A Jaunt to Jacksonville

Downtown Jacksonville shines brightly at night. // Ryan Ketterman

Downtown Jacksonville shines brightly at night. // Ryan Ketterman

A Jaunt to Jacksonville
Returning home never felt so good.

Southerners know how to do it right. People in the South still say “Good morning, ma’am” as they pass by you, still wave a friendly hello as their car passes yours in the neighborhood, and hardly – if ever – honk their car horns. When visiting any Southern city, just note the charm isn’t only in its monuments, museums or restaurants, but in the people who make the region one of the best places in the country.

In my case, I was born, raised and reared in the South: Jacksonville’s First Coast specifically, southern Georgia metaphorically. Because of those roots, I thought I knew a thing or two about my hometown. But it wasn’t until my recent trip back, some years into my adulthood, that I felt I really understood the city. There lies an unpretentious air, where people want to impress you not with their vehicular obsession, but instead with their warm smiles and stories that begin with “remember that time when …”.

That was evidenced no better than at the downtown hotel I stayed in during my recent visit. The Omni Jacksonville Hotel, a four-diamond luxury spot, feels like an extension of each employee’s home – albeit a sophisticated one. As I pulled up to the hotel’s front entrance, a staff member graciously opens the doors for me as if he’s welcoming me into his home: “Welcome in, ma’am,” he greets in an adorable Southern accent. “Please, do make yourself at home.” Don’t mind if I do!

The Omni Jacksonville Hotel is centrally located to, well, everything. Across the street is the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, where I remember my mother taking me as a teen to see one of the South’s best orchestras, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, perform Mozart’s “Concerto No. 20.” Within walking distance from the hotel is the Jacksonville Landing, a visitor’s go-to venue for food, nightlife and a little shopping. And down the way is EverBank Field, where the Jacksonville Jaguars call home and the annual Florida-Georgia collegiate football game is played.

Downtown Jacksonville today should be the envy of every metropolis. An epicenter for businesses, including the corporate offices for CSX, the downtown has a quiet bustle to it with courteous traffic that South Florida rarely glimpses. The beautiful St. Johns River bisects the city, hence the city’s nickname: The River City. Much of the downtown is built around the St. Johns River. The football stadium faces the river and so does The Landing, as if the city is giving these offerings to the river gods.

I miss Jacksonville and the First Coast. After being away for so long and saturated with the flashy South Florida lifestyle, breathing Jacksonville’s non-pretentious fresh air was invigorating (so THIS is what modesty smells like!).

Will I come back? Yes, ma’am.

The article originally appeared in the Jan. 2013 issue of Gold Coast magazine.

 
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