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There are very few places in the world where you need to go north in order to go south. One of those places is Florida.
Though Florida is the southernmost part of the contiguous United States, most of Florida doesn’t feel like the American South at all. But the northern part of the state sure does!
With that in mind, I found myself skirting across the top of Florida, driving from Pensacola to Jacksonville. That journey — eight hours of driving, plus a few stops along the way — ended close to midnight, leaving only one full day to explore Jacksonville before heading to Savannah the next day.
After that long day of driving, I didn’t want another crazy day — so instead of visiting both Jacksonville and St. Augustine, I decided to stick to Jacksonville and see what this city had to offer.
While Jacksonville’s metro area has a population of over one million, it has the feeling of a small town. When checking out the different neighborhoods, I expected them to be more urban and busy, with public transportation and large neighborhoods.
The highly recommended neighborhood of San Marco, while a nice place to spend some time, was tiny, with a small cluster of businesses, many of them independently owned.
You’ll also find a vintage theater…
And some lions, modeled on those of Piazza San Marco in Venice.
San Marco is also home to Peterbrooke Chocolate — and if you pass through Jacksonville, do not leave without trying this delicious chocolate! They’ve got chocolate-covered bacon, chocolate-covered Oreos, and it’s smoothly delicious.
If you’re exploring the town, definitely pop over to San Marco for a bit.
Next up was Five Points: Jacksonville’s hipster zone, home to lots of cool restaurants, diners, and shops. If I lived here, this was where I’d hang out.
The only problem? Our visit was on a Sunday. Lots of the shops were closed and others had limited hours.
And so I decided to live as Jacksonvillians did. If people weren’t working today, I would head to where people were having fun.
And so I got some coffee and headed to Memorial Park, right on the river, for some people-watching.
Football games, kids swinging around, dogs on leashes leading their humans around, even the occasional Live Action Role-Playing game.
After the long drive the day before, a low-key day in Jacksonville was the perfect way to recover — especially since it was so gloriously sunny.
The Highlight of My Stay: Country Inn and Suites, Jacksonville
I loved the Country Inn in Jacksonville for many reasons. You might recall that there were internet issues in Pensacola — but in Jacksonville, I instantly connected to super-fast internet — internet so fast, it was almost approaching Hong Kong levels.
“Your internet is amazing,” I told the manager.
“We just added several more routers,” he responded with a grin.
I love when people in the hotel industry prioritize connectivity. It’s something that is incredibly lacking and pointless, considering that most hostels provide it free of charge without blinking an eye (and the ones that don’t are pretty much in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, where free unlimited internet is tough to find, period).
Later on, I had two of the maids introduce themselves to me in the corridor. That has never happened to me in a hotel before, ever!
The hotel’s location is right off the highway, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Jacksonville and about a 35-minute drive from the beaches. A bit of a drive, but Jacksonville is a city with a lot of sprawl.
Before leaving, I was given lots of suggestions of things to see in the area, neighborhoods to visit (San Marco and Five Points!) and local brands worth trying (love that Peterbrooke Chocolate). Really — the friendly treatment I got at this hotel was a genuine highlight of Jacksonville.
Rates start at $89.00 per night.
The #SouthUSA campaign is brought to you by Country Inns and Suites by Carlson and Holiday Autos. All opinions, as always, are my own.
25 thoughts on “A Taste of Jacksonville Sunshine”
It’s nice to see this side of Jacksonville. I lived there for 2 years as a kid and since I was under the age of 10 I don’t remember too much of it. For me, Jacksonville is just the place I first experienced culture shock and found out that the ocean water is VERY different from Lake Erie. 😛 I might go back there someday to see what it’s really like.
LARPers! I love seeing them.
I’ve yet to explore downtown Jacksonville but after this post, it’s a priority the next time I’m in that part of Florida!!!
Looks like a cute little place. I hate going places on Sundays and everything is closed! Such a bummer but looks like you found some cool places to see.
Looks like a lot of fun! And that is great that the hotel had a lot of friendly workers – sometimes that is very hard to find these days.
They really were the best!
Mmmmm chocolate covered bacon? I’m so with you on the internet thing. Sometimes I can’t believe that a hotel is charging hundreds of dollars for the room per night and still won’t give you internet, yet you can pay way less in a hostel or apartment and it comes for free! I think it’s because business travelers are willing to pay for it since they get reimbursed…. :/
Yes. That could be a factor. That and hotels haven’t quite figured out how to do without this once-healthy revenue stream.
I wanted to explore more of Jacksonville when I was taking my Southern road trip but sadly we only were catching a flight there! Next time. Great post, thanks for sharing.
Happy travels 🙂
Cool post Kate! Those chocolate covered oreos sound delicious.
Great post! I use to live in Jacksonville and still visit often to see family! You would of loved to see Ponte Vedra thats not too far from the city. They have nice beaches and fun places to visit! Im surprised you didn’t drive to St. Augustine. I haven’t been there in awhile but they have tons to do there!! I always loved visiting the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Here is a site to check out if your ever down there again!
-The Southern Adventurer
Hi Kate,Your road trip through the US sounds awesome as does the SOTM tour you have undertaken. I was wondering though, you are now staying in hotels and B and Bs, and travelling extensively with your partner. As you have matured and you blog readership has expanded, it has moved on somewhat from your Southeast Asian backpacking days and as a solo female travel blog, which is how I first came across your blog (top google search result, thumbs up). Are you going to continue to market your blog as a solo female travel blog, even though for the past year you haven’t really been travelling alone? I’m not having a lend of you, just wondering if and how you are going to convert your blog from the solo female travel readership it currently is marketed to, to a more mature market for DINKs in their twenties and early thirties?
Hi, Clare —
Great question. The original intention of this site was to be for solo female travelers, and even when I was traveling with Mario, I was crafting my content with solo female travelers in mind. Coming up on the site is a series of solo female travel interviews about how to safely travel within destinations (India is first!) and that’s how my content will be spun in the future. I’m also getting back to traveling mostly solo this summer.
Jacksonville sounds like a lovely place with balmy sunshine and low-key atmosphere. Your pictures speak volumes about it. 🙂 And yes, internet connectivity would be a major factor to choose Country Inn and Suites.
It’s a shame you had to miss St. Augustine (that’s where my husband and I got engaged, so I guess I’m a little partial), but you made me realize that I have driven past Jacksonville SO many times — countless times — and have never actually stopped to explore the city. The closest I’ve come is stopping at Metro Diner on the way through because it was featured on the Food Network (http://www.domestiphobia.net/2013/04/29/diners-drive-ins-and-a-disturbing-reality-check-about-celebrity-chef-branding/). Next time I go through (which might actually be very soon!), you’ve convinced me to stop for chocolate. 😉
Hell, if you return for chocolate, I’ll have you send some to me in England. 🙂
Wow! Your photos are beautiful! Jacksonville looks amazing and an ideal place to live in! 🙂
Thank you, Grace!
Yes, yes, yes to Peterbrooke…their products are so amazing. Did you sample the chocolate-covered popcorn? I just love the stuff!
I didn’t sample it myself, but I gave it to my sister, who texted me with one word after she opened it: “Heaven.”
I dig the smaller towns you found. I always think of Florida as beaches and fist pumping Miami guidos unfortunately. Or old people. Just what everyone else refers to it as all the time, but it’s nice to see this smaller side. Love the vintage too!
I like visiting boutiques and browsing through knick-knacks. I also like the fact that you cut your loses on a Sunday and just hung out!
We did that in Milan a few years ago. It was a public holiday and the locals were in the park so we joined them! It was really great. There was lots of smiling and loads of photos as there was a fountain nearby and wine for a few Euros. Best time ever!
I have been in Jacksonville a few time on a business trip and will go there again in July. So far I never saw anything besides the hotel and the office, after this post I cannot wait to visit the town. It looks very colorful.
Love how you’ve set this blog up. Makes it easy for people to pick and choose locations which would interest them. Ive always wanted to visit Jacksonville and after reading this I feel like I’ve already been! Whenever I do go away (hopefully soon) I know where to go by looking through your photos and descriptions of each city. I’ve always wanted to visit the world but been wary about travelling alone. Any advice on how to stay out of trouble when you’re travelling alone?
Jacksonville has changed so much since you posted this.
All of the historic neighborhoods have a small downtown area within them.
San Marco, 5 Points, King Street District, Avondale, Murray Hill, Springfield, Atlantic Beach and Jax Beach all have there own downtown area that are filled with shops.
You’ll find Breweries, Bars, cafes, coffee shops, antique shops and more!
I also recommend going to Sweet Pete’s, Black Rock Trail, Talbot Island, Tillie Fowler BMX Trail, Treaty Oaks Tree, Jax Arboretum and Timucuan Forest.
Jacksonville isn’t a tourist city which makes it the perfect place to live. It’s pretty much locals only.
It’s a big city with a small town feel.
You’ll understand if you live here.