This Florida Destination Is Called the 'Bold New City of the South' — and It's Perfect for Retirees, Digital Nomads, and Vacationers

Jacksonville, Florida, offers plenty of outdoor adventures, relaxing beaches, and the largest urban park system in the U.S.

<p>Visit Jacksonville</p>

Visit Jacksonville

With a cost of living five percent lower than the national average, a healthy mix of outdoor adventure and city perks, 22 miles of beaches, and tons of family activities, it’s no surprise Jacksonville, Florida, is one of the best places to live on the East Coast. Add to that professional sports teams, epic surfing, the largest urban park system in the nation, museums and festivals, and tons of trails, and you have plenty of reasons to vacation here, too. There's even fishing, hiking, and paddling to enjoy. For all this and more, the sprawling Florida city, located on the northern tip of the Sunshine State, appeals to everyone, from retirees to digital nomads.

Called the “Bold New City of the South,” Jacksonville is the largest city in the continental United States. Still, its small-town appeal has kept travel writer Carrie McLaren, who was born and raised here, from ever moving away.

We asked McLaren what makes Jacksonville such a special stop on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. She said, “While it's a big city, each neighborhood has a small-town flavor. I can visit the beach and feel like I'm on vacation, and later the same day, visit the Riverside area and be immersed in great art and boutique shopping. I love the pride Jacksonville residents take in our communities, and I think that's what makes it special to visitors, too. Seeing people love the city they live in is contagious, and visitors to our area get a sense of that pride when they're here, too.”

Michael Corrigan, Visit Jacksonville's president and CEO, was born and raised in Jacksonville. When asked what he loves about the destination, he told Travel + Leisure, “I've stayed here because of the people. Everybody is genuine in spirit. When you get here, you're not a stranger; you’re welcomed instantly, whether you came for a vacation or a move.”


  • Stay at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club for access to award-winning golf and a prime beach location.

  • After a day surfing the waves, hit TacoLu for margaritas and fish tacos.

  • Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens brings you to the savanna with its walking safari, wildlife encounters, and integrated botanical gardens.

  • Riverside Arts Market, occupying a 10-lane stretch of road near I-95, is filled with locally made art, fresh produce, and more.

  • Stop at The Volstead, a Prohibition-style lounge for classic craft cocktails and live music.

<p>Courtesy of Ponte Vedra Inn & Club</p>

Courtesy of Ponte Vedra Inn & Club

Best Hotels and Resorts

Ponte Vedra Inn & Club

A favorite among T+L readers, Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is made up of 11 buildings spread across 300 acres. McLaren loves the 1928 Spanish colonial, known for its fantastic golf courses and prime beach location just 30 minutes from downtown Jacksonville. With more than 250 rooms, the historic inn also has two golf courses, 15 tennis courts, an 8,000-square-foot gym, and a 30,000-square-foot spa with its own relaxation room, outdoor hydrotherapy pool, and four therapy grottos. Guests can choose from 150-plus services, including a new CBD massage and beauty treatments. There are also plenty of dining options, with 13 in-house restaurants, from casual poolside service to the intimate chef’s table at Seahorse Grille.

Related: The 11 Best Golf Resorts in Florida, according to Travel + Leisure.

One Ocean Resort & Spa

When McLaren and Corrigan have guests in town, One Ocean Resort & Spa is their top recommendation. The only high-rise hotel on Atlantic Beach, it offers incredible ocean views from each of its 193 pet-friendly rooms. Even Azurea, its on-site restaurant, has floor-to-ceiling windows for taking in those beach sunsets while dining on local fish tacos. The coastal color palette mirrors the outdoor environment with sea-glass-green and sky-blue walls, sand-colored carpeting and wood, and accents adorned with seashells and driftwood. Beach chairs and umbrellas, bicycles, a pool, a gym, an oceanfront spa, and a variety of beach games and boogie boards make this a great property for families, couples, and singles.

<p>Visit Jacksonville</p>

Visit Jacksonville

Best Things to Do

Big Talbot Island State Park

Big Talbot Island State Park is home to black skimmers, endangered wood storks, and ospreys, but the real showstopper here is Boneyard Beach, one of the most beautiful places in Florida. Framed by 30-foot bluffs along the shore, it's littered with driftwood from live oak and cedar trees. You can rent a kayak or book a guided tour at Kayak Amelia, or cast a line from one of the salt marshes for some local redfish and speckled sea trout. McLaren added its otherworldly environment is a beautiful place for exploring, but if you ask about it, most locals call it Big Talbot.

St. Johns River Taxi & Tours

Corrigan tells visitors touching the water while in Jacksonville is a must, and he recommends the river taxi for a relaxing experience. St. Johns River Taxi & Tours is run by watermen who have navigated the St. Johns River all their lives. There are sunset cruises, dolphin expeditions, and a collaborative tour with the Museum of Science & History that explores the history of Jacksonville through the eyes of ancient mariners. The company also offers regular water taxi service up and down the river on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from noon until 9 pm., and Friday and Saturday from noon until 10 p.m. Pro tip: If you’re going to a Jaguars game, grab a water taxi and avoid the parking hassle.

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

Jacksonville has many museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science & History, and Mandarin Museum & Historical Society, but Corrigan loves one above the rest: the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. Established in 1958, this spot houses more than 5,000 works of art, a renowned Meissen porcelain collection, and historic gardens overlooking the St. Johns River.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

One of only seven zoos in the U.S. that has an animal wellness team, and with the only walking safari in northeast Florida, there’s a lot to love about the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Award-winning exhibits like the Land of the Tiger and African Forest, experiences like elephant painting and flamingo feeding, and a lush botanical garden make this a must-stop for animal lovers. Corrigan added, “It's a hidden gem that truly lets you connect with wildlife.” It's open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and advance online tickets are required.

Art Bikes Tour

Electric bikes provide a manageable way to see Jacksonville on the ground, and Art Bikes supports local artists with every ride as an added bonus. Visitors can choose from several self-guided tours around the city: Explore the new Shared Use Path, known as the SUP, which crosses the St. Johns River into San Marco, or head to Riverwalk and Downtown to check out some of the buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. You can also join the Art, Architecture, and History tour, a 10-mile guided excursion that winds through several of Jacksonville’s historic neighborhoods highlighting public art, parks, and important pieces of the Emerald Trail (a 30-mile rails-to-trails initiative). The tour stops at the former real estate office of Leonard Skinner (yes, that Lynyrd Skynyrd), as well as the Gray House, where a 1969 jam session famously led to the formation of the Allman Brothers Band.

Related: The 15 Best Things to Do in Jacksonville, according to Travel + Leisure.

<p>Visit Jacksonville</p>

Visit Jacksonville

Best Shopping

Riverside Arts Market

A 10-lane stretch near I-95 Monday through Friday, this space under the Fuller Warren Bridge comes alive every Saturday as the Riverside Arts Market, rain or shine. It welcomes farmers, artists, bakers, and food trucks, and live music spills out from the riverfront amphitheater, making it “the place to be on Saturday mornings,” according to McLaren. She added, “It overlooks the St. Johns River and is an awesome place for gifts and unique Jacksonville-themed art.”

St. Johns Town Center

This sprawling collection of more than 175 stores has everything from Free People to Gucci, interrupted by restaurants and hotels across 50 acres. St. Johns Town Center is an outdoor lifestyle mall with palm-lined streets, a dog park, and Park Green’s turtle pond. Visitors can try to break out of an Escape Room and then grab dinner at RH Rooftop Restaurant set atop a 70,000-square-foot design gallery with stunning views of Jacksonville’s cityscape. “It’s phenomenal to have a combination of stores, restaurants, and lodging in the same complex and just one mile away from the University of North Florida,” Corrigan said.

<p>Visit Jacksonville</p>

Visit Jacksonville

Best Nightlife


For the first time in 20 years, a welcoming LGBTQIA+ bar opened in downtown Jacksonville. Hardwicks is an inclusive space set inside a 1926 Mediterranean Revival-style building on East Adams Street. Negronis crafted with Hardshore gin, Campari, and Dolin Rouge vermouth are on draft alongside other classic cocktails, and Hardwicks Hotspot Heroines drag show is on stage every Thursday night. The party keeps going until 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and midnight on Sundays.

The Volstead

Jazz albums from a bygone era can be heard spinning at this Prohibition-style lounge while bartenders mix classic craft cocktails with small-batch spirits and ingredients from the local farmers market. The Volstead gets its name from the 1920 Volstead Act, better known as the National Prohibition Act, which outlawed selling and manufacturing alcoholic beverages in the U.S. It's open Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. until 12 a.m., and Friday and Saturday until 2 a.m. The only signal you have arrived is a "Jax Post" sign on the seemingly empty storefront of the W.A. Knight building, but pull back the curtain and enjoy their Sunday swing dance lessons, live music every other Friday, or simply cozying up with a handcrafted beverage.

Hoptinger Bier Garden & Sausage House

This modern Bavarian beer garden boasts more than 60 taps, a full liquor bar, and interesting sausage dogs. Hoptinger Bier Garden & Sausage House has two locations (Jacksonville Beach and Five Points) that stay open until 2 a.m. seven days per week. They are also a member of the Jax Ale Trail — visitors can grab a passport and collect stamps along the trail while enjoying Jacksonville’s 26 breweries.

King Street District

Known for its collection of pubs and bars that stay open late, Riverside’s King Street District has lots of options for nightlife. Rogue is open seven days a week from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m., with an extensive whiskey selection and cozy dive bar feel. Visit the bathtub for a selfie or try your hand at the mason jar ring toss game to win a bottle. The Garage serves its full pub menu until 2 a.m. seven days per week, plus you can bring your dog. Mickie’s Irish Pub has karaoke on Thursdays, DJ dance nights on Fridays and Saturdays, and blackjack games on Sundays — they stay open until 2 a.m. seven days a week.

Pete’s Bar

There are several watering holes along Jacksonville’s three beaches, but Pete’s Bar in Neptune Beach is the oldest in all of Duval County, established in 1933. You can still play a game of pool for 25 cents from noon until 2 a.m. seven days a week. Now, there's also an outdoor patio where you can soak up the beach ambience while sipping on one of their legendary economically priced drinks.

<p>Visit Jacksonville</p>

Visit Jacksonville

Best Restaurants

The Fox

Located in the historic Avondale neighborhood, The Fox exudes diner vibes with its long counter, swivel stools, open kitchen, town gossip, and wall-to-wall pop culture memorabilia. It's open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch, and known for its corned beef hash and homemade meatloaf. Corrigan said, “If you're at The Fox in Avondale, get the Avondale omelet. Add some home fries and raisin toast, and you've got a pretty sweet little meal. I've had this meal maybe over 100 times.” And while you may see a long line out the door, it will be worth the wait.

Moon River Pizza

This Murray Hill pizza joint serves up custom pies and slices piled high with freshly cut toppings on hand-rolled dough. Moon River Pizza sticks to the basics: pizza, calzones, salads, beer, wine, and soft drinks. You can order by topping or select one of the specialty pizzas. “They do pizza by the slice for lunch and dinner. My go-to is a half house salad and a slice of T-Rex pizza,” said Corrigan.


Known as the “little taco shack that could,” TacoLu has been a Beach Boulevard staple since 2008. The festive cantina has an indoor and outdoor seating area filled with Day of the Dead-inspired murals, colorful Mexican tiles, and a robust selection of tequilas. Their commitment to fresh ingredients and inventive street tacos — get the Taco Rosa filled with hunks of seared tuna — makes it a must-stop for McLaren. “When we head to the beach, we love going to TacoLu for tacos, margaritas, and street corn. This family-owned restaurant serves fantastic food in a great atmosphere, whether you’re interested in just having drinks or a family dinner,” she said.

River & Post

When McLaren has visitors, River & Post is always on the itinerary. Located in the Riverside neighborhood, this restaurant has an elegant street-level dining room with dark wood, exposed brick, and softly lit chandeliers. Meanwhile, the rooftop lounge, just a short elevator ride away, offers panoramic views of the river and downtown skyline. The dining room menu features fresh seafood dishes and a variety of steak entrees. There's also a kids' menu here, while the upstairs lounge feels more like a grown-up space with its shareable food and inventive cocktail selection. According to McLaren, there are two first-come, first-served booths next to the kitchen that are ideal for watching the culinary action.

Best Time to Visit

<p>Valerie de Leon/Travel + Leisure</p>

Valerie de Leon/Travel + Leisure

Corrigan let us in on some can't-miss events that occur throughout the year in Jacksonville. Memorial Day weekend is not an unusual time to visit the beach, but it also happens to be around the free, four-day Jacksonville Jazz Festival, which has hosted legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Branford Marsalis, Buddy Guy, Harry Connick, Jr., and Mavis Staples over its 40-year history.

In October, rainbow-clad LGBTQIA+ supporters fill the streets for the River City Pride festival, enjoying live entertainment, artists, food vendors, a family fun zone, and more.

According to Corrigan, the Florida-Georgia football game is another big draw in October, but his favorite event happens over Thanksgiving weekend: the Light Boat Parade, during which elaborately decorated boats motor down the St. Johns River. Corrigan added, “It's followed by a fireworks display from five different places on the river and includes ‘snow’ off the bridges. If I have a guest who wants to come to Jacksonville, I’m taking them to the boat parade because they're going to remember Jacksonville for a long time.”

How to Get There

This is where Jacksonville shines in Corrigan’s opinion. Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) is located just 15 miles north of downtown and 25 miles from the sand. With more than 200 flights daily from 30-plus destinations, getting here via airplane is relatively easy. Corrigan added, “I wish all airports could be like JAX. It's extremely clean, your rental car is 300 steps from baggage claim, and you don’t have to get on a bus and ride around to a remote parking lot ... The moment you get off the airplane, the tension starts going away and you relax.”

If train travel is your chosen path, both Amtrak Silver routes (Meteor and Star), which connect Maine to Miami, make stops in Jacksonville. If you'd rather drive, Jacksonville sits right off I-95 to the north and I-10 to the west. And if cruising is your preferred mode of transportation, Norwegian Cruise Line will be moving their homeport to Jacksonville, Florida, in November 2025.

<p>Daron Dean for Visit Florida</p>

Daron Dean for Visit Florida

Neighborhoods and Areas to Visit

Riverside Avondale

This eclectic area of Jacksonville, located along Park Street across from the St. Johns River, is filled with shops and restaurants. It's also home to the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “My daughters like going to the movies at Sun-Ray Cinema, where they deliver food and drinks right to your seat.  Across the street, my husband and I love going to Hoptinger for a pregame brunch during football season — it's a great place for craft beer. And 5 Points Vintage always has something new to discover, from clothing to home decor to toy collectibles,” said McLaren.

The Beaches

Jacksonville has 22 miles of beaches split into Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, and Mayport Beach. All public and pet-friendly, they're dotted with surf shops, boutiques, restaurants, and greens spaces like Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Plus, they have some of the biggest wave breaks on the East Coast — the Super Girl Surf Pro competition is held at Jacksonville Beach every year. Corrigan also recommends a stop at Beaches Museum on Jacksonville Beach. Here, you can see a 28-ton steam locomotive, check out the historic post office, walk the boardwalk, and learn all about the culture and history of the area.

Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve

The 46,000-acre Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve encompasses salt marshes, coastal dunes, and hardwood hammocks. Within the preserve, visitors will also find more than 200 archeological sites with evidence of 6,000-plus years of human life, dolphins, migratory birds, and possibly a sighting of a rare West Indian manatee or loggerhead sea turtle. Also within the boundaries sits the Fort Caroline National Memorial (which memorializes the brief 16th-century French presence in Florida) and Kingsley Plantation, a 60-acre National Park Service site that reveals the dark and complicated history of the enslaved with its extensive collection of tabby slave cabins.


One of Jacksonville’s oldest historically African American neighborhoods, LaVilla is home to the Ritz Theatre and Museum. Originally built in 1929, it was rebuilt in 1999 to research and preserve African American culture in northeast Florida. Visitors here can attend a concert, explore the museum, check out a film, listen to a lecture, or see a performance. Explore Jax Core’s Black Heritage Tours guide visitors through LaVilla’s contributions to Black history and how legendary figures such as James Weldon Johnson, Eartha M. M. White, and Louis Armstrong played a part in that.

Related: The 9 Best Places to Live in Florida, according to Travel + Leisure.

How to Get Around

If you’re flying into Jacksonville International Airport, rental car options abound. Corrigan noted, “You cannot rely on public transportation. We have ride-sharing apps like every community, but not enough. A rental car helps you navigate the 840 square miles of fun available in Jacksonville. There are so many diverse things to do that, to truly enjoy the mystique of the city, you need a rental car.”

If you forgo the rental car, you can grab a taxi, Uber, or Lyft, but it may get pricey depending on how much exploring you want to do. If you plan to stay downtown, the fully automated, 2.5-mile JTA Skyway monorail is a good option. Plus, it's free.

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