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Destination Guide

 
 
They don't call Jacksonville the River City for nothing'the heart and soul of this Southern metropolis is the north-flowing St. Johns River, twisting and turning through the city and finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean on the citys eastern border.

Somehow, all that water seeps into every aspect of Jacksonvilles entertainment scene, from the fast-paced downtown grid that straddles the river to miles of sandy beaches where the parties last well into the night. If you're looking for something to do in this young urban city, you won't have to look far from the water to find it.

Sometimes funky, sometimes elegant, sometimes down-home, this up-and-coming city shines as music, dancing, arts, and history unite here in harmony. Jacksonville is a place with no pre-defined "scenes"; you choose your own kind of fun from the hippest nightclub to the coolest pub, from classical music to rock n' roll, from trendy cuisine to old-fashioned Southern cooking, from upscale malls to footballs.

Bright lights, big city

Your first stop on the First Coast should be at the citys center, overlooking the St. Johns River from two opposing banks. On the north bank of the river, you'll find the lively festival marketplace called Jacksonville Landing, packed with shops, restaurants, kiosks and an arcade for children and adults. Throughout the year, Jacksonville Landing also plays host to a number of outdoor concerts, parties and festivals.

Just a mile away is the impressive ALLTEL Stadium, home of the National Football League Jacksonville Jaguars, beloved hometown heroes. But thats not all: the recently renovated stadium also happens to be one of Jacksonvilles largest venues for major rock concerts, college footballs games and rip-roarin' monster-truck shows.

Metropolitan Park, directly on the river in front of the stadium, is easy to recognize with its permanent, multi-peaked tent thats home to the annual Jacksonville Jazz Festival, fireworks shows, and music festivals. Theres plenty of room to toss down a blanket for a riverfront picnic, and you'll find a number of boat slips if you'd like to chug right up here and hop off a boat to play in the park.

Theres more to this watery world. If you don't have your own boat or a rental craft, you can hail a water taxi for a ride across the river to the south bank of the St. Johns where theres still more to see and do. Here you can stroll along the quaint 1.2-mile Riverwalk boardwalk, lined with shops, museums, and restaurants, lounges and dance spots. Here, too, are some sensational views of the downtown skyline silhouetted behind yachts and sailboats skittering down the river.

At one end of the Riverwalk is Friendship Fountain, billed as one of the worlds highest-spraying fountains. At night, a colorful array of lights plays over the waters of the fountain, creating a dazzling display that is quite a sight to see. Here, too, the Museum of Science and History offers a leaning experience disguised as fun, with interactive exhibits on deep-sea adventures, native wildlife, and a look at the stars above in the Alexander Brest Planetarium.

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Jacksonvilles nightlife centers on its oceanside hotspots, from Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach to Jacksonville Beach and exclusive Ponte Vedra Beach further south. In those oceanside villages, you'll find an amazing variety of entertainment, from dueling pianos to live bands, nightclubs, and casual beachside bars where the crowd and the atmosphere are sandal-casual. Here, you can party overlooking the Atlantic or the quiet waters of the Intercoastal Waterway, but wherever you go, you're likely to find your way lighted by those ubiquitous tiki torches!

Jacksonvilles nothing if not eclectic in its musical options, with clubs and pubs playing reggae, jazz, blues, country, rock, pop, techno, and alternative sounds. Fans of the classic rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd are likely to revel in the atmosphere of the Freebird Café, which is owned by members of the Van Zant family, and theres also a 100% chance of a good time at Hurricane Hatties, the beach areas most popular gathering spot and seafood restaurant.

For outdoor, active fun, grab a game of miniature golf, zip around in a go-kart, or slip-slide away on the waterpark slides at Adventure Landing.

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Jacksonville is a thriving center of performing and visual arts. Facing the sparkling St. Johns River is the Times Union Performing Arts Center, newly rebuilt and proudly featuring top performances by the
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Right up the street is the renovated historic
Florida Theatre, hosting concerts, dance, theatre, and film festivals. For more theater and performance art:
href=http://www.wcities.comdetail.asp?id=217&city=Jacksonville&cid=42609&cont=North+America&cat=&contlink=namerica.asp&category=&subcat=&subsubcategory=&subsubcatid=&detailID=205745>Theatre Jacksonville, home of the longest continuously running community theater in the United States, housed in a handsome Art Deco building that is a National Historic Site.

Another revitalized piece of Jacksonvilles past is the

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Fine arts fans can immerse themselves in Jacksonvilles up-and-coming art scene at the renowned
Cummer Art Museum and Gardens and soon can explore the world of contemporary art at the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art, slated to open in 2001.

Jacksonvilles an old town by Florida standards, offering history buffs an opportunity to stroll or drive through such handsome historical neighborhoods as Riverside and Avondale and shopping districts that have been lovingly revitalized and restored. These areas, including lively Five Points, where five local thoroughfares intersect, are also home to some hip nightclubs, cafes, coffee shops and wine bars. Five Points has a burgeoning arts scene featuring galleries, boutiques and bars.

Theres shopping at beautiful San Marco Square, with its historic streetlamps, fountains, and architecture. On the opposite end of the shopping spectrum, Southpoint and Baymeadows are contemporary suburbs and office districts that offer the latest movies, the shop 'til you drop
The Avenues Mall, and playtime for kids and forever-kids on the "midway" at Dave and Busters, a national chain that offers food, drink and arcade games in atmospheric old-timey surroundings.

Lifes a laugh at the
Comedy Zone in Orange Park on the southwest side of the city.

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Days of yore come alive at Jacksonvilles monuments to the regions proud, and sometimes shameful, past.
Fort Caroline National Memorial on the St. Johns River commemorates the site at which, in 1562, French Protestant Huguenots, responding to religious prosecution in their native land, began what was to be a vain attempt to establish a colony here. Long before the pilgrims thought about sailing from England, this courageous crowd made the long, long voyage and built a simple wooden fort for protection, creating what many view as the first European settlement in North America. A reconstructed fort at the spot gives you an idea just how flimsy were these early settlements in the New World.

On quite another note, well-preserved
Kingsley Plantation offers a sobering look at the world of slavery. The more than 20 slave cabins that remain at the plantation are the best- preserved in the nation.

The Kingsley Plantation, owned by a slave trader who married and freed an African princess, is likely to be particularly poignant for African Americans. They can learn more about their history and culture along the regions
Black Heritage Trail, which winds throughout the First Coast and includes a long list of historic sites that honor African-American contributions to Florida history.

To bring your visit to Jacksonville full circle, hop aboard an old-fashioned paddleboat for a lovely cruise and tour on this wide?and contrary?river that flows....northsomething almost unheard of in the United States.



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Just 30 minutes south of Jacksonville is the nations oldest city and the oldest continuous settlement in the nation: serene and shady St. Augustine.

Founded more than 500 years ago, lovely old St. Augustine doesn't miss a beat of its history, honoring every house, shop, street and alleyway that can be even remotely connected to times past! Attractions, shops, pubs, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, guided tours, all focus on the citys revered past, and well they should: Columbus visited here in 1493 and both Spanish and French settlers saw its possibilities when there was nothing here but palmetto brush, pine trees and miles of sand.

As the Spanish were wont to do, they built a massive fortification here, dubbing it Castillo de San Marcos, and quite a sight it is, towering over the city in stony splendor as the oldest military fortification in the nation. Cannons that never fired a shot in anger are periodically fired from the ramparts of the Castillo, much to the delight of visitors and residents.

Nearby, sip a sip at the watering hole that Ponce de Leon thought just might be the Fountain of Youth for which he searched?who knows? On the cobblestones of St. George Street in the Spanish Quarter, history comes alive with actors caught up forever in a time warp as they re-enact days of yore in stores and landmarks that can trace their history back many centuries.

Join a spooky torchlight tour of the citys ghost stories, sprawl out on hard-packed sands of the regions unusual beaches, immerse yourself in Spanish Colonial architecture, growl as you pass the maned guardians of the Bridge of Lions acros Matanzas Bay.

By night, dress up, dress down, eat out, drink up at such eclectic establishments as
Murphys Pour House Irish Pub, perhaps the citys most popular pub.

Ancient fun or contemporary chuckles, both await....and more.

Carrie Davis