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Why Go to Jacksonville

Jacksonville isn't your typical Florida vacation destination: It's not right on the beach like Miami, it's not choked with theme parks like Orlando and it's not small and quaint like Key West. Most travelers use this expansive city primarily as a jumping-off point for the nearby beach communities of Amelia Island and Ponte Vedra Beach or a cruise aboard the Carnival Fascination. But Jacksonville does have the makings of a great getaway. Attractions like the Jacksonville Zoo and the Museum of Science & History will keep the kiddos happy while historic sites (like the Kingsley Plantation) and art museums (like The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and the Museum of Contemporary Art) draw the cultured and curious.

Native Americans saw the desirability of northeast Florida; the Jacksonville area was the first year-round Native American settlement in North America. And the region thrived as a hotbed for agriculture during the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, Jacksonville continues to flourish as a business center, though it doesn't draw the crowds of the state's other tourism hot spots just yet. You'll mostly find chain hotels here, and the art scene has only recently begun to branch out beyond museum walls, but Jacksonville is on the rise. And now's the time to experience downtown's Tudor mansions and unique Southern charm without paying the overwhelming rates associated with already established tourism destinations.

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Jacksonville Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best times to visit Jacksonville are from March to May and September to November. These shoulder seasons see pleasant weather, as well as fewer tourists and lower prices than the summer months. June through August is peak travel season in northeast Florida, with hot temperatures and plenty of sunshine drawing beach bums in droves. Winter, on the other hand, can see average temperatures drop into the 40s, driving visitors away and prices way down. If you're looking for a deal, then plan on a cold-weather visit to Jacksonville.

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What You Need to Know

  • It gets cold here Unlike other Florida destinations, Jacksonville can experience chilly temperatures. If you want to hit the beach, avoid a wintertime visit.
  • You'll need to drive Jacksonville is the largest city in the continental United States by area, and the beaches are about 30 miles away, so plan to rent a car.
  • There's an artsy side Jacksonville is known for its creativity; take a break from the beach to visit sites like The Cummer Museum and the Riverside Arts Market.

How to Save Money in Jacksonville

  • Avoid the summer season Colder winters in northeast Florida means that the area sees a larger influx of tourists — and, ultimately, higher hotel rates — during the summer months.
  • Stay in Jacksonville Even if you're planning on hitting the beach, Jacksonville will be a better bet for bargain hotel rates than the high-end communities of Ponte Vedra Beach or Amelia Island.
  • Check for deals Before booking your trip, check the Jacksonville tourism board's website for deals on hotels and upcoming festival tickets.

What to Eat

Foodie-ism is on the up-and-up in Jacksonville: The city welcomes new restaurants on a regular basis and the food truck phenomenon has taken over. Of course, there's no shortage of fresh seafood here: Try some of the region's signature Mayport Shrimp at Campeche Bay in Jacksonville Beach. You can also sink your teeth into fresh fish served Southern-style at one of the region's "fish camps" — these rustic restaurants specialize in regional seafood and offer laid-back dining experiences. One of the most popular fish camps in the area is Clark's Fish Camp, a former bait and tackle shop that now serves a variety of fish dishes in a lodge setting that showcases the art of taxidermy. You'll find Clark's at the mouth of Julington Creek in Southside, about 15 miles south of downtown Jacksonville.

You'll also have plenty of venues to choose from when looking for a more upscale dining experience. Ponte Vedra Beach is home to such popular fine dining establishments as Aqua Grill and J.J.'s Liberty Bistro. And Matthew's — just south of downtown Jacksonville — earns praise for its constantly changing menu and unique ingredients. Meanwhile, Atlantic Beach adds some funk to its flavors at places like the North Beach Bistro and the Ragtime Tavern, both of which feature live music.

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Getting Around Jacksonville

The best way to get around Jacksonville is by car. The greater Jacksonville area encompasses 840 square miles, and the nearby beach towns of Amelia Island, Ponte Vedra Beach and Atlantic Beach are roughly 30 miles away from the downtown area. You'll find several big-name car rental agencies located in the Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), which sits roughly 15 miles north of the downtown area. However, if you aren't a fan of heavy highway traffic, you can rely on several different public transportation methods to get around. You'll also find a number of taxi services operating in Jacksonville that offer rides between downtown, Amelia Island and the airport.

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