As an inspiring minimalist and global nomad, it's always beneficial to look around your own backyard to make sure you are taking full advantage of the inspiration around you.
Downtown Jacksonville is in a permanent state of up-and-coming. The area has long since been a local political football as candidates run on the platform that "Jacksonville can't be a suburb to nothing," but actual restoration to its former prominence has been slow going at best. As budding chefs and developers have infiltrated the area, its finally becoming a culinary and cultural destination worth checking out.
In a place where Elvis made headlines for his scandalous on-stage behavior and Charlie Chaplin got his silent-film career start, Jacksonville's secrets may surprise you. Check out below for my recommendations on how to make the most of your time in downtown Jacksonville.
PS. I only recommend local restaurants - the food just tastes better when you know you know the faces behind your food.
- Taverna (Italian/Mediterranean - San Marco Square) - Our go-to spot for date night with an approachable outdoor dining area. Delicious and reasonably priced lunches. My choices: $5 happy hour wines, grilled ciabatta with ricotta, pick 5 for $20 abundant cheese boards.
- Maple Street Biscuit Co. (Breakfast - San Marco Square) - The best biscuits & gravy you'll ever eat. Pro tip: the B2 jam is my favorite item on the menu. Plan for a nap afterward, but it will be worth it.
- Bold Bean Coffee Roasters (Coffee/Pastries - Hendricks Ave) - With out posts in Riverside and the beaches, you can't go wrong with any of their locations, but the newly opened San Marco is my favorite. Great coffees, even better pastries handmade by Knead Bake Shop.
- V Pizza (Napoletana style - Hendricks Ave) - Brick-oven fired carby goodness. Order the Pizza alli di Pollo (Chicken Wing pizza) + the Pizza Ensalata for the perfect complement.
- SideCar (Beverages - Hendricks Ave) - Classic cocktails guaranteed to shake off a day's work. Conveniently located attached to V Pizza for those "too many drinks, must eat pizza" happy hours.
- Aardwolf Brewing Company (Local brews - Hendricks Ave) - Great local beers. Food truck outside. Dogs welcome!
- Bistro Aix (French/Mediterranean - San Marco Ave) - Fancy date night. Best steak frites in town + extensive wine list. Hit Bar X next door for a swanky cocktail. You'll forget you're in Jacksonville.
- Grape & Grain Exchange (Cocktails - San Marco Square) - Billed as a gourmet package store, this local bar is serving house-made cocktails guaranteed to make you stay for just one more. A great nightcap following an evening at Taverna.
- French Pantry (Bakery/Sandwiches - Phillips Hwy) - Truly what my version of Heaven. An extravaganza of housemade breads which create the base of delicious sandwiches and bruschettas at communal tables. The cakes are also fantastic. Pick up a baguette for enjoyment at home! Only open M-F, 11-2 PM. Prepare to stand in line - it's worth the wait.
DOWNTOWN, BROOKLYN STATION & URBAN CORE
- Uptown Kitchen (Local - Springfield) - My favorite place in Jacksonville for all the go-to reasons: happy hour, brunch & the stay-for-dinner-after-happy-hour dinner. The food is fantastic. If there is a chef's special, get it.
- Burrito Gallery (Tex-Mex - Brooklyn Station) - locations found in downtown and all over Jacksonville, but head to the outpost in Riverside and enjoy reasonably priced wines and margaritas on their rooftop and outdoor deck. You won't regret the curry chicken tacos or choriqueso!
- Indochine (Thai - Downtown) - A solid Thai choice in the middle of town. Curry fried rice!
- Spliff's Gastropub (Sandwiches/Salads - Downtown) - My favorite place in Jacksonville for lunch. My go-to choices: The Bowl of Green, the BST, the Shorty, the 1904.
- Cafe Nola at MOCA (Upscale Lunch - Hemming Park)- Only open on weekdays for lunch and Thursday evenings, this restaurant is worth making advance plans. Their fresh, seasonal offerings are always on point, and I may have said before that I'd just take a stack of their rolls for a birthday cake this year. Try the rotating daily butter flavor. Pro tip - also open during first Wednesday Art walk!
- Superfood & Brew (Healthy/American - Downtown) - A local lunch spot guaranteed to meet every dietary restriction in your group. Every seasonal menu item is fantastic.
- Sweet Pete's and the Candy Apple Cafe (Southern - Hemming Park) - Following a revamp from the show, the Profit, this candy shop turned cafe with cocktails is always busy. Go for happy hour and enjoy candy-infused beverages like the rock candy old fashioned. Make sure to pick up some sweets on your way out - the salted caramels are legendary.
- Olio Market (Lunch/American - Downtown) - A lunchtime spot where the atmosphere is casual but the flavors are anything but. Another one of those "get the special" kind of places - be prepared to wait in line if you arrive after 12:15 PM.
- The Volstead (Craft cocktails - Downtown) - A speakeasy style cocktail bar with creative mixologists just waiting to impress you.
- Black Sheep at Intuition Brewery (Street Food - Stadium) - The Riverside mainstay stepped up its game when opening a food stall within the newly expanded Intuition Brewery. Grab the hot dog of the week, a grilled cheese or poutine. Guaranteed to make all the non-beer lovers in your group happy to be at a brewery. Enjoy the local brews upstairs on the rooftop deck! Great for a stop before/after Jags games.
- Manifest Distillery (Local liquors - Stadium) - Jacksonville's first distillery serving samples of their homemade gin, vodka and whiskey. They can't legally sell you drinks yet, but stop in for a tasting and pick up a bottle for home. Make sure to grab a Congaree & Penn shrub to go with it!
RIVERSIDE, AVONDALE & MURRAY HILL
- The Bread & Board (Upscale sandwiches - Five Points) - Opening in April 2017, this new kid on the block is making some serious statements on taste. Proving that good food doesn't need to be complicated, check out this locally owned hangout for good beers and delicious sandwiches.
- Moon River Pizza (Pizza - Murray Hill) - My favorite pizza place in town - it's like 'pick for your last meal' kind of good. Two words: white. pizza.
- Hawkers (Asian streetfare - Five Points) - A lively lunch/dinner spot serving up asian fusion street food. Go-to options: Stir Fry Udon, Wok Fried Lettuce, Crispy Cod with Black Bean Sauce, Kimchi Fried Rice.
- Hoptinger Bier Garden & Sausage House (Pub food - Five Points) - A new addition to Five Points, they are already running on all cylinders providing great bar food and a seemingly endless amount of TVs. Go for brunch ($10 bottomless mimosas!).
- Mellow Mushroom (Pizza - Avondale) - Another solid bar/dinner option in Avondale. The pizza is always great, but my top choices are the Drunken Funguys, Englightened Spinach Salad, and the best hot wings in town.
- Community Loaves (Bakery - Murray Hill) - Local bakery serving up house-made sourdough and other treats.
- Orsay (French - Avondale) - This is our go-to 'celebration' dinner in Jacksonville - their cocktail list, balsamic roasted brussel sprouts, and steak frites are exactly what you need. A well-kept secret - it is also by far the best brunch in town.
- Sweet Theory Baking Co (Bakery - King Street) - A local vegan bakery serving the best donuts I've ever had. Great gluten-free options as well. Go-to weekend splurge.
- Bagel Love (Breakfast - Avondale) - The only recommendable bagel joint in town. Great variety of specialty cream cheeses and all your favorite NY-style bagels.
- Black Sheep Restaurant (Farm to Table - Black Sheep) - A trendy (yes in Jacksonville!) upscale dinner spot with an expansive rooftop bar with a view of the river. You'll forget you're in Florida. Great lunch options as well.
- 13 Gypsies (Spanish) - A pioneer of local ingredient cooking, this 13-seat Spanish restaurant will transport you across the ocean with its authentic Spanish offerings. Menu changes seasonally - everything is great. Make reservations!
SEE & DO
After all that eating, check out some of these:
- Run/walk the bridges on the Northbank- Gorgeous views of the St. John's River while you get your miles in!
- Attend and NFL Game with the Jacksonville Jaguars - Consistently top ranked in "fan experience", the Jacksonville Jaguars make up in good times what their record consistently lacks. Purchase cheap tickets and spend the whole game in the Bud Zone like a local.
- Thirsty Thursday with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp - Support the local minor league baseball team recently re-branded as the "Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp." Personally, I'm all for it. A great and inexpensive activity ($5 tickets) to enjoy an afternoon outdoors. Bonus points for attending Thirsty Thursday (schedule available here) for $1 beers.
- Downtown Art Walk - A local festival held on the first Wednesday of the month to showcase the local art community. Each month is themed - be sure to make it to their annual Oktoberfest!
- Gate River Run - Although only held annually every March, this 15k national championship run is a source of pride for the city. Grab a friend and train together to take part in the annual running tradition that begins in downtown, continues through the historic San Marco neighborhood and finishes at EverBank Stadium.
- Riverside Arts Market - Farmer's market underneath the Fuller Warren bridge every Saturday, rain or shine. Summer hours are 10-4. Come hungry - food stalls galore.
- The museum's grounds are even more beautiful than the masterpieces inside. There is also an interactive children's area that will keep the kiddos occupied. Free admission for all, each Tuesday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Free admission for all the first Saturday of each month, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during Art Walk.
- Sun-Ray Cinema - An eclectic old-school theatre serving wine/beer/food. Showings include new attractions, hard-to-find independent films, and cult classic events.
- Memorial Park - A local's hang out on the riverbank - grab some take out from one of the nearby restaurants and a blanket, and you've got yourself an afternoon of people and puppy watching.