I've always thought that Jacksonville is an intriguing city, and my trip there proved just how interesting it really is. Of course I planned to spend plenty of time at the gorgeous beaches, and maybe do a little bit of shopping. While there are a few decent clubs and a greyhound racetrack in town, I never really thought of this city as the place for a fantastic time after dark. I found out how wrong I had been on this visit: Jacksonville is a blast, day and night.
Since I was just in town for a few days, I had thought that would probably be sufficient time to lounge on the beaches, have a few nice meals, and do some leisurely shopping. I managed to accomplish the first two on my first day. Jacksonville beaches are one of the best kept secrets in Florida. I wandered miles and miles of gorgeous white sand beaches, incredibly well kept and largely uncrowded. The area beaches are actually divided into four tiny cities: Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jax Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach. All have spectacular beaches, and two of them offer some especially nice shopping and even fun nightlife. The bars and clubs in the Atlantic and Jax beach areas are pretty active at night, with a decidedly laid back atmosphere. I fit right in here while wearing jeans, and we had a couple of drinks and fun games of pool here. Altogether, a fun day at the beaches and a good night hanging out at the bars.
I was more worn out than I had thought from the day and night of fun at the beach, so I slept in a bit the next day. We hit the St. Johns Town Center in late morning and found it to be a really fantastic upscale shopping venue. This place is billed as a " lifestyle center" and has a huge range of great shopping like Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, and Louis Vuitton, as well as some very nice restaurants. I spent several hours drooling over the purses at LV and the Kate Spade jewelry, finally treating myself to a super chic new pair of sunglasses. After all, I "had" to have these for my time in this gorgeous sun-drenched city! This is a seriously gorgeous mall: The word mall really does not cover it, so I guess I'll just agree with its creators and call it a great lifestyle center that I plan to return to on my next visit here.
My friends who live here had told me they had some very special plans for the evening, and that I should bring both my sense of adventure and my appetite. We set out for the Jacksonville Orange Park Kennel Club for an evening of dinner and racing. I had very little knowledge of greyhound racing prior to this, other than that the doggies ran round the track and that people bet on the outcome. I was prepared to have some fun and watch the dogs run, but I was totally unprepared for the breathtaking beauty of these magnificent athletes. We were there for a very big deal race called a "stakes race". This is sort of like a greyhound super bowl,and only the most talented dogs get to compete. Since the whole evening leads up to this one big race at about 10:30 pm, we had plenty of time to have a leisurely meal in the clubhouse dining room. The clubhouse features a massive glass wall with some really great views of the dogs racing, in addition to the big screen TV's all over the room. I was served some of the finest prime rib I have ever had (seriously amazing, and that means as good as I've had in Las Vegas where they have the best!). We really enjoyed the meal and finally decided to work our way downstairs to watch the races up close, and maybe place a small bet on the outcome for fun. The air of excitement was quite potent and the whole dog parade and pageantry of the event was really impressive. I decided to use my special betting system and place a modest wager on the big race winner: I chose the dog with the cutest name (Hey, I'm a girl!), who was "FTH Keystone Kop". My heart was absolutely in my throat as I watched the dogs run - it was like watching the most gifted human athletes in the Olympics, but even more amazing. They were sheer poetry in motion, and it was even more beautiful because you could really see the joy on the faces of these dogs as they ran. When my pick (who I knew all along was going to win of course) took home the first prize, I was cheering as loudly as anyone in the place! Much as I liked collecting my winnings (I made a 100 buck profit!), I was utterly charmed by the presentation ceremony: The winning dog, "Kopper" as he is apparently called, had his tail wagging so hard I thought he might propel himself into the air! Any visitor to Jax ought to come see the dogs run here, whether you're a better or not. The largest part of my joy had nothing to do with the betting, but rather with watching these gorgeous animals do what they love to do!
Jacksonville is a city that has both laid back charm and major excitement, with plenty to do both day and night. I am so glad I got to experience both in my short trip there: One thing I learned is that this city really is worth a couple of extra days!
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