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Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Somerset, United...
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Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Hi,

My husband and I are staying in the Orlando area for three weeks in November and were thinking of visiting Jacksonville and/or Gainsville and/or St Augustine. We will be driving and would welcome views on what to do and things to see.

Many thanks,

Pagan

Vero Beach, Florida
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1. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Gainesville has the Florida Museum of Natural History (part of the huge University of Florida) with outstanding Pleistocene fossil exhibits and an elaborate butterfly display. Also Kanapaha Botanical Garden (where a staff member once lost his arm to an alligator), Devil's Millhopper, a picturesque sinkhole and small state park, and San Felasco Hammock (not a real saint, but a very southern temperate hardwood forest). The university campus is impressive for its size but is for the most part not especially attractive.

St. Augustine does have a small college worth visiting, Flagler College, whose main building is a grand 19th century hotel, one of the first poured-concrete buildings in the US and a career-starter for the grandly successful architects (New York Public Library and Biltmore House, among others. One of their employees at St. Augustine went on to become a prominent San Francisco architect). The University Press of Florida (Gainesville, of course) has a new pocket history and pedestrian guide to St. Augustine. The beach is outstanding, fine sand and broad due to the considerable tidal range, almost 2 meters.

While St. Augustine was a Spanish outpost regularly under attack from the British in South Carolina and Georgia (who were as interested in slave raiding as in suppressing any Spanish threat), its most significant historical event was possibly in 1964, when civil rights protests drew attention to the issues as Congress debated the Civil Rights Act of that year. For older history, the modest-sized but quite genuine Spanish fort is worth a visit.

Jacksonville is problematic. It has several attractive older neighborhoods (Avondale, Ortega, San Marco) as do other cities (Orlando's Winter Park, especially). The beach area has blossomed over the past 15 years or so. North of Jacksonville, the Timucuan National Preserve (the full name is somewhat longer) and adjacent state parks have the southernmost Sea Islands and the Kingsley Plantation, whose owner was a busy buyer and seller of enslaved people from Africa.

Coastal road A1A from St. Augustine to the Jacksonville Beaches has the Guana Tolomato Reserve including an educational center worth visiting, if you'd like to see a life-sized right whale. www.dep.state.fl.us/gtm/education/center.htm

A1A south of St. Augustine has a small Spanish outpost, Fort Matanzas, a state park (a garden) and a cluster of scenic roads from Flagler Beach to Ormond Beach, the Ormond scenic loop. Bulow Creek State Park has a spectacular walking path through a forest (start at the north) and an adjacent historic park protects ruins of a sugar mill. http://www.ormondscenicloopandtrail.com/

Somerset, United...
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2. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Thanks so much BlueRusso for your detailed and comprehensive reply and links. Will definitely be worthwhile driving the distance to explore all three regions. One more question, why do you say Jacksonville is problematic? Is that related to its past history?

Many thanks again,

Pajan

Tampa, Florida
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3. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Unless youre just keenly interested in the museum Russo mentioned, I'd skip Jacksonville and Gainesville completely. Neither are a destination I'd send anyone to. Jacksonville just really doesn't have much that's all that interesting to see or do -- Gainesville only moderately more so.

St Augustine, definitely.

Melbourne, Florida
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4. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Jacksonville and Gainesville are not typical tourist destinations. Jax is a larger city, more oriented to the working population, think corporate world for insurance companies, etc. St. Augustine on the other hand is a historical smaller town with a downtown area where you can walk to a lot of things. Gainesville is strictly a college town. Unless you want to party with a group of college kids or are going there for a football game it would not be on my list of Florida destinations to visit. Also in November those area could be a bit on the cold side. I would look further south at that time of year. Take a look at map quest or google maps to see a layout of Florida. Let us know your interests (historical, nature, beaches, etc) and we can try to point you in the right direction.

Vero Beach, Florida
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5. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Central Jacksonville has some graceful older buildings (all from after 1902 or thereabouts when downtown burned to the ground in a fire that started at a mattress factory with lots of dried Spanish moss used as stuffing). It has a typical (for the US) movie palace from the 1920s, the Florida Theater, and it has impressive early 20th century churches (the Episcopal cathedral has a grand hammer beam roof and Riverside Baptist is a Mediterranean confection by Addison Mizner, an amazing 1920s developer and architect). The post-fire reconstruction also brought a short burst of Prairie Style buildings (similar to St. Louis and Chicago) by an architect named Henry Klutho. There's a smattering of interesting recent buildings. The Cummer art museum has a decent collection of American art and a small but fine collection of early German porcelain. But Jacksonville has nothing like the heritage of Charleston, Savannah, or New Orleans. Mostly, it's a rather Orlando-like sprawl of office parks and shopping. The Jacksonville beaches are thriving, but the local salt marshes and the St, Johns River tend to make the water somewhat murky and brownish.

Edited: 29 March 2015, 13:02
Somerset, United...
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6. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Thank you all for your posts! We have to been to Florida numerous times from The Keys, Miami, Cape Coral, Naples, Clearwater, Sarosota, Englewood etc. etc and of course Orlando visiting all the theme parks and are looking for somewhere different to explore that is not too long a drive. Daytona is one place we've not been so that's on the 'to do' list. We love Florida, the people, lifestyle, culture and of course the sunshine and are looking to explore a little more! Any advice will be gratefully received!

Again, many thanks to you all

Jacksonville, FL
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7. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

HI Pajan,

Welcome to the Jacksonville Forum. Jacksonville is a big city with a smaller town vibe. There is a plethora of things to do and see here if you know where to look. What kinds of things do you enjoy? Museums? Water activities? Shopping? Dining out? Let me know what your tastes are and I'm sure that I can recommend a few things that you'll enjoy. While Jacksonville's downtown area is more geared toward the working individual, other areas of the city are decidedly not, and offer some really fun things to see and do.

Vicki

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8. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

Hi Vicki,

Thank you for your post

Shopping and eating are definitely my taste(!) living museums, history and architecture but no water based activities, thanks! I also love animals and wildlife.

Pajan

Jacksonville, FL
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9. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

If you're into animals, you might enjoy the Catty Shack; it's a wildlife rescue facility that offers tours. http://www.cattyshack.org/ They have Siberian tigers, lions, cougars, black leopards, a bobcat, a coatimundi and foxes.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a beautiful, award-winning facility and campus that is really worth a visit.

You also may enjoy the Karpeles Manuscript Library http://www.rain.org/~karpeles/ There are several of these in the country and we are proud to have one. The Karpeles Library is the world's largest private holding of important original manuscripts & documents.

For a dining experience unlike any other, you may want to visit Clark's Fish Camp, which is NOT a fish camp. This restaurant has stuffed animals (not the plush cute kind, the taxidermied kind) of every kind including a zebra, giraffe, lion and more than you can count. There's also a live alligator in a tank swimming around. The food is good - the atmosphere - wild.

The Jacksonville Beaches have a plethora of fun boutiques and shop and some really great restaurants.

St. Augustine is definitely worth a visit and it's only about 45 minutes from Jacksonville. Have a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate on the rooftop of the San Sebastian Winery (live music on weekend evenings) or have some great food at our favorite place in St. Augustine, Creekside. There's a great deck if you want to sit outdoors. If it's cool, they'll have the big fire pit going where they serve kits to make s'mores. It's in a big old house and the food is fabulous.

Hope this helps! If you have any more questions, feel free to post again!

Vicki

Edited: 31 March 2015, 00:00
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10. Re: Jacksonville, Gainsville, St Augustine

If Jacksonville doesn't grab you attention, take a look at Cedar Key over on the west coast. Not that I want to steal tourist dollars from our area, but Florida needs all it can get. And, if you are looking to the old style of the state, you won't find it better shown.

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