Florida is full of gorgeous beaches, but Jacksonville is a unique destination among all its sunny neighbors to the south and west. This northeastern Florida city can offer ocean activities, a funky downtown area, professional sports and luxury resorts all within 20 miles or so — and it’s within driving distance of several southeastern states. (The airport offers dozens of daily flights, as well.)
For our 48 hours in Jacksonville, we tapped into the best of the city and coast.
48 Hours in Jacksonville
If you can arrive in the morning, this is the day to explore the city side of Jacksonville. Ad Lib Tours has 80 themed excursions, from the downtown walking tour that explores history or art to an African-American history tour.
Mid-afternoon to Evening
Head to the funky Five Points area, a self-described Bohemian neighborhood. The hipster stores and restaurants along the main street reflect changing times (a kennel-free dog hotel) but also have a retro charm. The women’s clothing store Edge City has been in business since the ’70s, but one thing hasn’t changed: you’ll still find artsy owner Gunnel Humphreys behind the counter, often sporting a different vivid color in her hair. Across the street, Five Points Vintage is the sort of eclectic thrift store where you can spend an hour or so, wandering the different booths that are filled with everything from vintage clothing and kitschy signs to retro furniture.
When it’s time for a drink, head up the steps to the nearby rooftop bar in Five Points at Hoptinger, where you can play billiards on an outdoor table, linger by an outdoor fireplace or enjoy the panoramic views of the Jacksonville skyline with some specialty drinks. Dinner can always be a German-themed cuisine on the bottom floor of Hoptinger, or head to a locals’ favorite, the mix-and-match fun of Asian street food at Hawkers . This casual eatery a few doors down lets you choose dishes both familiar or a bit more daring — chicken dumplings or crispy pork riblets.
After dinner, hop in a car or Uber/Lyft over to your beach destination for the next two nights: One Ocean Resort in Atlantic Beach, 20 or so miles from city center. There, you can enjoy the pleasures — both simple and luxurious — the resort, recently named one of Florida’s top resorts by Conde Nast Traveler, offers. Do you want your own butler? They’ve got one for you, although they use the term “docent,” since that’s not quite so “Downton Abbey”-like. Your docent will introduce his/herself soon after your arrival and is only a button-push away from helpful services such as restaurant reservations, a bucket of ice and a refill of complimentary snacks in the snack drawer. You heard me right … if the Goldfish or M&Ms look appealing at any time of day, there’s no pesky mini-bar fee (although guests are charged a resort fee that covers snacks, health club and other usual items).
Have a hearty breakfast at the hotel, and then it’s time to explore the beach, of course. One Ocean is located right on an expansive sandy beach with plenty of places to walk left and right. (A quiet pool area is tucked behind the dunes for guests only.) When it’s time for an excursion, the resort can provide bicycles for exploring the neighborhood. Atlantic Beach is often called “the Nantucket of the south” for its shingle-style homes along nearby Beach Avenue and Ocean Street.
Everyone deserves a splurge on a spa treatment, and fortunately, the facilities at the resort are top-notch. For one thing, it’s the only full-service oceanfront spa in northeast Florida, with views in the relaxation room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Separate men’s and women’s locker areas include a whirlpool tub and nail and hair salon. I’d recommend the aromatherapy message, 50 (or 80) minutes of sensory heaven; you get to pick which scent accommodates the relaxing journey.
The resort’s in-house restaurant, Azurea, offers relaxing views and an upscale dining experience, with its fresh take on seafood, steaks and rich chocolate desserts. You can’t go wrong with the red snapper and creamy farro — and definitely make sure to get a specialty cocktail beforehand. We liked “Thyme’s of the Essence” with Tito’s vodka, pomegranate puree, fresh thyme, elderflower foam and lemon, but they change the drink menu out with the seasons.
So much to do. If there’s a Jacksonville Jaguars game going on, head to the big stadium (also known as the location for the yearly University of Georgia-University of Florida match-up). Consider taking the Jacksonville Ale Trail to check out all the local craft breweries.
But the easiest thing is to step out the front door of the resort and explore Beaches Town Center, a pedestrian-friendly area for shops, restaurants and other small businesses, accented with an ocean breeze. A charming bookstore called The Bookmark attracts national authors. Casual women’s clothing at Fig & Willow appeals to all ages. When it’s time for lunch, there’s no shortage of opportunities: North Beach Fish Camp for more seafood, or Coop 303, with its new take on Southern favorites. Since Beaches Town Center is a couple of blocks from the ocean, it’s easy to take one last walk on the sand before heading home.
When you’re ready to start planning your Jacksonville getaway, check out visitjacksonville.com for more information on where to stay, things to do and so much more.
All photography by Lisa Mowry.