15 Things to Do in Jacksonville, Florida

Forty-eight hours might not seem like a lot of time but if planned correctly you can learn a lot about a city. In partnership with Visit Jacksonville I had the pleasure of learning about things to do in Jacksonville. With an estimated population of 890,000 Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida. Named after President Andrew Jackson, this city boasts the largest city by area in the contiguous United States.

Situated on  the St. John river, Jacksonville was established in 1822 after America gained Florida from Spain. In a city this large there is definitely no shortage of fun things to do.This bustling city has several military bases, Florida’s third largest seaport, and a strong service sector.  Keep reading to learn about fifteen interesting things to do in Jacksonville.I wandered all around Jacksonville’s discovering it’s best eats and activities.

Maple Street Biscuit Company

On November 8, 2012 Gus Evans and Scott Moore opened the very first Maple Street biscuit Company. It has since grown into a community of 31 stores across multiple states. They are guided by four principles; Comfort Food with a Modern Twist,Gracious Service, Immaculately Clean Store, and Sustainable Business. Their signature dish is the Five and Dime and I was lucky enough to get to see why.  This dish consists of a flaky biscuit with an all natural fried chicken breast, pecan wood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, sausage gravy and topped with a fried egg. This biscuit was a a creamy, cheesy symphony of flavor.

This dish is massive so I suggest arming yourself with a fork and knife to get through it without making a complete mess. Their signature coffee is flavored with their premium maple syrup and it has just the right amount of sweetness. Maple Street Biscuit Company biscuits are made from scratch and their signature flavor comes from maple syrup sourced  directly from Thistle Family Farm of Rock Creek, Ohio.They are closed on Sunday but you can still get you biscuit fix the other six days of the week.

Taverna San Marco

Taverna is an Italian restaurant with Mediterranean flair. It is headed by husband and wife team, executive Chef Sam Efron and wine Director Kiley Wynne Efron. Their focus on world class wine, inspired dining and hand crafted cocktails has resulted in a dining program that is approachable yet creative.Over the past decade they have been bringing fresh flavors to Jacksonville. I had the grilled quail with romaine lettuce.

It was perfectly charred and the seasoning highlighted the subtle flavor of the quail.  Quail might be tiny but is provided a perfect potion of juicy tender meat that puts chicken to shame. Their house made ranch sauce was so incredible that I could not help dipping everything into it. The recommended rose was crisp and highlighted the freshness off the dish. Head here for inventive dishes in a relaxed atmosphere.

Check out 25 Things to Do in Charlotte, North Carolina

Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails

Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails is headed by the chef/owner Tom Gray and is a little over 5 years old. Their  traditional American fare is inspired by his southern upbringing and they take great pride in working with local business to provide the freshest ingredients. They have a strong emphasis on cocktails and their happy hour should not be missed. This restaurants attention to detail and commitment to quality starts from the moment you walk in the door. I started with the cucumber watermelon, and dill crab cake. This was a fresh take on a classic and it did not disappoint. The crab cake was juicy and flavorful. Up next was the short rib with cracked rice cheese grits. Fun fact grits were originally derived from rice grains rather than from kernels of corn.  

This short rib was hands down the best I’ve had in my life. The beef served here is locally sourced from cattle raised in Florida. It fell apart at the slightest  touch and tasted heavenly. The saltiness of the cheese grits, heat of the jalapeno, and caramelized onions complimented the rich flavor of the short rib. I followed that up with their chicken and waffle dish. Their waffle is actually a bread pudding that is accompanied by a massive piece of crispy fried chicken.Creamed collards anchor the dish while maple mouse gives it just the right amount of sweetness. Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails has beer from multiple breweries in Jacksonville and you can customize your own flight. I had the the Head High IPA, Buzzin Bee, and an Imperial Brown Ale. They were all easy drinking and highlighted the flavors of my meal. I left with a full belly and a renewed love of short ribs.

Cowford Chophouse

Housed in a building dating back to 1902, Cowford Chophouse is the definition of progress with  a consideration for history. The restaurant has three levels that each provide a unique experience.  Level one has an informal feel and features community tables made of reclaimed 100-year-old pine. On the second floor you can find a more private vibe with the white table cloths you expect in a traditional steakhouse. The rooftop provides picturesque views and a modern but casual vibe.  Known for their approachable wine list the menu features recommendations for numerous dishes to take the pressure out of picking one for yourself. Their bar also feature an extensive cocktail list with an emphasis on martini’s. Their cosmopolitan is made with a splash of champagne to give you a twist on a old favorite.  

I had to try their pacific rock oyster which was literally as large as my hand. I topped it with a combination of mignotte sauce,cocktail sauce, and a fresh squeeze of lemon, it was like tasting the ocean. Up next I had the duck fat cornbread topped with lobster and crab. It was was an incredible fusion of savory, salty, and  fresh flavors.The Seared tuna with pickled plum was a standout and the complex flavor really redefined the way I will eat tuna in the future. I’d be be remiss to come and not try the filet mignon and king crab with bearnaise sauce. My surf and turf was served med rare and tasted incredible. Even after all that I managed to have room for dessert. I had the dessert sampler and enjoyed everything I tasted, but the chocolate donut was the standout. Cowford Chophouse provides an elevated dining experience for the most discerning foodie.

The Fox

American style dinners are a staple across the country and I couldn’t come to Jacksonville and not try a hometown favorite, The Fox. Here you will find retro decor and a solid list of breakfast options. You can’t have a real classic American breakfast without coffee.

They brought a fresh mug of coffee out  and after two creams and two sugars I was right as rain. The waitress recommended the Super Fox breakfast. I had corned beef hash, duck gravy,scrambled eggs, grits, and a biscuit. It all arrived piping hot and once I put some tabasco on top I was good to go. This place promises vintage feels with delicious eats and I thoroughly enjoyed both.

Matthews

For 21 years fine dining pioneer Matthews has been known for some of the best food in the city. Their commitment to quality and inventive twists on classics has made it a consistent choice for a special night out in Jacksonville. The have an impressive happy hour that features five dollar cocktails and bites. I picked their most popular appetizer, the ahi tuna taco with seaweed salad and sriracha aioli. The first bite was  perfectly balanced and the spicy of the aioli really highlighted the tuna. Watching the beef tartare bone marrow being prepared blew my mind.

The bone is sliced and then the beef tartare is placed inside. This dish is visually stunning but it somehow manages to taste even better than it looks. After I finished the tartare they poured whiskey into the remaining marrow . I had never had it that way and now I am a total convert. The smokiness of the whiskey perfectly accentuated the savoriness of  the leftover marrow . My dessert was a panna cotta with a white chocolate melon sauce. It was the perfect ending to an incredible meal. It’s very clear to me now how Matthews has maintained their reputation for being one of the top fine dining locations in Jacksonville.

Orsay

French technique with southern traditions is the perfect way to describe Orsay. After nearly a decade their restaurant continues to churn out delicious twists on french and southern classics. I started with a Vanilla porter and  medium rare Venison tenderloin. The rich flavor of the porter really enhanced the unique flavor of the venison. Potatoes, cauliflower puree and cabbage really grounded the venison and made it a joy to eat. The foie gras that followed exceeded all of my expectations. It was perfectly cooked, rich, and delicious.

I followed that up with my favorite seafood, scallops. They were cooked to perfection in olive oil with onions and tomatoes, melting as soon as they touched my tongue.  Dessert was a baguette with lemon creme, buttermilk ice cream, and lavender crumbles. It was hot and cold which enhanced the flavors of the dish. I found the fare here to be perfectly executed with attentive service.

El Jefe Tex Mex

After road tripping throughout Texas, Scott Schwartz picked the best things he ate and used them as inspiration for his Tex-Mex themed restaurant. Located in a former hardware store in the up and coming Murray Hill,  Ell Jefe really shows its the boss with is delicious food offerings. The margaritas are made with freshly squeezed lime juice and come in a range of flavors. I started with the queso fundido, the bits of chorizo were so good that I had to go back for seconds .Fajitas featuring skirt steak and shrimp were next.

It was my first time having shrimp in a fajita and I was pleasantly surprised. The braised brisket with mole is the a recipe straight from one of the chefs grandmother, it was delicious and slightly smoky. I had to try Campechana, a mexican version of ceviche. Some might say it’s like shrimp cocktail on steroids. Either way it was my first time trying it and it was delicious.  This was some of the best Tex- Mex I’ve had outside of Texas.

Metro Diner

Metro diner is local chain is known for their Chicken and waffles. The dish includes half a fried chicken and a whole belgium waffle topped with strawberry butter.  The butter is made in house with grenadine and fresh strawberries. It also comes with a sweet and spicy sauce.

The secret to the sweet and spicy sauce is seven dashes of Louisiana hot sauce into  maple syrup.The result is sweet spicy magic that I will now include in my personal breakfast repertoire. Come for the chicken and waffles, leave with the secret sauce.

Bold City Brewery

Open for a little over a year Bold City Brewery is taking no prisoners. It is owned and run by Brian and Susan Miller (who are not related to Miller Brewing) .What started as a home brewing operation in 2002, is now two locations with over sixty recipes. They have a constant rotation of flavors and you cannot go wrong with a single one.

I had the apricot wheat, Duval Devil and the Crimson American. They all tasted great but the Apricot wheat was the easiest drinking. It would be perfect for a day on the beach or out on the porch.

Engine 15

Engine 15 is a homegrown brewery with two locations in the Jacksonville area. For my visit I went to downtown Jacksonville. Opened in 2014 it features a custom built 20 barrel brewhouse that filters into 60 barrel tanks. They produce over three thousand barrels of product annually. You can find their products in 10 counties and they continue to expand.I had their most popular beer which was the J’ville,  an American Lager with a crisp finish.

I also tried the Shandy, Nut sack double brown ale, and the Ahop. The Ahop is a New England style Ipa that is juicy and easy drinking. They have permanent and seasonal flavors. Their original location in Jacksonville beach is a brewpub that features over 50 tap lines (engine 15 and international brands) and has a pub for those who want a bite between sips.

Intuition Ale Works

Intuition Ale Works is a craft brewery that focuses on small batch handcrafted ales.  It is the largest brewery in Jacksonville and was established by Ben Davis in 2010. This state of the art brewery and tap room creates some of the top selling beers in Jacksonville. I tried their People’s Pale ale (the first beer they ever brewed), I-10( the highway that goes cross country from Florida to California), and Snake in the grass.

Many of the beers on tap are quite strong but you would not know that that by tasting them, These beers do not sacrifice  flavor content for alcohol content. This is a great spot to grab some brews and hang with friends. They also have tour that happen on the hour every hour. Stop by to learn a little more about the brewing process.

Congaree and Penn

Congaree and Penn is the only rice farm in Florida. Established in 2014 ,they have grown their initial four acres of rice paddies into multiple orchards and you pick vines/fields. You will also  find green olive trees, blackberries, and cider. Congaree and Penn is also home to thousands of honeybees and chickens. I actually got my first bee sting while out vising with the honeybees.

I recovered quickly and was picking Blackberries a few minutes later.Blackberries are only harvested in June and  there is an art to picking the right ones. The darker and plumper they are, the sweeter they will be. After filling up my basket ( it is only fifteen bucks after all) we headed back and I was able to explore the rest of the farm. This is the perfect way to spend the day with family and/or friends.

Southbank Riverwalk

Southbank Riverwalk is a one and one fourth mile pedestrian walkway which features shopping, entertainment, and restaurants.  

It sits opposite Jacksonville landing and is an excellent place to people watch. Recently updated you can go to experience outdoor festivals, art, and a host of other events. Grab a seat on a bench and soak up the beautiful downtown skyline.

Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront

For my forty-eight hours in Jacksonville I had the pleasure of staying at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. The hotel is located walking distance from downtown and features panoramic views of the river. As the largest heated rooftop pool in downtown Jacksonville, you can take in the stunning views of the city. The also have a well appointed fitness center and numerous other amenities. Staying at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront was yet another highlight to an amazing visit to Jacksonville.

After eating, drinking and blackberry picking my way through this forty eight hours I can truly say that Jacksonville was a blast. There was no shortage  of things to see or things to do in Jacksonville They have a vibrant community that should not be missed. This city is full of warm people and who have a deep appreciation for their wonderful city.  Being able to see Jacksonville through the lens of food and culture really helped me understand why some many people choose to call it home. Do yourself a favor and get here . Come for the brews and stay for the riverfront views.

2 thoughts on “15 Things to Do in Jacksonville, Florida”

  1. Jax says:

    Great post David! you’ve listed some of my favorite places.

    1. David says:

      loved Jax!

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