Hotspots in Jacksonville, FL
Brides opting for a down-home kind of celebration will love the Keeler Property, a 40-acre farm located on Jacksonville’s rural Westside. The rustic covered bridge measuring 100 feet long and 26 feet wide brings to mind romantic scenes from Clint Eastwood’s 1995 Bridges of Madison County and is one of the area’s most unique settings for an intimate wedding ceremony. Owner Scott Keeler built the bridge by hand using rough-cut logs set in clay – just the way they did centuries ago. After your ceremony, the property’s spacious barn offers plenty of room for a rambunctious good time of dining and do-si-do’ing. And a spring-fed pond, open fields and wooded areas offer lots of beautiful photo options.
Built in 1967, the Alhambra Dinner Theatre is one of the nation’s remaining few. And it has quite the history, boasting past performances by the likes of Cyd Charisse, Frank Gorshin and Betty Grable (her Alhambra appearance was her last live performance). After going dark for a season, the theatre was renovated and reopened in 2010 with a swank new interior and a haute cuisine menu prepared by Matthew Medure, one of Northeast Florida’s most celebrated chefs. Shows like “The Odd Couple” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” star seasoned performers who have performed on Broadway and on international stages. Reviews are glowing and attendance is booming.
Located in Jacksonville’s historic Springfield neighborhood, Déjà Vu is deliciously hip wine and art bar that doubles as a wireless internet coffee shop by day, and a casually upscale and intimate dance hall by night. The eclectic interior’s exposed brick walls and industrial ceiling are beautifully offset with original works for sale by local artists and sculptors, sleek leather seating and a few functional treasures like a 130-year-old upright piano and a 200-year-old wine storage wall. The drink menu boasts more than 100 red and white wines and 25 bottled beers plus espressos, cappuccinos and lattes. Neo Soul Saturdays and Ladies’ Night Thursdays feature music spun live by top local DJs. Apparently, the party never stops. Déjà Vu is open until 2 am seven days a week.
The horsey set were stoked when news broke of the Jacksonville Equestrian center. Opening in 2004, the multi-purpose indoor/outdoor complex features top-of-the-line equestrian facilities that rival those in any major market. High-dollar hunter jumper competitions, pro and amateur rodeos and 4H youth horse shows happen there. So do portions of the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair and Mudfest, a family mud racing event to benefit the Boselli Foundation.
The center features one indoor arena, two outdoor arenas, 422 permanent stalls, and high quality lighting and sound systems. It’s available for rent for large events and is open to individual riders most days. Just be sure to have proof of your horse’s coggings on hand or you and your horse will be escorted out.
Help your kids discover their wild sides with preschool programs at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The Story Safari Series introduces little ones (ages one to five) to all sorts of animal kingdom friends via favorite themed books like Bugs for Lunch, a gross-but-funny detailing of insect-crunching critters; and Thank You Bear, a heartwarming tale of a bear who searches for the perfect gift for his mouse friend and learns a thing or two about shared values along the way. Infants and toddlers are easily entertained in the Butterfly Hollow. Watching the Tuxedo Coast penguins waddle; touching a stingray at Stingray Bay; and climbing, jumping and splashing in the Play Park and Splash Ground are always fun. And what little one doesn’t love a train or carousel ride?
It's not often that one gets to sleep under the same roof that has sheltered U.S. presidents, silent film stars and gangsters. And thanks to modern conveniences like wireless Internet, pillow top mattresses and in-room refrigerators, guests at the Casa Marina are treated better today than when FDR, Jean Harlow and Al Capone roamed the halls. With fewer than 25 rooms and suites, each spacious and uniquely decorated, the three-story oceanfront inn is the perfect alternative to the characterless chain hotels that predominate Jacksonville Beach. Besides the requisite long walk on the beach, visitors won’t want to miss Sunday brunch or cocktails with a view at the Penthouse Lounge.
Located in the Bank of America building, Urban Grind is a regular stop for the downtown Jacksonville crowd. Gourmet whole bean brewed coffees, expertly crafted espresso drinks and cool, creamy fruit smoothies are breakfast staples for downtown workers. Coffee beans are ground immediately before brewing for the freshest taste. And homemade cream cheese flavors like spinach Parmesan, garden veggie & honey walnut top fresh bagels and pastries.
Urban Grind customers enjoy free W-iFi and check in often for daily specials and deals like half-price frappes from 2:00-4:00 p.m. or free homemade flavored cream cheese with a bagel purchase. Regulars are afforded a coffee perks program, earning free coffees, lattes or frappes. At press time, Urban Grind was putting the final touches on a brand new décor and had just wrapped a taste test of their new-spiced chai cookies designed to complement their already popular chai latte.
Established in 1928 as a playground for the nation’s wealthy elite, the Ribault Club has hosted decades of decadent soirees for foreign dignitaries, captains of industry and society mavens. It’s named for Jean Ribalut, a 16th century French naval officer and navigator who claimed this corner of the New World for France in 1562. And during the latter part of the Roaring ‘20s, it served as an exclusive resort for the likes of the Rockefellers, the Astors and the Carnegies. Twelve-foot ceilings, French doors, fluted pilasters and the original Terrazzo floors make for an elegant wedding locale. Outdoor weddings beneath centuries-old oak trees also are popular.
Situated on the edge of the picturesque St. Johns River and backed by a downtown skyline, Metropolitan Park (known locally as Metro Park) is Jacksonville’s premier outdoor live events venue. The 27-acre facility features a 2,400-square-foot reversible stage with greenroom and production office, dressing room trailers, plus generous seating beneath a massive canopy.
Surrounding the stage are covered picnic shelters, a children’s play area and a 78-slip public marina with full boat docking facilities. Locals bring their boats to right up to the park’s edge for a variety of annual and special events including major music concerts, the annual World of Nations Celebration and Starry Nights, the annual outdoor concert series of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.
New Year’s Eve galas on the First Coast don’t get any more memorable the annual celebration at the tony Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. Each year, a different theme sets the mood and, often, the dress code. One recent party recreated Truman Capote’s legendary Black & White ball of 1966, with guests wearing elaborate masquerade masks. Lavish decorations, gourmet food bars, top-shelf drinks and, of course, an unrivaled midnight fireworks show over the beach. Gala-goers congregate on the resort’s oceanfront lawn, but you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy the show. Locals bring blankets and beach chairs and settle into a great sandy spot.