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36 miles S of the Georgia border; 134 miles NE of Orlando; 340 miles N of Miami. Once infamous for its smelly paper mills, the sprawling metropolis of Jacksonville -- residents call it "Jax," from its airport abbreviation -- is now one of the South's insurance and banking capitals. Development was rampant throughout Duval County during the 1990s, with hotels, restaurants, attractions, and clubs springing up, especially in suburban areas near the interstate highways. Aside from that, there are 20 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches upon which to sun and swim, championship golf courses, and an abundance of beautiful and historic national and state parks to roam.
 
Spanning the broad, curving St. Johns River, downtown Jacksonville is a vibrant center of activity weekdays and on weekend afternoons and evenings, when many locals head to the restaurants and bars of Jacksonville Landing and Southbank Riverwalk. These two dining-and-entertainment complexes face each other across the river and have helped to revitalize the downtown area.
 
Compiling such a list is difficult, because entertainment preferences vary between people.  Jacksonville's a nice mix of attractions that appeal to everyone. A few of the attractions, such as the beach and Friendship Fountain, are so embedded in Jacksonville's culture and mystique that they're impossible to ignore. Several of them, of course, revolve around the great St. John's River, the waterway that keeps life flowing through Jacksonville.
 
The only cruise line that currently offers cruises from Jacksonville is Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival features Carnival Fascination, doing a series of 4- and 5-night Bahamas cruises from Jacksonville. These cruises are available all year long, making for a convenient way to get away on a fun vacation, especially for those that live within driving distance of Jacksonville. Jacksonville International Airport is only around a 15 minute drive from the cruise port, and the prices for such cruises are typically quite reasonable, making cruises from Jacksonville a great option even for those that don't live nearby.
 
Where You are Docked
Ships currently dock at Jaxport's Dames Point Cruise Terminal (9810 August Drive), although the city is looking to build a new cruise port. Dames Point is about a 15-minute drive from downtown, and even closer to the airport.
You'll need a car for this port, but within a very short drive are fast-food places and nearby Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park is a good place to roam among the oak trees and Civil War relics, if you have extra time on your hands.
 Taxis: Taxis line up at the cruise pier.
Rental Cars: Because Jacksonville and its neighboring sites-to-see are so spread out -- at 840 square miles, Jacksonville is geographically the largest city in the continental U.S. -- this is a good place to have a car handy. Budget, Avis and Hertz are among companies with rental facilities at the airport.
 
From North of Jacksonville
Take I-95 South to exit 362A - I-295 South.
Continue on I-295 South for about six miles.
Take exit 41: FL-105 / Zoo Parkway / Heckscher Drive.
At bottom of exit ramp, turn right onto Zoo Parkway.
Cross New Berlin Road, and go about 1/2 mile.
Turn left on August Drive into cruise terminal entrance.
Stop at guard station.
Follow signs to parking.
 
From South of Jacksonville
Take I-95 North to exit 337.
Merge onto I-295 North and continue for about 18 miles.
Take exit 41: FL-105 / Zoo Parkway / Heckscher Drive.
At bottom of exit ramp, turn left onto Zoo Parkway.
Cross New Berlin Road, and go about 1/2 mile.
Turn left on August Drive into cruise terminal entrance.
Stop at guard station.
Follow signs to parking.
 
From West of Jacksonville
Take I-10 East toward Jacksonville
Take exit 356: I-295 North.
Pass the interchange for I-95, staying on I-295 South for about six miles.
Take exit 41: FL-105 / Zoo Parkway / Heckscher Drive.
At bottom of exit ramp, turn right onto Zoo Parkway.
Cross New Berlin Road, and go about 1/2 mile.
Turn left on August Drive into cruise terminal entrance.
Stop at guard station.
Follow signs to parking.
 
From Jacksonville International Airport
Leave JIA via Airport Road, east toward I-95.
Take I-95 South to exit 362A: I-295 South.
Continue on I-295 South for about six miles.
Take exit 41: FL-105 / Zoo Parkway / Heckscher Drive.
At bottom of exit ramp, turn right onto Zoo Parkway.
Cross New Berlin Road, and go about 1/2 mile.
Turn left on August Drive into cruise terminal entrance.
Stop at guard station.
Follow signs to parking.
 
From Jacksonville Beaches
Take Atlantic Blvd. West to I-295 North.
Take I-295 North over the Dames Point Bridge (also known as the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge).
Take exit 41: FL-105 / Zoo Parkway / Heckscher Drive.
At bottom of exit ramp, turn left onto Zoo Parkway.
Cross New Berlin Road, and go about 1/2 mile.
Turn left on August Drive into cruise terminal entrance.
Stop at guard station.
Follow signs to parking.
 
Jaxport Parking Information
The Jaxport parking area opens to embarking passengers at 10:30 a.m. on cruise days:
 
Parking: There is a parking lot that lies adjacent to the Dames Point terminal and parking fees are on the Web site (www.jaxport.com). As an option, those who plan to spend a pre-cruise night or two in the city should check out hotels that offer cruise packages which include free or discounted parking for the length of your cruise and transfers to the cruise terminal.
 
Well-lighted and fenced on JAXPORT property
Located steps away from the cruise terminal building
Monitored by JAXPORT security 24 hours a day
Designated handicap parking spaces available
No reservations are required
Parking Costs
 
Cash or major credit cards are accepted on-site. You can also pay for cruise parking online in advance here.
$15 per day per passenger vehicle ($60 for a 4-day cruise and $75 for a 5-day cruise)
$30 per day for oversized recreational vehicles ($120 for a 4-day cruise and $150 for a 5-day cruise)
An oversized recreational vehicle is any vehicle that takes up more than one regular sized parking space
As with any big city -- and Jacksonville is very large geographically -- use common sense to keep safe. Don't flash valuables or walk around alone at night. Locals suggest avoiding the northwestern area of the city at night.
 
Things To See and Do
 
Jacksonville's riverfront. The St. John's River divides the city in two and along both edges are restaurants and hotels. Jacksonville Landing, on the riverfront, is full of boutiques and shops. Water taxis operate along the river so it's easy to access either side.
 
Key museums in Jacksonville include the Museum of Science & History, which has a planetarium and numerous hands-on displays (good choice for kids). Open Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. - 6 p.m. (1025 Museum Circle; 904-396-6674)
 
Also visit Museum of Contemporary Art/Jacksonville where the collection mostly showcases post-1950s art. Its ArtExplorium Loft is an interactive spot families may enjoy. Open Tuesday - Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Thursdays until 8 p.m., Saturday - Sunday noon - 4 p.m. (333 North Laura Street; 904-366-6911)
 
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is a destination for casual as well as serious art lovers. It's located in a former estate and has an Old Masters and a German porcelain collection as well as beautiful gardens, right on the river, and a new and really fun interactive children's area where adults and kids can create take-home works of art. Open Tuesday 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Wednesday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sunday noon - 5 p.m. (829 Riverside Avenue; 904-356-6857)
 
Ritz Theatre and Museum teaches African American history and boasts both an art gallery and theatre for music, film and drama presentations. Box office hours are Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Museum open Tuesday – Friday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. (829 North Davis Street; 904-632-5555)
 
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is another terrific family destination. It's particularly known for its collection of rare waterfowl, though the African birds and mammals are pretty nifty too. The Range of the Jaguar features jaguars and other Central American creatures like tree sloths and poison arrow frogs, in an area done up to look like Mayan ruins. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (370 Zoo Parkway; 904-757-4463)
 
Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island is Florida's only existing cotton plantation. Visitors can tour the late-18th-century planter's house and slave quarters. To get there, take the St. Johns River ferry at Mayport; it leaves every half-hour. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (11676 Palmetto Avenue; 904-251-3537)
 
There are many, many golf courses in and around Jacksonville. Aficionados may want to check out the World Golf Hall of Fame -- which contains golf courses, an academy, an IMAX theater and golf-related exhibits. Open Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday noon – 6 p.m. (One World Golf Place, St. Augustine; 904-940-4123)
 
Fort Caroline National Memorial is one of Jacksonville's classic historic sites, a park that commemorates the first French effort to establish a permanent colony in North America. The original fort was built in the 1560s; it's now a replica. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (12713 Fort Caroline Road, daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.)
 
The city's Riverside/Avondale is a historic neighborhood and a good place to find interesting shops, galleries and restaurants. Another good shopping option is the San Marco Square, designed to evoke Venice.
 
Museum of Science and History
The Museum of Science and History (MOSH) -- formerly known as the Jacksonville Children's Museum -- has seven permanent exhibitis, a new, state-of-the-art planetarium, and a specialty rotating exhibit. Past exhibits include Dinosaurs and Ice Age Mammals and Dinosaurs of the Deep -- both of which featured elaborate animatronics. MOSH is a must visit in Jacksonville, particularly if you have children. web: http://www.themosh.org/
 
Nearby St. Augustine, about 30 miles from downtown Jacksonville, was founded sometime around 1565 by Spanish adventurers, and lays claim to being America's "oldest city." It's got quite a vital historic district -- much has been beautifully restored -- but does edge awfully close to downright touristy with a lot of trinket shops and t-shirt boutiques. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument dates to 1695 and is the best preserved example of a Spanish fort in the U.S. Beyond the history, St. Augustine has some interesting beaches and the Anastasia State Park, a protected bird sanctuary/park, is a great place to spend an afternoon.
 
Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, 35 miles northeast of Jacksonville, has a charming historic district, with Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Victorian and Italianate architectural eras well represented. Fernandina Beach also has lots of cute boutiques and restaurants. Other sites to see on the island itself include Fort Clinch State Park, built after the War of 1812. The park is more than just a historic attraction; it has a great beach and nature trails and lots of restored buildings. Horseback riding is available on Main Beach.
Friendship Fountain
Many first dates and kisses have taken place over the years in front of Friendship Fountain. Some local residents believe the fountain has special powers. Whether it does it not is certainly up for debate, but there's no denying the fountain's beauty. Friendship Fountain was constructed in 1941. At the time, it was the world's largest fountain. A 2011 renovation brought a handful of improvements to the fountain and surrounding area, which should preserve it for decades to come.
Jacksonville Landing
What would Jacksonville be without the St. John's River? One could easily argue it's the lifeline of Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Landing is a great place to walk alongside its waters, catch a boat ride, have dinner, and even do some shopping. The Landing is also a popular hangout following Jaguars games and features 300 to 400 special events each year.
 
Downtown Art Walk
Jacksonville's downtown art walk takes place the first Wednesday of each month over a 15 block radius, between 5 and 9 p.m., rain or shine. Despite only being in existence for a few short years, Art Walk has quickly turned into one of Jacksonville's finest attractions. It features 30 or so galleries, live music, food and drink, and work from local artists.
 
Cruises -- Jacksonville River Cruises (tel. 904/396-2333; www.jaxrivercruises.com) operates sightseeing, dinner, and dancing cruises on the stern-wheel paddleboats, the Lady St. Johns and the Annabelle Lee. They usually dock at 1501 Riverplace Blvd. Cost is $40 to $45 and includes a meal; schedules vary greatly by season, so call ahead or check the website.
 
Fishing -- The least expensive way to fish for red snapper, grouper, sea bass, small sharks, amberjack, and more, 15 to 30 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, is aboard the Majesty, a modern, 65-foot, air-conditioned deep-sea party boat that has a galley offering hot meals. The full- day trips depart at 7:30am daily from Monty's Marina, 4378 Ocean St. (A1A), a half-mile south of the Mayport Ferry landing (tel. 904/246-7575; www.kingneptunefishing.com); they return at 4:30pm. The price is $75 per adult, $65 per child 6 to 14, including bait and tackle. Those who just want to sunbathe and watch the anglers pay $30. You don't need a license, but reservations are required.
 
Golf -- The Jacksonville area has a great variety of golf courses, some of which are ranked among the top in the country. In Ponte Vedra Beach, the Sawgrass Marriott Resort sits on the most famous course, the Players Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass ???, home of the Players Championship in March. Ranked among the nation's top courses, its island hole is one of the most photographed in the world. Nearby are the Ocean and Lagoon courses at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.
 
Top courses open to the public include the Golf Club of Jacksonville, 10440 Tournament Lane (tel. 904/779-0800; www.golfbentcreek.com), which is managed by the PGA Tour. It's a great bargain, with greens fees between $27 and $49. The semiprivate Cimarrone, 2690 Cimarrone Blvd. (tel. 904/287-2000; www.cimarronegolf.com), is a fast and watery course with greens fees ranging from $33 to $65. But the best public course in the city, hands down, is the 18-hole Mill Cove course at the Mill Cove Golf Club, 1700 Monument Rd. (tel. 904/642-6140; www.millcovegolfcourse.com), which features a newly renovated par-71, 6,671-yard course with a slope rating of 129, designed by Arnold Palmer. Rates are exceptionally affordable at $25 to $45.
 
Be on the lookout for the free Golfer's Guide in visitor centers and hotel lobbies.
 
For course information, go to www.golf.com or www.floridagolfing.com; or call the Florida Sports Foundation (tel. 850/488-8347) or Florida Golfing (tel. 866/833-2663).
 
Horseback Riding -- For lessons or a scenic ride along the dunes or through Jennings State Forest, try Diamond D Ranch, located 3 miles West of Cecil Commerce Center and the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, off Normandy Boulevard (tel. 904/289-9331; www.diamonddranchinc.com). Call for rates and reservations
 
Start Your Vacation with The Beach
Jacksonville isn't complete without at least a passing reference to one of the city's most well-known
the beach. Along the 22-miles paradise, Jacksonville offers a range of activities including water sports, relaxation, nightlife, and family fun. During the Summer months jump aboard Jax Beach's convenient Beaches Trolley to explore all the beach neighborhoods and attractions for just $1.50 fare. Jacksonville Beach is well known for its 1,000 foot fishing pier
Best active beach: Jacksonville Beach is the go-to beach for families and action-oriented folk. There's a boardwalk with all manner of beachy-type shops and food stalls and there are places to rent various types of water sports equipment.
 Best quiet beach: Head to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island.
Best laid-back beach: Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Mayport is low-key, but still has facilities and snack bars.
 
Eating Out

In Downtown Jacksonville. Southbank Riverwalk is the city's up-and-coming mecca for eating out. In addition to B.B.'s, the area has riverfront branches of Ruth's Chris Steak House, in the Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront, 1201 Riverplace Blvd. (tel. 904/396-6200); Morton's The Steakhouse, 1510 Riverplace Blvd. (tel. 904/399-3933); and the Wine Cellar, 1314 Prudential Dr. (tel. 904/398-8989; www.winecellarjax.com), which offers very good Continental fare and has a wine list to justify its name.
 
You'll also find a plethora of good cafes and restaurants in the San Marco Square and Avondale neighborhoods.Don't forget that on the north side of the river, Jacksonville Landing has several full-service restaurants and a food court with outdoor seating
 
On the waterfront, the River City Brewing Company serves fresh seafood, steaks, pasta and has daily chef's specials. Open Monday - Saturday for lunch 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and dinner 5 – 10 p.m., and Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (835 Museum Circle Drive; 904-398-2299)
Another option is bb's, an urban-bistro, offers salads, seafood, pizzas, sandwiches, fresh seafood, steaks, chops and pasta. Note: free Wi-Fi and special Foursquare deals. Open Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – midnight, opening soon for Sunday brunch. (1019 Hendricks Avenue; 904-306-0100)
 
The specialties at Benny's Steak & Seafood are pretty self-explanatory. Open Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. (The Jacksonville Landing, 2 Independent Drive #175; 904-301-1014)
 In the city's historic San Marco district, gourmands should make a beeline to Bistro Aix for chef Tom Gray's award-winning Mediterranean and French-inspired cuisine, a lively bistro atmosphere and surprisingly reasonable prices. Open Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m.-9 p.m. (1440 San Marco Boulevard; 904-398-1949)
At Jacksonville Beach, Joe's Crab Shack boasts such specials as Samuel Adams Steampot and The Bean Town Bake, and even has a gluten-free menu. Open daily 11 a.m. – midnight. (6 Beach Boulevard; 904-249-6160).
Shopping
Jacksonville has plenty of shopping opportunities, including the upscale The Avenues, south of town at 10300 Southside Blvd.; St. John's Town Center, 4663 River City Dr.; and a number of flea markets. At Beach Boulevard Flea and Farmers' Market, on Beach Boulevard/Florida 90 (tel. 904/645-5961), more than 600 vendors show up Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm to sell their wares in the partially covered facility. Some booths are open other days of the week as well.
 
San Marco Square, at San Marco and Atlantic boulevards, south of the river, is a quaint shopping district in the middle of a stunning residential area. Shops housed in meticulously refashioned Mediterranean Revival buildings sell antiques and home furnishings, in addition to clothing, books, and records.
 
Another worthwhile neighborhood to explore is the Avondale/Riverside historic district, southwest of downtown on St. Johns Avenue between Talbot Avenue and Boone Park, on the north bank of the river. More than 60 boutiques, antiques stores, art galleries, and cafes line the wide, tree-lined avenue. The Riverside Arts Market (tel. 904/554-6865; www.riversideartsmarket.com), located under the Fuller Warren Bridge near downtown, is the largest free weekly arts and entertainment venue in the state and is open every Saturday from 10am to 4pm from March to December.
 
Nearby, the younger set hangs out at Five Points (www.5pointsjax.com), on Park Street at Avondale Avenue, where used-record stores, vintage clothiers, coffee shops, and funky galleries stay open late.
Like St. Augustine, Jacksonville is a mecca for chocoholics. If you've never tried chocolate-covered popcorn or pretzels, Peterbrooke Chocolatier Production Center, 1470 San Marco Blvd., on San Marco Square (tel. 904/398-2489; www.peterbrooke.com), is the place, if you're up for the experience. It's open Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm. Peterbrooke also has a retail shop on St. Johns Avenue in Avondale.

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