Evening on the Southbank Riverwalk

Living in River City has its perks for sure. With the demolition of the infamous Jacksonville Landing entertainment area, the Southbank Riverwalk is basically all Jacksonvillians have left for entertainment and social gatherings. Granted, Jacksonville is a large city, and there are a million and one places you can go for entertainment, but downtown Jax is the beating heart of the city. There is too much history, and we just lost one of our biggest gems.

 

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The Jacksonville Landing before demolition. (visitflorida.com)

The Southbank Riverwalk sits across the river from the former Jacksonville Landing. It begins at the Friendship Fountain and runs beneath the John T. Asop Jr. Bridge (aka Main St. Bridge) and along the river’s edge until it reaches the Duval County Public School building.

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The Friendship Fountain

 

The Friendship Fountain has been around since my mother was a girl. The aging fountain is still running on all cylinders and is still a treasure to the people of the city. There are about fifteen active spouts that run during the day. On occasions, they sprout high into the air and dance with color projectors attached to towers adding wonder to the spectacle. The fountain is popular for setting a romantic mood near the river and becoming every child’s running track around the 200-foot wide pool of water. Along the outside of the fountain are white arbors with benches beneath for resting or reading. Picnic tables are set up in the grassy area left of the fountain for family events. The Museum of Science and History is only 100 feet away if you want to do something entertaining for the entire family. Further left of the grassy area and the fountain is the River City Brewing Company, a good place to wine and dine yourself. If you have a boat, you can park right outside the restaurant in their marina.

 

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The Friendship Fountain

 

 

St. John’s River

The St. John’s River is the soul of Jacksonville. I would that is why Jacksonville is named the “River City” because the St. John’s River runs directly through the city. As you walk along the boardwalk, you will get the view of at least five of Jacksonville’s iconic bridges; the Hart Bridge, the Matthews Bridge, the John T. Alsop Bridge, the Acosta Bridge, and FEC Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge (or train bridge).

As you walk away from the Friendship Fountain, you have two paths to choose, you could either climb the ramp that will allow you to walk across the John T. Alsop Bridge or you take the boardwalk that will lead you beneath the bridge further along the boardwalk. If you take the bridge ramp, you can take awesome selfies at the top of the Main St. Bridge and walk into downtown where all the cafes reside. If you continue on the boardwalk, it will seem like you are preparing to walk underwater due to the boardwalk’s dip. The river is literally at your face and gives the illusion that it may spill over at any moment. Beneath the bridge is a commissioned mosaic art piece of glass and tile along the wall. It, too, is perfect for selfies. If you are lucky, you can catch a pod of dolphins playing and swimming together beneath the bridge. In my experience, night time is much easier to see them. It’s quieter at night, and there are no boats zipping back and forth, so it is safer.

 

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Beneath the Main St. Drawbridge
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“Mirrored River: Where do you see yourself?” commissioned mosaic piece
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Boardwalk leading under Main St. Bridge.
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View of the Acosta Bridge and the Train Bridge.

 

The Boardwalk

Along the boardwalk, you take notice of more than just the pretty views. You can also see the see in full scale, and it’s growing development. There seems to always be construction cranes seen somewhere to show something new being built in the city. Lately, a lot of hotels and condominiums are being constructed. Jacksonville lives and breathes for tourism, so it would make sense. When you come from beneath the bridge, you can see as far west down the St. John’s river as your vision will allow you. Across the water, you can view the TIAA Bank Stadium home to the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. If you are a coffee fiend, Maxwell’s Coffee manufacturing plant can be seen and smelled no matter how far you are. At some point along the boardwalk, new helicopters will fly above your head as they circle around the bridges and highways for traffic readings. If you get tired, there are fancy-designed benches with triangular umbrellas overhead to keep you cooled off. Near the end of the boardwalk, you get a great look at the Strand Apartments building and its high-class lifestyle through its glass lobby walls.

 

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Benches with triangular umbrellas.
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TIAA Bank Stadium for the Jacksonville Jaguars
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River Taxi
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The Hart Bridge
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Maxwell Coffee manufacturing plant.
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The Strand Apartments

 

An evening on the Southbank Riverwalk is perfect for families, couples, soloist, photographers, and even runners. No matter how much Jacksonville grows and expands, the beauty of the River city will always lie at the heart of downtown Jacksonville.

Metropolitan Park: Death of Childhood Fun

When I was in middle school, on the weekends, my best friend, my sister, and I would bike ride three miles to Metropolitan Park. Metro park was heaven on earth for most of the kids in my neighborhood. It was a place for everyone to be wild and free from our school and home lives. You made friends so quickly because you all shared in the freedom and adventure of riding through Jacksonville’s rugged downtown. There was never any question of what the plan was when Saturday came. We’d spend hours biking along the St. John’s River, having bike races beneath the Hart Bridge Expressway, and playing on the empty stage. With very little security and adult supervision at Metro Park, we were alive, wild, and free. Fifteen years later, I visit the place that made our childhood magical. I see only an investment in the death of childhood fun.

The city of Jacksonville is adamant about tourism and catering to our NFL team’s fans. So much that they painted Jaguar pawprints on the main streets around the stadium to appear, “festive.” Not exactly the word I would use, but whatever, right? Anyway, you drive the curved street around the stadium until you get to the entrance of the park indicated by a sign. Unfortunately, the metal gate behind it is closed, like most of the entries going along the park. There is only one way into the park, and it makes you do some zig-zag dance to finally getting to the parking lot. The first parking lot you come to is, of course, for anyone using the marina. So now you have to go back out the way you came to find the right lot to park. I didn’t have time for that so I just parked. (Hehe.) I grabbed my travel writing journal and prepared to be taken back in time to my favorite place, unfortunately, that was not the case at all.

The renovations to the park made the park seem… tamed. In the eyes of teens, the land was wild and barren. It was a haven for bike riders, skateboarders, and kids who just wanted to play. Now, it was a place for people who just wanted to walk around and sit on benches to gaze at the scenery. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What in the hell is this?” The park screams boring and antisocial but visually “pretty.” The fishermen were yards away from each other attending to their equipment. It was Sunday, and the park was as lifeless as a cemetery. I remember Saturday, and Sundays were filled with bodies. Families having parties and BBQ, skateboarders doing tricks on whatever rail they could find, and bikers racing down the winding sidewalk. Now, I was looking at a multi-million dollar dead zone.

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Granted, I may have come on a quiet day. The NFL Jacksonville Jaguars team wasn’t playing Sunday so I suppose that’s the reason for the lack of attendees at the park, but it’s Metro Park! This park was the heart of the city, the creme de la creme of parks. It didn’t have fancy jungle gyms or slides, but it was the place where your imagination created fun. Now, all the cute hedges and paved walkways make it another tourist attraction and profit for the city. My childhood memories swiped away with a signature.

“Life is about change. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s beautiful. But most of the time it’s both. ”   – Lana Lang

I realize the city’s need to improve and upgrade their property. Tourism is a major payday to any growing city. A lot of programs and services probably depend on that income. Change is inevitable. Change exists in every aspect of human life. I am not a bike-riding teenager anymore. I am a working tax-paying adult. The old Metropolitan Park will always live in my memories and that will be enough, I hope.

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Along the Boardwalk of River City

I could direct you to a million delightful and cozy little parks, restaurants, bars and monuments to visit in Jacksonville, but the one I believe that will steal your heart is Riverside Park. It may not look like much when you arrive, but I can assure you, it has its gems. When you first arrive, it looks like nothing more than an ordinary parking lot beneath a highway next to the St. John’s River. It isn’t until you walk snake through the parked cars, hop down the awkward brick stairs and hobble through all the wooden mulch tossed everywhere you’d be able to understand the nickname “River City.”

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Starting with my feature image, this was taken from a wall that runs along the first part of the boardwalk path that runs all the way around to the Jacksonville Landing and Main St. Bridge. If you sit on the wall, you get one of the best panoramic views of the St. John River. Beneath your feet in both directions are large bolder rocks that serves its purpose to help control erosion but also serves as natural ornament to make the boardwalk look more pro-nature.

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Off the first image, if you are sitting on that  wall, when you look it, the San Juan highway is the first thing you will see. It’s one of the newer highways in Jacksonville, so the concrete still looks fresh and new. The columns are very tall and the acoustics from the hundreds of cars zooming pass adds to slapping waves of the rivers against the rocks beneath your feet.

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After admiring the highway’s columns, off to your left there is the skyline of downtown Jacksonville. From this image, it almost looks as if the city is floating on the river itself. I’m not sure if that was the intent, but it makes for a good story to tell someone who has never been to the city. The boardwalk I spoke earlier will actually take you all the way to that highway that stretches across the image in front of the buildings. The boardwalk is about 1.5-miles and is worth the walk. On the winding path, you’ll get to see a few art pieces planted as tourists attractions.

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As you continue on the boardwalk, you’ll climb a steep hill which will take you above the FEC Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge, a drawbridge water railway for trains. The fence overlooking the bridge is coated with “love locks” that couples, friends and family have place to honor their love or friendship. I put one on myself to bring awareness to depression and suicide prevention.

If you are lucky, you’ll be there in time when the bridge comes down and a train passes through. It’s fun watching the train ride above the water towards you until it passes beneath your feet. Be warned that the bridge you stand on is suspended so it bounces whenever someone walks on it past you or when the train’s vibrations rattle its foundation. For thrill seekers, this is right up your alley.

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Half heart, half semicolon to bring attention to suicide awareness.

Lastly, once you’ve walked another half of a mile past more downtown sky scrapers, restaurants and eventually the Jacksonville Landing, you’ll come to my second favorite bridge in Jacksonville, the Main St. Bridge. I have countless images of this bridge and have stood at the top of it plenty of times. It’s structure never ceases to amaze me. It’s fun to watch the draw bridge rise to allow the tall sailboats to sail through.

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If you’re in Jacksonville, check out Riverside Park and walk the entire boardwalk. If you have any energy left, cross over the Main St. bridge and start down the Southbank boardwalk too where you will run into the Friendship Fountain, another of Jacksonville’s gems.

Rivercity Jacksonville

If you ever wondered what it was like to live in Jacksonville, Florida, well, to introduce one part of it, we are called the River City. This is because the infamous St. John’s River passes right through our city on it’s way North. I took a stroll along the Riverside Boardwalk to get the best view of the downtown area.

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FEC Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge
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A boat passes through the clearing. 
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Acosta bridge next to the FEC Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge
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Wall of love locks

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Beneath the Acosta Bridge
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Riverside Boardwalk
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Hart Bridge in the further distance (green).

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Downtown Jacksonville on a clear sky can be quite beautiful with all it’s architectural designs of bridges, railway tracks, and highway pillars.