Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida,in terms of both area and population,and is the county seat of Duval County. Jacksonville ranked as the United States’ twelfth most populous city, with 805,605 residents. It is the principal city in the Greater Jacksonville Metropolitan Area, a region with a population of 1,300,823, and the fourth largest metropolitan area in the state, as of the 2006 Census Bureau estimates. Jacksonville is the third most populous city on the East Coast, after New York City and Philadelphia.
About 25 miles (40 km) south of the Georgia border, Jacksonville is in the First Coast region of northeast Florida and is centered on the banks of the St. Johns River. The settlement that became Jacksonville was founded in 1791 as Cowford because of its location at a narrow point in the river where cattle once crossed. In 1822, a year after the United States acquired Florida from Spain, the city was renamed for the first military governor of the Florida Territory, General Andrew Jackson, who would later be elected President of the United States.
One of Jacksonville’s many natural assets is one of the largest urban park systems in the country. The active and passive parks and preservation lands are a key part of Jacksonville’s quality of life. So are the miles of beaches and waterways, a major symphony orchestra, a sports and entertainment complex downtown and a myriad of special events that this sports-loving city hosts each year. One of Jacksonville’s many natural assets is one of the largest urban park systems in the country. The active and passive parks and preservation lands are a key part of Jacksonville’s quality of life. So are the miles of beaches and waterways, a major symphony orchestra, a sports and entertainment complex downtown and a myriad of special events that this sports-loving city hosts each year. The home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, the city welcomed its first Super Bowl in 2005.
With 57,373 acres of parks, including state and federal lands, Jacksonville now ranks No. 1 among U.S. cities in gross acreage for parks and is in the top 10 in the percentage of acreage in the city devoted to park land.
The wide variety of parks ranges from small neighborhood playgrounds for toddlers to biking, hiking and horse trails to athletic fields to boat ramps. There also are vast areas of unspoiled natural wilderness, much of it newly acquired by the city. From the quiet dignity of an oak forest, to the vastness of the salt marsh, Jacksonville’s nature parks have an abundance of flora and fauna to satisfy the tastes of the casual observer or the dedicated nature hound.
As much for its beautiful beaches as anything, Jacksonville has become known as Florida’s First Coast. Unlike much of the rest of Florida, the First Coast’s miles of beaches remain relatively unspoiled and unfenced. The Beaches communities in Duval County — Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach — also offer some of the best sport fishing, boating and water sport opportunities in the country.
A stroll along the beach might yield a collection of seashells, a view of the porpoise and northern right whales that cavort off the coast, or merely the relaxed state of mind that ocean waves can foster. Mayport Naval Station is home to many U.S. ships. Nearby, fishing boats ply the waters for a variety of fish and shrimp.
The Jacksonville Zoo, north of downtown, is a natural wonderland growing and changing daily, with more than 1,000 rare and exotic creatures. Covering about 70 acres along the St. Johns River, the zoo has the only walking safari in Northeast Florida.
A true family adventure, the Jacksonville Zoo offers an entertaining and educational experience for visitors and residents of Florida’s First Coast. For more details, check out the zoo’s web site.