Jacksonville: Where Florida begins! OK, maybe not technically, but that’s the city’s official marketing slogan and who are we to nitpick?
Nestled in the northeastern corner of the state, Jacksonville is geographically one of the largest cities in the U.S., with 841 square miles of canvas for the city’s 841,000 people to work with. (OK, again, there may be more than 841,000 people, but our poetic license says it’s close enough). The city’s culture and climate is more South Georgia than South Florida, with a strong military presence, warm weather, the St. Johns River, and the NFL’s Jaguars. And here’s a fact that catches many non-Floridians by surprise: It’s just 20 miles from downtown to the Atlantic Ocean. Wait! Before you slip on that speedo, how bout we get you situated first, hmm?
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Renting in Jacksonville
There’s an Apt. for Jax: Apartments make up the majority of your rental options in Jacksonville. There’s a good amount of condos, too, but many of those are former apartments that have been converted. Self-sustaining holographic bubble pods haven’t been invented yet, so as you might imagine, there aren’t many of those to choose from in Jacksonville.
The Cost: You know how that three-year-old copy of Super Mario’s Modern Warfare costs less than its shiny new sequel? Well the same holds true for Jacksonville apartments. You can find 1-bedroom units for $600-$750 in many of the city’s older complexes, while the newer ones with ahh-inducing appliances will run you $800-$900. And take heart, Kiplinger rates the Cost of Living Index for Jacksonville at 94 (U.S. average is 100), so that means more money in your pocket for savory beef jerky or crisp carrot sticks, depending on your persuasion.
When to Pounce: For a better deal, pick your pad in the fall or winter. With Jacksonville University, University of North Florida, and Edward Waters College, thousands of students are competing with you for an apartment in the spring and summer. If you can home in on your home-to-be between October and February, you may be able to save a few bucks; but please, spend that money on something other than beef jerky.
Where the heck is Jacksonville’s Eastside?
You’ll often hear Jacksonvillians (yes, that’s the correct though rarely-used term) refer to three main parts of the city:
Northside, Southside and Westside. “Wait a second,” you say, “aren't we missing a side?” Astute observation, dear apartment-seeker! While there may technically be an east side of Jacksonville, no one mentions it; kinda like how you don’t mention your hardcore crush on Susan Boyle. Instead, everything east of the Intracoastal Waterway (a narrow but long body of water that runs parallel to the river) is referred to as “the beaches” (Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach, all separate municipalities), while most of the turf west of the Intracoastal is just called the Southside. The Southside is in many ways the center of the city, with the massive outdoor Town Center mall and hundreds of businesses centered there. It’s also where many people live. Mandarin is another popular suburban center where apartments are plentiful as well as food and shopping options.
Downtown Jacksonville is still a work in progress. Home to a handful of skyscrapers, the area is known much more for its 9-5 rush than its residential dwellings. However, if you’re OK with spending a good chunk of change, there are some eye-catching options overlooking the river.
If you’re looking for a little more culture, Avondale, Riverside and San Marco are three neighborhoods to check out. All three offer a nice mix of standalone restaurants, shops and pubs, with San Marco standing out as the prettiest and priciest of the trio.
You may be able to find the most inexpensive apartments on the north and west sides of Jacksonville. Arlington is the best option if you’re going to live in the northern part of the city.
Exploring the First Coast
Jacksonville’s Identity: Jacksonville’s two main nicknames say a lot about its identity. You’ll often hear it referred to as the “River City” because the historic St. Johns River runs right through the center of town (hope you like bridges!). TV news anchors with lopsided makeup-to-personality ratios will often refer to the whole region as “The First Coast”, a nod to Jacksonville’s roots (St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., is 30-minutes south of Jax) and it’s placement on I-95. When most non-Floridians think of Florida, they think of Orlando’s theme parks or Miami’s star-studded beaches, but Jacksonville’s history is much more aligned with the South than the tourism-driven attractions of its Florida neighbors. That can be good (shrimp and grits, southern charm) and bad.
Bring a Car: There are no significant public transportation options to speak of, so a vehicle will be necessary. The traffic can be rough heading towards downtown in the morning and going towards the beaches in the afternoon. A good rule of thumb for driving in Jacksonville is figure just about everything will take a half-hour’s drive. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for Mickey and his gang of merrymakers, Disney World is 2.5 hrs away.
Jaguars: Real and Less Real: Besides the great proximity to the beach, Jacksonville has one of the largest urban park systems in the country. The Jacksonville Zoo is a pretty nice medium-sized zoo, and an affordable way to spend the day. A handful of museums are sprinkled throughout the city, with the Cummer Museum of Art standing out as the most impressive. The Jacksonville Landing is a picturesque place for downtown dining and shopping. The Jacksonville Jaguars reign supreme when it comes to sports (hope you like teal!), and EverBank Field is where they call home. It’s also the home of the annual Florida-Georgia college football game, which turns a big section of downtown into a massive outdoor cocktail party for three days (hope you like RVs!). Minor league baseball is also nicely represented at the spiffy Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville with the Jacksonville Suns. The Veterans Memorial Arena also hosts the ABA’s Giants and major music acts when they come into town.
OK, you’re all set for your new life full of warm weather, beach access, and Jaguars! Good luck! Now, about that speedo…