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Located in the northeast corner of Florida, Jacksonville is the state’s biggest city, both in terms of geographic size — it even dwarfs Los Angeles — and population. While the city’s sprawling layout can be daunting to visitors, you can concentrate your visit here on two areas. The neighborhoods flanking the St. Johns River, the historic center of Jacksonville, offer a bevy of urbane pleasures, from cafes and boutiques to clubs. Just a 25-minute drive east of downtown, you'll find 22 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches. Escape to Amelia Island for a relaxed getaway, go surfing on Atlantic Beach, wander along the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier, or while away the day on the white sands at Neptune Beach.
You can find direct flights from dozens of major cities to Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), located 15 minutes north of downtown. You can conveniently rent a car at the airport, or take an express bus from there to downtown Jacksonville.
Amtrak operates several train lines that connect Jacksonville to major East Coast cities as well as Orlando and Miami, and there is a Greyhound bus station in town as well.
While Jacksonville is situated on major interstates, you don’t need a car to explore the city or get to the beaches. The Jacksonville Transit Authority (JTA) runs numerous bus routes as well as the charming Skyway monorail downtown. Taxis, rideshares, and bike rentals are plentiful, and you can even schedule a ride on a river taxi.
From October through April, the weather in Jacksonville is glorious: sunny, relatively dry, and far warmer than in the northern United States. Sure, the temperature may dip into the 40s Fahrenheit in January, but frost and snow are almost unheard of, and you can usually be comfortable wearing short-sleeve shirts with perhaps a light jacket for the evening. (No matter the season, pack sunscreen and mosquito repellent.)
The snowbirds (Florida’s winter residents) return north by May because the temperature here climbs into the high 80s and 90s Fahrenheit in summer, with humidity to match. The Atlantic Ocean does keep the heat from becoming too oppressive, but summer rains are frequent. Hurricane season peaks in early autumn, so if you’re scheduling a trip to Florida then, consider travel insurance.
Take the river ferry to this 46,000-acre ecological and historical preserve, managed by the U.S. National Park Service, for a fascinating counterpoint to Jacksonville’s urban charms. This area was settled by the Timucua people for millennia, and you can explore the region’s history by perusing the Visitor Center exhibits. See what unspoiled Florida once looked like by hiking through the preserve’s salt marshes or kayaking along its backwaters.
The historic neighborhoods of Riverside and Avondale are also among Jacksonville’s most forward-thinking, where clothing boutiques and hip restaurants are interspersed with placid streets and beautifully preserved Mediterranean Revival homes. The bohemian vibe in the 5 Points area is particularly strong, and art lovers can spend a day or two exploring Riverside, including the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and the popular Saturday-morning Riverside Arts Market.