It won't take long to recognize that the First Coast has a unique blend of communities ranging from small-town charm to big city hustle-bustle. The biggest challenge may be deciding which community you’ll choose to call home.
If the square is the center of San Marco, the ornately-made bronze lion sculptures, accompanying fountain and gazebo are the square’s trademark. On either side of the square are a vibrant array of shops and a mix of local fare and franchised cafes and restaurants from which to choose. Acquiring its name from the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, this neighborhood is a potpourri of architectural styles and uses. From large, expansive riverfront homes to quadstyle apartments, San Marco has a lifestyle fit for both singles and families. The San Marco Preservation Society keeps an eye out to ensure this community’s historic properties are being restored to their original intent. San Marco is also home to Theatre Jacksonville, the oldest continuously running community theatre in the U.S. and the San Marco Movie Theatre, a community favorite for dinner and entertainment.
Travel south of San Marco on Hendricks Avenue and you will come to the area known as San Jose, offering everything from private clubs to some of the cities top golf courses and home to The Bolles School, one of the nations best private schools. This area is where magnate Alfred I. DuPont built his expansive 15,000-square-foot summer home, Epping Forest, which has since been converted to a yacht club that is the center of an exclusive residential community featuring beautiful estates, garden homes and condos. Epping Forest, which includes 58-acres with 3,200 feet on the St. Johns River, is known for its superb fitness facility and walking paths.
Still one of the fastest-growing communities in Jacksonville, Mandarin offers something for young and old alike. Whether you’re seeking a starter home or a large riverfront showplace, Mandarin offers it all. This community’s beauty has been chronicled through the ages. In her book, Palmetto Leaves, author Harriet Beecher Stowe tells about her life in Florida and refers to Driving through Mandarin Neighborhoods Mandarin as “a tropical paradise.” Today, the pulse of Mandarin is the long and winding San Jose Boulevard and St. Augustine Road which both offer everything from retail shops, strip centers and a multitude of restaurants. Travel further into Mandarin, you will see everything from gated communities to new subdivisions offering many different home choices with an array of amenities.
Riverside & Avondale
Travel the St. Johns River southward from downtown Jacksonville and you’ll soon enter a magical community offering tranquility with a dash of modern-day charm. You are now in historic Riverside/Avondale. Known for elegant homes in a multitude of styles, Riverside/Avondale Shopping District Riverside/Avondale is closely watched by Riverside Avondale Preservation, or RAP, to maintain the historic integrity of this charming community. Offering a mix of riverfront condos, upscale retirement living and apartments, Riverside/Avondale is also the hub of the artistic community with culture and inspiration at every turn. Take your children for a stroll in one of the many parks in the neighborhood, or walk to some of the best restaurants and coffee shops the city has to offer.
Riverside/Avondale, while home to the largest National Historic District in the Southeastern U.S., is experiencing a re-development. Riverfront condos are going up near St. Vincent’s Medical Center, in an area just east of the Five Points Shopping District. This area is slated for a huge mixed-use development near Memorial Park.
Ortega & Venetia
Drive south along the St. Johns River in Riverside/Avondale and, as the river curves, you will eventually get to one of the oldest, most charming neighborhoods in Jacksonville — Ortega. Recently named the 46th wealthiest neighborhood in the U.S. by Worth magazine, Ortega is home to the Florida Yacht Club, the oldest yacht club in the state. Like Riverside/Avondale, Ortega boasts quiet, charming tree-lined streets and beautiful homes ranging from quaint to breathtaking. The community’s shopping district is the staging area for Ortega’s annual Fall Festival where you’re sure to see horse-drawn carriages offering rides, lots of families having plain, simple fun. Not far from Ortega is the waterfront area known as Venetia and the home to the Timuquana Country Club. Venetia offers quiet neighborhoods with well-manicured lawns and award-winning public schools. Living in Venetia was once considered to be country living.
Downtown Jacksonville & Springfield
Downtown Jacksonville is undergoing a number of sweeping changes in both housing options, new nightlife options and government amenities, such as a new main library. Downtown is home to many thriving businesses and the headquarters of CSX Corp., a Fortune 500 company. There is a strong push to create new housing opportunities in the urban core. Developers have converted former office spaces into luxurious loft apartments and condominium developments unlike those previously available in the River City. Travel North on Main Street and you enter one of Jacksonville’s re-emerging neighborhoods, Springfield. Home to Victorian-era architecture, Springfield is experiencing new home construction balanced with a mix of historic remodeling that is luring in new investment and new families.
History and modern tradition come together to make the Arlington area one of Jacksonville’s truly unique communities. Located on the banks of the St. Johns River, Jacksonville University offers world-class postsecondary education on its lush, green Arlington campus. A lot of new development near the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in East Arlington is underway. Look for a number of waterfront mixed-use developments that feature retail shops, marinas and condominiums.
The Westside has grown in recent years as developers search for expansive alternatives to some of the city’s more crowded regions. Because it still contains a lot of untapped potential, the Westside can still be marketed as a community that offers the tranquility of country living. A lot of diverse investment has crept into the Westside in recent years. The largest Westside development since Argyle Forest in the 1970s, that will take years to build out, is OakLeaf Plantation, which has come to life on 6,400 acres of unspoiled land adjacent to the Jennings State Forest, which has 20,000 acres. Straddling parts of both Clay and Duval counties, OakLeaf has caused officials to plan for new public safety services and new schools to meet future growth in this Development of Regional Impact or DRI. Another factor that is sure to contribute to growth in the Westside is the manufacturing sector at the Cecil Commerce Center, the former Cecil Naval Air Station, which is quickly becoming a hub for aerospace companies.
The Northside is pegged by real estate experts as the next big boom! Plenty of uncharted land remains on the Northside as do a myriad of landmarks. The Northside is home to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Jacksonville International Airport, Big Talbot and Little Talbot Islands, Huguenot Memorial Park, as well as the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. This area is filled with pristine marshes, woods and rivers, which are sure to lure developments of all types in the coming years.
Orange Park & Fleming Island
Two of the fastest-growing areas on the First Coast are the Clay County communities of Orange Park and Fleming Island. Both offer a wide range of home styles to meet your needs. Whether you are searching for a golf course community or a gated community, this suburban enclave offers a laid-back lifestyle with a touch of city living. Bustling Fleming Island, south of Orange Park on U.S. Highway 17, is quickly becoming known for its wide array of restaurants and shopping choices. On Fleming Island, you’ll find such planned communities as Eagle Harbor and Fleming Island Plantation and the gated communities of Pace Island and Margaret’s Walk, which offer great amenities and family atmosphere.
The Beaches of Jacksonville
Atlantic Beach & Neptune Beach
Millions of dollars in both public and private investments have flowed through the beaches communities in recent years as a wave of oceanfront re-development has taken place. But, you have to look closely to see which beaches community has benefited the most because the three cities of Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach all seem to weave together along Third Street, which is also A1A. A number of hotels have been demolished altogether as developers make way for new, trendy upscale condominium developments.
The last decade has seen Atlantic Beach establish a “Town Center” at the foot of Atlantic Boulevard and Third Street. It’s an entertainment and restaurant complex that attracts people of all ages.