Here are 5 socially distanced activities near Jacksonville.
Traveling in a post-quarantine, but still COVID world is daunting. It was obvious to me that one of the easiest ways to travel right now is to go camping. Just you in the woods with no one around for miles. This used to be the start of a good scary story, but now it seems we live in a world where “living in the city surrounded by everyone” is scarier. I wanted to know what it would be like to travel to a city I’ve never been to. Here is what I did when I went to Jacksonville, Florida.
To start, I live with someone at a higher risk for complications of the coronavirus. This is important because I took social distancing very seriously, making this an account of someone really considering what this new world looks like.
Before the Trip:
Traveling in today’s world takes some research. I looked up the top things to do in Jacksonville in a normal world, made a list of the things that interested me the most (already considering what would be most social distancing friendly), and then cross-checked them with what was open and what their policies are. I came up with an itinerary of five activities to occupy our day. Already this felt very different from my typical, spontaneous travel mindset.
What to Bring:
- I brought a bottle of 75% alcohol hand sanitizer and 75% alcohol sanitizing wipes
- Facemasks. Ours have interchangeable filters.
- A full bottle of water.
- Snacks because we weren’t sure what we would find.
- Our itinerary.
- Our IDs in case we stopped at a coronavirus checkpoint
We drove two hours from Savannah, Georgia at 7am to just outside Jacksonville. Amelia Island offers many public beach access points and felt like the perfect place to start our day. Further south on the island, higher traffic spots like the American Beach and the Amelia Island State Park would likely have more crowds. We entered beach access 39 from following South Fletcher Avenue all the way up to several more low key beach spots. There was definitely a comfortable distance between us and anyone else on the beach. We got to splash in the water and play in the sand carefree and without masks. We did go in the morning, so it could become a lot busier in the afternoon. Overall, this was a great find. We even saw people riding horses on the beach if you were looking for something a little more adventurous.
The beach at Amelia Island. Photo by Kylie Ruffino.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens:
Their social distancing policy required you to purchase an online ticket in advance. You have to select one of two times: 8am or 1pm and you cannot show up between them. This helps to regulate the amount of people in the zoo and limit interactions between you and the staff. It was super easy. Once inside, there were pathways laid out to direct us as we moved through the exhibits. One of the exhibits was closed for the protection of two older monkeys with geriatric conditions that made them at risk for the coronavirus. They were moved off-site to a safe place for quarantine. I will say, it was very hard to keep a mask on because we were outside and it was extremely hot and humid. This made walking around very difficult to breathe. I ended up constantly putting on and removing my mask as I entered spaces with more people. This was really frustrating, but the overall experience was still really nice.
Bold Beans Coffee Roasters
I made space for this one my itinerary, but wasn’t sure if this was going to happen. Nothing makes me happier than finding a really cool local coffee shop to pop in, rest a bit, and enjoy a latte. We were already outside for so long and desperately wanted some air conditioning. I haven’t dined anywhere since quarantine and was nervous to do so in another city. After some searching, the best looking option was Bold Beans Coffee Roasters in South Bank, Jacksonville. My experience couldn’t have been better. It was a large space that only made half of the seating available. Once we ordered we were given a card saying “This table has been recently used. Please find a staff member for us to sanitize.” When we left, we would place this on the table for future goers. It was great to know the table we had found had already been sanitized (of course, I sanitized it again just to be safe) and I reluctantly removed my mask. No one was sitting within a six-foot radius.
Riverside Arts Market:
Under a huge overpass by the river lived a thriving market. This was highly recommended in Jacksonville and I can see why. As per their social distancing policies, they only allowed farmers, packaged health and wellness goods, and food trucks. I imagine how fun it would’ve been to see a huge collection of artists and people walking around, but I am glad it was limited. The booths were spread out with enough space to remain six feet in distance from others. While I wore a mask the entire time, many others didn’t. I would again recommend going in the morning. We were there around 11:15am and noticed it getting busier as we left an hour later. Another social distancing friendly aspect is they offer an online shopping experience for the market and pre-order for food trucks. We shopped and walked around, bought some food, and found a place along the river to sit and eat without being near other people. We sanitized everything and enjoyed!
Riverside arts market. Photo by Kylie Ruffino.
Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville:
One of the other most important things to me when it comes to exploring new places, especially big cities, is to find and explore local art museums. Unfortunately, all of them are still closed and preparing for reopening. To conclude my day trip to Jacksonville once I returned to the safety of my house, I explored the virtual experience offered by the MOCA. While it definitely wasn’t the same as attending in person, it was a great effort to still showcase and teach about the art it holds. On their site, they had everything from pre-recorded virtual tours or artist talks to LIVE art lessons and projects to do from home. This could definitely be something someone did in their hotel room.
Things to note:
- Wearing a mask for the majority of the day gave me a major headache. Next time I’m going to bring some Advil.
- It is really hard to breathe through a mask in the humidity and we were there during a hot, drizzly day. Weather doesn’t usually slow me down, but it is worth thinking about.
- As we were leaving we noticed a huge line of cars entering Florida as they went through a COVID checkpoint. We had missed it because of our exit to Amelia Island.
- I don’t think this would have been possible without a car. We drove between each destination and that extra time in air conditioning made it easier to stay outside during all of our activities.
Overall, I had a fantastic time exploring a city I’ve never been to. It was especially fun to just get out of my house and out of my head, but it definitely isn’t the same having to stick to a more rigid itinerary. During a day trip, it felt like there was plenty to do. If we had stayed the entire weekend, I think we would have done another day trip to some hiking grounds a couple hours outside of Jacksonville. I will definitely consider going again, even in these conditions.
Kylie Ruffino is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design.