Hit the road, Jax

The essential business traveler’s guide to Jacksonville

By Eddie Velosa

Planning your business trip shouldn’t take the fun out of traveling, nor should it be stressful or time consuming. After all, your time is extremely valuable, especially when you’re on the road. But let’s be honest: Escaping the squirrel cage for even a couple of days in a new city away from home brings out the wanderlust in all of us. So why not make your next business trip to Jacksonville an extended one?

Unless you left the key to your ball and chain at the office, come unlock your inner vagabond in a city best known for its active outdoor lifestyle, vibrant culture and some of the most quintessential R&R in the business. We’re sure that after all of your hard work, you’ve earned it.

As your weekend-warrior guide and master planner for all things Jax, Visit Jacksonville is here to walk you through much of what’s in store for when there’s still some time left on the clock to just kick back and enjoy all the pleasures and amenities of first-class, First Coast Southern hospitality.

For the always-motivated daily grinder

You’re the type of person who rarely breaks stride and upholds a strict regimen to maintain a healthy work/life balance and an active lifestyle. When you travel for work, easy access to runner’s routes, hiking trails and bike paths is essential to keeping with your everyday routine and staying ahead of schedule. Lucky for you, Jacksonville accommodates all of the above.

Whether it’s an early-morning run before your Friday meetings or a hike-and-bike excursion during your day off, Jacksonville’s 80,000 acres of urban parkland provide dozens of trails woven throughout the city’s natural landscape and coastal setting that are easily accessible during any of the 220-plus days of sunshine a year. Run along the St. Johns River near the Northbank Riverwalk or jog across the Main Street and Acosta bridges. For a midday trek, visit the unspoiled wetlands of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve or the 120-acre woodland, Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens, which offers some of the best offbeat trails in all of Florida.

Oh, and then there are the 22 miles of wide, sandy beaches and Atlantic shoreline. There are three bustling public beaches at your disposal—Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach—all with prime surf, small crowds, and plenty of transportation and entertainment options. And let’s not forget about Boneyard Beach at Big Talbot Island State Park, a precious seashore flanked by 30-foot bluffs and sprawling with whitewashed cedar and oak trees. Big Talbot Island also boasts diverse hiking trails like the Blackrock Trail along the unique and picturesque Blackrock Beach (which you can see for yourself here!), the Big Pine Trail through the marsh, and the 2.9-mile Timucuan Trail that runs parallel to A1A Coastal Highway. The saltwater marsh ecosystem of the Fort George estuary is considered the lifeblood of South Atlantic sea life in the area. Kayak down Simpson Creek, a tidal stream that flows between Big Talbot and Little Talbot Island State Parks to Fort George Island, and do some fishing.

For the work-hard, play-hard, networking socialite

Every productive business trip hinges on effective selling, networking and socializing—and that usually means schmoozing colleagues and clients over lunch, dinner and drinks—and then picking up the tab with the almighty corporate credit card. If you’re the proactive type who prefers to call the shots, so to speak, organizing a work rendezvous in advance might put you in your clients’ good graces and up your rapport with colleagues.

Chances are, you’ll want the full spectrum of options at your disposal, so you’re about to get a crash course on the best places to sample, sip and savor Jacksonville’s freshest coastal flavors and all the specialty craft cocktails you and your team deserve.

Southern comfort is always on full display at the glamorous Casa Marina beachfront hacienda atop the dunes of the Atlantic shore. Book a rooftop lunch in The Penthouse Lounge and then take to the veranda for a midday martini—because it’s 5 o’clock somewhere! Another lunch spot you’ll love is Black Sheep, located in the historic Five Points district of Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood. This modern American restaurant offers a full slate of signature cocktails, craft beer and select wines, with a rooftop bar and lounge overlooking downtown and the St. Johns River.

Steps from Atlantic Beach, seafood lovers will fall head over heels for Ocean 60, a locally sourced outfit that serves fresh fish straight from the protected Mayport Harbor—and it gets bonus points for being adjacent to a “martini room” that features live music during the week.

For vegans and gluten-free gluttons alike, Restaurant Orsay in Jacksonville’s historic Avondale district focuses on French-style modern cuisine and boasts a Wine Spectator award-winning selection of primo vino.

But if you just can’t stand the thought of sitting through another long lunch or a dragged-out dinner after countless meetings, set adrift on the Jax Ale Trail for an ice-cold pint of craft beer at one of the top-shelf participating breweries. Or if it’s a full-bodied pinot you’ve been craving, head over to the Grape & Grain Exchange in San Marco Square, where small-batch spirits, organic wines and handcrafted cocktails pair with purees, local fruits, herbs and vegetables for a cornucopia of comfort snacks and cordial conversation that won’t weigh on you, but will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

For the essential team builder and culture connoisseur

When traveling to a new city with your A-squad in tow, it’s utterly important to set aside some time for team building, field trips and guided or self-guided tours. It’s no secret that the more familiar you are with each other and the more comfortable you are away from your home turf, the more knowledgeable and confident you’ll be as a team. After all, that’s what genuine Southern hospitality is all about—getting to know thy neighbor. So it’s imperative that you speak the language, learn some River City values and brush up on the culture and heritage before you embark on your quest for deal making in Jacksonville.

A great way to start is by exploring the city’s rich African American history along Florida's Black Heritage Trail, which includes the Jacksonville Fire Museum, the Clara White Mission and the Kingsley Plantation—Jacksonville’s oldest standing home and Florida's last standing plantation, dating way back to 1814. Then drop by the Ritz Theatre & Museum in Jacksonville’s deep-rooted La Villa community, often referred to as the “Harlem of the South,” where the stories of Jacksonville’s native children come to life during the Civil War at the museum, and monthly nostalgia-invoking jazz performances grace the stage at the theater—both fixtures of Jacksonville’s cultural tapestry.

Other legendary landmarks like the Alhambra Theatre & Dining and The Florida Theatre share as much cultural fabric as they do good ol’ fashion entertainment, and both are staples of Jacksonville’s performing arts community, along with Norman Studios, a silent film studio established in 1920 that is now being transformed into the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum. The Jacksonville Symphony is also a great way to experience the arts and harmonize team morale the night before a big meeting.

For much more on northeast Florida’s premier arts and culture landscape, and tips on how to break for business in Jacksonville, simply Visit Jacksonville, where there’s plenty of frolicking to be had once the job is done.

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