There are a few things I have learned about Florida since living in it for two years.
Mainly this: DO NOT JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER.
Now let me explain, as you may already know my love and I had orders to Monterey California. Yes I know SWOON, right? We had day dreamed about California living. We had looked at houses. We had an idea where we would like to live. WE WERE READY! A few weeks before our move we got word we were not going to Monterey. Not even close. We were going to be Stationed in Jacksonville, Florida.
It’s been a running joke in my family since I was little that the only state I never EVER wanted to live in was Florida. Go figure. The last place I wanted to be sent was the first place we would be stationed. It felt like the universe was playing a cruel joke on me.
After we both had a pity party, I set out to find the hidden treasures our new home possessed. Some were pretty obvious, others took months to unearth. But after a little while I began to fall a little in love with our new home. Here is my “MUST” list of things to do in Jacksonville and it’s surrounding areas. Things to occupy you for the evening all the way to weekend getaways that we both loved.
- Go to natural springs! They are one of the hidden gems Florida has to offer. Everyone comes for the beaches but I personally was partial to the natural springs. Check out devils den prehistoric spring, blue spring states park and Ichetucknee Springs State Park are some great ones. Some natural springs will rent canoes, kayaks and even inner tubes to float in.
- In the mood for fancy ass food but don’t want the stuffy atmosphere and tiny portions that come with it? Then Ice Plant is your place. With its exceptional cocktails, farm to table southern recipes and 1920s/industrial vibe is sure to make just about anyone happy. (In my humble opinion.)
- If your looking for a unique beach experience I suggest taking an afternoon or day trip to Big Talbot Island Sate Park, Fl or Jekyll Island, Ga. Both are totally worth making the effort to go too! Few places in the world have a beach like this with its massive driftwood sprawled across the shore. I prefer it most at sunset or on stormy days. **While your near Talbot Island you can book a horseback ride (Website is not great but I promise they are legit.) or if you have four wheel drive take it out on the beach at Amelia Island.
- Looking for a more unique dinner experience? Head on over to Hawkers. Inspired by Asia’s street food, served tapas style! Order lots of small plates that come out as they are cooked and shared. *They also serve many local beers. My favorite is the orange blossom beer.
- Take a day trip to St. Augustine. I recommend winter time for a few reasons. You can take tours that explain the history while viewing the Christmas lights. (Bring a coffee or hot cocoa with you.) Second it’s not hot and humid and the crowd is far less than the summertime. If you do go during spring and summer months I suggest taking a schooner cruise which allows you to experience St. Augustine in a unique way. Plus they serve wine and beer!
- If your living in Jacksonville or visiting and are a beer lover it would be a total disservice to not experience Kickbacks. With its steampunk atmosphere quirky menu options and over 100 beers on tap, it’s a MUST TRY!
- If your interested in a pizza and cocktail combo take your happy little ass on over to V Pizza and Sidecar. Two separate business that allow you to order to each other. I’m done… Have an incredible old fashion and order over a brick oven baked Italian pizza is my idea of heaven. With loads of outdoor and indoor seating between the two places. It’s the finest bar and pizza in Jacksonville I swear!
- Every February you can hang out with the coolest people at the Riverside Craft Beer Festival while listening to music, eating at food trucks and drinking over 100 craft beers. One entry fee gets you a tasting beer cup and your able try as many of the craft beers as you want! *Plus they are very dog friendly! (Check website for 2019 dates.)
- Interested in the club bar crawl scene? We discovered Friday nights were the best. Start out at a Jacksonville Beach staple Lemon Bar, with its ocean views, outside bar and $3 happy hour specials it’s the only way to start! If your into pool kill some time at Pete’s Bar or Lynch’s for heavy handed drinks and live music! Then head to Shim Sham Room for the best DJ/dancing after 10:300/11:00. End the night at Surfer The Bar. Great music and atmosphere but the drinks are pricy. So it’s a great place to ride out your buzz.
- Savannah Georgia is a weekend trip that is a MUST! Rent an Air BNB and take some down time to roam the historic district. Eat at places like The Wyld Dock Bar (actually on the water. Try the blistered okra.) and The Collins Quarter (get there early for brunch and a lavender mocha.) Grab a coffee and shop at The Paris Market Brocante. And of course what Savannah is known for: The night scene where you can take your alcohol into the streets.
- If you have a means of procuring a boat go to Cumberland Island on your own to find the wild horses. We rented a boat from the naval base and took our pups with us on this adventure. Having our own boat allowed us to take our dogs and go to the eastern tip of the island where the horses tend to be sighted. *Take a picnic lunch and anchor your boat while you walk the sandy trails covered by mossy trees. *They do have a ferry that for a small fee will take you over but they seemed crowded. It dropped you off on the end of the island where the horses didn’t seem to be.
- Disney is a no brainer. Right? It’s pretty much synonymous with the word Florida. But being the Potter Head that I am, going to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is pure unabashed joy. I prefer going at Christmas time. It’s cold out and they decorate which makes the experience feel more real since so much of the movies surround this time of year. Definitely start at Diagon Alley it’s more magical for your first experience. (Trust me) Try Ollivanders wand experience first thing in the morning, the lines get crazy as only a few people can go in at a time! *The interactive wand is worth it even for adults but if you have kiddos of any age its pretty much a must! Then go straight to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Again lines get crazy the later in the day it is. After those two are out of the way get butter beer/lunch at the Leaky Cauldron since they wont allow you to take it into rides. I couldn’t leave without trying the frozen, iced and hot butter beer. (But frozen wins every time!) Before heading to the other park keep in mind pretty much every single store is worth going into. There are details from the movies and books alike all over the place, its magical! Our favorite was Borgin and Burkes, absolutely amazing! Ride the Hogwarts express both ways the experience is different but I like going from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade best. Once in Hogsmeade head to its biggest attraction Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Since you just ate the wait time wont bother you so much.). I quite liked having a little bit of a line anyway because it is in the Hogwarts castle which is filled with fun details the whole way. Grab dinner at the Three Broom Sticks or if your not hungry skip the lines and get a beer/butter beer at Hogs Head. *I also like ending the day in Hogsmeade because not only does it require less time than Diagon Alley it also is where the fireworks/light display happens above the Hogwarts Castle… absolutely worth it staying for so plan to do it at least one night!
- Anyone who knows me, knows I looovvvvvve doughnuts. I’m particular about my doughnuts. That’s why the only place who gets my vote is Good Dough. I have never had anything they have made that I didn’t like. But if your only gonna get one thing get the salted carmel doughnut and the chicken doughnut sandwich. Ok that’s two things.
- Maybe I didn’t look hard enough but Jacksonville lacks great coffee shop options. The only place that’s great in town is Bold Bean Coffee Roasters and luckily there are three! If you like cappuccino or cold brew these are your people! *One location is just down the street from Good Dough, I suggest getting both at the same time!
- Six hundred king is a venue that has put on a legit New Year’s Eve party the last two years. The best Dj, incredible cocktails and unique treats that change every year. Follow Christina Karst on Instagram to see if she throws one this NYE 2018. Fingers crossed!
- If you like to hunt for treasures head out to Mount Dora flea market. It’s about a two hour drive from Jacksonville. Its pretty much the only place I have found that satisfies that thrifting desire. Plus a few times a year they close down some streets and do a massive outdoor flea market. From super cheap to fine antiques it is sure to have something for you.
- Jacksonville Farmers Market it’s in the weirdest location but if your looking for cheap fruits and veggies, especially exotic ones this is your place. First purchase a coconut and drink while walking around!
- Wanna see a manatee? Skip Ocala and head to Tampa! Not only can you see manatee pretty much anytime of the year for free at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center, you also get a bustling food scene. As you can tell I like my food!
- Mazzaro’s Italian Market, go hungry and expect it to be busy. Experiencing the business is apart of the gig. It’s like watching the stock market for deli sandwiches. Don’t let that deter you from going. I dislike crowds too but the food and pastries are WORTH IT!!! Especially the almond cake ball and tiramisu. And I’m pretty brutal in my opinion on good and bad tiramisu. When we go we leave one person to wait for the sandwich order while the other gets the dessert order. Then we meet up outside for a picnic. *get some to die for cheese and wine to take home for a later date night.
- Heights Public Market is another great stop especially if you have a few people with different tastes. It’s a beautifully remodeled warehouse full of restaurant options. One person can be sipping a cocktail while the other eats ice cream. One can be eating ramen while the other eats brunch. It’s brilliant and beautiful! *Outside they have checkers for the kiddos and lots of seating where you can bring your pups.
- Tampa has several extremely good coffee shops that I decided to put them all here. Including but not limited to Buddy Brew, ChocolatePi and Degaje coffee.
- For shopping, instagramable walls, cupcake ATM’s and more head to Hyde Park Village. Everything from West Elm to the best floral shop. Its a really great area to walk around with friends or kiddos. *Also where one Buddy Brew location resides so grab that before taking your stroll.