Jacksonville is the most populous city in Florida, which comes as a surprise to some. If you factor in the metro area, it trails Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach, Tampa-St. Pete, and Orlando by quite a lot, but the city of Jacksonville itself has nearly 900,000 residents, and it covers an enormous area of 875 square miles (which is nearly three times the area covered by New York City's five boroughs). In other words, it's a big city, and it does sprawl a bit. It's 25 miles (a 35- to 40-minute drive) from the coastal neighborhoods (such as Jacksonville Beach) to downtown. So keep these distances in mind as you decide where to stay when visiting this northeast Florida city.
If you are in the area to enjoy the beaches, you'll probably want to choose a hotel out near the ocean. A couple of good bets near the coast include the swanky One Ocean Resort, which is right on the water and has a fabulous spa, and the Hampton Inn Jacksonville 9A and Baymeadows, which is just a bit... inland but a relatively short drive from the ocean, and it has very reasonable rates.
To be near Jacksonville's most interesting and historic neighborhoods, however, and the section with the most significant GLBT presence (as well as several gay nightspots), you'll want to stay either downtown, just across the St. Johns River in historic San Marco, or just southwest of downtown in the Five Points/Riverside area, which also abounds with historic homes. (There's one gay bar out near the beaches, Bo's Coral Reef). Downtown has several mid- to high-end chain properties, and you'll find more mid-range properties across the river around San Marco. In Riverside, there are a few B&Bs, including the very gay-welcoming Riverdale Inn (see below).
Here's a look at a few top gay-friendly hotels and inns in Jacksonville, Florida. Also note that Jacksonville is just a 45-minute drive southwest of Amelia Island, which has both luxury resorts and gay-friendly historic inns, and it's a 45-minute drive northwest of historic St. Augustine, which has a number of gay-owned and gay-welcoming inns and B&Bs.
See the Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach Gay-Friendly Resorts and Inns Guide for ideas on where to stay on that scenic barrier island northeast of Jacksonville, and the St. Augustine Gay-Friendly Resorts and Inns Guide for ideas on that charming community just down the coast.
For more on dining out and bar-hopping, visit the Jacksonville Gay Nightlife Guide.
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The very well-maintained, clean, and modern Hampton Inn Jacksonville 9A and Baymeadows (8127 Point Meadows Dr., 904-363-7150) is centrally located for exploring the vast metro Jacksonville region - about a 15- to 20-minute drive from downtown and the Riverside gay bars and the same distance from area beaches. St. Augustine is only about 40 minutes southeast. The management is very gay-friendly, and the rooms stocked with all the amenities you'd expect of this reliable chain: free Wi-Fi, coffeemakers, flat-panel TVs. There's also a small but decent exercise room on-site. If there's any drawback it's that the property is located in a bland but perfectly pleasant neighborhood of shopping centers and mid-range chain restaurants - there's not much curb appeal. But the location is convenient to area shopping, including the popular Avenues Shopping Mall.
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With the swankiest digs among the beach communities of Jacksonville (not counting Amelia Island, with its super-refined Ritz-Carlton), the beachfront One Ocean Resort & Spa (1 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach, 904-249-7402) is the top choice in these parts for an ultra-romantic getaway by the sea. It's a posh, full-scale resort with a well-respected spa, a lovely pool with direct access to the coral sand of Atlantic Beach, and one of greater Jacksonville's top destination restaurants, Azurea, which presents stellar contemporary American fare, with an emphasis on regional ingredients. All 193 rooms and suites have ocean views, the snazziest units with private balconies. All have 42-inch LCD TVs and chaise lounge recliners. You're not going to see much of a gay presence here, at least compared with the upscale resorts in southern Florida (Fort Lauderdale and South Beach, for instance), but the staff is top-notch and super-friendly, and the hotel GLBT-friendly.
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Both gay-friendly and extremely close to most of the gay bars in Jacksonville, the historic Riverdale Inn (1521 Riverside Ave., 904-354-5080) is a handsome shingle-style Queen Anne Victorian a block from scenic Winter Point on the St. Johns River as well as leafy and lush Memorial Park. There are 10 artfully appointed suites and rooms to choose from, all with furnishings and decorative schemes that recall the turn-of-the-20th-century era during which the inn was constructed. Tiled showers, climate control, spa robes, and flat-screen TVs are among the more modern perks, and rates include a full breakfast each morning featuring omelets, waffles, pancakes, and other goodies.