You won’t hear Jacksonville visitors complaining about sky-high amusement park prices or losing all their money at a casino or shopping til they drop at couture houses. Why? Well, we don’t have any of that stuff. Northeast Florida isn’t a place to “experience.” It’s a fairly laid-back (some might say too laid-back) place where people work and live.
Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t have our pleasures. And some of the best things to do actually are free. Here, in no particular order, are my top five:
- Kingsley Plantation. This National Park Service site is located within the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve on Fort George Island, at the northeastern end of Duval County. Aside from a wealth of history about Florida’s indigenous peoples and early European settlers, the site harbors the remains of the circa 1814 estate ofZephaniah and Anna Jai Kingsley. Anna Jai was born in Senegal, purchased by Zephaniah as a slave, and eventually became his wife. She ran Kingsley Plantation–profitably, with slaves–during the time when Florida was a battleground between the Spanish and Americans. The grounds include a plantation house, slave quarters, a barn, a kitchen house and an interpretive garden, all on the banks of the Fort George River. The park is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year.
- The Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail. This 14.5 mile paved trail follows an old railroad corridor, beginning five miles from downtown Jacksonville and ending west of the city on Brandy Branch Road in Baldwin. Along the way, the trail passes through dense tree canopies where birds, deer and other wildlife cavort, as well as wetlands and a Civil War historic site. There are several easy access points and the 12-foot wide trail is suitable for bicycling, jogging or strolling.
- Art Walks. Art Walks have become the new block parties and depending on the season, theme and location, you’ll find feasts for all senses. Jacksonville hosts a First Wednesday Art Walk downtown each month; the Jacksonville Beaches have a Third Thursday Art Walk; San Marco has its Affair in the Square on third Thursdays; St. Augustine holds a First Friday Art Walk. Fernandina Beach holds its Artrageous Artwalk on the second Saturday of the month. The Riverside neighborhood holds its Riverside Arts Market–which is a mix of art show, craft market and street party–on Saturdays under the Fuller Warren Bridge.
- Outdoor Music Fetes. The Jacksonville Jazz Festival brings an impressive line-up to stages around downtown Jacksonville on Memorial Day Weekend, and theSpringing the Blues festival in Jacksonville Beach is a mid-April ocean-front party that brings blues musicians and blues lovers from across town and across the country.
- The Beach. Last but not least, Northeast Florida’s greatest treasure: The beaches! Miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches from Fernandina to Crescent Beach have public access points, nearby free parking and inviting waters. People who live in Jacksonville tend to take the beach for granted, but every year vacationers flock to our shores just to enjoy this free natural wonder.
– Belinda Hulin