I hope you like water, sports, and adventure, because your orders to the River City will turn any snow bunny into a Florida-loving beach bum before you can say “More sunscreen, please!”
Jacksonville, Florida boasts salty intracoastal waterways, and one of the nation’s few north-flowing rivers—the St. Johns—which runs right into beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches. And smack dab in the middle of this growing city (the largest city by area in the contiguous United States) is the third largest military presence in the US, a combination of NAS Jacksonville, NAS Mayport, Blount Island Command, and Kings Bay Naval Base.
As a native of Jacksonville, my heart bursts with pride when I hear friends getting orders to the First Coast. I’m a walking billboard and like to play travel agent for new Jacksonvillians.
My home can be your home. Here’s what you need to know to survive and thrive in Jacksonville:
Not all beaches are created equal.
Don’t make a rookie mistake and think Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, and St. Augustine Beach are the same. They’re not. But they’re awesome. Jacksonville Beach is your buzzing, typical vacation-style beach town—beachside restaurants, boardwalks, and surf shops abound. Ponte Vedra Beach is an upper-income beach town famously known for its golf affiliation (it’s home to the PGA Tour and The Players Championship), but it isn’t best for wild and crazy spring break adventures. If you want to drive your car on the beach, St. Augustine Beaches are your only choice in the area, and they’re perfect for a family beach day.
Every side of town is like a different state.
Within the Jacksonville area are multiple booming towns, and depending on what you’re looking for in a community, all offer different experiences. Downtown Jacksonville and its immediate surroundings are a mix of upcoming neighborhoods right next to historic areas, like the oak-tree lined streets of Avondale and Riverside. Just south of downtown is the Town Center area, with landmarks more my speed: Norstom, Macys, PF Chang, and Louis Vuitton. It’s a shopping mecca with everything you’d ever need. The University of North Florida sits just across the way, and there’s no shortage of unique bars and restaurants. If you want a family-friendly area with good schools, look to Fleming Island, Mandarin, or St. John’s County. You’ll find settled neighborhoods, plenty of kids’ activities and clubs, and a little less traffic. Where ever you find yourself, my best advice: give yourself 30 minutes to get anywhere.
Get outside of the city limits.
Jacksonville sits in one of the best spots in the state, I think. Drive two hours in any direction and you have an awesome day trip waiting to happen. Two hours to the north is Savannah, Georgia. To the west is Tallahassee—the capitol of Florida (and the best school in all the world, Florida State University…I’m totally biased). And hold your cousin, because two hours south of Jacksonville is where the magic happens. Literally. Orlando is home to Disney World, Universal Studios (hello, Harry Potter World), the Orlando Magic NBA team, and the closest IKEA you can get. If two hours is too far, you have St. Augustine—the nation’s oldest city. Rich in history, great seafood, and the Alligator Farm, it’s the perfect place to take visiting relatives.
All the sports.
If you love sports, Jacksonville is your place. We’ve got the Jacksonville Jaguars, who might not have the best record, but darn it, we celebrate every coin toss win. There’s a minor league baseball team—the Jacksonville Suns, who are pretty awesome. You want amazing stadium food, the Suns games are where it’s at. Every January, Jacksonville hosts the TaxSlayer Bowl, for NCAA football. And if you’ve always wanted to go to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, this is your chance; The University of Florida Gators meet the Georgia Bulldogs in college football showdown on neutral ground in Jacksonville. It’s so serious, a small sub-town pops up right outside EverBank Stadium the week before the game, lovingly dubbed RV City. Tailgating is on great display and you don’t want to miss it. Not a football or baseball fan? There’s golf tournaments (The Players), the Daytona 500 (an hour away), and an indoor football team (The Jacksonville Sharks), too.
No matter what you have an itch for, Jacksonville can scratch it. Your time stationed there will prove to be the most memorable…and for good reason.
Now, what will you do first?
Have you ever been stationed in Jacksonville, Florida? Tell us what you loved!
Posted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager