9 Real Town Centers Worth Visiting In The First Coast

Here are nine authentic neighborhood town centers outside of downtown that prove there's more to Jacksonville and the First Coast than the typical suburban shopping mall.

Published February 9, 2015 in Culture - MetroJacksonville.com

9. Park & King

Neighborhood: Riverside

The Park & King District sits at the center of Historic Riverside, at the intersection of Park and King Streets. Once served by two streetcar lines, the district originated with the construction of Whiteway Corner, a group of commercial buildings built in 1927. Whiteway got its name based on the electric exterior lighting used in the area. Whiteway was home to little shops and delis, and was expanded into a two-story building in 1949. Other buildings coming up at the time included the Style Moderne and the Riverside Baptist Church. Today, the Park King Retail District is home to popular restaurants like the European Street Café, as well as many retail shows, cafes, night clubs, and even a few craft breweries.

8. Edgewood Avenue

Neighborhood: Murray Hill

Edgewood Village, also known as the “The First Block,” is located on Jacksonville's along Edgewood Avenue, just west of the Roosevelt Boulevard interchange. Murray Hill itself was established in 1907 as a replate of the late 19th century Edgewood development. Originally, the First Block featured a streetcar in its median to serve the Florida Military Academy, which was established in 1913.

1916 would bring the construction of the first commercial building on the First Block, and over the next decade or so, Edgewood Village would rapidly develop into a commercial district for the quick-growing residential districts around it. By the 1930's, Edgewood Avenue through the entire neighborhoood had become known as the "Avenue of Progress", featuring a large number of specialty stores, as well as several grocery stores, and two movie theatres.

Today, the retail strip is home to longtime businesses such as the Edgewood Bakery and Dreamette, as well as newcomers like Maple Street Biscuit Company and Knead Bakeshop.


7. San Marco Square

Neighborhood: San Marco

San Marco Square was an idea of Telfair Stockton & Company, who developed the neighborhood of San Marco in the 1920s. Stockton laid plans for a triangular-shaped shopping district to be placed in the middle of this upcoming neighborhood. This became known as San Marco Square.

San Marco Square was widely popular at the beginning. The neighborhood surrounding the Square was booming in real-estate sales, shops and churches were popping up, and streetcar lines made the destination easily accessible.

Today, San Marco Square is a popular retail and dining destination for locals and tourists alike. It includes restaurants and bars, parks, several statues, lush landscaping, and an impressive recently completed central park.

6. Five Points

Neighborhood: Riverside

Five Points is located in Riverside, around the intersections of Park, Lomax, and Margaret Streets. It began as a commercial district in the early 20th century, catering to the rapidly growing residential areas in the surrounding area.

One of the first major buildings to be constructed was the Park Arcade Building in 1928 which was Jacksonville’s first indoor/outdoor miniature golf course. Another major building was the Riverside Theatre, which was built a year earlier. This theatre was the first motion picture, movie theatre in Florida.

Sandwiched between two popular parks, Five Points has become a well-known shopping and dining destination in Jacksonville. Five Points has an array of shops, coffee shops, antique stores, restaurants and bars.

5. Shoppes of Avondale

Neighborhood: Avondale

The Shoppes of Avondale date back to the 1920s, when Avondale and the surrounding areas were beginning to develop. The Shoppes of Avondale were designed to blend in to a residential neighborhood and to serve its growing population.

Today, the Shoppes of Avondale are compromised of 46 different storefronts. The Shoppes include several boutiques and restaurants, and even some art galleries. The Shoppes are part of the Riverside/Avondale Historic District, so several beautiful historic homes, as well as parks, can be found nearby, too.

4. Beaches Town Center

Neighborhood: The Cities of Atlantic and Neptune Beach

Beaches Town Center serves as the downtown for the cities of Neptune and Atlantic Beach.  This pedestrian scale district is home to many boutiques, fitness centers, and local favorites like Poe’s Tavern and The Flying Iguana. Now more popular than ever, the Beaches Town Center is continuing to expand with additional construction projects underway. The Beaches Town Center is also home to events such as the North Beach Art Walk and the “Dancing in the Street” festival.

3. Jacksonville Beach

Neighborhood: Downtown Jacksonville Beach

Jacksonville Beach was originally established during the 1880s. During this era it was named Pablo Beach, in honor of the San Pablo River. For most of the 20th century, Jacksonville Beach was referred by many as "Little Coney Island" due to its number of oceanfront amusement parks. At one time, it even boosted a 93-feet high wooden coaster, with cars reaching up to 50 miles per hour. Today, the amusement parks are gone but Jacksonville Beach still remains a nightlife, entertainment and recreational powerhouse for the region.  

2. Fernandina Beach's Centre Street

Neighborhood: Fernandina Beach Historic District

Fernandina Beach was established in 1811, and moved to its current location in 1853. By 1857, a tourism boom and a thriving community made Fernandina a major port in Florida.  The now historic district of Fernandina includes 55 blocks, with Centre Street and its working waterfront right at the middle of it.
Centre Street is home to a number of quaint shops, galleries, restaurants, churches, and historic homes. Centre Street is also home to oldest, continually-operating drinking establishment in Florida, known as the Palace Saloon. Centre Street also houses The Florida house Inn, which is said to be Florida’s oldest surviving hotel.

1. St Augustine Historic District

Neighborhood: City of St. Augustine

The city of St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. Over the years, St. Augustine would be under continually changing leadership. In 1586, attacks began for an English rule, instigated by Sir Francis Drake. The end of the French and Indian War in 1763 would give S. Augustine back to the British. It wouldn’t last long though, because by 1784, Spanish rule was back in St. Augustine until 1821, when the US would gain control.

Many of the Spanish Colonial era buildings still existed in the city, including the fortress Castillo de San Marco. This fort had been successful in repelling British attacks in the 18th century, served as a prison for native Americans in the130s, and was occupied by union troops in the American Civil War.

In the late 19th century, Henry Flagler would bring his railroad  and lavish hotels to St. Augustine. The city quickly became a winter getaway for many of the wealthy during this time. Many mansions and grand hotels were built. Some of these are still in existence today, while others have been converted into museums and other uses. With its distinct historical character, St. Augustine is Northeast Florida's premier pedestrian scale tourist destination.

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Article by Kristen Pickrell

This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2015-feb-9-real-town-centers-worth-visiting-in-the-first-coast

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