1. St. Johns Town Center, Jacksonville
Let’s be honest – sometimes you just want a mall, but more so. St. Johns Town Center is one of those outdoor mall concepts that’s become popular in recent years – think something that feels more like a town center, with housing built in and a feeling of urban walkability. And in the case of the Jacksonville entrant, some really good shopping too. It’s not necessarily that it has shops you haven’t heard of; it’s just that it’s rare to get this many of the top shops all in one locale. There’s food that goes way beyond your typical food court fare, and just a general vibe that’s more “upmarket town” than “standard mall.”
Elsewhere, you might be surprised at what’s on offer if you haven’t been to Jacksonville in a minute. Cyclists and runners might want to tackle the 15-mile Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail. As the name suggests, it runs along an old rail line. Heavily wooded and scenic for an urban trail, it also offers bridleways for people who want to do their sightseeing on horseback. South of downtown on the banks of the St. Johns River, the historic Riverside Avondale area offers bohemian charms perhaps not always associated with Jacksonville. And of course, if it’s history you seek, you can always pop down the road to St. Augustine.
Riverside Avondale also offers some of Jacksonville’s most charming stays. Check out the Riverdale Inn, a bed-and-breakfast with tearoom in a 1901 mansion. Or try the Jenks House bed and breakfast, a 1925 home filled with period furniture.
2. Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
Is a trip to the Miami area a vacation for Fort Lauderdale people? We’ve debated it, and we’ve decided: if you go past downtown, you’ve made it far enough to qualify. So if you’re heading to Wynwood or the beach with all the naked people, nope, sorry but you’re still local. But if you drive or take the train and Metrorail all the way to Coral Gables, we here at Fort Lauderdale Magazine decree that you are officially on vacation.
And frankly, it’s quite a vacation that you can have. On and around Coral Way in the heart of the Gables’ Miracle Mile, you can do plenty of shopping and then celebrate with an excellent night out. L Boutique offers tropical, quintessentially Miamian women’s fashions while Habit has for more than a decade brought some of the best brands, including some that aren’t so easy to find, to South Florida. Soon-to-be-brides can check out an area that’s practically a bridal shop district, while bibliophiles – or those who want to sit in an outdoor courtyard and enjoy some cool live music with dinner – can stop in at independent bookshop-and-much-more Books & Books. (We keep hoping they’ll open a location here in the Fort Lauderdale area. Until then, their flagship location in the middle of the Gables is your best bet.)
We also understand there’s a university nearby if the sports fan in your life wants a shirt.
If you want to go the full vacation route and stay the night in Coral Gables, one great option is the Hotel St. Michel. Housed in a historic landmark building, the hotel seems like it was plucked from Paris’ Left Bank and dropped in the Gables.
If the hotel gives off an old-school French vibe, the hotel’s restaurant, Zucca, offers more modern Italian flair. It’s a sophisticated but comfy way to round out a weekend at a destination on Fort Lauderdale’s doorstep.
3. Cholokka Boulevard, Micanopy
Micanopy’s one of those great Florida places, not least because you can tell if somebody’s from around these parts by whether or not they know how to pronounce it. (It’s “mick-a-NO-pee,” not “my canopy.”) The town just outside of Gainesville is one of Florida’s oldest, and it’s got the historic district to show for it.
The quaint, tree-lined district around main drag Cholokka Boulevard features mostly buildings from the late-19th and early 20th century, which now have found new lives as shops and independent cafes. If you like your weekends away to offer strong Instagram game, Micanopy’s a solid choice. In 2017, the Huffington Post even named it one of the 12 Cutest Towns in America, right up there with Carmel, California and Stowe, Vermont.
And then there’s shopping. The town is known, would you believe, for its antique shops. There are a number of small places in the town center where you can easily spend a day searching for treasure. If you really want to get serious about it, the Antique City Mall is just west of town, near Interstate 75.
For a place to stay, Cholokka Boulevard is also home to Herlong Mansion. The building dates to 1845, when it was built as a humble farmhouse. Additions were made over more than half a century, and the building you’ll stay in is an impressive affair with Corinthian columns guarding expansive porches.
Note: All trip recommendations are contingent on health guidance. Please check with local and state authorities before traveling.