BEST OF JAX 2013

Sports & Outdoors

The best things to do and see outside

Photo: Dennis Ho, Photo illustration: Chad Smith
Jacksonville Beach and the Pier won Best Beach, Best Place to Bike, Best Surf Spot, Best View, Best Fishing Spot, Best Place to Stay Cool and Best Place for People-Watching.
Dennis Ho
Memorial Park won Best Park, and Riverside won Best Neighborhood.
Dennis Ho
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Best Athlete in Northeast Florida

Maurice Jones-Drew

The Jaguars’ sledgehammer running back has endured a lot over the past 12 months, but he’s still your favorite. Maurice Jones-Drew, voted Best Athlete for the fourth year in a row, played in only six games in 2012 because of a left foot injury. An altercation at Conch House Marina Resort in May led to reports he hit someone, but MJD was never charged. Throughout the ordeal, Jaguars fans largely seemed to give Jones-Drew the benefit of the doubt, given his history of charity work as well as the bruising style he’s showcased on the field. Early this season, MJD has struggled in the team’s new zone-blocking scheme, but many fans continue to believe he’s one of the Jaguars’ only playmakers. — DJ

 

Best Beach

Best Place to Bike

Best Surf Spot

Best View

Best Fishing Spot

Best Place to Stay Cool

Best Place for People-Watching

Jacksonville Beach and Pier

Utterly enamored with all things ocean, Northeast Floridians have voted Jacksonville Beach and Jacksonville Beach Pier to the top of an impressive six categories in this year’s list. As far as we’re concerned, the dozen or so blocks along First Street in Jacksonville Beach near the pier are a wonderland of amusement. It’s a place where families mingle with freaks and surfers, and fishers partake in the time-honored tradition of fighting over sections of sea while beachgoers nap, frolic, swim and stare into the majestic Atlantic. Packed with bars and restaurants and shops and more, it would be a tourist trap but for the fact that locals almost always outnumber out-of-towners by at least three to one. Not even two years of construction as part of the Downtown Vision Plan Project, scheduled to be completed in November, has kept away the flocks of beach cruisers and day-trippers who make this spot interesting and entertaining 365 days a year.

Of the many killer fishing spots in wonderfully waterlogged Northeast Florida, none tops the nearly quarter of a mile stretch that comprises the Jacksonville Beach Pier. For only a dollar ($4 to fish, no saltwater license required), you can stroll to the end and watch the sunrise as fishers of every age, walk of life and level of expertise pull up shiny specimens of the couple of dozen species that are routinely caught from the pier. Look down and you’ll see the dawn patrol enjoying the best break in the city, frequently exchanging what can only be assumed to be pleasantries with the anglers above.

As the sun arcs into an endless sky, make your way to the beach as it fills with sun-and-salt-worshippers of every shape, size, variety and costume. The diversity of the crowd has made people-watching in Jacksonville Beach a cherished pastime. Muted by the roar of the ocean, snippets of detailed analyses about whether that large, hairy man has any business wearing those leopard-print Speedos drift over sea oats-dotted dunes. There’s plenty of eye candy to go around, too, and enough ink to cast an entire season of a reality show about tattoos.

At the end of the day, take one last dip as color emerges from the western sky in streaks of pink and orange that reflect off rolling waves still carrying surfers. Then gather your towel, sunblock, cooler and various accouterments and wave goodbye to the ocean, your friend, as you climb the steps and head off into the night. — CG

 

Best Bowling Alley

Beach Bowl

The bowling is so incendiary at Beach Bowl that in September, a fire broke out! OK, maybe the relatively minor kitchen fire was caused by something other than smokin’ hot lanes with bowling balls rolling down them. This Jacksonville Beach fan favorite has been bringing laughter and fun to local folks for more than 50 years. Whether you play like a “Kingpin” or a pinhead, you’re sure to have fun on the lanes at Beach Bowl. Just try not to get “Munsoned.” — CG

 

Best Campsite

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park

When you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city — but not that far away — Hanna Park, which is adjacent to Mayport Naval Station, is ideal. The 300 campsites, including tent and RV spots as well as cabins, are in a shady, wooded area and offer laundry and shower facilities. The 1.5 miles of sandy beaches are the biggest selling point, but the 450-acre park also boasts hiking and biking trails and a freshwater lake great for fishing, kayaking and canoeing. — HL

 

Best Community Garden

Laura Street Community Garden, Springfield

With an orchard, a kids' garden, 10 family garden plots, grapevines and bees, Laura Street Community Garden — the first to win in this category — is a bright green spot in a city increasingly enamored with gardening. On Oct. 19, the garden hosts a quarterly Cooking in Season class at The Floridian in St. Augustine. Ray Beeson, who keeps things growing smoothly, explained. “We have a local chef who uses only locally procured meats and produce, organic as well, and they make a dish or several dishes that are made from things that are ready right now, in season.” Yum. — CG

 

Best Golf Course

TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course

The Stadium Course regularly ranks as one of the best courses in Florida and the U.S. in Golf Digest and Golfweek. Its signature 17th hole with a tricky island green is arguably the most famous in the world. It’s also tough to beat the allure of playing the course that challenges the best players in the world every May at The Players Championship. But that thrill is costly: The average duffer can expect to pay between $250 and $450 to tee off on the Stadium Course, depending on the season. And remember — tip your caddy. — DJ

 

Best Park

Memorial Park

Centrally located in a commercial area on Riverside Avenue, Memorial Park is a coveted, urban green space amid a busy and growing neighborhood. The large, open, grassy area is often filled with picnickers, Frisbee enthusiasts and people playing ball with their kids. It’s also a great place for a jog, to admire the St. Johns River, and to walk your dog. Be sure to check out “Life,” the statue memorializing Floridians who died in World War I, and the bronze eagle statues guarding the park. — HL

 

Best Place to Canoe or Kayak

Guana River State Park

Northeast Florida has so much to offer, sometimes it’s hard to find the time to get away from it all. If you’re in need of a vacation from reality, the waters at Guana River State Park in Ponte Vedra Beach are an ideal place to kayak. After a few hours on the water watching shorebirds, alligators and fish frolic and hunt, and you won’t remember what you came to forget. Just be sure to bring cash for parking and check the tides before you launch. — CG

 

Best Skate Spot

Kona Skate Park

Between cellphones, video-game experiences so righteously realistic that you’d swear they draw blood and the almighty Internet, it can be a challenge to detach your gluteus from the couch maximus. But Kona Skate Park in Arlington has about 6 acres of reasons to helmet and knee-pad up and see if those muscles of yours are as near atrophy as the dimples in your forearms suggest. “Groms” (young skateboarders) have a chance to show off that double pop-shuvit late kickflip at the King of the Groms contest Oct. 24-27. — CG

 

Best Speed Trap

Butler Boulevard at Southside Boulevard

Unless you’re a bored traffic cop, calling this one a “best of” is a bit of a misnomer. After JTB’s speed limit was raised to a righteous 65 (finally!), some might have doubted it could have made it to the top of this list, but the drivers on John Turner Butler Boulevard, or Butler Boulevard or JTB or Florida State Road 202, or whatever else the city decides to call it – 9C perhaps? – have proved they won’t be satisfied until this short strip of highway does away with speed limits altogether, à la Autobahn. — CG

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