© Photos by Sherri Tilley
Cultivate the beauty around you.
Jacksonville, Florida | The River City
Thanks in part to famed actress Vivian Leigh, the temperamental Scarlett O'Hara holds such a prominent place in American culture that she hardly seems like a fictional character. As the central female protagonist in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gone with the Wind, Scarlett's narcissistic ambition turned heroic determination does, in many ways, mirror the troubled and triumphant history of the South itself. Scarlett's often-petulant struggles through a repeating succession of severe personal hardships during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras ultimately serve to inspire subsequent generations of women to rise from the ashes and boldly face another day.
Taking a quiet bit of time to fully rest and recuperate from the rigors of extended travel, we spent long afternoons lounging on the beach each day before heading to downtown Jacksonville where we enjoyed leisurely sunset strolls along the serene Riverwalk adjacent to Jacksonville Landing. One extended respite there on the south bank of the St. Johns River consisted of a casual walk around the large Friendship Fountain, down to the reflective mosaic wall located under the widely-recognized Main Street Bridge, and past the luxurious Peninsula and Strand high-rise buildings where we abruptly stopped in our tracks when two playful dolphins leapt up from the coastal waterway nearby.
Just 40 miles south of Jacksonville, history comes remarkably alive in St. Augustine, the nation's oldest continually-occupied city. Founded in 1565 by an exploring admiral from Spain, the distinct character of this former capital is fantastically exhibited though the extraordinary centuries-old buildings like Castillo de San Marcos and Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine as well as must-see architectural attractions such as Flagler College and the spectacular Lightner Museum.
We found ourselves utterly delighted as a continual series of touring street trams gave the picturesque town an amusement-park vibe while bustling strings of shoppers made their way along the Renaissance-inspired shoppes of the enchanting St. George Street. Although Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum are major tourist stops, we instead made our way over to Anastasia Island to see the St. Augustine Lighthouse and visit the fantastic St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park which actually turned out to be one of the highlights of our entire trip due to its unique nature, upscale setting, and impressive presentations.
Located in the heart of St. Augustine's Old Town, Scarlett O’Hara's restaurant has been a local tradition for 40 years. On the cooled outdoor patio of this fun place known for its casual southern fare and award-winning BBQ, we ordered a juicy Rhett's Burger with a side of onion rings for lunch before venturing over to Tedi's Olde Tyme Ice Cream Parlor for what had become our afternoon sweet snack tradition.
In order to break up a lengthy drive time on the next segment of our trip, we chose to stop along the Deep South route and stay for a couple of nights in Panama City and Panama City Beach. We arrived at Just The Cook in St. Andrew's Marina where owner Ernie Hall, who was handpicked by the Food Network as one of the Top 16 Cooks in America, along with his son serve up family recipes straight from the back of their enclosed pontoon boat. Providing elevated fast food options like the
Crab Trap sandwich and
All Grown Up grilled cheese, these two U.S. Marines provide loyal guests a unique dockside dining experience. Original fish tacos from Finn's Island Style Grub hit the spot for lunch the next day; and then after a strong recommendation by a local resident, a seafood dinner and key lime pie at the very popular Hunt's Oyster Bar proved to be well worth the half hour wait in line.
A wide range of short-term vacation rental properties which can be booked through management companies like HomeAway or Airbnb may be ideal for a relaxing stay in Jacksonville, while Panama City Beach is absolutely littered with thousands of oceanfront hotels, motels, beach houses, and condos. For an unconventional lodging selection however, try St. Augustine's incomparable antique-filled Casa Blanca Inn on the Bay or the prestigious Casa Monica Hotel which has been designated as one of the top hotels in all of Florida.
With a friendly reputation and laid-back vibe, George's Music Springing the Blues is one of the most anticipated free music events in Florida. More than 150,000 fans gather on the shores of Jacksonville Beach each year to hear dozens of blues artists performing on multiple stages.
The sun-soaked Florida coastline offers an assortment of adrenaline-inducing water sport activities like surfing, parasailing, kayaking, and even touring by helicopter as well as a host of tranquilly relaxing options like snorkeling, chilling out in a lounge chair at the beach, sipping a cocktail on a misted patio, or perusing through an open market. Fully embracing this casually-friendly ambiance that enveloped us so invitingly, we simply rented an umbrella, dug our toes into the sand, and unwaveringly opted against wearing anything other than shorts, sandals, and swimsuits the entire time we were there.
Our full review of the Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited, which was driven on this 3,000-mile trip through six southern states, examines ten unique aspects of the practical yet elegant upscale sedan.
The sleek profile of the Toyota Avalon is not only fashionably stylish, but it is also uniquely designed for maximum efficiency and assistance in lowering wind resistance. The car's aerodynamic shape showcases recent design changes to the windshield and roofline as well as a newly tapered tail which dramatically reduces the low-pressure wake zone thereby creating less drag. Specially-shaped panels underneath the car help reduce turbulence and provide a smoother ride, and precisely-placed exterior mirrors, windshield moldings, and door handles help keep wind noise at a minimum ... which was, of course, beneficial to us as we repeatedly belted out one favorite radio song after another with minimal outside interference.