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Jacksonville/St Augustine & points north


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We are off to visit friends in Jacksonville next week (yes, we know it will be hot, but the center of the sun was booked). While there we are taking in a Suns game (LA Dodgers minor league affiliate), checking out a BBQ place just over the border in GA that our friends rave about (The Shack by The Track).

We will be checking out the Gator Farm in St Augustine, and probably taking a drive up to Savannah over the weekend to check out another minor league baseball game.

Any suggestions for fun, regional dining? Off the beaten path places?

Coming from Southern California, we don't need recs for international flavors, we're looking for local-ish seafood places, BBQ, and kick!@#$ fried chicken with southern side dishes (greens, grits, blackeyed peas)

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Don't know whether the Suns game is a day or night game. If a day game - BE SURE TO GET A SEAT IN THE SHADE. The Suns games are fun. We go to a few every year.

Before you go to the Alligator Farm - call the place and make sure that there are still some nesting birds (the alligators are really a bore but the place is a world class bird rookery - although mid-July is really pushing it in terms of end of bird season). It is an expensive ticket - about $20/person - and not worth it IMO just for the gators. OTOH - there are some interesting things to see in St. Augustine. Catch a tour of Flager College and the Tiffany windows if you can. The Lightner Museum is interesting too - more for the architecture and history than the collections. Ditto with the Fort - the Government Museum. The Entertainment Guide - available on line - has lots of 50% off - 2 for 1 tickets - for these things - and it is very cheap now too. Just don't know if you can get delivery by next week. Perhaps you can have one sent to your hotel? If the birds are gone from the Alligator Farm - I'd rather use the money and take a horse drawn carriage tour of St. Augustine (depending on your driver - you will hear one of the 20 versions of the history of the city :smile: ). A1A Aleworks is a decent lunch/dinner place in St. Augustine - a microbrewery with "Floribbean food" (although I think the beer is the main attraction).

If the birds aren't nesting at the Alligator Farm - the Jacksonville Zoo is a much better bet in terms of animals (it isn't a world class zoo - I go to zoos everywhere I travel - but it's a pretty good one - the Jaguar exhibit which opened a couple of years ago won best the best new exhibit of any zoo in the US prize ).

I have lived here for about 13 years now - and most of the "local flavor" food places are extremely overrated IMO. A lot are just plain bad. Grease that has been used too many times. Perhaps some of the places are "institutions" - but I think the food is generally poor - sometimes foul. We tried all of them once when we first moved here - and never went back. If I want a pulled pork sandwich - I make the pulled pork myself. There are a couple of good smoking guys who show up at local fairs - but it isn't fair season now. If you want some local flavor - try a place like Golden Corral or Piccadilly Cafeteria for lunch. I am not kidding. You can get fried everything and lots of southern veggies - all for about 7 bucks. We have some "meat and threes" we like - but they are in the Panhandle.

I definitely recommend Opus 39 in St. Augustine for a big deal dinner with as much of a "locavore philosophy" as you can do here in summer (there's not much that grows well when it's 90 degrees+). Then there are the second tier places like Bistro Aix - bb's - Biscotti's - etc. All of which are pretty good IMO. Where will you be staying? This is a big metro area. Our golf club - TPC at Sawgrass out at the beaches - serves a very nice dinner in a beautiful setting. On July 11 - it is doing a big deal wine dinner with wines from Argentina (it does wine dinners about once a month). The menu looks terrific.

If your hotel plans are up in the air - I can recommend the Marriott at Sawgrass (out in Ponte Vedra Beach - where we live - just south of Jax Beach). It isn't directly on the beach - but it has a private beach club - and the price is right (I'm doing a 90th birthday party for my father in 3 weeks - and have booked a lot of out-of-town guests there). The beaches are generally about 5 degrees or more cooler than places "in town". If you have any questions - feel free to ask here - or PM or email me.

FWIW - I don't know why people who come to this area are always interested in eating frozen fish fried in old grease. I think it is a form of "gastronomic slumming" - and I don't think it would be very satisfying if I were doing it. Robyn

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Thanks for the advice

We are actually staying at the Springhill Suites by the airport. Our incoming flight comes in VERY late and our outgoing flight leaves VERY early, so this was mostly for ease of logistics (picking up the rental car the next day & dropping off a day early, using the free shuttle from the hotel). My dad also works for Marriott so the price was right ($35/night!).

As far as the Gator Farm, our 9 year old picked it, we don't have much of a choice there, lol. We will probably also check out the Zoo as well one day.

Our Suns game is a night game thankfully.

I was hoping to get some good fried chicken dinner while there... I don't consider it gastronomic slumming if the product is made with care. This trip is really more about going and visiting our friends & relaxing than doing any big deal dinners. Thanks for the tip about the Marriott Sawgrass, I will look into the cost for that one next time when we have a bit more flexibility.

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I grew up in Orange Park, and every year, one of my friends who now lives in London comes home and takes her girls to the Alligator Farm. I have never been, and, honestly, I never thought I would have any reason to go. But my friend always says the kids LOVE it. If you have time, just around the corner is Anastasia Island Park, a gorgeous beach. You can drive your car down the strip and lounge around a while. Pack a cooler and have a great time!

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If your 9 year old wants to see gators - there's a good gator exhibit at the zoo. The zoo is much much closer to the airport than St. Augustine - and there is a lot more to see/do there than at the Alligator Farm. I think they feed the gators once a day at the zoo - and that is the time to go there (in terms of gators). There's a wonderful new giraffe exhibit at the zoo that kids love. It's built on an elevated platform - and the kids get to feed the giraffes at certain times - or simply see them at "eye level". Note that "gator feeding" at the Alligator Farm is about 3 times a day. Check the schedule for the times. Unless they're being fed - gators generally aren't very interesting (they don't move around a whole lot).

Also - the zoo is pretty close to downtown - where the Suns game is.

There is a place here called Adventure Landing (on Beach Blvd. near the beaches). It is a second - perhaps third tier - type of amusement park - with water rides. I've never been there - but perhaps it might be a nice place to take a 9 year old (unless the 9 year old is jaded :smile: ).

My favorite fried chicken really is at Golden Corral at lunch. Perhaps because there are usually a lot of people eating - and it's always coming out fresh - and there are lots of chicken legs (sometimes all you get is breasts - and I am a "dark meat person"). It is also a good place to eat with a child - because there are dozens of choices (children sometimes tend to be picky eaters). I will go through my memory banks and see if I can come up any other fried chicken places I've enjoyed.

Come to think of it - there is a really old Jacksonville restaurant called the Homestead which is next to Adventure Landing which used to serve great fried chicken. It has been closed for a while (there's been a lot of construction on Beach Blvd. and it hurt a lot of businesses) - but I recall a recent article that said it was reopening under new management. Don't know when. If it is open with the old menu - special was always fried chicken and tradtional sides - might be worth a try.

Check the Suns website for any specials they might be having the night when you go there (bat night - cap night - etc.).

When will you be arriving? I have leftover entertainment book coupons for the zoo and the like that I can mail to you at home - or your hotel. Not sure with the holiday weekend that they will get to you on time (I'll be out all tomorrow - but could get them in the mail on Saturday). But I can try. PM or email me if you're interested. I will also try to check out the status of the Homestead Friday or Saturday. Robyn

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