Nestled up against the Georgia border, this is a different kind of Florida than you may have experienced further south. Almost alone among Florida’s major cities, Jacksonville was never primarily a tourist destination. An important point for the railroads of David Yulee and Henry Plant, it made its mark as a working town—paper mills, a port, transportation hub and later an insurance industry town. The city’s districts are defined by the St. Johns River, which runs north into the city, then makes a right turn to reach the Atlantic Ocean at Mayport. Although it has beaches—both tourist-kitschy and pristine—at its doorstep and elegant resorts, it’s not a resort town. As a visitor, you’ll find yourself surrounded by residents when you go to area attractions and restaurants. If you decide to stay cloistered inside a visitors-only resort, you can do that, too.
3 Have a “sundowner” at the Penthouse Lounge atop the Casa Monica Hotel overlooking the ocean. You can stay on for dinner if you’re too tired or buzzed to drive; if you aren’t drive into downtown and have dinner at Matthew’s.
1 If you’re staying in Ponte Vedra, just walk out of your room to the beach. If you’re not staying in Ponte Vedra, you should experience it, at least. Pack the beach stuff in your car and drive down to the end of Ponte Vedra Boulevard and turn into the parking lot for Mikler’s Landing. Walk through the cut in the dunes and set up shop well above the high-tide line—the waves can get big down here if there’s any wind.
2 When you’re through with the beach for the day, when you pull out of the parking lot, head west (straight) instead of turning onto Ponte Vedra Blvd. Go west on Palm Valley Road to Whitey’s Fish Camp for an early dinner of fried catfish (or seafood if you’re not ready to go full-on Cracker).