Looking for things to do in or near Jacksonville, FL? If you love history, there are some wonderful day trips that are an easy drive from the city. Head up to Georgia or stay in Florida, you have your choice of historic cities and millionaire’s retreats. In fact, you might even bump in to a pirate or two.
Day Trip to St. Augustine, Florida
In St. Augustine, you see not only hundreds of years of history but, in addition, a town that has handled the onslaught of Florida tourism and still come away feeling like a quaint place.
The historic district, known as the Spanish Quarter, draws the most tourists. You’ll want to go there, too, for the shopping, the history, and the scenery. There are plenty of fine eats and everything from t-shirt shops to tile art.
The beautiful fort, Castillo de San Marcos, is both picturesque and perfect for a shopping break as it is located just across the street from St. Augustine’s historic area. Consider taking a trolley tour to learn more about the city, or spend an hour or two in the Colonial Spanish Quarter Living History Museum. Have dinner at the beautiful Columbia Restaurant.
Other must-see’s include the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the Lightner Museum (nice for adults, the kids might get restless), the new Pirates Museum, and the Old Florida Museum (hands-on perfect for kids).
Distance: Approximately 42 miles from downtown Jacksonville to St. Augustine.
Good times to visit: The weather is fine in the fall and between Thanksgiving and Christmas there are plenty of festivals, tours, and other holiday festivities. It’s quiet there during the winter if you’d prefer a less touristy feel – and not too cold. Summers are always busy as St. Augustine has a nice beach area to offer, too.
Day Trip to Fernandina Beach, Florida
Fernandina Beach is a smaller version of St. Augustine and one of my favorite places – perfect even if you only have a half day to visit.
There are plenty of shops, art galleries, and local restaurants tucked in amongst the live oaks of the 50-block historic district. A bustling waterfront includes restaurants, options for fishing charters and of course, a nice view. Get your picture taken with the pirate statue just outside the downtown Fernandina Beach Visitor’s Center. And, if you’re lucky, matey, you’ll run into a “live” pirate or two.
With a port that is one of the deepest along the southeast coast, pirates found Fernandina Beach to be a safe and friendly place during the 17th and 18th centuries. Even today, you’ll usually find one or two “pirates” walking around downtown, courtesy of members of the active Fernandina Beach Pirates Club, a social and public service club that loves to entertain the town’s visitors.
If you have time, consider taking the Cumberland Island Ferry on a roundtrip cruise over to historic St. Mary’s, Georgia. On the way you’ll see the wild horses on Cumberland Island and perhaps a submarine coming in to the Kings Island Submarine Base.
Other must-see’s include the Fernandina Beach Lighthouse (check with the visitor’s center ahead of time to see if a tour is available) and Fort Clinch State Park.
Distance: Approximately 36 miles from downtown Jacksonville to Fernandina Beach.
Good Times to Visit: During the Fernandina Beach Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival in May, Christmas holiday tour of inns during December, and the Amelia Island Book Festival in February.
Day Trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia
If you’ve ever visited Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina or any other millionaire’s home, you find the Jekyll Island Club an interesting look into the lives of the rich and powerful of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The trip across the causeway to Jekyll Island is an education in itself and a lovely introduction to the importance and beauty of barrier islands and marsh. You can easily see why northern industrialists flocked here to get away from it all.
Stop off at the visitor’s center along the causeway for information and the viewing platform which looks out over the marsh. Then visit the Jekyll Island Club grounds to see the main hotel and several millionaire’s cottages still remaining on the grounds. You can shop in stores that now inhabit former employee residences.
It is easy to tour the grounds by yourself or join a tour group. Either way you’ll learn a lot about the history of the Jekyll Island Club and Jekyll Island itself. Bring a bike to enjoy the many bike paths on Jekyll Island or rent one when you get there. There’s miles of lovely, natural and unspoiled beach to enjoy, too.
Jekyll Island is a peaceful escape from the city to another time and place.
Distance: Approximately 70 miles from downtown Jacksonville.
Good Times to Visit: During the Shrimp and Grits Festival in September, the Coastal Birding Festival During October, or during the spring. The beaches of Jekyll are usually very quiet except for the peak summer tourist season.
St. Augustine, Florida Visitor’s Guide
Amelia Island, Florida Visitors Guide
Jekyll Island, Georgia Tourist Bureau
Amelia River Cruises
Jim Abbott, “A pirates life for you: Finding the arrrrgh in the Sunshine State,” www.OrlandoSentinel.com