Just across the Georgia-Florida border on the Atlantic Ocean and south of the Sea Islands, Jacksonville is a gem of a city where a vibrant city life meets big-time sporting events and white-sand beaches. Cut in half by the St. John's River, the tone of Jacksonville's downtown landscape is set by its river walks and active outdoor culture.
JetBlue (tel. 800/JET-BLUE; www.jetblue.com) now has direct flights to Jacksonville from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, the discount airline's major hub. Fares start at $69 each way. Flights from Chicago to Jacksonville running through New York start at $99 one way or $198 round trip. Southwest Airlines (tel. 800/435-9792; www.southwestairlines.com) has direct flights from snow-cold Denver to Jacksonville starting at an Internet-only price of $129 each way.
Once in Jacksonville, accommodations are plenty and diverse. The Ponte Vedra Inn and Club (tel. 800/234-7842; www.pvresorts.com) is a Spanish-style golf and beach resort located on the Atlantic coastline. The 250-room hotel was built in 1928. The full-scale award-winning resort has two golf courses, 15 tennis courts, four pools, boating, bicycling, fishing, nearby riding stables, a children's playground and nursery, boutiques, a spa, four restaurants and three lounges. Legendary golfer Bobby Jones played the Ocean Course built the same year as the hotel, and the Lagoon Course constructed by Robert Trent Jones in 1978 is equally as challenging and longer. Winter hotel specials start at just $159 per night for mid-week and weekend stays. Normal January rates start at $200. February rates climb to $220 per night with spring rates rising to $300. Always check the hotel's specials page for the lowest rates and most recent deals. The hotel's winter golf special lasts through February and offers accommodations, unlimited golf, unlimited range balls, use of the fitness center, a thirty-minute clinic per day, golf cart, and a full breakfast daily. Prices starts at $189, significantly down from the regular rates of $330 in January and $440 in February.
For a downtown inn located in the Five Points area near Riverside, one of Jacksonville's prettiest residential neighborhoods, the Riverdale Inn (tel. 866/808-3400; www.riverdaleinn.com) is a turn-of-the-century mansion with a restaurant and full-service pub on premises. Architectural buffs will relish in the design and historical importance of the Riverdale, one of just two original houses still left on "The Row," a string of fifty or so Victorian mansions that lined the block at the end of the nineteenth century. While there is a small single-bed room on the first floor of the carriage house available for just $85 per night, rooms generally cost approximately $160 per night. Corporate rates for small meetings start at $125 per night.
While finding something to eat in Jacksonville is never challenging, Clark's Fish Camp (tel. 904/268-FISH; www.clarksfishcamp.com) is a wood-shack restaurant that was formerly a tackle and bait shop. The interior is a taxidermy jungle of lions, tigers, cheetahs, and other formerly wild animals. With over sixty appetizers, the menu features shark bites, gator tail, rattlesnake, antelope, ostrich, and kangaroo Â? and you can get just about anything fried. For a hearty breakfast, the Metro Diner (tel. 904/398-3701; www.metrodinerjax.com) serves a crab cake Benedict for $9.99 and the "Cheesiest Grits" for $1.99. The $5.99 house specialty "Breakfast Pie" is heaps of eggs, onions, mushrooms, peppers and cheese in a red skin potato-pie crust. You can add bacon or ham if you really want to stop your heart from beating. While football season is Jacksonville's busy time of year (the town loves their Jaguars), nightlife in Jacksonville goes strong all year round. The Brix (tel. 904/241-4668) at Jacksonville Beach has a large patio out back, but you should bring your own food -- they don't have any. What they do have is beer and televisions. Thirty-two kinds of beer, including chocolate-flavored beer, flow from the bar's many taps and eight TVs are positioned about.
The Jacksonville Zoo (tel. 904/757-4463; www.jaxzoo.org) is a place to keep the kids busy and entertained. Heralded as one of the best zoos in the United States, the Jacksonville Zoo has a huge collection of local species, including Florida Panthers, Florida Bobcats, a Florida Kingsnake, and the football team's namesake, the Jaguar. Located a few miles from I-95, the zoo is also an easy place to stop on a drive up to or down from the East Coast.
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