Jacksonville has a lot going for it that’s new: an NFL team (the Jaguars), a Spaceport, cruise ships (www.carnival.com), and the nation’s largest park system (over 80,000 acres). But it’s the past that brings visitors to Jacksonville’s historic Riverside and Avondale neighborhoods. Their winding tree-lined streets, bounded by the St. Johns River, became a laboratory for aspiring architects who flocked to the city following the Great Fire of 1901. The richness and variety of homes built in the ensuing 30 years today form one of the state’s largest and most architecturally diverse National Historic Districts. For fans of great architecture that also appreciate a dynamic authentic community experience, Riverside Avondale is a hidden gem in the heart of the nation’s largest city–and there’s no better time to explore it than on a gorgeous spring weekend.
For those of you who aren’t as familiar with the neighborhood as those of us who know and love it well, here are some ideas for your staycation itinerary!
6 p.m. BREWING SOME FUN
Riverside’s first independent homegrown microbrewery, Bold City Brewery, offers tours and tastings in its on-site Tap Room. In honor of the Great Fire, try the “1901 Red Ale.” It’s malty, roasty and complex. 2670 Rosselle Street, 904-379-6551. For a little Local Flavors competition, stroll down the street to the area’s newest microbrewery, Intuition AleWorks, and sample the aggressively hopped, high gravity Riverside Red at the brewery bar. 720 King Street, 904-683-7720.
If mixed drinks are more your thing, visit the popular martini lounge on the second floor of Mossfire Grill, named for the Spanish moss that caught fire on May 3rd at a downtown fiber factory, sparking what more than a century later still ranks as one of the nation’s largest urban fires. 1537 Margaret Street, 904-355-4434.
8 p.m. AVONDALE
Stroll along under the live oaks and Spanish moss on St Johns Avenue. The three-block 1920s-era commercial district features a diverse collection of dining and nightlife options. Biscotti’s (named by the NY Times as “one of THE places to eat in Jacksonville [with] the ambiance of a SoHo café”) offers an eclectic menu with multiple daily specials. Try the “New South Quesadilla” (brie, smoked chicken, & papaya topped with fresh mango salsa), one of the fresh salads, and a bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. 3665 St Johns Avenue, 904-387-2060.
Seafood lovers may choose Blue Fish Restaurant & Oyster Bar, a popular casual option across the street that prides itself on its many fresh-catch selections. 3551 St Johns Avenue, 904-387-0700. The 20-somethings love The Casbah Café, with nightly belly dancers, hookah lounge, and a well-priced Mediterranean menu. 3628 St Johns Avenue, 904-981-9966. The newest addition to the strip is ‘town, a playfully chic restaurant with an open kitchen that utilizes locally sourced ingredients to create small plates with big flavors. Start with the pork belly “popcorn” and a fresh-from-the-farm chop salad, then finish with a plate of seared scallops, piled with shaved fennel and silvers of jalapeno in an orange-and-cardamom vinaigrette. 3611 St Johns Avenue, 904-345-2596.
10 p.m. LIVE MUSIC AND MARTINIS
Regulars pack the bar and sidewalk tables at The Brick for great live music and an extensive martini menu. If you like people watching, this is your place. 3585 St Johns Avenue, 904-387-0606.
8 a.m. BREAKFAST DILEMMA
If you’re a guest at the Jenks House, you’ll want to stay right where you are for chef Ila Rae’s garden-fresh breakfast (gingerbread crepes with rum sauce, bananas and maple rum yogurt served with just-squeezed Florida orange juice and home-roasted, fair-trade organic coffee). Locals head for the Fox Restaurant, a 1950s style diner with a southern home-style menu and great service (prepare to wait for a table). 3580 St Johns Avenue, 904-387-2669.
9 a.m. A STROLL THROUGH HISTORY & THE RIVERSIDE ARTS MARKET
Head over to Memorial Park to begin a walking tour with a twist—one that’s dictated by your iPod. (Download the free, self-guided MP3 tour from RiversideAvondale.org.) This one-hour, two-mile tour will take you past some of Riverside’s oldest and most interesting homes—including a haunted house that once played host to Mary Todd Lincoln, the grand Jacobethan mansion built for the owner of Maxwell House Coffee, and the erstwhile office of Leonard Skinner, the former coach who gave his name to Jacksonville’s most famous band. You’ll end the tour back at Memorial Park, just in time to stroll up Riverside Avenue to catch the opening hours of the Riverside Arts Market.
This free Saturday market (which reopens this Saturday, March 5th) is a high-energy arts, foods, crafts and farmers market under the I-95 Bridge. Over 150 artists and farmers sell locally made or grown products while you are entertained by live performances on the River Stage and street performers throughout the site. Choose from a dozen diverse food vendors for lunch. Begun in 2009, the Market (RAM for short) drew 40,000 visitors on opening day and has remained a regional favorite ever since. It’s the single best place in town to put your finger on the community’s pulse. Farmers only in winter; full market March-December. Riverside Ave at I-95, 904-554 6865.
1 p.m. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Just 100 yards south of RAM is the delightful Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Over 5,000 works of art encompassing eight thousand years of art history are set in an intimate riverfront campus. Grab a latte at the museum café, then stroll out back to explore 2 ½ acres of ornate Italian and English-style gardens first planted a century ago when the property was owned by one of the city’s most prominent families. Don’t miss (frankly, you can’t) the immense Cummer Oak. 829 Riverside Avenue, 904-356-6857.
4 p.m. DESIGNER DRESS AND A NOSE RING?
Tattooed Goth groupies mix with debutants just three blocks west of the Cummer in 5 Points, a funky commercial district dating from the 1920s that boasts multiple shops, bars, sushi cafes, restaurants and the first theatre in Florida to show “talkies.” O’Brothers Irish Pub, The Mossfire Grill, Lomax Lodge, Birdie’s, and Underbelly provide the party; the historic 5 Points Theatre features art-house as well as first-run films; and quirky independent shops like Edge City, Anomaly, Violet and Bark draw shoppers who dare to be different.
Once you’ve explored the strip, cross the street and explore historic Riverside Park. When first opened in 1894, the spacious park was encircled by a fence to keep out the cattle that still roamed freely in this part of the city. Feeding the feathered friends in the Duck Pond is a favorite pastime for neighborhood kids. (MetroJacksonville.com has a fine photo essay on 5 Points.)
7 p.m. “WINEING” UP FOR A NIGHT OUT
With its wide choices of wines-by-the-glass in a restored building with an urban chic atmosphere, Walker’s Wine Bar is an inviting spot to try one of the many Steele wines such as “Blue Franc,” $8/glass. 2692 Post Street, 904-894-7465.
8 p.m. FEARLESS AND FRENCH
The staff at Orsay may be young, but they adventure successfully in the field of cuisine Francaise, presenting a raw bar with East, West, and Gulf Coast oysters, poached wild local shrimp, house-made charcuterie, bouillabaisse, and wickedly good steak frites. 3630 Park Street, 904-381-0909.
11 p.m. INTO THE NIGHT
Avondale is known for its refined evening options, while Riverside is famous for its quirky diversity. Kickbacks calls itself as a “Gastropub,” meaning their food is better than you think it would be (it is); 60 beers on tap and 420 choices by the bottle. Open as late as you are. 910 King Street, 904-388-9551. (Read this in-depth review of the nightlife in Riverside Avondale–boy, those MetroJax folks are good!)
10 a.m. SOME HISTORY WITH YOUR HANDLEBARS
Your guided historic district bike tour organized by e2ride Bike Tours takes you through scenic parks, along the river, and past a richness and variety of home styles: Colonial Revival, Georgian, Shingle Style, Queen Ann, Victorian, Bungalow, Tudor, Dutch Colonial, Art Deco, Prairie and more. Tour includes use of new Trek 7200 hybrid bikes with baskets, helmet, bottled water, snacks, and souvenir photo. 904-945-1571.
If you’re looking for a more leisurely Sunday morning, try mixing the social with the sacred in the Park & King district. Grab a quick bite at the Cool Moose Café, a quaint and sociable neighborhood eatery with leather-colored walls and a welcoming vibe. Features killer omelets, blueberry triple-stack pancakes and bottomless cups of fresh-roasted coffee. 2708 Park Street, 904-381-4242.
Then stroll down the street for the 11 am service at Riverside Baptist Church, a magnificent sanctuary designed in 1926 by world-renowned architect Addison Mizner. Best known for his Palm Beach mansions and hotels, Mizner’s only ecclesiastical structure is a starkly serene Mediterranean Revival style masterpiece. Looking to the cathedrals of Europe and the Sophia Mosque of Istanbul for inspiration, Mizner scored the church’s stucco walls to look like limestone, then had craftsmen rub them with buttermilk and burned cork to mimic ancient stone. A National Historic Landmark, the church is also known for its exceptional acoustics and rare dual console organ. 2650 Park Street, 904-388-7692.
The Jenks House. A gracious 1925 Prairie School style home that was one of the first establishments in the state to earn Florida Green Lodging Certification. Gorgeous rooms, delicious breakfasts. Two rooms; $95 single, $110 double. Rate includes a complete breakfast. 2804 Post Street, 904-387-2092.
The Riverdale Inn is one of only two turn-of-the-last-century mansions still standing on Riverside Avenue, which once was lined with over 50 stately homes. Built in the Shingle style for one of the city’s wealthy turpentine barons, the home has been elegantly refurbished, has its own bar and restaurant, and is the historic district’s largest inn. Ten rooms; $149-$189. Rate includes a complete breakfast. 1521 Riverside Avenue, 904-354-5080.
The Inn at Oak Street. This 1902 home, with its 70-foot wraparound porch, has been meticulously restored and features heart pine floors, cozy fireplaces, and lovely period details. Six rooms; $120-$180. Rate includes a complete breakfast. 2114 Oak Street, 904-379-5525.