“We’re like a beach town with a big side of country,” Jay Dodson tells me as we toast a couple of beers at 10:30 in the morning. We’re standing behind the bar at Hoptinger Biergarten, his Jacksonville Beach beer bar that plays cool beach shack by day and bad-decision hotspot at night.
Dodson is dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, and is almost a mascot for what this city on the northeast coast of Florida has become: a whole lot of beach, a good dose of business savvy, Southern hospitality, and absolutely no pretension. It’s the kind of place where having a beer at breakfast time isn’t at all unusual, and taking it with you out to the beach is encouraged.
While the Gulf Coast beaches and the bright lights of Miami draw the bulk of Florida’s non-mousey tourists, Jacksonville might just be the state’s best undiscovered destination. It’s affordable, it’s warm, and it has just enough sophistication to keep you interested once you’ve had enough of the sand. And best of all, you won’t be sharing it with painful numbers of snowbirds.