*This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Thank you for supporting the work I put into this site!
The city of Jacksonville, although huge and beautiful with it’s gorgeous downtown views of the St. John Rivers, is not a vacation spot. A great base of operation or launching pad, per se for amazing day trips…yes. But vacation spot? No.
No one should plan a one-week vacation to Jacksonville, Florida. If you are doing that right now; STOP.
But a stay here wouldn’t be a total waste of time. Mind you, you would need a car, a sense of adventure and a plan. It is possible to make Jacksonville a weekend stop on a 7-10 day vacation.
Reasons why you will love Jacksonville as a weekend stop
- As stated above, gorgeous views of the St. John River
- cheaper hotel rates
- strategically, it will save you time and energy on packing, moving to another location, unpacking
- easy access to the expressway, perfect for a series of one day trips from Jacksonville, FL
- near a few cool activities in Jacksonville
Places to stay in Jacksonville, FL
Downtown Jacksonville’s centralized location and close proximity to the expressway makes it ideal for where you should stay during your weekend visit. To capitalize on downtown Jacksonville’s gorgeous skyline and its location along the St. John River, I recommend picking a hotel along the riverfront.
For information about downtown hotels, you can do more research through Booking.com.
Here are a few hotels in the downtown area I suggest staying at:
Hyatt Hotel Information:
- swimming pool
- public parking onsite $20 per day but street parking might be available
- airport shuttle
Doubletree Jacksonville Riverfront hotel information:
- Public parking onsite – $12 per day – street parking might be available
- swimming pool
Places to stay outside of downtown Jacksonville
Or another option would be any hotel along I-95. For instance, if your day trips were north of Jacksonville, i.e., Savannah, you would concentrate your hotel search near I-95, probably near the Jacksonville Airport.
If you plan on taking day trips south of Jacksonville you would concentrate your hotel search near I-95, probably just south of downtown.
I absolutely love the hotel map option from Booking.com!
Things to do in Jacksonville this weekend
So let’s say you’re in Jacksonville for a weekend as part of a longer vacation; what should you do? Here are some suggestions:
The Riverwalk runs along the St. John River and is divided into the Southbank Riverwalk and the Northbank Riverwalk.
Taking a walk along both branches of the Riverwalk is breathtaking especially in the evening when the city lights come on and the bridge is lit up.
For the woman over 50 traveling solo – Although this area is very safe during the day there’s not a whole lot of foot traffic during the evening. If you are staying at one of the hotels I suggested and decide to venture out for an evening walk either (1) stay close to the hotel or (2) be very careful and aware of your surroundings. Try to stay near other people who might be enjoying an evening walk as well.
Things to do along the Riverwalk
- Catch a performance at Times Union Center for the Performing Arts (300 Water St) – located on the Northbank Riverwalk
- Museum of Science and History (1025 Museum Circle) – located on the Southbank Riverwalk, it specializes in science and local history
- River City Brewing Company (835 Museum Circle) – great beer and a perfect spot for lunch or dinner along the St. John River (Southbank Riverwalk)
Visit the historic neighborhood of Riverside
The neighborhood of Riverside Jacksonville, FL is a nice throwback to the days when each neighborhood had its own commercial, dining and entertainment district; Remember when the main street was where neighbors got together; shopped together and dined at the local restaurant on Sundays after church?
Things to do in historic Riverside
1. Take a walk through this historic neighborhood – due to a fire in 1901 that devastated downtown Jacksonville, people began migrating south of the downtown area. There was a need for better residential housing design after the fire occurred. Before the fire, most buildings (including houses) were wood-framed. Architects flocked to Jacksonville to take advantage of the need for the city of Jacksonville to re-build from the ashes. Modern design and better housing construction were introduced. One of the architectural styles you will recognize in the neighborhood of Riverside is Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style. The neighborhood of Riverside has the largest collection of prairie style homes outside of the Midwest.
2. Stay at a Bed and Breakfast – Instead of staying in the downtown are why not stay in the heart of the Historic neighborhood of Riverside? Check out the Victorian Bed and Breakfast; Riverdale Inn (1521 Riverside Ave). It’s just half block stroll away from the St. John River with its spectacular views of Downtown Jacksonville. Within walking distance of Five Points, Cummer Museum and Memorial Park.
3. Shopping at Five Points commercial district – With the devastation of businesses downtown in 1901, Five Points was developed as a commercial area for the residents of Riverside and featured local commerce and entertainment. Although the Riverside neighborhood and Five Points District has changed and evolved over the years to a more laid-back existence; bohemian Five Points is still the neighborhood hot spot. Don’t be surprised if you’re greeted with a smile and hello. It is the “south” after all with all the charm that word implies.
Although the Riverside neighborhood and Five Points District has changed and evolved over the years to a more laid-back existence; bohemian Five Points is still the neighborhood hot spot. Don’t be surprised if you’re greeted with a smile and hello. It is the “south” after all with all the charm that word implies. To quote my daughter, Five Points is “cute”. It has a lot to offer in way of entertainment, shopping, and good food.
I could spend hours roaming the Fans and Stoves Antique Mall (800 Lomax St). If you’re into antiques, don’t miss going in for a look. It’s amazing the number of vintage items from different decades I found in this antique store. Interior designers who are looking for period pieces will find some great stuff here. And if you’re nostalgic, as I am, some of these antiques will take you back to your childhood.
The aromatherapy smells coming from Generation Us (822 Lomax St) beckoned me to explore the interior of this shop. But it was the aesthetic atmosphere that drew me in, visually. I was fascinated by the collection of pop art items; reminding me of pieces in a contemporary art museum.
I took one look at the red velvet dress in the display window of Wolfgang (1038 Park St) and thought “yes when I win my Pulitzer for blogging (and lose 40 pounds), this is the dress I will wear”. I walk past the clothing store, chuckling to myself at the possibilities but my gorgeous daughter who is a perfect size 4 (and sporting a baby bump) is intrigued. So we go inside this fascinating store.
4. Eat at one of many restaurants in Riverside – The restaurants in Riverside Jacksonville, FL serves up a plethora of different flavors and cuisines. Foodies looking for a local culinary experience with a little something different thrown in will be delightfully….delighted. The choices range from fresh seafood from local coastal beach towns to Ramen and Asian fusion. Here are two spots I recommend eating at:
- Derby on Park(1068 Park St) – It’s Happy Hour at Derby on Park. After a long week of work, “Happy” is needed. I choose to sit outside even though it’s a little warm. My favorite pass time is people watching while wine-sipping and I can’t do that well on the inside of an establishment without feeling like a creep.
My waiter rushed over like he knew what my week was like. I ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio (Lumina, Italy 2015) from the Derby on Park drink menu, and studied the menu. I was torn. Should I get the Fried Pickles and Creminis; a southern delicacy or the Spinach and Artichoke Queso Dip which is my usual go-to appetizer?
After conferring with my very knowledgeable and attentive waiter (with a voice that reminded me of Brad Pitt), I go with the Fried Pickles. An amazing choice and it did not disappoint.
Instead of the pickles being sliced in a circle like you would find in a jar at your local grocery store; these pickles were bite-sized chunks, perfectly battered and cooked to perfection.
While writing this part of the post, I decided to Google the word “creminis“. Ahhhhh….it was pickles and mushrooms battered together, hence fried pickles and creminis. No wonder I fell in love with that appetizer. The chef paired two of my very favorite side garnishes. Pickles are my undoing. Mushrooms make me swoon.
After ripping through most of the pickle and creminis, I forced myself to stop munching, sat the appetizer to the side; sipped on Pinot and patiently waited for my entree.
For the entree, I went with the Intuition Fish and Chips, teamed with the Sauvignon Blanc from Oyster Bay, New Zealand. My waiter suggested substituting Onion Rings for the Chips. I, again take his advice and go with the rings.
He reports that the redfish was from Mayport, a seaside town a few miles north of Jacksonville. The fish that I was about to bite in to was pulled out of the Atlantic this morning. I found this magical. I’m from the Midwest where fresh fish is almost impossible to find and very expensive. Anyone that argues that there isn’t a difference in taste has never experienced fresh versus frozen-fresh.
With the wind at my back, I close my eyes and savor every bite of fish dipped in Chipotle tartar sauce. The choice of wine paired well with my “crispy on the outside; light and flaky on the inside” redfish from Mayport.
And again, I’m not disappointed.
My experience at Derby on Park was, as the young folks like to say “on point“; both culinary and service. In other words, AMAZING. Don’t miss out on this spot.
- Motion Sweets – Gourmet Desserts (1020 Park St) – Established in 2011, Motion Sweets specializes in delicious American and French sweets. You will want to get to this sweet shop early (opens at 9:00 AM) because the desserts go quickly. The Motion Sweets closes once everything is gone.
By the time I had arrived things were going fast. Standing in line I was praying that no one bought out the Vanilla Bean Cupcake and the last Brownie. I got lucky and was able to purchase both of those and the red velvet macaroon. Yum. The sweets were delicious. A nice touch is the free coffee bar, offering great coffee to the patrons of this sweet shop.
- Grassroots Natural Market – Not a restaurant but great for grabbing an organic quick bite or if you’re in need to fill up your picnic basket with goodies before heading to the park, check out Grassroots Natural Market (2007 Park St). Don’t leave without trying one of their deliciously healthy smoothies. It will change your whole life.
Tip: Be sure to obey the sign that says “Line Starts Here”.
While attempting to purchase a smoothie, I inadvertently cut in front of everybody. Interestingly, although I could tell I had irritated the soul of everyone standing underneath the sign including the person making my Tropical smoothie, no one said a word. I found this gracious, fascinating and amazing.
Anyway, I quickly paid for my smoothie (which was delicious) and embarrassingly muttered my apologies as I passed by them all.
5. Drink Craft Beer – And if you love craft beer; be sure to check out Hoptinger Bier Garden (1037 Park St). All newbies to the art of craft beer can get educated at Alewife Craft Bottle Shop and Tasting Room (1035 Park Street).
6. Riverside Park (753 Park St) – The neighborhood of Riverside holds a number of celebrations in the area now that it’s festival season in Jacksonville. Riverside Park is the site of many of these festivals.
The park is conveniently located near Five Points and is the perfect resting spot after an afternoon of shopping. Or better yet, spread out a blanket and have a picnic feast of your favorite wine and cheeses.
This particular Saturday I was lucky to come across the VegFest at Riverside Park. The 11th annual VegFest celebrated all things eco-friendly, organic, healthy and humane.
7. Riverside Arts Market (715 Riverside Ave) – Do what the local folks do every Saturday in Riverside, rain or shine, and head over to the Riverside Arts Market. The market is a mix of local businesses, artists, fresh home-grown food from farmers and local bakers; all selling or promoting their various talents and wares. Located under the Fuller Warren Bridge at 715 Riverside Ave, it runs from 10AM-3PM. Produced by Riverside Avondale Preservation, it is one of the best Farmer’s Market in the state of Florida.
Relax at the amphitheater located adjacent to the Riverside Arts Market. The riverfront amphitheater seats about 350 people and will wow you with views of the St John River and downtown Jacksonville as you listen to hours of live music.
My recommendation: Get to the amphitheater at 9 AM for the morning yoga class, before Riverside Arts Market begins at 10 AM. The perfect way to get you in the mood for shopping and eating.
Oh, I almost forgot. Bring cash. Some vendors don’t accept credit/debit.
8. Cummer Museum (829 Riverside Ave) – The Cummer Museum of Arts and Garden has a collection that represents centuries of diverse art exhibits from around the world. The Cummer Museum is nature and art blended; perfectly situated on the banks of the St. John River.
The art exhibits include masterpieces by Norman Rockwell, Peter Paul Rubens, and many more great artists. You are free to roam the Cummer Museum on your own or drop in on a guided tour; either the first Saturday of each month at 2 PM or every Tuesday at 7 PM. Admission is $10.
Recommendation: Go on Tuesdays between 4 pm-9pm; it’s free.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma severely damaged the gardens. The gardens are closed off to the public for now until it has been restored to its former beauty. But you can still glimpse the gardens under reconstruction with the St. John River as its backdrop.
Jacksonville, Florida is not a vacation spot. However, there’s plenty to do for a weekend getaway. And because of its location, the choice of Jacksonville for a jumping off point for day trips is a great idea. Here are some ideas for day trips from Jacksonville, Florida:
- Jacksonville Beach, FL
- Amelia Island, FL
- St. Augustine, FL
- Cumberland Island, GA
- Brunswick, GA
- Jekyll Island, GA
- Savannah, GA