Jacksonville is an upbeat Southern city with plenty to see and do, but its charm goes beyond modern attractions. The Bold City’s rich historical foundations are some of its best assets. Time travel isn’t all that tough here, as the beaches look a lot like they did when Spanish explorers claimed them in the 1500s. There are also Civil War guesthouses and swanky hotels frequented by 1920s film stars still waiting to be explored by anyone with a love of history and a heart for exploring.
Jacksonville’s unique timeline is captured by some of the nation’s oldest properties. Here are a few of the most historic places to stay on the First Coast.
1. Casa Marina
Did you know Jacksonville was almost Hollywood? Back when jazz was king, silent film studios attracted celebs to Jacksonville’s balmy beaches during the winter months, and Casa Marina was the hottest place to see and be seen.
The luxurious beachfront property opened to rave reviews in 1925 and for the next few years, dignitaries and stars like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Al Capone, Jean Harlow and John D. Rockefeller. It’s the only remaining property from Jacksonville’s brief era as the Hollywood of the South, and you can still stay there today.
The 23 bedrooms and parlor suites were renovated in 1991, now accented with elegant furnishings, cherry wood floors, and Spanish-Mediterranean architecture. Maybe Jacksonville’s Golden Age never ended.
691 First Street North, Jacksonville Beach
2. The Florida House Inn
Just about 45 minutes north of Jacksonville is Amelia Island and The Florida House Inn. Built in 1857, it’s considered Florida’s oldest operating inn. Can you believe these 17 rooms once housed Union officers during the Civil War, including Ulysses S. Grant? Business tycoons Ford and Rockefeller also stayed here.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Florida House Inn features an English pub, a parlor room and everyone’s favorite wrap-around porches evoking a simpler time. Located within the 50-square block historic district of Fernandina Beach – meaning the harbor, shops, and restaurants offering Southern hospitality and cuisine are within walking distance.
22 South 3rd Street, Fernandina Beach
3. Casa Monica Hotel
Named for Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine, Casa Monica Hotel was built in 1888 in St. Augustine’s historic quarter. The hotel has welcomed such notable guests as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the King and Queen of Spain. It’s one of the oldest hotels in the U.S., and its Moorish Revival and Spanish Baroque Revival architecture fit snuggly with the cobblestone streets and colonial vibe of America’s oldest city.
In 1968, the hotel was repurposed as the St. John’s County Courthouse, where it played a role in the Civil Rights movement. Reopened as a hotel in 1999, the property is the only one in the area to receive AAA’s Four-Diamond award.
95 Cordova Street, St. Augustine
4. The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club
In the early 1900s, miners discovered rich minerals in the scrubby sand dunes between Jacksonville Beach and St. Augustine. Once World War I came to an end and the minerals were no longer needed for steel manufacturing, the rustic outpost became a seaside community and eventually, that evolved to The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.
By 1928, the rustic miner’s town was replaced with pastel-hued homes, sporting facilities and a beach resort, and American royalty and socialites replaced the miners. Today, the resort includes 300 acres with ½ mile of beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean, 250 rooms and suites, a world-class spa, heated pools, horseback riding, tennis and some of the best golf in the world.
200 Ponte Vedra Boulevard, Ponte Vedra
Have you ever stayed in any of the First Coast’s historic hotels? Which is your favorite?