Best in Jax 2015

MAY15-LO

// compiled by Virginia Chamlee, Courtnee James and Jocelyn Tolbert

There are countless websites, blogs & forums that debate the bests of any city, and Jacksonville is no exception. Our annual “Best In Jax” aims to take the many opinions of readers (thousands, in fact) and distill them into one compilation of the best places to shop, to eat and to enjoy the River City’s finest. This year, we expanded the theme. The regulars are still here (Best Steakhouse, Best Salon), but there are some additional favorites on the list, too (such as Best Place to Sunset Kayak and Best Park For A Picnic). So, here you go. Below, we start with the best part of any meal...

Desserts

Biscottis
3556 St. Johns Ave., Avondale (387-2060)

It’s perfectly fine to go to Biscottis and eat a whole meal—you really can’t go wrong with the pizzas and blackboard specials. But with a dessert case like theirs, stocked with Grand Marnier tropical cake, pineapple cheesecake, fresh fruit tarts, salted caramel chocolate cake, mini éclairs and so much more, it’s hard to resist just skipping right to the sweet stuff.

New Restaurant

Candy Apple Cafe
400 N. Hogan St., Downtown (353-9717)

You’d think that a space inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would feel juvenile. However, Candy Apple Café manages to fuse whimsy with sophistication. The Willy Wonka-esque interior belies an expansive menu full of offerings such as buttermilk fried chicken with pink peppercorn gravy and rock shrimp crepes with baby spinach and  jicama slaw. Of course, dessert—particularly the candy apples dipped in toppings like candied bacon and rum-soaked coconut—is a highlight.

Seafood • shrimp & grits

The Fish Camps
North Beach Fish Camp 100 1st St., Neptune Beach (249-3474) • Palm Valley Fish Camp 299 N Roscoe Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach (285-3200) • Julington Creek Fish Camp  2760 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin (886-2267)

In the same vein as traditional fish camps (but without the bait counter and shuck-it-yourself mentality), this family of seafood restaurants offers an upscale take on the kind of food you wish you could get at a dockside seafood shanty. Whether you visit for lunch or dinner, the pull here is fresh fish—from roast cod filet with brown butter to spicy seafood linguine and one of the better fish sandwiches in town, complete with a side of Old Bay seasoned fries.

Special Occasion Restaurant • brunch

Orsay
3630 Park St., Avondale (381-0909)

Rustic, dimly-lit and intimate, Orsay is an ideal place to dig into decidedly high-brow takes on French-inspired comfort food. Bouillabaisse brimming with fresh seafood and lobster pot pie are just two of the menu highlights from executive chef Brian Whittington, who was recently nominated for a James Beard Award. In addition to taking the top spot for Special Occasion Restaurant, Orsay also got readers’ attentions for its brunch service, which features lobster deviled eggs, bourbon French toast and duck confit hash. Orsay’s cocktail program (helmed by spirits director Alex Smith) is one of the tops in town and its dessert menu (crafted by pastry chef Michael Bump) is the stuff of legend. If you’re too full to indulge in macarons or chocolate pavé, order a pint of house-made ice cream to-go.

Chef

Ian Lynch, Ovinté
St. Johns Town Center (900-7730)

It might be surprising that what started as a wine and tapas lounge would take top honors for Best Chef in our annual poll, but Ovinté’s menu has grown to rival its outstanding list of vino, thanks to Ian Lynch. The eatery’s selection of cheese and charcuterie remains popular, while larger plates—braised lamb shank with creamy polenta, house-made pappardelle with pork and veal Bolognese—are Lynch’s specialty and where the menu really shines.

Gourmet Burgers

MShack
Four locations, including 299 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach (241-2599)

The fact that this burgeoning chainlet has grown to include four locations (including a food truck) is no surprise to the locals who line up for a taste of one of M Shack’s freshly ground patties. In addition to the traditional cheeseburger, expect inventive varieties—there’s a portobello truffle burger, an Asian burger topped with spicy cole slaw and even a patty stuffed between two grilled cheese sandwiches (aptly named the “Insanity” burger).

Local Brewery

Intuition Ale Works
720 King St., Riverside (683-7720)

Craft brewery Intuition Ale Works was established in 2010 by owner and brewer Ben Davis, whose business has grown by leaps and kegs since then. In 2012, the brewery became the first in Florida to can its beers (they can three varieties) and is set to expand from its current 10-barrel brewing system to a 30-barrel operation, when it moves into larger digs Downtown. Thirsty locals eagerly await the expansion, which will include a taproom and rooftop beer garden. Til then, Intuition is still pouring pints of brews like People’s Pale Ale, Jon Boat and King Street Stout at its Riverside location.

Appetizers • Place to Take a Foodie

Moxie
St. Johns Town Center (998-9744)

Moxie, the relative newcomer helmed by chef Tom Gray, feels a little out of place in the chain-centric St. Johns Town Center, what with its industrial-like space and farm-to-table eats. The scope of the menu is ambitious and, while the restaurant’s entrées are satisfying, its appetizers are almost filling enough to enjoy on their own. Don’t miss the seared octopus (the preparation changes seasonally), along with the many twists on traditionally blue-collar dishes—crispy chicken livers, pimento cheese toast, fried chicken with waffle pudding... The menu also includes a selection of cured meats and cheeses, including house-made ricotta with fennel pollen.

Southern Cuisine

Beach Road Chicken Dinners
4132 Atlantic Blvd. (398-7980)

Nothing quite says Southern comfort like fried chicken from Beach Road Chicken Dinners, which has been serving up heaping platters of the stuff since 1939. When dining in, the perfectly seasoned and crispy chicken dinners come with unlimited sides of fluffy biscuits, gravy, cream peas, cole slaw and fries. Healthful? No. But absolutely worth the shot to the arteries.

Barbecue

Mojo BBQ
Six locations, including 1607 University Blvd., Lakewood (732-7200)

With pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked chicken and turkey breast all on offer, Mojo’s provides all of the makings of a smoky and saucy feast. Though barbecue platters (served with Texas toast and homemade sides such as mac-and-cheese and collard greens) are a solid choice, Mojo’s specialty sandwiches—like the BBQ Reuben with sliced brisket, crispy slaw, Jack cheese and 1000 Island dressing—lend a unique take on standard ‘cue.

Mexican

TacoLu
1712 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach (249-8226)

Despite moving to larger digs in 2013, the line at TacoLu remains out-the-door, thanks to its colorful, Day of the Dead-inspired art and creative fare. Here, the focus is on fresh ingredients you don’t normally find at a Mexican restaurant (think ahi tuna, filet mignon and soy-based tempeh). Order a variety of The Lu’s famous specialty tacos (fish, meat and vegetarian varieties are always on offer but the carne royale, topped with brie and grape salsa, is particularly delicious), along with an order of Mexican street corn. And a margarita for good measure.

Pizza

Mellow Mushroom
Four locations, including 1018 3rd St. N., Jacksonville Beach (241-5600)

Legions of regulars rest assured that their pie will be fresh-made and delicious at any of the four area Mellow Mushroom locations. The toppings are plentiful and tasty. The real star of a Mellow pie, in the opinion of many, is the crust—slightly sweet and perfectly chewy, thanks to spring water and molasses (according to rumor—they won’t divulge the recipe). Specialty pies (try the Eggy & Leggy, with sunny side up eggs and pancetta, garnished with scallions, and seasoned with cracked pepper) are tops. Vegan and gluten-free varieties are also available.

Pho

Bowl of Pho
9902 Old Baymeadows Rd., Southside (646-4455)

Few things are as satisfying as an enormous bowl of pho, a Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, noodles, herbs and meat. Though there are a handful of pho eateries around town, Bowl of Pho takes top honors in our poll, thanks to their delicious broths and plenty of accoutrements, including fresh limes, Thai basil, bean sprouts and jalapeño (because the fun thing about pho is adding to it). The bbq pork pho is an especially popular choice.

Lunch

French Pantry
6301 Powers Ave., Southside (730-8696)

Some people might refer to it as a “hidden gem,” but the line that forms before opening and stretches outside begs to differ. Yes, it’s always packed, but a meal at the carb-friendly eatery (which doubles as a bakery churning out bread for dozens of local restaurants) is worth every second in line—and every calorie. The caramel-drenched brownies are a perfect treat, and so is the bread (it arrives to your table alongside a dish of herb-laced olive oil), creatively topped bruschetta (pictured) and enormous sandwiches.

Ice Cream

Dreamette
3646 Post St., Murray Hill (388-2558); 9825 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin (379-4343)

This no-frills, cash-only family favorite has been serving soft-serve classics for more than 60 years. The original Murray Hill location is a bit hard to find if you’re not familiar with the area, but the menu is what dreams are made of. The banana split is always a good choice and kids love the dipped cones, which come in flavors like cotton candy (pictured) and blue raspberry.

Sushi

Kazu
9965 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin (683-9903)

Strip-mall sushi joints are a-dime-a-dozen in the River City, but Mandarin’s Kazu remains distinct in its unusual menu items (like dumplings stuffed with buffalo-style chicken, celery and Thai chili sauce) and attentive staff. Owner David Chen is more than willing to walk those with allergies through alternative meal preparations and always keeps a few bottles of tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) on hand, so even gluten-free diners can nosh on sushi to their hearts’ (and stomachs’) delight.

Breakfast

Metro Diner
Six locations, including 3302 Hendricks Ave., San Marco (398-3701)

There are plenty of worthy contenders for this category, but Metro Diner is one good egg that just can’t be beat. Our readers love the bustling diner atmosphere and the always-delicious Yo Hala on the Square, huevos rancheros (pictured above) and fried chicken and waffles. We kinda feel bad for that oft-ignored lunch menu. Well...not that bad. Biscuits and gravy or lox and bagel, anyone?

Thai

Indochine
21 E Adams St., Downtown (598-5303); 1974 San Marco Blvd., San Marco (503-7013)

Indochine consistently gets readers’ votes for flavorful Thai favorites such as Näm sod (chopped pork, cilantro and chili garlic with lime dressing over mixed greens) and the famous Drunken Noodles. Order your entrées “Thai Hot” if you’re feeling especially brave (otherwise, stick to mild). For something a little different than the standard pad Thai, try the duck curry, an Indochine specialty dish of lean duck breast in sweet red curry with snow peas, tomato, sweet pepper, onion and Thai basil.

Steak House

Ruth’s Chris
1201 Riverplace Blvd., Downtown (396-6200); 814 A1A N., Ponte Vedra Beach (285-0014)

Ruth’s Chris is nationally known for its white-tableclothed American fare and, though it might not be local, it’s a perennial favorite for a reason. Here, the focus is on steaks and chops (served sizzling on a 500-degree plate) and bountiful sides (lobster mac-and-cheese, sautéed mushrooms, potatoes au gratin). If you feel like sharing, try the porterhouse for two, a behemoth 40-ounce slab of prime beef. You’re gonna need a doggy bag.

Italian

Caffé Andiamo
500 Sawgrass Village Cir., Ponte Vedra Beach (280-2299)

The offerings at this Ponte Vedra Beach favorite are a far cry from those at most area Italian-style restaurants. Sure, you’ll find the traditional favorites like fettuccine Alfredo and eggplant parmesan, but diners can also nosh on pan-seared tuna with ginger soy dressing, New York strip in rosemary wine sauce and veal chops topped with sun-dried tomatoes and wild mushrooms. The wood-fired pizzas are excellent and come piping hot out of the eatery’s copper wood-burning oven.

Birthday Cake

Publix
Multiple locations

Whether you’re looking for a customized, multi-tiered cake, or a more traditional, layered confection, Publix can do it. The service is similar to what you expect at a small neighborhood bakery and the cakes themselves—which are piled high with frosting and come in a variety of flavors—are, of course, delicious.

Vegetarian/Vegan

Tea Haus
353 6th Ave. S., Jacksonville Beach (803-1407)

Think of Jacksonville Beach’s Tea Haus as a vegetarian Shangri-La. In addition to serving an array of organic teas—everything from green to oolong—the neighborhood hangout has a selection of heart-healthy lunches and cold pressed juice (plus some seriously addicting vegan cupcakes). Tea Haus doubles as a holistic clinic, offering herbal prescriptions and a healing suite for more personalized care.

Gluten Free

Sweet Theory
1243 King St., Riverside (387-1001)

The term “gluten-free” has to be one of the most Googled dietary restrictions of the past few years, and for good reason. A host of books and celebrities have espoused a gluten-free diet but the movement is much more than just a trend (just ask anyone with celiac disease, a severe gluten allergy). More and more restaurants are offering wheat-free options these days, but it’s still difficult to find eateries with more than one or two selections. Sweet Theory is a celiac’s dream—gluten-free items (there are literally dozens, including cupcakes, cookies and savory biscuits) are clearly marked, and all are prepared in a separate area of the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination.

Family Restaurant

Beach Diner
Four locations, including 501 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach (249-65000)

There’s plenty to love about Beach Diner, an Atlantic Beach institution that now boasts four locations throughout the city. Traditional favorites like chocolate chip pancakes and fluffy omelettes keep kids satisfied, while more adult-friendly eats, such as Eggs on the Bayou (poached eggs on grilled English muffins with bacon, crabmeat, hollandaise, diced tomatoes and green onions) offer something a little more sophisticated. Though the focus here is on breakfast, lunch is a popular option, too (choose from classic diner eats like tuna melts and turkey pitas).

Hipster Town

Brew
1024 Park St., Five Points (374-5789)

This year is the first time we’ve included this category and our readers totally got it. BREW is a low-key Five Points spot where patrons can have a perfectly cupped espresso, craft beer, artisan toast or handmade pastry amidst the hippest, most expertly tattooed and finely bearded Jacksonville residents.

Coffee Shop

Bold Bean Coffee Roasters
869 Stockton St., Riverside (855-1811); 2400 3rd St. S., Jacksonville Beach

Forget Frappuccinos, Jaxons want their coffee locally roasted, hand-poured and topped with a hipster vibe—and Bold Bean is the place to get it. The imported beans, house-made syrups and passion that go into every cup o’ Joe at Bold Bean bring out rich flavors you just won’t find in a corporate coffee shop.

Sports Bar

Sneakers
111 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach (482-1000); 8133 Point Meadows Dr., Southside (519-0509)

Giant HD projection screens, dozens of TVs, a wide selection of beer and hearty pub grub like classic burgers, nachos and wings—when it comes to a sports bar, what more do you really need? The festive eatery is popular with sports fanatics and normal people alike and also offers occasional trivia nights.

Kids’ Menu

The Loop
Multiple locations, including 2014 San Marco Blvd., San Marco (399-5667)

The Loop’s kids’ menu sticks to the basics, offering only four items: one-topping pizza, chicken tenders, cheeseburger or mac and cheese. But we’re pretty sure those are the four food groups in kids’ eyes. Perhaps best of all, all items are under five bucks.

Food Truck

Happy Grilled Cheese
Various Locations

Few meals are as comforting as a grilled cheese sandwich and Happy Grilled Cheese specializes in just that. Look for a brick-and-mortar location in Five Points to open soon but, fortunately, the food truck shows no signs of putting on the brakes just yet. Try the Southern Gentleman Melt with pimento cheese, pulled pork, slaw and pickles and be sure to order a dipping cup of tomato soup to go alongside.

Cocktails

Sidecar
1406 Hendricks Ave., San Marco (527-8990)

There are cocktails, and then there are cocktails—mixed by an expert bartender using top-shelf ingredients with an acute attention to detail. That’s what you’ll find at “urban beer garden and cocktail bar” Sidecar, and in a chill, speakeasy kind of atmosphere. The focus is on classic recipes with spirit-forward flavors heavy on the gin and bourbon.

Wine List

Royal Palm Village Wine & Tapas
296 Royal Palms Dr., Atlantic Beach (372-0052)

With overturned wine barrels that double as tables and walls lined with more than 1,200 bottles of wine, the atmosphere at Royal Palm is Wine Country through and through. Tapas, cheese plates and heartier fare (think jerk chicken confit and pork empañadas) round out the menu. On Friday evenings, 5-8 PM, local distributors offer complimentary wine tastings, and wine and beer pairing events are held monthly.

Rider Sandwich

Goal Post Sandwich Shop
3984 Herschel St., Avondale (384-9262)

The rider sandwich is what some call Jacksonville’s signature dish. If you’re not familiar, it’s sandwich ingredients stuffed in a pita pocket—but with one crispy warm bite, you’ll know it’s more than the sum of its parts. The best rider, according to our readers, comes from the unassuming Goal Post Sandwich Shop, which has been stuffing toasted pitas since 1979. Try the tabbouleh. Trust us.

Restaurant with a View

Cap’s On The Water
4325 Myrtle St., Vilano Beach (824-8794)

Arrive before sunset, ask for a waterfront table on the deck (cross fingers that one is open) and you’ll be treated to one of the best views around. But it’s not just the stunning surroundings that make Cap’s a reader favorite—the food is outstanding, too. Order the vanilla grouper, fried and crusted with horseradish and in a sweet vanilla rum sauce.

People Watching

The Beaches

People-watching is fun for three principal reasons: the hotties, the fashion and the oh-my-God-did-you-see-that. People-watching at the beach combines all three of these, sometimes all in one group of frisbee-throwing surfers a few towels down the sand. Don some shades and no one will be the wiser.

Bike Shop

ZenCog
883 Stockton St., Riverside (619-0496)

This Riverside bike shop stocks bikes and accessories from brands including Marin, Surly, Niner Mountain and Free Agent and they have something for pretty much every budget. The hands-on service is a top draw here. Staff provides a full range of repair and maintenance services—from fixing a flat to a complete overhaul—and will size riders for a bike and make adjustments to ensure the ride around the ‘hood is a comfortable one.

Bookstore

Chamblin Bookmine
4551 Roosevelt Blvd., Ortega (384-1685)

Just as the name suggests, this place is a goldmine for books. Offering new, used and rare reads, Chamblin is invested in increasing their interesting selection—which might seem like an anachronism in today’s tech-driven culture. They carry summer beach reads, but the staff is more than willing to help you find an out-of-print classic, too.

Surf Shop

Aqua East
696 Atlantic Blvd., Neptune Beach (246-2550)

If it’s a quality surfboard you’re after, you’ll find it at this two-story Beaches mecca, which stocks boards from Rusty, Superbrand and Miller. There are also plenty of beach basics for men, women and kids like swimwear, Toms shoes and wetsuits, plus bocce ball sets and printed towels.

Jewelry Boutique

Ellie Bing
3643 St. Johns Ave., Avondale (232-8866); 21 12th St. S., Jacksonville Beach (249-6444)

The charming boutique is packed with jewelry, and the styles are vast and varied. In addition to classic brushed gold bangles by Betty Carré, shoppers will find amethyst dream catcher necklaces, dainty earrings and one-of-a-kind vintage pieces.

New Shop

Eco Relics
106 Stockton St., Westside (330-0074)

Eco Relics opened in early 2014 and quickly became a source for DIYers and lovers of found objects in need of a little TLC. The 50,000-square-foot warehouse is filled to the ceiling with rescued building materials that you simply can’t find anywhere else around here, like wood flooring removed from old bowling lanes and balusters that once flanked a staircase in a supposedly haunted house.

Vintage Shop

Rusted Market
1523 San Marco Blvd., San Marco (398-1523)

Embellished vintage decanters, upcycled furnishings and botanical prints are just a few of the treasures available at Rusted Market. Wares from a selection of vendors are for sale at the small shop, which also hosts seasonal outdoor “Rust-a-paloozas.”

Women’s Boutique

Therapie
1960 San Marco Blvd., San Marco (393-4945)

Therapie, a San Marco boutique specializing in relaxed-but-trendy items from brands like 7 For All Mankind, Alice and Trixie and French Connection, takes the top spot again in the Women’s Boutique category. The San Marco shop specializes in vibrant prints and feminine dresses, making it an ideal place to shop for a special event.

Men’s Boutique

Rosenblums
5500 San Jose Blvd., San Marco (733-8633); 2400 3rd St., Jacksonville Beach (247-9755)

Founded in 1898, Rosenblums began as a pushcart in Downtown Jacksonville. Today, with clothing and accessories from lines such as Allen Edmonds, Billy Reid and Canali, plus an in-house tailor to ensure everything fits just right, the family owned business is the place for the discerning sartorialist. Leather loafers, linen shorts and patterned ties round out the mix.

Local Fashion Designer

McKynlie Drummond

Traveling Bringing the colors of the South American culture to the heart of Northeast Florida, McKynlie’s indie-chic clothing combines classic Spanish prints with urban street style. A limited quantity of her handmade apparel is released each season. Find a selection of her items on her Etsy store.

Garden Shop

Anita’s Garden Shop & Design
3637 St. Johns Ave., Avondale (388-2060)

Whether you have a green or a black thumb, you’ll find plenty of inspiration (and advice) from Anita’s, a Riverside mainstay that overflows with blooms. Handmade seasonal arrangements, wreaths and topiaries make great gifts.

Florist

Glenn Certain Floral Design
2659 Park St., Riverside (388-2001)

The arrangements at Glenn Certain are a far cry from those you find at the local grocery store. Here, the focus is on striking, sophisticated centerpieces and designs (think bridesmaid bouquets utilizing organic succulents) and the shop also stocks a tasteful selection of home accessories and seasonal decor.

Best Salon

Cortello
1086 3rd St. N., Jacksonville Beach (853-6222)

Cortello is pretty much the antithesis of the strip mall haircut chains. The team is more than 30 stylists strong and offers a range of services in its upscale salon—from color and extensions to braids and blowouts. The Jacksonville Beach salon stocks dozens of products by brands like Shu Uemura and Kerastase.

New Salon

Gwynne Mims
1620 Margaret St., Riverside (374-6181)

Gwynne Mims spent the bulk of her career in New York before moving to the River City to set up shop. In just over a year, she’s made a name for herself as a go-to for cut, color and blowouts. Her eponymous salon is well-designed, making a day in the chair a chic experience (be sure to check out the flamingo-patterned wallpaper in the restroom) and she stocks a range of upscale hair products by Oribé and Mason Pearson.

Hair Color

Hawthorn Salon
1011 Park St., Riverside (619-3092)

Trusted by well-heeled Ortega moms and hipster baristas alike, Hawthorn is one of the most popular salons in town—particularly when it comes to hair color. The stylists are meticulous about hair here and they apply color that actually looks natural—unless you’re going for decidedly unnatural pink highlights (they can do that, too).

Men’s Grooming Salon

Old School Barber Shop
Three locations, including 880 N. A1A, Ponte Vedra Beach (273-8203)

The aptly named Old School Barber Shop specializes in no-nonsense, traditional cuts and shaves. Adult haircuts are just $16, so men can get in and out without spending an arm and a leg. Shaves with a straight-edge razor and hot towels for the neck are simple but welcome luxuries.

Cosmetic Skin Care

Ideal Image
St. Johns Town Center (652-0652)

Ideal Image is best known for its laser hair removal services, but they also specialize in a whole host of cosmetic skin treatments, like wrinkle relaxers and filler injections, skin lifting and tightening and skin rejuvenation.

New Spa

Frenchy’s Wellness Spa
1460 3rd St. S., Jacksonville Beach (249-0402)

It’s hard to miss Frenchy’s when you’re driving down Third Street, thanks to its bright pink exterior, and the interior is rife with Southern charm, too. If it’s pampering you’re after, you’ll find it here with massages, facials and waxing services. Patrons can also add an enhancement (lash tint, scalp massage, etc.) to any service.

Facial & Luxury Mani/Pedi

The Spa at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club

302 Ponte Vedra Beach Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach (273-7700) With at least six facials to choose from, The Spa at Ponte Vedra Inn and Club has something for just about anyone—anyone who wants to be sublimely pampered, that is. Go all in with the “Mesmerizing Ayurveda Facial,” which combines Tibetan healing methods (including ringing bells, acupressure and hand massage) with stem cell technology to repair cellular damage and perhaps the soul, too. Voters also chose The Spa as the most luxurious mani-pedi you can get on the First Coast.

Spray Tan

Tan Like a Celebrity
1003 Third St. N., Jacksonville Beach (534-7721)

While it’s pretty well established that spending hours in the sun is bad for you and tanning beds are even worse, we all still want that perfect sun-kissed glow. Thankfully, there’s Tan Like a Celebrity, a spray tanning studio which uses organically based products to create that just-left-the-beach look without all the UV damage.

Wax

The Wax Strip
13740 Beach Blvd., Southside (223-9334); 4320 Deerwood Lake Pkwy., Southside (998-9374)

The Wax Strip specializes in waxing—it’s all they do, and they call themselves the “waxperts.” Their specialists are well-trained, their rooms are clean and they never double-dip their sticks. Apparently, that commitment to the customer earned them high points with our readers.

Yoga Studio

Yoga Mix
1112 Third St., Neptune Beach (626-0003)

Yoga Mix offers a melange of stretching, strengthening and calming classes, including mixed-level yoga, power yoga, Jivamukti (complete with chanting), prenatal yoga, Yogalates, meditation, stand-up paddleboard yoga, inversion workshops and more. We’re sweating already...

Beauty Trend

Braids

These aren’t your second-grader’s braids. Intricate twists, from fishtails to complicated five-strand plaits, were all over the New York Fashion Week runways. Luckily for us, it’s the perfect style for Northeast Florida: it solves the problems of humid weather and the likelihood that we’ve just taken a dip in the ocean.

Maternity Clothes

Twice as Nice
4070 Herschel St., Ortega (387-1751)

Readers voted this consignment store top honors for maternity clothes, likely due to the price tags. Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows how tough it can be to spend on clothes that won’t fit in a few months‘ time. Twice as Nice specializes in children’s and maternity clothes that have been “pre-loved,” with a focus on quality goods without any damage.

Kids’ Clothing

Kyds
200 First St., Neptune Beach (595-5092)

It seems the little shop a block from the beach keeps its winning streak going for another year. Readers love Kyds for its great selection of trendy, casual boys’ and girls’ clothes, swimwear, sportswear and accessories in brands like Quiksilver, Ella Moss, Joe’s Jeans and Tarina Tarantino.

Kids’ Consignment

Growing Tree
1080 S. Edgewood Ave., Murray Hill (379-3912)

Children grow so fast. One minute, it’s too big; the next, it’s too small. That’s where The Growing Tree comes in. The baby-to-tween consignment shop specializes in quality, excellent-condition, previously loved clothing, books and toys. Sell the stuff that your kids can’t wear anymore and pick up some new items at great prices—it’s a win-win.

Local Blog for Parents & Local blog

Jacksonville Moms Blog
jaxmomsblog.com

The Jacksonville Moms Blog was founded by two smart and stylish moms who know North Florida. They, along with their eclectic group of 25 contributors write about everything from health and fitness to pregnancy to food and fashion and enjoys about 200,000 page views per month. The site is a great resource for parents on the First Coast, whether new to parenting, new to the area, or veterans of both.

Kids App

Endless Alphabet
originatorkids.com

Cute monsters populate this colorful app which teaches kids vocabulary, how to spell and pronounce, definitions and letter sounds. No high scores, no limits and no failures make it an easygoing app for kids of all ages—in other words, no meltdowns either.

Summer Camp

UNF

The University of North Florida is frequented most often by those attending the school, but the younger set is known to head to campus for day camp come summertime. The outdoor adventure Eco Camp is geared toward those ages 6-14, while the Youth Sports and Fitness Camp offers activities for kids ages 5-14.

Party Space

Bay & Bee
13475 Atlantic Blvd., Arlington (221-1900)

Bay & Bee is an innovative, stimulating environment for kids to play safely and a nice relaxation spot for parents. Their birthday parties follow a similar model, offering as much or as little structure as you desire and taking over all the services you’d have to worry about at home, like cake cutting and cleaning up. Additional options such as music or a yoga class may make your child’s party one to remember.

Kids Activity

My Gym Fitness Center
13770 Beach Blvd., Southside (223-4966)

My Gym has classes for kids in every age group from 6 weeks to 10 years in skills from stimulating muscle control to Zumba to nutrition. It’s a great way to teach kids to be active, and even better, a great way to use up all those reserves of energy they seem to have.

After-School Lessons

Club Scientific
Multiple locations, St. Johns (287-8603)

Hands-on interactive activities focused on paleontology, forensics, technology and other disciplines are the specialty at Club Scientific, which offers after-school classes at area schools including Bartram Springs Elementary and Palencia Elementary. Based on the idea that students learn better by doing, sessions aim to stimulate a child’s interest in science with fun experiments (like adding Mentos to a soda bottle to create a viral reaction). After each class, kids leave with a card describing the lesson and offering some suggestions for extending the learning experience at home.

Tutoring Company

Sylvan Learning
Multiple locations including 2416 Dunn Ave., (757-2220)

Falling behind in school can lead a child to suffer in other areas, particularly when it comes to self-confidence. Sylvan Learning offers one-on-one tutoring, STEM classes and SAT/ACT prep courses—all with the aim of improving the grades of the children being tutored.

Concert Venue

St. Augustine Amphitheatre
1340C A1A S., St. Augustine (209-3744)

The St. Augustine Amphitheatre was originally built in 1965 as a means of commemorating the city’s 400th anniversary as the nation’s oldest permanent European settlement. In 2002, St. Johns County began refurbishing the venue. Five years later, a state-of-the-art amphitheatre was unveiled. With capacity for up to 4,100, four concession stands and an arboretum of walking trails, it’s easy to see why it’s a music-lovers dream. The venue draws big acts—upcoming shows include ZZ Top and Jeff Beck, John Fogerty and Boston.

Concert of the Year

Garth Brooks

Though he officially announced his retirement in 2000, country music superstar Garth Brooks just couldn’t stay away from the stage. In 2009, he made his return to the music industry and he has since embarked on his “Man Against Machine” world tour. Garth made his mark on the River City when he appeared for six nights in October, dazzling audiences with hits like “Friends in Low Places” and “People Loving People.”

Place to hear a local band

Freebird Live
200 1st St. N., Jacksonville Beach (246-2473)

The vibe at Freebird (which was opened in 1999 by the Van Zant family, of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame) is worn-in and comfortable—the type of place you could catch an up-and-coming act or a sold-out show. The two-story venue features two full bars and the entire joint is general admission, standing-room only.

Local Band

Second Shot

Jax band Second Shot describes their sound as “Southern rock with a kick,” and our readers are fans. The group plays gigs throughout the month (check their Facebook page for an up-to-date schedule) and can usually be heard at Dick’s Wings and Monkey’s Uncle.

Museum • Outdoor art display

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
829 Riverside Ave., Riverside (356-6857)

The gardens alone are reason enough to visit the Cummer. The art is, of course, the institution’s raison d’etre. At nearly 5,000 objects strong, the permanent collection is one of the best in the Southeast, and spans from 2100 B.C. through the 21st century. The museum also hosts a number of educational initiatives for children and adults alike, as well as the occasional concert beneath the canopy of the majestic Cummer Oak.

Charity Gala of the Year

Jay Fund Wine Tasting Gala

NFL coach Tom Coughlin founded his Jay Fund Foundation in 1996 as a way to honor Jay McGillis, a member of Coughlin’s team at Boston College who developed leukemia. Since then, the foundation has grown to include a number of events and initiatives. Perhaps none are as popular as the annual Wine Tasting Gala. The two-time Super Bowl-winning coach was on hand for the 2015 event March 20 at the Wells Fargo Center, which featured a silent auction, food from top area restaurants and, of course, plenty of vino.

Cougar Town

Ragtime
207 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach (241-7877)

Ragtime whips up some great Cajun-inspired food and craft beer, but if its hold on this category is any indication, this Atlantic Beach institution might be more popular for slinging white Zin and appletinis, if you know what we mean. Those looking to meet a mature lady on the prowl should look no further.

Hotel

One Ocean Resort & Spa
1 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach (249-7402)

City-dwellers wishing to trade the hustle and bustle (and traffic) for something a little more serene head to One Ocean, an Atlantic Beach hotel that sits directly on the beach. All 193 rooms come with views of the ocean and, though the resort’s decor is sleek and contemporary, the vibe here is unpretentious. Unsurprisingly, the on-site restaurant, Azurea, provides an impressive menu, laden with seafood.

Music radio station

99.1 WQIK

It appears country music reigns supreme here in Jacksonville, with readers voting solidly in favor of WQIK as the favorite radio station. DJs like Skip Kelly, Chumley and Cindy Spicer dish on Hollywood gossip and play popular country tunes by artists including Darius Rucker, Lady Antebellum and Dierks Bentley.

Festival/Art Walk

Downtown Art Walk

The Downtown Jacksonville renaissance began in earnest several years ago, and it was arguably Art Walk that led the charge. The free self-guided tour through venues in the Urban Core takes place on the first Wednesday of every month, 5-9 PM (rain or shine), and includes concerts, live art demonstrations, food trucks and dozens of open galleries. The theme changes monthly and most of the action is concentrated in and around Hemming Park.

Field Trip • Attraction to Take Visitors

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens
370 Zoo Parkway, Northside (757-4463)

The Jax Zoo is a field trip destination for nearly 100,000 students, teachers and parents every year. Aside from the 1,400 species of animals and 2,000 species of plants that make their home at the Zoo, there’s plenty to see and do: scavenger hunts, keeper talks, train ride, carousel, and lions, tigers and bears.

Exhibit of the year

WHITE, MOCA Jacksonville
333 N. Laura St., Downtown (366-6911)

An art exhibit almost entirely devoid of color? MOCA Jacksonville’s WHITE (which ran January 24-April 26) was exactly that, and charted the pivotal role of the under-utilized color, which is often relegated to the background in works of art. The exhibition focused on iconic works (including photography, mixed media,  painting and installation) in which white plays the starring role. Tara Donovan’s Haze (an installation comprised of an entire wall of translucent drinking straws) was a particularly striking feature.

Talk or sports radio

WOKV

From weather and traffic reports to local news updates and broadcasts of syndicated shows, WOKV won readers’ choice for best talk or sports radio station. The station sticks to a conservative talk radio format, so the programming schedule is chock full of opinionated broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Herman Cain.

TV station

First Coast News

With so much, well, bad news coming out of the national shows these days, anchors can have a tough time gaining viewers’ trust. Jax Mag readers say they can count on First Coast News for the day’s headlines, local stories, weather and traffic. The team includes veterans Jeannie Blaylock, Ken Amaro and Shannon Ogden, as well as newer notables like Jacob Long and Katie Jeffries.

Local Theater • Attraction to take your parents

Alhambra Theatre & Dining
12000 Beach Blvd., Southside (641-1212)

The Alhambra has offered dinner and a show nearly every night since it opened in 1967. The theatre was completely renovated in 2009 but still maintains a focus on quality programming (often featuring television and film actors) and upscale dining. The upcoming show schedule includes Harvey (starring Charles Shaugnessy), 9 to 5: The Musical and Anything Goes.

Local Instagrammer

@igersjax

Those looking for photos of life in the River City—or those making them—should definitely be following Igersjax on Instagram. The man behind the handle, Stefan Stears, reposts striking photos that users have tagged with #igersjax—like sunsets, bridges, little-known places and unusual perspectives on Jacksonville. It’s never boring, often stirring and always beautiful.

Art classes

Painting With a Twist
1525 San Marco Blvd., San Marco (399-8399)

Is Painting With a Twist an art class, or just a good excuse for a girls’ night out? Look, stop asking so many questions and pick up your brush. Any place where you can drink wine and laugh at each others’ art skills sounds good to us. And you might actually learn a thing or two about painting. What’s not to love?

Local sports team

Jaguars

The Jaguars aren’t always the easiest to root for, having ended the 2014 season with a 3-13 record). But the NFL franchise is still fairly young and new stadium amenities (did someone say “swimming pools?”) and new players offer plenty of reason to get to the games come football season.

Karaoke

Monkey’s Uncle
1850 S. 3rd St., Jacksonville Beach (246-1070)

When it comes to Karaoke on the First Coast, the Monkey’s Uncle doesn’t have much competition. Ask around, anyone will tell you that it’s the place to go if you feel like belting out “Billie Jean.” And though the mic is open four nights a week (excluding Monday, Tuesday and Friday), there’s no shortage of wanna-be American Idols (or just sauced frat bros) waiting to take the stage.

Movie Theater

Sun-Ray Cinema
1028 Park St., Five Points (359-0047)

The restored theater which originally opened in 1927 (it was the first “talkie” theater in Florida and third in the country) has gone through a few different iterations in its 88 years. New life was found when Tim Massett refreshed and reopened the historic venue in 2011. Sun-Ray’s 18-by-34-foot screen now shows a mix of indie and mainstream flicks and serves a full menu of popcorn (130 oz. for $5.50!), hot dogs, sandwiches, candy, local beer and wine.

Historical Attraction

St. Augustine

This one is a gimme. The country’s Oldest City—first visited by the Spanish in 1513—is only a short drive south, and it’s just dripping with historical significance. You’ll need to spend more than a day or two exploring St. George Street and Fort Mose, the Ximenez-Fatio House and the Castillo de San Marcos. Plus a whole lot more.

Place to sunset Kayak

Amelia Island

No matter where you choose to paddle around Northeast Florida or Southeast Georgia, be it Egan’s Creek, Simpson Creek, Okefenokee Swamp or the St. Marys River, you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty. But that golden Amelia River sunset is something to behold.

Beach to take your dog

Atlantic Beach

While dogs are only allowed on Neptune and Jacksonville Beaches before 9 AM and after 5 PM, leashed pooches are welcome on Atlantic Beach at any time. Also, if dog and owner are both swimming, no leash is required. It’s a pretty relaxed policy, and not adopted by too many beaches in the area. Just remember to bring the pooper scooper.

Park for a picnic

Memorial Park
1620 Riverside Ave., Riverside

Even the Memorial Park Association’s website declares this slice of Riverside “the perfect place for a picnic since 1924.” Situated along the St. Johns and featuring a broad lawn, trees, benches and the bronze sculpture Life by Charles Adrian Pillars, Memorial Park draws picnickers, people doing yoga or reading, families and sunbathers every day. Bring your own basket or get some takeout from one of the many nearby eateries.

Place to view wildlife

Guana River State Park

Located between Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine, the gorgeous Guana River State Park encompasses more than 73,000 acres of beaches, marshes and wetlands. In its ecosystems, more than 44 mammal, 358 bird, 41 reptile, 21 amphibian, 303 fish and 580 plant species thrive, including 48 protected animals and eight protected plants. So yeah, you can see some wildlife there.

Best of the Neighborhoods

Downtown/Northside

Grocery store: Winn-Dixie
Coffee shop: Three Layers
Sweet spot: Sweet Pete's
Special Occasion Restaurant: Chart House
Bar: Dos Gatos
Lunch: Olio
Outdoor Dining: River City Brewing Co.
Wings: Hooters
Bakery: Village Bread Company
Beer Selection: Burro Bar
Hair Salon: Daniel James
Kids Activity: Jacksonville Zoo
Takeout: Chomp Chomp
Bookstore: Chamblin's Uptown
Place to hear live music: Florida Theatre
Health & Fitness: River View Fitness Center
Dog Park: Springfield
Place to hang out: Riverwalk
People watching: The Landing

Beaches

Grocery Store: Trader Joe’s
Coffee Shop: Lillie’s Coffee Bar
Bakery: Cinotti’s Bakery
Special Occasion Restaurant: Eleven South
Bar: Ragtime
Lunch: European Street
Hamburger Joint: Cruiser’s Grill
Deli Sandwich: Angie’s Subs
Outdoor Dining: Poe’s Tavern
Wings: Hurricane Grill & Wings
Barbecue: Mojo Kitchen
Beer Selection: Engine 15
Boutique: AshleGryre
Hair Salon: Ten Salon
Kids Activity: Adventure Landing
Takeout: Al’s Pizza
Bookstore: The BookMark
Place to Hear Live Music: Flying Iguana
Health & Fitness: CrossFit Total Control
Dog Park: Nocatee Dog Park
Doggy Daycare: Puppy Playhouse
Pet Grooming: The Bath House Pet Grooming
Pet Accessories: Salty Paws
People Watching: The Beach
Health Food Store: BioMax Natural Foods

Amelia Island

Grocery Store: Bakery: Harris Teeter
Coffee Shop: Amelia Island Coffee
Sweet Spot: Fantastic Fudge
Special Occasion Restaurant: Salt
Bar: The Salty Pelican
Lunch: Jack & Diane’s
Hamburger Joint: T-Ray’s Burger Station
Deli Sandwich: 4th Street Deli and Desserts
Outdoor Dining: Brett’s Waterway Cafe
Wings: Buffalo Wild Wings
Barbecue: Woody’s Bar-B-Q
Kids Activity: Looking for shark’s teeth
Takeout: Mellow Mushroom
Bookstore: Books Plus
Dog Park: Nassau Humane Society
Pet Grooming: Scally-Wags
Pet Accessories: Redbones Dog Bakery & Boutique
Place to Hang Out: Sliders Seaside Grill
People Watching: Center Street
Health Food Store: Nassau Health Foods

Arlington/Town Center

Grocery Store: Publix
Coffee Shop: Sipper’s
Sweet Spot: Kilwin’s
Special Occasion Restaurant: Capital Grille
Bar, Place to Hear Live Music: Cliff’s Bar & Grill
Hamburger Joint: MShack
Deli Sandwich: The Sheik
Outdoor Dining: Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails
Wings: Wing Depot Barbecue: The Pig
Bakery: The Donut Shoppe
Bookstore: Barnes & Noble
Health & Fitness: Brooks Family YMCA
Doggy Daycare: Pet Paradise
Pet Grooming: Fresh Prints
Place to Hang Out, People Watching: St. Johns Town Center
Health Food Store: Native Sun

Riverside/Avondale

Grocery Store: Fresh Market
Coffee Shop: Bold Bean
Sweet Spot: Sweet Theory
Special Occasion Restaurant: Orsay
Bar: Black Sheep
Lunch: Whiteway Delicatessen
Hamburger Joint: MShack
Deli Sandwich: Pinegrove Market and Deli
Outdoor Dining: Black Sheep
Wings: Hurricane Grill & Wings
Barbecue: Mojo No. 4
Bakery: Edgewood Bakery
Beer Selection: European Street
Boutique: Jane Doe
Hair Salon: Hawthorn
Takeout: Mellow Mushroom
Bookstore: Chamblin’s Uptown
Place to Hear Live Music: Rain Dogs
Health & Fitness: Yates YMCA
Doggy Daycare, Pet Grooming, Pet Accessories: Bark
Place to Hang Out: Kickback’s Gastropub
People Watching: Riverside Arts Market
Health Food Store: Grassroots

St. Augustine

Grocery Store: Publix
Coffee Shop: City Coffee
Sweet Spot: Les Petits Pleasures
Special Occasion Restaurant: Michael’s Tasting Room
Bar: Barley Republic Irish Pub
Bartender: Zach at Ice Plant Bar
Lunch: The Reef
Hamburger Joint: Gas Full Service
Deli Sandwich: D’Aleo Deli
Outdoor Dining: Cap’s On the Water
Wings: Oasis
Barbecue: Mojo’s
Bakery: Luli’s Cupcakes
Beer Selection: JP Henley’s
Boutique: Goldfinch
Hair Salon: Panache
Kids Activity: Alligator Farm
Takeout: Five Star Pizza
Bookstore: Barnes & Noble
Places to Hear Live Music: Cellar 6
Health & Fitness: World Gym
Dog Park: Paws Dog Park
Doggy Daycare: Dogtown
Place to Hang Out: Beaches at Vilano
People Watching: A1A Ale House
Health Food Store: Diane’s Natural Market

San Marco

Coffee Shop: Starbucks
Sweet Spot: Peterbrooke Chocolatier
Special Occasion Restaurant, Outdoor Dining: Taverna
Bar: Sidecar
Lunch: The Loop
Hamburger Joint: MShack
Deli Sandwich: European Street
Wings, Takeout: V Pizza
Bakery: The Cake Shop
Beer Selection: Aardwolf
Boutique: Therapie
Hair Salon: Kimberly Clarke
Kids Activity: Museum of Science and History
Bookstore: San Marco Book Store
Place to Hear Live Music: Jack Rabbits
Health & Fitness: Dance Trance
Place to Hang Out: Bar X
People Watching: The Square

Southside/Mandarin

Grocery Store: Fresh Market
Coffee Shop: Panera
Sweet Spot: Peterbrooke
Special Occasion Restaurant, Place to Hear Live Music: The Tree Steakhouse
Bar: Mandarin Ale House
Lunch: Metro Diner
Hamburger Joint: Steamin’
Deli Sandwich: Mocha Ritas
Outdoor Dining: Clark’s Fish Camp
Barbecue: Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Beer Selection: World of Beer
Boutique: Pink Nickel
Hair Salon: Aura
Kids Activity: Rebounderz
Bookstore: Barnes & Noble
Health & Fitness: Club Fitness
Dog Park: Dogwood Park
Doggy Daycare: Julington Creek Animal Walk
Pet Grooming: Green Dog Spa
Health Food Store: Native Sun