Sunday, July 19, 2015

20+ Artsy & Cool Reasons To Visit Jacksonville, Florida

By Jacquelin Carnegie - (Jacksonville, FL)

Miami gets all the glory but Jacksonville, on the shores of the St. Johns River in North Florida, is well worth discovering. What makes it exciting is all the entrepreneurial activity from new restaurants & breweries to artists-run galleries and unique, cultural events. And, of course, there's the beach! So, come on down to meet the super-friendly locals and explore "Jax."
GET TO KNOW JAX
Jacksonville's "Top to Bottom" Walking Tour
(Tel: 904-827-1845; www.AdLibTours.com; Tues & Thurs, 10am)
Start your visit with a walking tour that turns a history lesson into a fun trek of discovery. Local historian Gary Sass and his friendly guides give a great introduction to Jacksonville's history and the arts & culture scene.
If you don't feel like walking, take a 15-minute Zip Tour in a golf cart or a lovely Bike Tour.
DISCOVER JAX'S HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
While the downtown architecture leaves something to be desired, it's surrounded by charming neighborhoods such as Springfield, Riverside, and San Marco with lovely, historic homes. Check them out on house tours:
Springfield
 

Springfield Historic Home Tour (www.sparcouncil.org; May & Dec)
The Springfield neighborhood has beautifully-restored, turn-of-the-century homes: grand Victorians, charming bungalows, & historic family mansions. Plus, such friendly neighbors, you won't want to leave!
Riverside-Avondale Tour of Homes (www.riversideavondale.org; April) This picturesque neighborhood with oak-lined streets has over 5,000 historic buildings. Along with million-dollar, waterfront homes, it also has hip hangouts such as Five Points (shopping & nightlife) and Kings Street (gastropubs & breweries). If you can't make the homes tour, download a wonderful Podcast walking tour. And, the first weekend of every month, ride around on the Riverside Trolley.
EXPLORE JAX'S ARTSY SIDE
Art Walk (jacksonvilleartwalk.com; Monthly, 1st Wed, 5-9pm)
On the first Wednesday evening of each month, Downtown Jax is a whirl of artsy activities. The festivities kick off in Hemming Plaza with live music, arts & crafts vendors, street performers, food trucks, beer tents, and lots of family activities. Also, Downtown Jax's cultural venues stay open late and nearby restaurants and bars offer specials.

Museums It's worth a trip to Jax just for these two museums:
Museum of Contemporary Art
(333 North Laura St; www.mocajacksonville.org)
In the heart of Downtown Jax, MOCA's wonderful collection and exhibits rival major, world-class institutions. In addition to the stunning, contemporary artwork, MOCA has top-notch events such as talks with renowned artists and delightful concerts. Be sure to dine at the museum's terrific Café Nola, run by Cordon Bleu-trained chef Kathy Collins.

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
(829 Riverside Ave; www.cummermuseum.org)
This lovely museum in Riverside not only has an impressive art collection, spanning the ages from 2100 B.C. through the 21st century, it has an amazing garden overlooking the river and a nice café.
For the kids: Museum of Science & History (MOSH; www.themosh.org) in San Marco.
Galleries To start a gallery scene, local artists have taken matters into their own hands:
X. Nihilo

Southlight Gallery 
(50 No. Laura St, #150; southlightgallery.com)
This collaborative gallery features 25 exceptional, local artists with international acclaim. Check out work by: Tony Wood, Enzo Torcoletti, Lois Newman, Kevin Arthur, Julianne French, Pablo Rivera & Grant Ward. Monthly openings coincide with ArtWalk.
X.NIHILO (956 No. Liberty St; galleryxnihilo@gmail.com)
This pop-up gallery is run by artist Thony Aiuppy who has an eye for up-and-coming talent such as gifted artists Dimelza Broche & Franklin Ratliff. There are bi-monthly exhibitions. (Email the gallery for weekend openings and extended hours in the fall.)
Plus: 44 Monroe Art Studio & Gallery; The Art Center & CoRK Arts District (
corkartsdistrict.com) - Artists' studios in funky, repurposed warehouses. Jax also has a very active Cultural Council that comes up with all kinds of artsy special events.
ENJOY JAX'S FABULOUS FESTIVALS
Jacksonville Jazz Festival (http://on.fb.me/1Mjqw0S; May)
(artist: Russ Wilson)
The festival kicks off with the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, then free concerts by world-renown musicians. VIP packages for preferred seating and other perks are also available.
Jax PorchFest (‪jacksonvilleporchfest.org; Nov)
This music fest is such a delightful concept: different singers and bands perform on the porches of various homes in the historic, Springfield neighborhood. Stroll along, enjoy the music, admire the historic houses, and grab a tasty snack from food trucks. PorchFest is the brainchild of Christina Parrish--attorney, serial-house-restorer (she's done 30), and unofficial "mayor" of Springfield.
Riverside Arts Market (riversideartsmarket.com; March-Dec, Sat, 10am-4pm) Every Saturday is a festival at RAM in Riverside, under the Fuller Warren Bridge. Check out local crafts--paintings, jewelry, and handmade goods--plus a farmer’s market, and music!
RAM
 

San Marco Nights
(smpsjax.com; Monthly, 2nd Thursday, 5:30-9pm)
This monthly festival of food, fun, brews & music is a great way to explore the lovely San Marco neighborhood.
RELISH JAX'S RESTAURANT SCENE
There's an incredible restaurant scene in Jax. In fact, each neighborhood has its' hip, hot spots:
Downtown: The Elbow (Bay St-Adams St/Main St-Liberty St) - considered Downtown's "entertainment district," the area is known for its eateries; favorites include: Burrito GalleryIndochine & Chomp Chomp. Cool cocktail lounges/whiskey bars: Dos Gatos (123 E. Forsyth St; www.dosgatosjax.com) & The Volstead (115 W Adams St; thevolsteadjax.com
Street Art, Dos Gatos
Riverside: Boldbean (869 Stockton St; www.boldbeancoffee.com) - great coffee & pastries; Black Sheep (1534 Oak St; blacksheep5points.com) - farm-to-table American cuisine with rooftop bar. King St gastropubs: Kickbacks and Goozlepipe & Guttyworks.

San Marco: The dining district is a date-night destination; popular spots include Taverna (1986 San Marco Blvd; taverna.restaurant) for Italian & Maple St Biscuit Co. (2004 San Marco Blvd; maplestreetbiscuits.com) for southern comfort food. 
Springfield
Uptown Kitchen & Bar (1303 N. Main St; uptownkitchenandbar.com) - inventive American for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Three Layers Cafe (1602 Walnut St; www.threelayersacoffeehouse.com) - named Best Coffee House in Jacksonville with delicious treats and a wine bar.
LET JAX ENTERTAIN YOU
Music: Jacksonville has a long history with great music. Elvis Presley gave his first indoor concerts here in 1956, and the bands Lynyrd Skynyrd & The Allman Brothers were born here. 

Times-Union Center for Performing Arts (300 Water St; http://bit.ly/1Kf1hK7) - Three stages for concerts, musicals, dance recitals, comedy shows, & the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.
Florida Theatre (128 East Forsyth St; floridatheatre.com)
Great entertainment since 1927 (Elvis performed here in 1956); contemporary pop, jazz, rock, country & blues, plus opera and ballet. Ritz Theatre & Museum (829 No Davis St; www.ritzjacksonville.com) - Great jazz venue with a fascinating American-American history museum.
Theater: Theatre Jacksonville (2032 San Marco Blvd; www.theatrejax.com) - The oldest community theatre in the country, open since 1938.
Movies: Before "Hollywood," Jacksonville was the Winter Film Capital of the World. These historic theaters serve food & drinks while showing new films & cult classics: San Marco Theatre (1996 San Marco Blvd; www.sanmarcotheatre.com) & Sun-Rays Cinema (1028 Park St; www.sunraycinema.com) in the Five Points section of Riverside.
HEAD TO THE BEACHES
Just a half hour from Downtown, Jax's three main beaches--Jacksonville Beach, Neptune & Atlantic--share a splendid strip of sand. There are seaside dining options, cute shops, and some artsy activities: an Art Walk and even a museum!
Morning Surf, Lois Newman


Where To Stay:
Downtown: Omni (245 Water St; Tel: 904 355-6664; http://bit.ly/1TL1IAl) - A wonderful spot right near everything in Downtown Jax; very friendly, helpful staff, plus nice rooms & a pool.
San Marco: Hilton Garden Inn (1201 Kings Ave; Tel: 904-396-6111; www.jacksonvillefldowntownhotel.com) - A great place to stay if you're travelling with kids; nice pool.
The Beaches: One Ocean Resort & Spa; Courtyard Marriott, Sheraton, Best Western, etc. 

Getting There: JetBlue offers great, frequent, friendly on-time service. 
Dawn Patrol, J. Seward Johnson
Getting Around: Everyone drives, but there's a very reliable public transit bus system, JTA. (Get a STAR card.) JTA Hotline: 904-630-3100, ext. 4 (Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm; Sat, 8am-5pm) - info on bus lines, bus stops & schedules. Skyway monorail runs Mon-Fri, 6am-9pm; Free. There are also seasonal trolleys: Beaches Trolley (April-Sept) & Riverside Trolley (1st weekend of month). And, just for fun, take a river taxi across the St. Johns. 

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