Jacksonville is one of Florida’s most metropolitan cities, and for good reason. If you’re traveling down the East Coast and want to stop at a place that has lots of do, this is the city for you. Despite its humble beginnings, this huge city is now one of many beautiful East Coast skylines. Try to drive through Jacksonville in the evening and see how beautiful these skyscrapers appear with lights reaching to the sky. Whether you’re interested in modern luxury, exploring art, discovering history, or just sightseeing, you will find plenty to excite you.
First, a little bit of history: Perhaps thousands of years before the first European ever feasted his eyes on Florida’s balmy shores, Indian tribes utilized the area now known as Jacksonville. They were later identified by their Spanish conquerors as Timucuans, although the exact origin of this name is unknown. In the 16th century, Florida’s makeup changed forever when the French and Spanish parried violently for control of this region. Near Jacksonville, the French Protestants known as Huguenots planted a fort called Fort de la Caroline, after their King Charles. In 1565 they were destroyed by Spanish conquistadors, and Florida was won for Spain, but memories of the French occupation remain in Jacksonville, especially in Fort Caroline.
No, this isn’t the original fort; it fell many years ago, probably due more to weather than human hands. The reconstruction is fascinating in its own right, however, and if you are planning to travel to St. Augustine, it is best to remember that a huge part of St. Augustine’s history began right here at Fort Caroline. Of particular interest are the old cannons, fortifications, small interpretive museum, and nature paths.
In 1562, French explorers constructed a column to place upon the land and show their dominance in the area. The original column is long gone but the reconstruction reminds visitors of the bloody history of the area. To really feel the heartache of 1565, stop at the Spanish Pond, where it is rumored the Spanish conquistadors prepared to storm the fort. If you love walking or biking, check out Fort Caroline’s trails for hours of pleasure.
Even if history isn’t quite your thing, Jacksonville will certainly not disappoint you. If you want to relax and enjoy Florida’s beauty, consider Westside Regional Park. Here you will find beautiful wooded trails, places for the kids to climb and explore, amazing animals, and much more. If you were hoping for a few more animals, don’t leave without exploring Jacksonville Zoo. This is a great stop especially if you are traveling with children, because the variety of animals and scenery is well worth the visit.
Check out the area known as Savanna Blooms; it’s a separate garden with relaxing views of palm trees and waterways. You will of course see some common animals at Jacksonville Zoo, such as owls, black bears, and snakes, but there are many more that you’ve probably never heard of, like the rock hyrax, lion-tailed macaque, white-faced whistling duck, and the rainbow lorikeet. Anyone who loves animals should come home with a much-expanded knowledge of the animal kingdom.
Do you love anything Southern? The Museum of Southern History should be right up your alley. Other Jacksonville museums include Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art, and Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The Museum of Science and History is a wonderful teaching tool. One of its best features is the Planetarium; check out the official website to see when viewings and special shows will be held. Whether you’re visiting with children or just have a powerful sense of curiosity, I’m willing to bet you won’t leave Jacksonville’s museums without much more knowledge than when you arrived.
If you like the water, don’t forget to look for Jacksonville Beach. Some other beaches along Florida’s East Coast include St. Augustine Beach, Vilano Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach if one beach isn’t to your liking. You’re sure to find the perfect one for you. Find out what activities are allowed at each place, and get ready to pack the swimwear.
If you’re worried about finding the perfect place to stay, fear not. Chains like Quality Inn, Days Inn and Holiday Inn are easy to find, as well as more elegant lodging such as Studio 6 Jacksonville Baymeadows, Wyndham Hotel and Hyatt Regency. There will certainly be a hotel, motel, or inn that fits your particular budget. If you are traveling with pets or with special circumstances, research lodging thoroughly before making reservations so there won’t be any unpleasant surprises when you reach your long-awaited destination.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer