Cruisers willing to make the 21-nautical-mile detour from the ICW on Florida’s northern Atlantic coast will find a beautiful, year-round port at Jacksonville, Florida.
Those who take the delightful side trip and venture up the St. Johns River can enjoy two stops here, one on each side of the river. Jacksonville has been a popular winter resort since the Civil War, and cruisers enjoy the city’s annual average of 300 sunny days at docks on both sides of the river.
A favorite stop for mariners is Jacksonville Landing, which hosts more than 350 events each year, live weekend outdoor entertainment, lots of dining options, and an indoor shopping mall. Dock alongside to be in the heart of the action, but watch for strong currents during mid-tide.
Once you’re tied up, leave the driving to someone else. The water taxi traverses the river with stops at River City Marina, the Landing and the Metropolitan Park Marina. On shore, the Riverside Trolley can get you to Publix grocery store for provisioning in about 10 minutes. Then return to the Landing for an evening of people watching, waterfront dining, drinks, and entertainment. On the south side of the river, try Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the Chart House or River City Brewery at River City Marina. An interesting eatery with a southwest flavor is the Mossfire Grill (904-355-4434; mossfire.com) named for the moss-stuffed mattress company whose warehouse caught fire and burned down the city 100 years ago. It’s a cab ride from the docks but worth the trip just for its “Ka-pow” spicy seafood tacos or Mossfire crabcakes with chipotle lime mayo.
A great way to see the city—and work off the extra calories—is the Downtown Top to Bottom Walking Tour, which meets on Tuesdays at 10am at the Jacksonville Landing escalators. You’ll tour the city’s tallest office buildings, get a bird’s eye view of Jacksonville and the St. Johns River, and explore secret underground bank tunnels for $15 per person (904-827-1845; visitjacksonville.com/events/jacksonville-top-tobottom- walking-tour).
Also recommended are two dinghy excursions from your downtown slip. Just head to the small free day dock at the Saturday Riverside Arts and Farmers Market (904-389-2449; riversideartsmarket.com), held March through December near the I-95 bridge over the St. Johns River. Enjoy live entertainment ranging from barbershop quartets to bellydancers, and shop for locallymade pottery, paintings, jewelry, accessories, as well as fresh local produce, meats, honey, plants, and spices. Stop in next door at the Cummer Museum (904-356- 6857; cummer.org) for a pleasant walk through manicured gardens. Then take your dinghy downriver (toward the ICW) to the Trout River and turn north. Before the Main Street Bridge, you’ll find a long dock belonging to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. While the alongside depth at low tide is just one foot, when you dock here, admission to the zoo is free. October brings a pumpkincarving contest and haunted house, and the zoo will be celebrating its centennial in 2014 with special events and exhibits (904-757-4463; jacksonvillezoo.org).
If you’re a music lover, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival is held Memorial Day weekend, right in the heart of Jacksonville. This free street party features four stages scattered in the downtown corridor, and has showcased the likes of Natalie Cole and Herbie Hancock. During the festival, check out local artists displaying their wares in the Art in the Heart Downtown juried art show, and grab a glass or two at the Wine Down/Brew Town Tasting Experience.
In a nod to more than a century of local filmmaking history, the Jacksonville Film Festival, held every October, features premieres and parties where you can hobnob with celebrities. While starting long ago with silent films, well-known contemporary movies like G.I. Jane and the Manchurian Candidate continue to be filmed in the area.
For events all year long, visit Metropolitan Park and Marina. One highlight is the annual Southeast U.S. Boat Show, held in mid-April. The three-day event includes seminars, live music and a broad selection of power and sailboats, kayaks and marine accessories. Later in April, check out the Welcome to Rockville Festival; 2013’s event featured headlining performances from Alice in Chains, Jacksonville’s own Limp Bizkit and local legend Lynyrd Skynyrd. And where else can you dock your craft and walk to an NFL game? You can even tailgate on your boat before heading over to EverBank Field for a Jaguars game in the fall. If collegiate football and more tailgating sound good, try the annual Florida/Georgia game, accompanied by what’s billed as the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party.”
By Marty Richardson, Southern Boating August 2013