Maybe it’s just part of living in the Sunshine State, but there’s something about the people of Jacksonville. They’re happy. They smile. They’re pleasant. They say hello when walking past you. It’s just an all around friendly city. Add to that the beaches (22 miles of shoreline – the largest shoreline of any city in the U.S.), tons of great food options, an eclectic group of neighborhoods and people, and all the smiles start to make sense. (Some say it’s that Southern Hospitality, but I’m from Texas and it’s not even close to being this friendly.) I’m thinking all of this adds up to make Jacksonville a perfect destination for your next girlfriend getaway.
Contrary to popular belief, Jacksonville has Florida’s youngest population, which may explain why there are so many fun things to do, such as football games, beach activities, brewery tours, amazing shopping, tons of museums and art (Jacksonville is one of the Top 25 Cities for Art) and many other activities. Considering all that, it’s pretty fitting the city’s tagline is “Florida’s Most Eclectic Destination.” Actually, it’s spot on.
For starters, it’s a big place – the largest city in the continental U.S. by land mass. The downtown area (still being revitalized, currently mostly for business use) is divided by the St. Johns River, which runs all the way throughout the state of Florida.
I stayed in San Marco Square at the Hilton Garden Inn, which borders the south bank of downtown and San Marco neighborhood. San Marco Square is a great place to visit for the day – for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and great shopping. The entire square is all locally owned and operated. Fitness note: the hotel gym is pretty small, but they have a five-story parking garage, which can make for a killer workout. Or you can take a run into San Marco Square and check out all the historic neighborhoods.
If you’re a fan of shopping, start saving up because Jacksonville is considered the shopping mecca of Northeast Florida boasting some of the biggest department stores (their brand new Nordstrom is the most modern of any I’ve seen), outdoor malls, specialty boutiques, and antique markets. Jacksonville was voted No. 9 on the list of the Top 25 Best Shopping Cities in America by Forbes Magazine, so it’s not too shabby when it comes to shopping, whether on a budget or splurging.
For cocktails (and delicious burgers!) be sure to check out Black Sheep, which is walking distance to a number of other bars and restaurants and had pretty easy street parking. Try to snag a seat at the downstairs bar (there is also a rooftop bar, but it’s more of a standing bar I hear), and eat there. Like most fun towns, you’ll meet lots of locals and even other tourists and get a good feel for the friendliness and layout of the city. The happy hour at Black Sheep is also great and I found my new favorite well-priced bubbly: Graham Beck Rose. You should try it.
I also hit up Sweet Pete’s brand new location – a literal three-story modern day Willy Wonka factory. The downtown location is brand new but the business itself has been around for over 20 years. It just may be the brightest and coolest place I’ve visited in a while (the rainbow colored chandeliers are to die for). To put it in perspective, if Sex and the City were filmed in Jacksonville, this would be the setting of every one of their cocktail conversations discussing love and life. (Yes, they do serve delicious cocktails and a full-menu.) Must try: Gourmet PB&J chocolate candies.
In case you’re looking for another burger spot, try M Shack (there are two locations, we visited the one at the beach on Atlantic Blvd). All of their burgers are made with all natural, hormone-free beef ground fresh daily, and are incredibly juicy. And I suggest you save room for their delicious hand-spun ice cream shakes. It’s not on the menu, but get the banana and peanut butter shake – you won’t regret it. I also hear the Banana’s Foster is a top-seller. No matter what you order, don’t ask for the nutrition information. Just remember this – the beaches of Jacksonville are some of the nicest kept beaches on the East Coast – the sand is so packed it makes a perfect running route so you can run it all off later.
And of course, this trip centered around the Texans vs. Jaguars game (go Texans!) and we got the chance to check out EverBank Field, which was a great sports venue (even though the weather didn’t cooperate). The cabanas at the Clevelander Deck were an absolute fun and unique addition to your typical gameday experience that you won’t find in other NFL stadiums – they even offer seats (pretty good seats too!) that have an unobstructed view of the field and are all-inclusive with drinks and food for $150. If you’ve ever bought NFL tickets, you know that is a great price!
For packing purposes, remember this is Florida, which means the weather is consistently inconsistent. In fact, to go along with the niceness of the people of Jacksonville and the unpredictable weather, a fan actually gave me her Jaguars sweatshirt to keep me warm during the game. Of course I wore it inside out, but that was one of the nicest gestures I’ve experienced at a game, and I think it speaks volumes of Jacksonville residents and Jaguar fans.
Jayme Lamm is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Houston focusing on travel writing and is in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Be sure to follow Jayme’s travel and sports adventures on Twitter @jaymelamm.