An underrated beach destination compared to its southern Florida counterparts, Jacksonville has nonetheless become increasingly popular as a vacation spot; not only does the area offer several nice beaches, it is also home to world-renowned golf courses and a lively arts scene.
The beach scene in Jacksonville is limited by the weather; though the city experiences mild winters, the waters are too cold for beachgoers from November to March. But the upside is that, during the beach season, the sands are less crowded than southern Florida beaches, and are still great spots for surfing, swimming, and fishing. The golf courses are concetrated in Ponte Verda Beach, while Downtown is home to the arts scene, the sports teams, the business district, and numerous parks.
Jacksonville is the largest city in the continental U.S. in terms of geographic size, and is very spread out: Getting from the coast to the downtown area requires about a half-hour drive. Downtown is the center of business activity in Jacksonville, with thriving banking and insurance businesses and a skyline dotted by skycrapers. On the weekends locals and tourists visit parks (like the Tree Hill Nature Center), historic theaters, the several museums in the area, and shopping areas like Jacksonville Landing. Historic neighborhoods like Riverside and Avondale are near Downtown as well, and offer cute shopping and dining options in attractive historic buildings.
Becoming more popular (and thus more built up) in the 1990s, Jacksonville has several chain hotels (of varying levels of luxury) and bed and breakfasts. However, there are few boutique hotels in the area. Those on a beach vacation will likely want to stay along the coast, as Downtown Jacksonville is about 30 minutes from the beaches. Ponte Vedra Beach is an upscale area where the majority of the golf courses are located.