by Tom Bastek
Last updated: 1:00 PM ET, Wed March 11, 2015
All photos courtesy of their respective venues unless otherwise stated.
This is the second article in our series about the cities that are playing host to the NCAA College National Championship Tournament. The second and third rounds of the tournament this year (which have typically been known as the first and second) take place in eight places across the country. Today we are in the southeast where the weather is just about to break and the temperatures (and the basketball) are about to heat up.
Believe it or not, Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida and the largest city by area in the lower 48 states. After the Civil War, Jacksonville became a resort destination for the rich and famous until Yellow Fever outbreaks of the late 1800s started to keep people away. The Great Fire of 1901 displaced over 10,000 people and during the next 12 years of reconstruction there were over 13,000 buildings rebuilt.
Until Hollywood would start to flourish in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Jacksonville was also home to more than 30 silent film studios and earned itself the nickname of, "The Winter film Capital of the World." Today, Jacksonville is the third largest seaport in Florida and serves both military and civilian ships. The banking, insurance, healthcare and logistics industries all figure prominently here. Here are a few things you can check out while you are trying to calm your nerves about your team's upcoming game.
Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
With current residents that include, "tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, bobcats, Arctic foxes, and coatimundis (the last two are "honorary cats")," the Catty Shack Ranch prides itself on education and preservation of big cats. The ranch is open various days normally from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and various nights for feeding tours from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The tours are $10 and $15 respectively and last about 45 minutes. The night time feeding tours are your best bet to se the animals awake, swimming, playing and of course, roaring!
Riverside Arts Market
Every Saturday from March until December under the Fuller Warren Bridge exists a unique opportunity to experience some of the area's best farmers, artists and entertainers strut their stuff. Everything from produce to artisan bread is available and it is all locally sourced. Art in all mediums is available from local artists for purchase, all having passed a juried process in order to be sold at the market. Entertainment normally starts at 10:30 a.m. and runs all day. This is great place, out of the rain and the hot sun, to spend your morning and afternoon.
Aardwolf Brewing Company
Jacksonville has no shortage of craft beers. They currently have 13 breweries and seven great beer houses. If you are looking for one of the best, get to Aardwolf Brewing Company. They have a constantly rotating list of brews including staples that are available year round. They always have food trucks right outside the brewery for your sponging needs and they are open from Wednesday through Sunday in the afternoons and evenings. If you go, check out their "Pilot Batch" which is their selection of small-batch beers they release every Wednesday.
Beach Road Chicken Dinners
Since 1939 this restaurant has been serving up some of the best fried chicken in the south. Catering, takeout or family style dining; they have the fix you need. You want authentic south? Anyone who offers liver, gizzard or heart dinners on their menu and offers up creamed peas as one of their signature sides has got to be born and bred. They open at 11 a.m., six days a week and are closed on Mondays.
Part of the Jacksonville Metro is St. Augustine, Florida and it is definitely worth the quick trip south of the city. The oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the U.S., there are historic buildings, incredible shopping and beautiful beaches to take in. Make sure you get to St. George Street, where the stores, galleries, restaurants, cafes and historic sites all come together. Day or night, this is a historic walk that you will not want to miss.
If your team makes it out of these rounds and moves on in your bracket than you have reason enough to rejoice. Even if your team doesn't make it, you still have a fantastically beautiful place to explore before you head home.
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