The First Coast region of Florida seems to be one of the most overlooked areas when it comes to planning a Florida vacation. It may not have some of the things that most people think of when they think Florida, like the pristine white sand beaches of South Florida or the smooth, clear water of the Gulf Cost, but the First Coast offers something for everyone. It combines the laid-back nature of a beach town with Southern hospitality and a small-town mentality. At the same time it manages to offer most of the same restaurant and shopping options of a big city. It truly is the best of both worlds, a small town in big city clothes.
My husband and I have lived in this area for over 20 years, and for us it's a place of roots, yet because it is still very much alive and evolving it doesn't feel stagnant or boring. We tend to be homebodies (especially during the week) and enjoy working on our house or hanging out with friends & family. On the weekends we come out of our shells a little bit. Friday night might mean it's time for Date Night at our favorite taco place, or heading out to meet friends at an area barbecue chain with an excellent bourbon menu. A typical Saturday morning for us might include a trip to Jacksonville's Riverside to go to Bold Bean Coffee for a latte and to stock up on coffee beans for the week, and perusing Riverside Arts Market before heading home to start on a DIY project. Sunday could include going to a football game, or grabbing some Beach Road Chicken on the way to one of our favorite drive-on beaches. After a day of surf and sun we might board the ferry in our CJ-7 and head to Singleton's for some fresh shrimp.
While Northeast Florida beaches may not be the typical beach scene that visitors are expecting, they are wonderful in their own way. One of my favorite aspects is the juxtaposition between palm trees and old oak trees - although that's technically true of a lot of place along the First Coast, not just the beaches.
My only complaint about the First Coast area, and one that visitors often time a while to warm to - public transit isn't really a viable option (at least not right now), so visitors who want to see more than one city/county and aren't staying with friends or family will definitely want to rent a car. Hopefully this one small downside doesn't detract from the many great things the area has to offer!
If you ever find yourself in the First Coast area, here's a list of some of our favorites.
Things to Do:
Art Walk (Downtown, Fernandina, North Beaches, Jax Beach, St Augustine), bike the Baldwin Rails to Trails, climb a lighthouse (Amelia Island, St Augustine</ a>), dinner & a movie in at the San Marco Theater, run along the River Walk, take a scenic drive along Florida State Road A1A, and visit historic sights (Fort Clinch, Fort Matanzas, Kingsley Plantation) & museums (Cummer, Lightner, MOCA) Also: The beaches (our favorites in alphabetical order: Anastasia State Park, Atlantic Beach, Fernandina Beach, Huguenot Memorial Park, and Mickler Landing), state parks such
Restaurants & Coffee:
Amelia Island Coffee, Brett's Waterway Cafe, Cafe Karibo (the cafe side of Karibrew), Marina Seafood Restaurant, Moon River Pizza (Jax & Fernandina)
Beach Road Chicken Dinners, Black Sheep, Casbah, Bold Bean Coffee Roasters (also see this write up</ a> with pictures of the space before it opened), Cool Moose Cafe, Moon River Pizza (Jax & Fernandina), Maple Street Biscuit Company, Mojo Barbecue (especially No. 4), Mossfire Grill, Lola's Burrito Joint, TacoLu, Tank's Family Barbecue, Village Bread Cafe, Singleton's Seafood Shack
Cap's On the Water</ a>, Columbia, Prince of Wales
Local Breweries: Aardwolf Brewery, Bold City Brewery, Green Room Brewing, Intuition Ale Works, Engine 15 Brewing Company, Karibrew Brewpub, Mile Marker Brewing</ a>, Pinglehead Brewing Company There are also three CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries: A1A Ale Works, Ragtime Tavern, Seven Bridges Grille
Places to Stay: Fernandina and St Augustine have some lovely bed and breakfasts, and Amelia Island has house or condo rental options as well as a recently renovated Omni resort. Downtown Jacksonville has several options along the north and south banks of the St John's river that are within walking (or skyway) distance of museums, restaurants and shopping.