing art in the museum and in various locations downtown.
VISIT FLORIDA Editor / flickr
ShoppingIn addition to major shopping malls, a multitude of small shopping centers and an array of antique stores and flea markets, the city boasts The Jacksonville Landing , 2 W. Independent Dr., along the St. Johns River. This downtown marketplace features shops, riverfront cafés and restaurants. A water taxi takes patrons across the river to the SouthBank Riverwalk.
St. Johns Town Center , 4663 River City Dr., has 150 stores in its 1 million square feet of shopping and dining space in an open-air configuration anchored by Dillard's and Nordstrom.
PROGarry Knight / flickr
San Marco, 5 miles south of downtown, and The Shoppes of Avondale , 3567 St. John Ave., entice with specialty boutiques, antique shops and galleries. The shops around Riverside’s Five Points area have a funkier feel.
Brent Moore / flickr
Performing ArtsThe Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra presents performances throughout the year including a guest artist series, an outdoor concert series and smaller group concerts. Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, 300 Water St., is a state-of-the-art performance venue overlooking the St. Johns River downtown. Its three halls include Jacoby Symphony Hall, home of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra; Moran Theater, which can accommodate large-scale concerts and Broadway touring shows; and Terry Theater, which is used for smaller performances. For more information phone (904) 354-5547 or (904) 633-6110.
snickclunk / flickr
Located downtown at 128 E. Forsyth St., the lavish Florida Theatre was built in 1927 and serves as a performing arts center; phone (904) 355-5661 for information or (904) 355-2787 for tickets.
Thomas Hawk / flickr
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Jacksonville is host to exciting events throughout the year. College football fans celebrate the new year with the TaxSlayer Bowl , which is played late December or early January and is one of the city's top sports events.
In March the Gate River Run attracts more than 23,000 runners for a 15-kilometer race along the city's roads and bridges. March also brings the World of Nations Celebration that focuses on Jacksonville's cultural mix; the event is held in Metropolitan Park.
Early April brings the Springing the Blues Music Festival , 3 days of blues music held at SeaWalk Pavilion. Taking place in May in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach is THE PLAYERS Championship golf tournament, the PGA Tour's premier spring event. The Jacksonville Jazz Festival , which features concerts at various indoor and outdoor venues, is held Memorial Day weekend.
The Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament features prizes, a fish fry, seafood festival and entertainment in July.
The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair in November offers livestock, a petting zoo, horticultural exhibits, arts and crafts, carnival rides and country entertainment.
Ring in the new year during the New Year’s Eve Celebration on the riverfront in downtown Jacksonville.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Places in Vicinity