I can remember the day I decided to head south from Philly to sunny Florida. At the time, I was working in Center City, which meant commuting by train before walking the last two blocks to my office building on foot. Did I mention these were city blocks? One cold February morning, I vividly recall shuffling miserably with head down through a horizontal sleet storm to my office.
The wind was blowing with such force that an umbrella was worse than useless. As I slogged through what felt like frozen shotgun pellets, I remember thinking to myself, “What am I doing here?” Two weeks later, I quit my job, packed my belongings in my car and headed south.
Initially, I had no idea of where I would end up. I’d been to south Florida the previous winter on vacation, the memory of gridlock in Orlando and wall to wall snowbirds gumming up the interstate in Boca Raton all too familiar. More importantly, once I checked out the high cost of housing in south Florida, I realized I’d get a much bigger bang for my buck a little farther north. As luck would have it, the first major metropolitan area I encountered in the Sunshine State was Jacksonville.
Having done little more than stop there for gas on my way to Orlando the year before, I didn’t realize the town was so big. Later I was to come to find out that Jax is the biggest city in the country by area, since it encompasses all of Duval County. Moreover, the town is bisected by the St. John’s River which stretches from the sugar sand beaches of Atlantic Beach all the way through what was originally called South Jacksonville.
In between is a city that contains every kind of socio-economic strata. North Jacksonville is countrified. If you’re looking for acreage and like the sound of a rooster crowing in your neighbor’s yard, this could be the place for you. It’s also an area where you can still find single-family homes for little more than $100,000. A stone’s throw from Jacksonville International Airport means picking up any friends and family who wish to visit you in the winter won’t take the hour-long drive it does from south Jax. The northside is also home to the Busch Brewery, which could come in handy once the relatives finally head home.
The southside does have its appeal though for young upwardly mobile professionals. Many choose to live and work in the area bordered by J Turner Butler Blvd. to the north and Baymeadows Road to the South. Not only do several major employers including Hewlett Packard and Johnson & Johnson have offices there, but the area also sports three golf courses and tons of shops and restaurants from which to choose.
A favorite shopping spot on the southside is the St. Johns Town Center which is like an outdoor mall that contains 175+ stores along with a couple dozen restaurants.
The westside of the city, which is only 10-minutes from downtown Jax, is part bohemian and part upscale. The bohemian hub called 5-Points is nestled in the area called Riverside. While you won’t see the river from 5-Points, this unique commercial district is awash with low brow bistros, mom & pop eateries, antique stores, and the Sun Ray Theater, where you can watch old Humphrey Bogart movies while enjoying a cold beer or a glass of wine.
A bit farther down Riverside Avenue is Avondale, which is a bit more upscale. Even though 5-Points and Avondale are only three miles apart, not only are the shopping and dining venues completely different, so too are the property values.
Where single-family homes in 5-Points can be had for $200,00-$300,000, those in Avondale cost twice the price. The oldest historic shopping and dining district in the city means Avondale’s old money has kept some of the toniest shops and bistros going concerns on the westside for decades. It’s also a great place to ride your bike to grab a cappuccino first thing in the morning before peddling over to Pioneer Park to watch a group practice Tai Chi right in front of the St. John’s River.
The beaches of Jacksonville are numerous, stretching from Atlantic Beach near the mouth of the St. John’s River in the North, through Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach, to end at Ponte Vedra Beach in the South. Just like the diverse neighborhoods in the city, the communities located along the beach each have personalities all their own. So too do the property values. The easiest way to look at it is the farther south and east you go, the higher the prices. While you can still find some bargains along the water in Atlantic, Neptune and Jax Beach, by the time you hit Ponte Vedra Beach, the waterfront properties go for a million dollars or more. Sometimes much more.
Living in a city that sprawls like Jacksonville, means there are a lot of things to do:
- 1.Family Friendly Outings – While Jax may not have all the amusements offered by Orlando, if you have kids, you’ll all enjoy Adventure Landing on Jax Beach. The facility boasts a waterpark, miniature golf, laser tag, go karts, an arcade, a roller coaster and a concession stand. Once you finish there, the beach is less than a mile away, if you’d care to soak up some rays..
- Jax is also loaded with museums, parks, historical sites, wildlife sanctuaries and a world-class zoo. Due to the mild weather, making plans to take the family on a daytrip isn’t something you need to plan months in advance either.
- Boating – If you’re a bit longer in the tooth, you’ll find fishing and sailing charters available at marinas along the St. Johns River. You can also rent kayaks where you’ll paddle alongside dolphins and manatees. Did I mention that Jacksonville is also home to 3 boat clubs that provide members with access to powerboats of all kinds for one low monthly price?
- Golf – For those of you who like to spend their time on the links, you’ll love Jacksonville. The area in and around the city is home to 38 golf courses, including the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra. Home of the Player’s Championship, the Players Stadium Course sports a challenging 17th hole that features a notorious island green. While the course is open to the public, a round there will set you back $525-$600. If that’s a bit out of your price range, you can always queue up with the crowd on March 10-15 to follow Tiger Woods at the TPC. Tickets range from $25-$70 for individuals to $130 for a family of 4.
- Sports – If you’re a rabid sports fan, Jacksonville is home to the Jaguars (NFL), the Jumbo Shrimp (AA baseball), the Sharks (indoor football), The Giants (minor league basketball), the Armada (soccer), the icemen (minor league hockey), the Axemen (semi-pro rugby) and the Dixie Blues (women football team). Unlike many pro venues where athletes tend to be standoffish, taking a family to a minor league team guarantees facetime with the players.
While there’s so much to see and do in Jacksonville, several of the best reasons to relocate here have to do with the low cost of living, the lack of a state income tax, and the weather. That’s why I’ve stayed put since I moved here in July 1998. You couldn’t drag me back up to the northeast for $1,000,000, since I can live like a millionaire here for ten cents on the dollar.