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Jacksonville Neighborhoods

Most of the city’s neighborhoods aren’t destinations in the usual sense; there are scattered attractions in many of them, but only the beaches and Fernandina stand out as places where you might stroll around. Downtown does have a small concentration of attractions—a few museums, Jacksonville Landing, the weekly Riverside Arts Market—as does San Marco just opposite on the south shore of the river. Otherwise, plan on doing some driving to get between points of interest. The St. Johns River defines the area’s geography. It enters the city from the south and then turns east to the Atlantic Ocean. On its north bank are Downtown and the Northside; on its south and eastern bank is the Southside; Westside is, unsurprisingly, on the west bank. The beaches are south of the river’s mouth while Amelia Island is north of it. Getting from one area to another usually means crossing a bridge—the Acosta and Main Street bridges into Downtown, the Fuller Warren (I-95) that leads through the city and over a second bridge to the Northside and Dames Point to the airport and Amelia Island. Plan extra driving time to negotiate these choke points during rush hours.

Downtown

The Downtown district stretches from the riverfront north and west until it merges with Northside and Westside, but only the area close to the river is of interest to visitors. This is where the tallest buildings are, along with EverBank Field (home of the NFL Jaguars), the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville Landing and the Florida Theatre. Riverside is part of Downtown, extending on both sides of the Fuller Warren Bridge. This is where you’ll find the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville Landing, the Jaguars Stadium and both the gracious old Riverside district and the urban pioneers in the King Street District.

Southside

This encompasses the whole area south and east of the St. Johns River, and contains many micro-neighborhoods—San Marco, St. Nicolas, Lakewood—most of which have little attraction for visitors. Jacksonville is an automobile town, and you’ll need it cover the distances between the Beaches, Southside and Downtown.

Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach

About a half hour drive north of Downtown, Amelia is a barrier island just north of the mouth of the St. Johns River. It touches Cumberland Sound, which is the border between Florida and Georgia. As a neighborhood, we’ve used it to include the other barrier islands nearby, Little Talbot and Fort George. There are two sides to Amelia Island: The ocean side is host to several resorts, notably Amelia Island Plantation and The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island sited along miles of unspoiled beach. The western (river) side is home to the historic town of Fernandina Beach, packed full of beautifully preserved 19th century mansions.

The Beaches

There are three beach towns on the Atlantic Ocean, though you’d be hard pressed to tell where one begins and the other leaves off. From north to south, they are Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach. Of the three, Atlantic Beach is the liveliest, with its small downtown area loaded with beach bars and restaurants. The others aren’t far behind, and there ample opportunities to eat and drink in all three. Collectively, the Beaches are the soul of the city, which values playtime as much as working and very few places require anything more formal than shorts/shirt/sandals.

Ponte Vedra

South of Jacksonville Beach, the little town of Ponte Vedra (PAHN-tuh VEE-druh) is a jewel. Most of the land was originally owned by a mining company that worked the nearby beach for minerals during World War I. The company’s managers built themselves a golf course and a lodge, which was the beginning of the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. Careful and slow development resulted in a town with a mix of mega-mansions and New England shingle style homes along the ocean and two terrific resorts, PVI and Sawgrass. The beach here is covered in tiny shells, brought ashore by a current that hits the coast here. That also makes it a good surfing beach. Although it feels completely isolated, Ponte Vedra is only 10 minutes from Jacksonville Beach and 45 minutes from Downtown.

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