If ever there was an area of Jacksonville that fit into the “one of these things is not like the other” category, it would be Riverside. It’s artsy, it’s hip, it’s trend setting…and it doesn’t care what the rest of Jacksonville thinks of it. Riverside is the coolest part of town and has plenty of eclectic and quirky experiences to offer. Thankfully it seems that the rest of the city is catching up in the realm of celebrating art and cultural diversity, but Riverside was one of the first—if not the first—to do it, and that’s why it’s a must-visit when you’re in the city.
Riverside and Avondale are often lumped together and get confused with one another. Located southwest of Downtown Jacksonville along the St. Johns River, Riverside’s boundaries lie roughly at Interstate 10 to the north, the St. Johns River to the east, Big Fishweir Creek to the south, and Roosevelt Boulevard and the CSX Railroad line to the west. It may sound confusing, but you’ll see what we’re talking about when you visit.
History: From Plantation to Preservation
Here’s the history, plain and simple.
Riverside was developed out of former plantation land—namely, Dell’s Bluff, which was granted by the Spanish Florida government in 1801 and Magnolia Plantation in 1815. The land changed hands several times prior to the American Civil War, and in 1868, Dell’s Bluff owner Miles Price sold the southern part of the land to Florida Union editor Edward M. Cheney and Boston developer John M. Forbes, who platted the original development. Price developed the northern region himself as Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood.
The area saw modest growth until the Great Fire of 1901, which caused displaced residents to migrate to Riverside. The wealthier residents settled in mansions along the waterfront, while the less well-off purchased bungalows and plantation houses farther inland. One of these inland areas was known as Silvertown, a subdivision developed in 1887 specifically for African Americans. While initially isolated from the predominantly white Riverside to the east, Silvertown was gradually absorbed into the growing neighborhood. Because of this, Silvertown residents became some of the few black plantation house owners in Riverside throughout the period of segregation.
The mid-20th century brought change and progress to the area, including highway, land and commercial development. During this time many of the historic buildings in the area were demolished or allowed to deteriorate. Local residents and advocates fought this trend by forming the Riverside Avondale Preservation organization in 1974 and lobbying for the creation of historic districts and neighborhoods.
As a result the Riverside Historic District, Jacksonville’s first historic district, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985; it now comprises 6,870 acres and contains 2,120 historic buildings. Due to this focus on preservation, the American Planning Association named Riverside and Avondale among of the country’s top ten neighborhoods in 2010.
Can’t-Miss Things to Do
If your time is limited in the area, here are some places you must visit and things you must do before you leave:
- Experience 5 Points—Day or Night
5 Points is a small commercial district culminating at the five-way intersection between Park, Lomax and Margaret Streets. It is THE coolest area in town, known for its edgy, out-of-the-box character. In 5 Points you’ll find many diverse restaurants, funky independently owned shops and plenty of nightlife and entertainment.
- Catch a Flick at Sun-Ray Cinema
Originally called Riverside Theater, the Sun-Ray Cinema opened in 1927 and was the first movie theater in Florida equipped to show films with sound. Sun-Ray sits squarely on the Park Street strip in the middle of 5 Points and features new releases as well as lesser-known independent and cult films. Quirkily decorated, it has two auditoriums featuring tiered theater seating and includes narrow tables running parallel to the seats to accommodate for movie snacks, food, and drink.
And while we’re on the topic of nosh, Sun-Ray offers an array of options. In addition to traditional movie fare, it offers beer and wine and also serves sandwiches, hummus, baked goods and site-made pizza with unusual toppings (like kimchi, sauerkraut and sriracha sauce). In 2016, PETA ranked Sun-Ray Cinema as the number one theater for people who do not eat animal products, thanks to a menu that includes multiple vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
#FrayLife Tip: Sun-Ray has recently added local kombucha on tap courtesy of Gnarbucha of Atlantic Beach! Drink to your health!
- Visit the Cummer
The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located in Riverside and was founded in 1961. The museum contains one of the world’s three most comprehensive collections of Meissen porcelain; huge collections of American, European and Japanese art, and two acres of Italian and English gardens. Besides the permanent exhibits, the museum regularly rotates its featured galleries and exhibits and hosts multiple and diverse seminars and events.
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Florida oranges or Georgia peaches? Neither – they’re calamondins! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Calamondin, also referred to as an acid orange, Chinese orange, or Panama orange, is a little bigger than a quarter. This tree was developed in southeast Asia, where it is very popular, especially in the Philippines. It is a cross between either tangerines or Mandarin oranges and the small oval kumquat. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 📷: @prefacetovenus ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tag us in your photos! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #calamondin #acidorange #museumnetwork #museums
#FrayLife Tip: Ballin’ on a budget? The Cummer offers free admission every Tuesday as well as the first Saturday of each month. Who said culture had to cost a grip?
Where to Eat and Drink
Riverside has no shortage of great places to grab a bite to eat, a cup of coffee or a sweet treat. Here are just a few of our favorites.
- If you’re near the King Street District and are looking for a quick pastry and a coffee (or herbal tea), visit Sweet Theory Baking Co. It’s charming, it’s throwback and it has THE BEST organic donuts in the city. It also offers custom cakes and cookies and features vegan and gluten-free options made without egg, dairy, soy or peanuts using organic cold-pressed coconut oil, organic agave nectar or whole cane sugar as sweetener.
#FrayLife Tip: Everything is great here. Seriously. EVERYTHING. If I could recommend any one item, it would be the Maple Bacon Donut. You heard me; You’re welcome.
- If you find yourself with more time in the King Street area and want to grab a really good breakfast or brunch, stop by Cool Moose Cafe. As the name suggests, this spot is very cool. Family friendly, it offers a slightly small-town feel and serves coffee, breakfast (all day) and lunch.
#FrayLife Tip: Breakfast is served all day, every day; however, brunch is served only on Sundays. This is a spot you’ll want to get to early or expect a slight wait time—especially for Sunday brunch. The wait is never too long, though, and is ALWAYS worth it.
- BREW 5 Points is a local favorite offering coffee and craft beer. This low-key coffee shop and bar offers espresso drinks, gourmet toasts and microbrews.
- Motion Sweets is a MUST-visit if you’re looking for a sweet treat in 5 Points. Black owned and established in 2011, this little bakery has quickly become a Historic 5 Points gem. Providing high-quality American and French pastries, Motion Sweets is so very easy to fall in love with at first bite.
#FrayLife Tip: This is another spot you’ll do well to get to earlier rather than later. When Motion Sweets sells out of goodies, the doors close for the day, so don’t drag your feet! Oh, and order the macarons. You can’t choose a bad flavor. Just…get them.
- Bakery Ribault is nestled quietly in its own corner of Lomax Street with a charm that draws you in the more you bother to pay attention to it. Once you cross the threshold of the café, you kick yourself for not having discovered it sooner. It has the look and feel of a modern European café while still feeling cozy and intimate. With a decent selection of delicious bakery items, the café also offers many great breakfast and lunch options.
#FrayLife Tip: This is probably our favorite breakfast/brunch option in the area. The variety, quality and quantity of food that you get for the price can’t be beat. No matter what you do, you MUST order a croissant. They’re one of the best croissants in the city—hands down! Check it out for yourself, and let us know if you agree!
- Located at the center of the 5 Points intersection, Derby on Park is a local staple, and its Sunday Brunch is a definite can’t-miss. The slightly higher price point is well worth it.
#FrayLife Tip: Order the Oak Street toast, and split it with a friend. It’s the most delicious french toast you will ever have in your life!
With so many yummy options available in 5 Points alone, Riverside is chock-full of great places to grab lunch or dinner. We can’t list all of them here, but we definitely encourage you to get out and try as many as you can! Here are some can’t-miss spots…
- Hawkers Asian Street Fare: It’s yummy, it’s hip and it’s affordable! If you love Asian fusion, you’ll LOVE Hawkers! Order a bunch of small plates and share, or get any one (or two) of the variety of delicious dishes and tuck in.
#FrayLife Tip: If you’re not sure where to begin, start with the chow fan, basil fried rice or the kimchi fried rice. Want noodles? The pad thai is some of the best we’ve ever had! Need an appetizer? Try the roti canai with curry dipping sauce. Desert on the brain? Cinnamon roti—TRUST us!
- Nacho Taco: It’s small and easy to pass by, but once you give this little taco stand a chance, you’ll be so glad you did! It’s the best spot in Riverside to satisfy that craving for Mexican nosh!
#FrayLife Tip: Vegan or not, please try the soy chorizo tacos. They. Are. The. Freakin’. Best!
- First Watch: Technically this spot could be in the previous category, as it offers breakfast, brunch and lunch daily. Open every day from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., First Watch offers plenty of traditional and nontraditional options—many of which are pretty healthy!
- Grassroots Natural Market: Speaking of healthy options, a visit to Grassroots is always in order when you’re looking for something to eat in Riverside—either for now or later. Grassroots is a natural grocery store and health market that also offers a ton of healthy smoothies and quick and healthy grab-and-go options.
#FrayLife Tip: We recommend the strawberry basil smoothie and the chicken pesto pita grab-and-go sandwich. Not in the mood for a smoothie? Check out the HUGE selection of kombucha varieties, or grab a boxed water. There’s so much goodness at Grassroots—you really can’t go wrong!
- Timoti’s Seafood Shak: Super fresh and super tasty! Timoti’s offers plenty of seafood options done your way (grilled, blackened, or fried). It has baskets, salads, poke bowls, wraps, tacos and more!
#FrayLife Tip: We love the crab burger or the fish burger (equally delicious blackened or fried depending on your caloric deficit). We also highly recommend the shrimp po’boy (blackened) in a toasted wrap. The fries are impossible to stop eating. You’ve been warned.
- Hovan Gourmet Mediterranean Restaurant: Hovan offers Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine that’s healthy, fresh and delicious. Johnny, the owner, can often be found right on the front line helping the lunch and dinner rush along. There’s always a friendly greeting and a smile to brighten your day.
#FrayLife Tip: You can’t go wrong with the familiar lamb or chicken gyro. If you’re not in the mood for a wrap, any gyro can be made open faced over rice or lettuce. The tabbouleh is our absolute favorite!
- Sake House: There are at least three specifically Japanese spots in Riverside, but Sake House is our favorite. For the price and quality of food, it’s the best choice.
- Crane Ramen: We remember that we could hardly wait for this spot to open up, and when it finally did, we were not disappointed. Specializing in (you guessed it) ramen, Crane offers a more traditional Japanese ramen experience.
#FrayLife Tip: Try the roasted pork belly steamed buns as a starter. As far as ramen goes, we’ve tried the shio, the shoyu and the tonkotsu. None of them disappointed, but the shio edged the others out to be the winner. Unless you are very hungry or have a huge appetite, the kid’s bowl portion size is often just right for us (plus, it’s cheaper! #BallinOnABudget)
As the sun begins to set and night settles over the city, Riverside and 5 Points burst to life with a whole new social ecosystem. The nightlife in Riverside is just as vibrant as any other time of day. Here are some of the best spots to grab a drink (and possibly hit the dance floor!)
- Root Down: This is one of the coolest bars in the city—let alone Riverside—if you can find it. Blink and you’ll miss it—there’s no sign over the door, and if you don’t know it’s there, you can easily pass it up. Once you find your way inside, you’re in for a treat. Quirkiness aside, the selection of cocktails, champagnes, and both local and out-of-state draft beers is pretty impressive.
- Alewife: For the longest time, we thought this was just a place to purchase wine and beer by the bottle or case. But step inside on a busy weekend evening, and you’ll find it’s a very popular and very dope place to chill. It’s perfect place for craft beer connoisseurs and casual beer drinkers alike to try something new, rare or exotic.
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Spent a great evening tasting beers with Chefs Dwayne and Jonathan of @thebreadandboard. We’ll be pairing them with sweet and savory biscuits and house-made gravies, butters, and jams this Sunday as part of the Wicked Weed launch in Jax. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ What I love most about working with them is that they never make the obvious choice. They never just match flavors. They treat beer as a missing ingredient in creating new, transformative flavors when enjoyed together with food. I can’t wait to share with you some of the flavor combos we came up with.
- Rain Dogs: Rain Dogs is so much more than just a bar. It LOOKS like it’s just a bar, but hang around long enough, and you’ll quickly discover that this grungy little hole-in-the-wall has tons to offer. It’s open every day from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and you never know what kind of culture you’ll come across in there. You can stumble upon anything from karaoke to Afro-Cuban beats on any given night.
#FrayLife Tip: Make time on Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., and go check out Beats & Bubbly (sometimes Beats, Brunch, & Bubbly) hosted by local DJs Mas Appeal and Paten Locke. The $10 bottomless mimosas are a thing of beauty. It’s #DayDrinking at its best!
- Birdies: You seriously can’t go wrong at Birdies. A neighborhood staple that’s been locally owned and operated since 2009, it’s the perfect place to grab a drink, chill or dance the night away. Birdies is ALWAYS lit and never a bad decision!
- Hoptinger: Sure, there’s plenty to eat and drink downstairs, but why be basic and hang out in front of a ton of TVs (no shade) when you can head to the rooftop bar instead? Great views, plenty of seating, great drinks and usually a bangin’ DJ make for a very dope “above the city” experience.
Other Attractions and Things to Do in Riverside
- RAM Saturdays: Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (rain or shine), the Riverside Arts Market takes over the underpass at 715 Riverside Ave.
- Do some shopping at some of the great shops on Park in 5 Points, like Bead Here Now and Midnight Sun! These two local boutiques are sister stores that offer unique gifts, custom jewelry, local and imported art and much, much more!
- Spend some time in Memorial Park, the third-oldest park in the city. Located on the North Bank of the St. John’s River, Memorial Park is large (5.85 acres), open, beautiful and a great place to walk or jog, go fishing, get in a game of soccer or touch football, have a picnic in the shade or just relax and watch the world go by.
For the furry canine companions, a trip to Bark—a hip pet boutique and dog retreat offering premium unique dog foods and treats as well as a grooming salon, day care and boarding—is definitely in order. Riverside is one of the dog-friendliest neighborhoods in Jax, and Bark is its prime doggy destination.