Florida is a traveler's haven: it's filled with history, entertainment and more than 1,000 miles of coastline. But any popular destination can become expensive. A visit to Jacksonville, on the Atlantic side of the state, is the antidote. The city blends coastal appeal with a metropolitan vibe, and it's much more affordable than many other Florida hot spots.
In Jacksonville, nightlife and outdoor adventures are within blocks of one another. Read on to discover why a weekend on Florida's First Coast should be your wallet's first pick.
Welcome to Jacksonville! Did you know it’s the largest city by land area in the continental United States? You’ll quickly familiarize yourself with its mass as you travel from Jacksonville International Airport to your beach accommodations, 25 miles away. Here’s the silver lining: Whether you travel by rental car, rideshare or hotel shuttle, this drive will give an overview of much of what the city has to offer.
But this trip is centered on the city’s coastline, and you’re beach bound. Locals love to recommend Seahorse Oceanfront Inn in Neptune Beach. Rooms start at $129 in the winter and $139 in the summer, and max out at $219 for the hotel’s largest suite with a Jacuzzi tub. Local bartender Robert Freeman describes the Seahorse as “an amazing retro pool-side, beachside hotel,” and he’s not kidding. Every room is oceanfront, and there’s plenty to do within walking distance.
Prefer a more contemporary experience? Just down the street, One Ocean Resort & Spa offers luxury at a competitive price; rooms can start at as little as $150 a night. The Atlantic Beach hotel includes a full-service spa and, like the Seahorse, is located within blocks of the Beaches Town Center.
Toss your bags in your room and walk to Lemon Bar, located in the Seahorse’s courtyard. Order an easy dinner – try the Mayport shrimp, named for the nearby coastal village. Already ate? Perhaps a cocktail will cap your night. The Lemon Bar Fresco, $7, combines Finlandia Tangerine Vodka, grapefruit juice and club soda for a flavorful treat. It’s up to you whether you tuck yourself into bed or stroll along the sand, but tomorrow’s going to be a big day.
Every day should start with breakfast, and options abound. Eat at the hotel, if you like; Seahorse offers a complimentary breakfast basket for pick up, and One Ocean’s Azurea has a full breakfast menu.
Or head to Maple Street Biscuit Co. in Jacksonville Beach for a taste of a local favorite. This small regional chain, which started in Jacksonville, now boasts 10 locations. It’s Southern-style dining in a casual environment – just what you’d expect from its tantalizing name.
Mid-morning is prime beach time – and you’ve got options. Step outside your hotel onto the sands of Atlantic or Neptune beaches. If you prefer a livelier scene, walk the two-and-a-half blocks from Maple Street to the shore. Activity often surrounds Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier, though the pier itself has been closed since October 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. Regardless of which stretch of sand you choose, dune walkovers and public restrooms are plentiful.
Take a break from the sand and reapply your sunscreen over lunch at Taco Lu. Guacamole is made on site, and a variety of tacos allow diners to mix and match. Standard tacos are $2.99 each, and speciality tacos begin at $3.99, so it’s easy to order till you’re full. If you prefer an adult beverage with your meal, you’re in luck; happy hour brunch runs 10am to 2pm on weekends, and the restaurant boasts an impressive selection of tequila. (Seriously, dozens of tequilas.)
If you’ve got little ones in tow, give them a break from sunbathing at nearby Adventure Landing. This entertainment complex includes a water park, laser tag, miniature golf and more. Entry to the water park plus five attractions cost $39.99, and there are other options based on your interests.
Maybe you’re looking for less structured adventure. Turn your attention to Adventure Kayak Florida. The company offers multiple tours near the beach, specializing in photography, birding or good ol’ paddling fun.
Head back to the hotel to clean up for dinner, then on to Eleven South. The popular dining destination garners attention, such as Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, which it’s received for 11 years and running. But it’s also accessible fine dining. If the entrees, which start at $18, are beyond your budget, don’t fret. Small plates offer variety, or save the restaurant for Sunday night. The premium happy hour runs Sundays to Thursdays, and includes $5 cocktails, $7 wines and $7 bar bites.
Still looking to socialize? Hop on the Jax Ale Trail. Five of the city’s craft breweries are located at the beach, and each offers a distinctive personality. Atlantic Beach Brewing Company is owned by twin brothers and one of the brothers' wife, and plays up the family owned vibe. Southern Swells Brewing Co. is the beach’s largest taproom, with room to sip and socialise or play a board game. Engine 15 Brewing Company highlights guest beers alongside its own, and Green Room Brewing boasts seven permanent and nine rotating taps. Zeta Brewing Company will satisfy non-beer drinkers with its cocktail menu. That’s a lot of beer within a one-mile radius, so plan ahead with a cab or a ride-share app. The weekend is almost over, but there’s still fun ahead.
It’s time to get caffeinated. A short stroll down First Street will lead you to Southern Grounds Coffee. Order your favorite cup – it’s Direct Trade – and select a pastry or breakfast sandwich created by chef David Carrier. His resume includes the French Culinary Institute, time at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and his own restaurant concepts.
Once you’re fed, it’s time to shop. Beaches Town Center includes a variety of locally owned shops, such as the stylish boutiques AshleGyre and Jaffi’s or Kyd’s Children’s Boutique. Prefer books to clothes? The BookMark is renowned for its book picks and selection of ‘bookish’ paraphernalia.
When hunger strikes, wander to Atlantic Boulevard for a meal at M Shack (renowned for its milkshakes) or Poe’s Tavern (where you can’t miss the literary bathrooms and the Rue Morgue, a burger topped with chili, queso and a fried egg).
Cap the weekend with a visit to One Ocean’s spa. Choose a seashell massage – a fun twist on the hot stone massage – or opt for the seasonal special. Whatever your preference, it’ll leave you relaxed as you bid your weekend adieu.