Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

JAX Attack: 4 Ways to Explore Jacksonville

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This post is sponsored by VISIT FLORIDA.

Migrating south to Florida on Spring Break has been a Luna family ritual since I was in diapers. We’ve been all over: from the Strip of Panama City Beach to the parks in Orlando to the beaches of Sarasota. And it’s one tradition I’ve continued long after my own school years ended and I assumed control of my own travel destiny—in my 34 years, not a year has passed without me visiting Florida (though, realistically, I usually find myself there three or four times annually).

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Last year in March, I took advantage of Southwest’s cheap flights from Nashville to Jacksonville and visited my local friend Angie for a long weekend. I had such a good time that I vowed to make this getaway an annual occurrence. So it was kismet when I was invited to a wedding in South Carolina mid-March of this year; one look at the map told me in four hours by car I could be back in Jacksonville, and suddenly a four-night stint in North Florida was etched on my calendar.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Area-wise, Jacksonville is the largest city in the United States (with more than 840 square miles!) as well as the most populous in both the state and the Southeast. But vibe-wise, it feels to me like a small town with everything going for it: a burgeoning food scene, some fun art installations in interesting neighborhoods, a lively brewery trail, 22 miles of pretty coastline and the nicest, friendliest people you’ll meet. (It’s still the South, y’all.)

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Heading there for your own Spring Break or summer vacation? Here are four of my favorite ways to get to know Jacksonville:

1. A little SUP Yoga

I’ve been paddle boarding for a decade, though I just invested in my own personal board last summer. Any chance I get while traveling, I hit the water to see the area from a different perspective. In a city like Jacksonville that’s flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and bisected by the St. Johns River, water sports opps are ample, and there’s no better way to spend your time than getting a cardio fix while seeing new terrain.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Due to a cold snap that consumed the entire eastern half of the country while I was there, I didn’t get out on the water this time around as SUP operations had temporarily halted. But starting in April, Black Creek Outfitters will resume its regular SUP Yoga classes for the season—every Saturday morning at 9:30am on the lake behind the shop—and for newbies and paddleboard veterans alike, I can’t endorse this form of fitness more highly. It’s a core workout like you’ve never known before, trying to balance in standing bow pose as the water ebbs and flows beneath your board. And no, you don’t need yoga or paddle boarding experience to try it—you just need to have a good sense of humor, as you will fall in!

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

For those looking to just grab a rental board and paddle out to sea on Atlantic or Neptune Beach, the friendly folks at Jax Beach Surf Shop have you covered; they offer board rentals, lessons and group paddles. They also sell equipment and some really cute beachwear. Additionally, Jacksonville has an active SUP community that organizes regular meet-ups.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

2. A wander along the JAX Ale Trail

I’m a fan of exploring a place via its craft beer scene; not only do you get a literal taste of the food and spirits culture driving the city, but you also are guaranteed to meet some colorful characters.

There are now eight craft breweries comprising the JAX Ale Trail, and while I didn’t make it to them all, I did make an admirable dent.
Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

A New York photographer friend B.A. was in town for the weekend, and he met up with me at Aardwolf Brewing Company, located in the heart of San Marco, the cutest little Jacksonville neighborhood. It was the middle of the afternoon when many should have been at work, but also St. Patrick’s Day, so the place was already hopping.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Another friend had mentioned that Aardwolf specializes in sours, so I took the opportunity to deviate from my normal dark-beer agenda and try a green sour specially made for St. Paddy’s Day. Yum!

B.A. and I then hopped in a Lyft and headed over the bridge to Intuition Ale Works, which might be Jacksonville’s most well-known brewery, for flights of stouts, IPAs and other specialty brews that happened to be on tap. If I can’t be on the beach, I can’t think of a better way I’d like to while away the day than a self-guided brewery tour.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Not a beer fan, but still want to partake? No problem. Jacksonville’s first craft distillery, Manifest, recently debuted in the space adjoining Intuition. We tried it out, too…for research, of course.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

3. Dining downtown

I have a love affair with anything whimsical and/or delicious, but factor in an amalgamation of Alice in Wonderland, Willy Wonka and the most striking black-and-white design you’ll find, and you can immediately see why I’ve got a love affair with the Candy Apple Café. Though I’d been there once before, it was the first stop I made while back this visit, and it’s not just because its resident shop, Sweet Pete’s, is three levels full of sugary fun.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida
Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida
Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

After lunch at the café, a mosey through the adjoining gourmet candy story is definitely in order. Even if you fill your stomach with desserts and craft cocktails from the Candy Apple (as well you should), be sure and stock up on treats for later in the day. You won’t regret it; at 23,000 square feet, Sweet Pete’s is one of the biggest confectionary emporiums in the country. Just don’t settle up until the shop’s signature caramels have made their way into your shopping basket! For science lovers and amateur chefs, there are even hands-on, candy-making workshops that I’ll make it to one of these days.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

4. A spa day at Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa​

While a number of spas inhabit coastal resorts along Jacksonville’s beaches, Angie and I opted for a morning indoors at Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa down on Ponte Vedra Beach​. Given that it was quite chilly that day, we couldn’t think of a better way to beat the cold than to Zen out at this 25,000-square-foot spa, which offers a full menu of treatments. Angie and I both opted for the Sawgrass Custom Massage, a blend of Swedish and Therapeutic with hot stones, a scalp massage and a wee bit of foot reflexology to top it all off. It was pure heaven.

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

It was an added bonus that my late grandparents had been avid golfers who had taken me to Sawgrass as a child. After our massages and a little unwinding in the hot tub, we drove around the 65-acre resort so I could soak up the nostalgia remembering how Dede, Granddaddy and all their friends so adored this place. There’s also a Soothies Café on site at the spa that was bringing out smoothies and mimosas at the ready. I didn’t indulge this time, but next visit, it’s on!

Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida

What’s your favorite thing to do in Jacksonville? I’m already compiling a list for round three!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.


 

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Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida
Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida
Planning a Vacation to Jacksonville, Florida
COMMENTS
  • March 27, 2017

    I loved kayaking the rivers just outside of town. And I never thought of JAX as a great girls getaway, but that spa now has me convinced!

    • March 28, 2017

      Definitely! There are some awesome spas along Ponte Vedra Beach and also Atlantic and Neptune beaches—you could create an entire spa weekend along that stretch of sand!

  • March 27, 2017

    How do you keep up this pace? Most of your posts contain some kind of activity, I’m impressed and a little bit jealous. I don’t get much further than walking around the city 🙂 I would really like to try SUP one day though!

    • March 28, 2017

      Girl, I’m always tired, ha! Luckily, I don’t require much sleep because I always have #FOMO when traveling—I know there will be a second chance to explore a place, but I still scramble to see as much as possible whenever I’m there anyway!

  • March 27, 2017

    I feel like a bad local that I didn’t know half of these places existed! I mean, it’s been about 10 years but wow, so much has changed in Jacksonville. Can’t wait to get back and explore properly!

    • March 28, 2017

      Well, next time you’re home visiting your parents, give me a head’s up and I’ll fly down and play tour guide to your own hometown 😉

  • March 27, 2017

    This gets me so excited for my own trip to Jacksonville this summer! SUP yoga and candy making classes, here I come!

    However, I’d like to register a formal complaint: Where are all the cutie pics of you and Angie?!

    • March 28, 2017

      OMG, we didn’t take one photo of us the entire four days! We’re the worst. I do have some behind-the-scenes on my final Adult Spring Break post, including Angie and Rae playing golf. Stay tuned…. 😉

  • March 28, 2017

    It seems like I always say the same thing in reaction to your blog posts, but here it is again: I’ve never been there! The one and only time I was in FL was when I was about 8 and went to Disneyworld. JAX looks so fun, and I love the idea of the walking craft beer tour there.
    Wonderful photo of the cashier at the candy store!

    • March 28, 2017

      I honestly hadn’t been to Jacksonville since with my grandparents as a kid, so I was thrilled to visit Angie last year and discover how much there was to do there! We’re hoping to go back in late summer to this area when Jade’s back visiting her family.

  • March 28, 2017

    These are all things I love! I had no idea the JAX Ale Trail was a thing… I need to visit!

    • March 29, 2017

      Right? It’s grown even in the year since I was last there, too! Every city needs an ale trail in my opinion 😉

  • March 28, 2017
    Pam

    next time you go, see if you can squeeze in a visit to Alewife, a new craft brewery place opened by a former co-worker of mine! (love to know if it’s any good!)

    • March 29, 2017

      Ooooh, I haven’t even heard of this one but I already love the sound of it! Will do, Pam 😉

  • March 28, 2017

    That ale trail sure looks fun! I’ve been to Amelia island but didn’t know there was so much in Jacksonville.

    • March 29, 2017

      I followed your Amelia Island trip and now want to go there, as well!

  • March 28, 2017

    I too go to Florida at least once a year but I have yet to make it to Jacksonville. Apparently I need to remedy that ASAP!

    • March 29, 2017

      Us Mid-Atlantic/Southern girls in colder weather destinations have to get our sun fix somehow! Yes, you’d love to spas along Ponte Vedra Beach, no doubt =)

  • March 28, 2017

    We spent several weeks in Florida and loved it but didn’t get a chance to hit Jacksonville. Looks like the perfect spot for a future trip. The food and beer is calling my name!

    • March 29, 2017

      I think Florida gets such a bad rap as a retirement destination when there is SO much to do there for all ages.

  • March 29, 2017

    You had me at ALE TRAIL! I love pub crawls and beer flights and that looks like so much fun.

    • March 30, 2017

      I knew we were meant to be travel buddies! #enablers

  • March 30, 2017

    Thank for share!
    Your article is very attractive and the images are clear. It made me want to go.

  • April 2, 2017

    Holy cow, I haven’t been to Jacksonville since I was in my 20s, right after I graduated from college. In fact, I looked at a university there for my MA! So much to see, I’m due to go back!

    • April 2, 2017

      Ahh, that’s crazy. Where did you wind up going instead?

  • April 4, 2017

    I have never been to Jacksonville! I need to go. That spa looks fabulous and I love the look of the Candy Apple Cafe!

    • April 5, 2017

      It’s seriously one of my favorite restaurants in the South. SO fun!

  • April 8, 2017

    We are headed to JAX in two weeks. Great tips. Going to have to take my teenagers to Sweet Petes. Wish we had time for a spa day at Sawgrass. Looks lovely.

    • April 22, 2017

      I hope you love it! Lunch at Candy Apple then a snack from Sweet Petes is a MUST.

  • August 2, 2017
    Zoe

    Kristin, isn’t SUP the best? I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. My board is solid which traveling with it really difficult. I’m considering an inflatable one… maybe that’s an option for you too!

    • August 3, 2017

      I love my board! I would never travel with it other than by car, so the Glide Lotus is perfect for me. I have a whole rig on my Jeep that makes it really easy to transport =)

      • August 3, 2017
        Zoe

        That is a pretty board…really light for the amount of volume it has! Right now we use my husband’s truck but I’m looking into some racks for my car.

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