Deciding where to stay in Jacksonville can be a tough decision. After all, this is a massive city in the USA. From trendy beach towns to bustling nightlife vibes, the Jacksonville area truly has it all. It’s perfect for families, couples, adventurers, and everyone in between.
When I first moved to Jax, it took me a few months to get my bearings and wrap my head around the different areas of the city. But once I did, I realized just how unique, fun, and charming Jacksonville truly is. Each neighborhood offers something different.
Jacksonville is the largest city by land mass in the lower 48 states, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. Deciding where to stay in Jacksonville can feel overwhelming and confusing due to its size – but don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
Best Areas to Stay in Jacksonville
Quick Look: Best Areas to Stay in Jacksonville
Where To Stay in Jacksonville
Looking for great food? Jacksonville has a neighborhood for that. A relaxing beach getaway? You can find that too. A bustling, hip area with bars and galleries? Yep, Jax has it. Here are some of the best neighborhoods in Jacksonville:
Jacksonville Beach (Best for For-Time Visitors)
If it’s your first time visiting Jacksonville, you’ll definitely want to stay in Jacksonville Beach – it’s by far one of my favorite areas in the entire city. It’s got a little bit of everything for visitors of all ages, and the sprawling beach is postcard-worthy.
You’ll find bars, restaurants, nightlife, and shopping in Jacksonville Beach, and it’s just a short drive to downtown Jacksonville if you want to spend a day at the museums or a Jags game. This little section of town offers both non-stop fun or total relaxation – depending on how you play it.
Pros of Staying in Jacksonville Beach
- White sandy beach just steps away
- Great variety of restaurants and bars
- Nightlife and dancing
- Family-friendly activities
- Cute clothing boutiques
Cons of Staying in Jacksonville Beach
- 20-minute drive to downtown
- Can be noisy during peak months (summer)
- Expensive during peak months
- Can be crowded during peak months
- 40 minutes from the airport
Best Places to Stay in Jacksonville Beach
Here are some of the best hotels in Jacksonville Beach – private stays are also included:
1. Courtyard by Marriott Jacksonville Beach Oceanfront: Located directly on the beach, this hotel is an absolute dream for first-time visitors. There are also two swimming pools and a restaurant, and it’s within walking distance of everything. Click here for details.
2. Jacksonville Beach Home: For your first time in Jax Beach, why not treat yourself to an entire home? This gorgeous home is just a short walk to the beach, restaurants, and bars. If you’re looking for an extra layer of luxury, you can even arrange your own private chef. Click here for details.
3. Margaritaville Jacksonville Beach: Nothing says “Florida” more than Jimmy Buffet (RIP) and Margaritaville. This super fun hotel sits directly between Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Jacksonville Beach
There’s no shortage of fun things to do in Jacksonville Beach – here are some of my personal favorite activities:
1. Adventure Landing & Shipwreck Island Water Park: Sometimes you want a break from the beach for some other water activities, and this water park is the place to go when you do. You’ll find water slides, a wave pool, and cabana rentals. It’s non-stop smiles. Click here for directions.
2. Beach Life Rentals: A stay at the beach isn’t complete without a bike cruise or a day practicing your SUP skills. At Beach Life Rentals, you can rent beach cruise bikes, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, or even beach chairs. Click here for directions.
3. Jacksonville Ghosts and Ghouls Tour By US Ghost Adventures: After a day in the sun, experience the spooky side of Jax Beach with a guided ghost tour. You’ll take a walking tour of some of the most haunted sites in this unassuming beachside town and learn a lot about its past along the way. Click here to learn more and book.
Where to Eat and Drink in Jacksonville Beach
No matter what you’re craving – Jacksonville Beach has a restaurant or pub to satisfy it. Here are some of the tastiest restaurants I’ve tried so far (there are so many!):
1. V Pizza: It’s never long before I get a hankering for delicious pizza. Thankfully, V Pizza makes some of the best. They also have a fantastic cocktail bar that makes a deliciously perfect Manhattan. Find directions here.
2. Salt Life Food Shack: If it’s your first time in Florida, you’ll notice that tons of cars have ‘Salt Life’ bumper stickers, and people are wearing ‘Salt Life’ t-shirts on every block. It’s a brand that represents a way of life here in Florida, and they also have a killer restaurant with great food. Find directions here.
3. Maple Street Biscuit Company: As far as breakfast goes, this spot might be the tastiest in the city. You’ll find a variety of biscuits and gravy, as well as biscuit sandwiches, waffles, grits, and more. It’s a great place to fuel up for a day of exploration. Find directions here.
Downtown (Best Area for Nightlife)
If it’s late-night drinks, dancing, live music, and DJs that you’re after, you’ll want to base yourself downtown. There are some incredible bars and nightclubs that can’t be missed. The restaurant choices are top-notch as well.
Pros of Staying in Downtown
- Walking distance to bars and restaurants
- Close to museums, venues, and the stadium
- Delicious restaurants and cafes
- Close to the riverfront
- Easy access to other cool neighborhoods
Cons of Staying in Downtown
- Many places are closed during the day
- 20-minute drive to the beach
- Parking can be expensive (especially during concerts, events, or game days)
- Bars and restaurants are expensive
Best Places to Stay in Downtown
There are some great options for hotels near Jacksonville nightlife. Here are the ones I always recommend to friends and family:
1. Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront: A gorgeous riverfront view? Yes, please! How about a rooftop pool? All day. This hotel is perfectly situated for all things and places downtown. Plus, they offer a free shuttle anywhere within a 3-mile radius. Click here for more details.
2. Residence Inn by Marriott Jacksonville Downtown: If you’re wondering where to stay in Jacksonville for nightlife, this is another great option in the “Brooklyn” area of downtown. They have a pool, and it’s within walking distance of the Florida Theater and the Cummers Museum. Click here for details.
3. DoubleTree by Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront: This fantastic option is located just over the walkable bridge from downtown. They have an outdoor pool, a riverfront view, and two restaurants. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Downtown
Downtown Jacksonville is a mecca for all things arts, culture, and nightlife. Here are some of the spots that can’t be missed:
1. MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art): Before you head out on the town at night, you’ll want to spend a few hours at MOCA. With more than 500 artists representing over 1,000 works of art, it’s definitely a treat for the eyes. Click here for directions.
3. Half-Day City Tour in Downtown Jacksonville: Hop in a tuk-tuk and explore the city’s architecture and history on this fun guided tour. I took my family on this tour, and everyone was in awe; I highly recommend it. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Downtown
Downtown is one of the best neighborhoods in Jacksonville to find mouthwatering food and perfectly crafted cocktails. Here are my top picks for food and drinks in Jax:
1. Cowford Chophouse: One of the most incredible meals I’ve had in Jacksonville was at Cowford Chophouse. It’s expensive, but worth every dollar. Try the roasted bone marrow and filet with foie gras and bacon jam. Get directions here.
Neptune Beach (Coolest Place to Stay in Jacksonville)
Neptune Beach is my FAVORITE area of Jacksonville. It boasts that tropical “beachy” feel with palm trees lining the narrow, cobblestone downtown streets. There are tons of great restaurants, cool bars, and trendy boutiques. Plus, the beach itself offers the ideal place for sunbathing all day.
Pros of Staying in Neptune Beach
- Lots of delicious food options
- Cool bars (including the oldest in Jacksonville, more on that below)
- Trendy and hip boutiques and galleries
- Beautiful beach
- Quiet at night
Cons of Staying in Neptune Beach
- Not many places open late
- Not a ton of hotel options
- 20-25 minutes to downtown
- Crowded during peak season (summer)
- Hard-to-find parking
Best Places to Stay in Neptune Beach
With the bigger Jacksonville Beach as its neighboring community, most hotels are located there. However, here are some cool places to stay in Neptune Beach (or within walking distance):
1. One Ocean Resort and Spa: If you’re looking to splurge and spoil yourself, this is the spot to stay. This gorgeous beachfront resort features a stunning pool, fantastic restaurant, and spa with indulgent treatments. Click here for details.
3. Beachfront Getaway: If you’d prefer to rent an entire home, this gorgeous rental is perfect for a group. It’s steps from the beach and is within walking distance of plenty of great bars and restaurants. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Neptune Beach
Even though I don’t live near Neptune Beach, I make it a point to visit the area at least once a month. Here are some of my favorite recommendations:
1. BrewHound Dog Park and Bar: Each time I visit Neptune Beach, I bring my pup and head to BrewHound. This amazing spot is a place where you can let your dog run free on astroturf with other dogs while you sip on a beer or kombucha. I would still love to hang out here, even if I didn’t have a dog! Click here for directions.
2. Southern Breeze Cart Rental: Neptune Beach is fun just to explore and cruise the beach town streets – and Florida is basically synonymous with golf carts. Rent a cart for the day and check out different spots in the area. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Neptune Beach
Neptune Beach is home to some of my favorite restaurants in all of Jax. If you’re in the area and seeking out elevated and creative cuisine – you put these spots on your radar:
2. Mezza Luna: If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, this Italian restaurant is a divine choice. Try their fresh pappardelle with braised short rib ragu and the wild mushroom pizza. Get directions here.
3. Pete’s Bar: This historic dive bar was the first to legally open in Duval County after the prohibition. It has laidback vibes with pool tables and bar sports but stays open late for live music and DJs. Get directions here.
San Marco (Best Area for Foodies)
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I base my travel plans solely around food. If you’re that type of person, you’ll want to stay in the San Marco area of town – it’s a foodies’ paradise. It has cool street art, beautiful architecture, and some seriously amazing restaurants. It’s also one of the more upmarket areas of Jacksonville.
Pros of Staying in San Marco
- Very walkable
- Awesome street art and murals
- Historic neighborhood
- Lots of noteworthy restaurants and cafes
- Up-and-coming breweries and cocktail bars
Cons of Staying in San Marco
- 25-30 minutes from the beach
- Not a ton of accommodation options
- Crowded during peak season (summer)
- Difficult to find parking
Best Places to Stay in San Marco
Even though San Marco is one of the most popular Jacksonville neighborhoods, it has a limited amount of local accommodations. These are some of the best in the area:
1. Hilton Garden Inn Jacksonville Downtown Southbank: Located in the heart of San Marco, this hotel is within walking distance of everything you may want to see during your stay. It also has a great pool. Click here for details.
2. Southbank Hotel by Marriott Jacksonville Riverwalk: My family stayed here during their last visit, and it’s gorgeous. It’s a little longer of a walk to the center of San Marco but is still very close. Click here for details.
3. Farmhouse by the River: This beautiful home is perfect if you plan on visiting the San Marco area with your family. This two-bedroom house is super close to the river and in a very safe neighborhood in Jacksonville. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in San Marco
Of course, food is the main focus of the San Marco area, but it also has a lot more to offer. Definitely check these ideas out if you’re in the area:
1. Self-Guided Art Walk Tour: The San Marco area of Jacksonville is home to lots of beautiful and eccentric street art and murals. Spend the day cruising around the neighborhood and taking Instagram-worthy pictures. Click here to download the art map.
2. Architecture and History Tour in San Marco: With roots dating back to 1793, San Marco has a rich history. This 3-hour tour will take you on a tuk-tuk ride through the neighborhood with a knowledgeable guide. Click here to learn more and book.
3. Savoring San Marco: A visit to San Marco would be a waste if you didn’t try out a walking food tour. This 3-hour tour will stop at five of the neighborhood’s best restaurants. I loved this tour because it was like a sample platter of all the best places. Click here to learn more and book.
Where to Eat and Drink in San Marco
Now for the good stuff! San Marco is famous for its food and drink, so it was hard to choose the best places – but these are my favorites:
1. Bar Molino: I stopped in here for dinner before a concert and was blown away. They offer some beautifully presented and delicious Spanish tapas dishes, alongside a fantastic wine selection. Get directions here.
2. Rue Saint-Marc: French dining at its finest is what you’ll find at this lovely establishment. Menu items include Maine Scallops, Roasted Venison Loin, and Pistachio Cake. They also have an impressive cocktail menu. Get directions here.
Mandarin (Best Place in Jacksonville on a Budget)
Sometimes, you need to travel on a budget. Thankfully, when thinking about where to stay in Jacksonville, the Mandarin area has many wallet-friendly activities and accommodations. It’s a quiet and clean neighborhood with a lot of character, historical sites, and river activities.
Pros of Staying in Mandarin
- Near the St. Johns River
- A lot of nature (large oak trees with Spanish moss)
- Beautiful parks
- Historic neighborhood
- Good restaurant options
Cons of Staying in Mandarin
- About 25 minutes from downtown
- 30-35 minutes to the beach
- Mostly residential area
- Limited activities
Best Places to Stay in Mandarin
The biggest perk about staying in the Mandarin area of Jacksonville is that you can stay on a budget. Here are some options that won’t break the bank:
1. Tru By Hilton Jacksonville South Mandarin: With rooms under $150, this hotel is quite a cheap place to stay in Jacksonville. They have a swimming pool and fitness center as well. Click here for details.
3. Embassy Suites by Hilton Jacksonville Baymeadows: This hotel has beautiful rooms, and an indoor swimming pool, and is conveniently located, just a short drive to Mandarin and other neighborhoods in Jacksonville. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Mandarin
Despite being a mostly residential area, Mandarin has some interesting and fun things to do on a budget. Check out my top choices if you’re in the neighborhood:
1. Walter Jones Historical Park: Get some fresh air while taking in the beauty and tranquility of this park. Stop by the Mandarin Museum to learn about the area’s history in the Civil War. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Mandarin
There are some tasty places to eat in this quiet area of Jacksonville. These are some great options to try:
1. Julington Creek Fish Camp: I absolutely love going to a fish camp, and this is one of the best ones in Jacksonville. Their affordable menu includes grilled octopus, sandwiches, seafood platters, and more. Get directions here.
2. Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe: This local chain is a great choice when you’re on a budget. My favorite items are the chargrilled lamb, lemon chicken soup, and the spicy chicken gyro. Get directions here.
Tips About Staying in Jacksonville
After exploring Jacksonville for nearly five years, I’ve learned some tips about where to stay in Jacksonville and ways to navigate and explore the Bold City. Read on to find out how to make your trip run as smoothly as possible.
Avoid Rush Hour
Jacksonville has an expansive freeway system, however, the rush hour traffic can be brutal. Avoid those morning and afternoon commute hours on the roads if you can. It’s worth checking on maps before setting off to check for high-traffic volumes along your intended route.
Call for Seasonal Prices
Many hotels and attractions change their prices per season. Call around directly to see if there’s a seasonal difference, and plan your trip accordingly. Try and book as far in advance as you’re able to.
Always Bring a Chair to the Beach
Jacksonville Beaches are absolutely beautiful, and the sand is soft and perfect – but they can also be a bit windy. If you’re laying on just a towel or blanket, you might get sand whipped in your face. Buy or rent a beach chair when you can to make your experience more comfortable.
Careful to Avoid Tolls
Lots of Jacksonville freeways offer expressways to bypass traffic if you have a specific pass. Be careful not to access these expressways without the pass, or you could end up with an unwanted bill.
Summer Bugs Are No Joke
If you’re visiting during the wet, hot summer months, be sure to keep some bug spray on hand. The mosquitoes around dusk can be relentless.
FAQ’s About Where To Stay in Jacksonville
Here are some commonly asked questions that I often hear from my friends and family. After spending five years as a tourist and one year as a full-time resident of Jacksonville, I know the city like the back of my hand. I hope these answers help prepare you for your stay:
The best area of Jacksonville for tourists truly depends on what type of visit you’re trying to have. I would highly recommend Jacksonville Beach if you want to sunbathe, relax during the day, and go out at night. If you want to experience more arts and culture, like museums and architecture, I’d suggest staying downtown.
Tourists should avoid staying in the neighborhoods of 29th and Chase, Mid-Westside, and Springfield. These areas tend to have higher crime rates; besides, none of these neighborhoods offer anything that would be of interest to tourists.
The safest places to stay in Jacksonville are the areas of Baymeadows (Southside), Mandarin, and Eagle Bend (Northeast Jacksonville).
It will matter where you stay in Jacksonville based on your interest and vacation goals. The city offers museums, restaurants, architecture, and history, while the beach towns offer white sandy beaches, pubs, restaurants, and festivals.
The part of Jacksonville that I find the most beautiful is in Northeast Jacksonville at the Timucuan Ecological Preserve. It’s peaceful and absolutely gorgeous, I highly suggest a walk through the nature paths.
You should stay in downtown Jacksonville if you want access to the city’s famous museums, architecture tours, and sporting events.
Jacksonville is a very walkable city when you’re in each neighborhood. Jacksonville is the largest city by land mass in the lower 48, so it’s impossible to walk from neighborhood to neighborhood.
There isn’t any particular place in Jacksonville to be close to everything. Since it’s the largest city by land mass in the contiguous U.S., it’s very spread out. I’d suggest staying downtown or in Jacksonville Beach.
The best way to get around Jacksonville is definitely by car. Since the city is so big, a car allows you to explore all the different areas. However, if you’re staying in a beach town, you can get around by bike or golf cart.
People visit Jacksonville for its 22 miles of beaches, beautiful park system, historic neighborhoods, interesting museums, and thriving arts scene.
Each neighborhood of Jacksonville has something unique to offer – it’s one of the many reasons why I love this city so much. It’s huge and sprawling, but that only allows for different communities in each nook. There’s always somewhere fun to discover.
When deciding where to stay in Jacksonville, consider how you want to spend your time and decide from there. You won’t be disappointed with whatever area you choose.