Jacksonville and Beyond

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History, culture, and nature - a driving tour through Jacksonville and beyond

Ancient forts and glimmering skyscrapers. A "bright lights, big city" atmosphere and the sweet solitude of canopied backroads. Museums with world-class collections and primitive "tabby" huts left untouched as a tribute to life as a slave. Few places can be all things to all people, but Jacksonville and Florida's northeast coast try to do exactly that. One day, explore Amelia Island's centuries-old fort and learn the intricacies of making lye soap and iron horseshoes; the next, enjoy a candlelit, seven-course dinner on Ponte Vedra Beach before slipping into the city for an evening at the symphony. Such diversity no doubt attracted tourists as early as the 1870s, when Civil War soldiers returned with their families to the "Winter City in Summerland." Today, modern tourists are just as charmed by all that Florida's enchanting Northeast has to offer.


Heritage Highlights

Explore northeast Florida's human history and natural world at MOSH, the Museum of Science & History, 1025 Museum Cir. Time-travel in Florida's most extensive regional history exhibition, or experience total entertainment in the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium, the largest single-lens planetarium in the world. MOSH features hands-on science exhibits, live animals and more. Call 904-396-MOSH (6674).

Little known but significant in terms of its contributions to culture is the Ritz Theatre and Museum, 829 N. Davis St. This downtown museum celebrates the rich legacy of the African American La Villa community that thrived in Jacksonville for more than 100 years. From the 1920s to the 1960s, La Villa was known as “The Harlem of the South.” The theatre showcases musical and theatrical productions throughout the year, while the museum houses a permanent exhibit of the history of African Americans in northeast Florida. Call (904) 632-5555 for theatre schedule.


Nature Trek

The most obvious nature getaway is the beach. Three's the charm in Jacksonville, with Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach comprising the city's 20-mile shoreline. Reach the beaches from downtown by taking Beach, Atlantic, or J. Turner Butler Boulevards. Jacksonville Beach is the liveliest of the bunch, and it's also the best for surfing. Rent a board at one of the shops along the surf, or simply chill out with a walk along the pier. If you're looking for a little more exploration, try paddling around on a kayak.


Culture Quest

Start your culture quest at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, 829 Riverside Ave., where for years Ninah Cummer quietly amassed a great selection of paintings that now form the nucleus of the museum's collection. There are nearly 5,000 objects encompassing a chronological span from 2,100 B.C. to the present.

Cummer was also a great admirer of landscape architecture and horticulture, and planted formal English and Italian gardens to complement her Tudor-style home. Today, the gardens are the only formal gardens open to the public in Northeast Florida. The Gardens are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Call (904) 356-6857.

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