As local experts in all things Northeast Florida, we’re probably a bit biased when we say we’re in love with Jacksonville (or Jax, as the locals refer to it). This city never ceases to impress us with its amazing diversity and beautiful paradoxes. Jax is vibrant and modern but features important historical landmarks. The city has the best in arts, culture, and entertainment — but also lends to a quiet appreciation of Florida’s natural ecosystems. It’s urban and busy — but simultaneously incredibly supportive to tight-knit communities.
Jacksonville’s neighborhoods love playing with this mixture of urban appeal and small-town charm, and this balance is particularly evident in San Marco. Just minutes from Downtown, San Marco features gorgeous historic architecture, waterfront beauty along the St. Johns River, a supportive local community, and a thriving commercial district. Let’s take a look at what makes San Marco so special.
A Brief History of San Marco
The first thing you’ll notice when you visit San Marco is its amazing sense of history. According to the San Marco Preservation Society, the area now known as San Marco was settled in 1793 as part of a Spanish land grant. The land was passed down through the generations, eventually becoming known as South Jacksonville and serving as an important ferry landing due to its proximity to the St. Johns River.
The 1921 construction of the St. Johns Bridge helped put San Marco on the map. Telfair Stockton, a famous Florida developer, purchased 80 acres in this area and started building the San Marco of today. As a waterfront community so close to St. Johns River, it seems only fitting that San Marco’s street names and monuments are named after the Piazza di San Marco in Venice, Italy. In the 1990s, Jacksonville took an interest in this historically relevant area, breathing life back into the iconic fountain in San Marco square.
If you’re an architecture buff, there’s no place like San Marco. Built in 1927, the San Marco Building is an iconic example of Mediterranean Revival styles. And along the waterfront in San Marco, you’ll see some of the most lovely examples of Victorian mansions.
Vibrant Dining & Arts Scene — San Marco Square
No discussion of this neighborhood would be complete without discussing San Marco Square. This tree-lined historic district features the San Marco fountain of lions, with three bronze lions paying homage to St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. Surrounded by upscale shops, eateries, and culture – this is an area you cannot miss when visiting.
Dining Options in San Marco Square
There are too many amazing restaurants to name in the small but thriving commercial district in San Marco Square. We do have a few favorites, though. In keeping with the theme of Italian culture, Taverna serves up gourmet Italian food in the form of brunch, lunch, dinner, and cocktails. If you’re more in the mood for French food, check out cozy Bistro AIX.
If you’re looking for a more casual atmosphere to have breakfast with kids, The Beach Diner has classic American flavors and is a local favorite (with good reason!). And if you’re with your friends looking for a locally brewed beer, check out Aardwolf Brewing Company.
Arts, Culture, & Shopping in San Marco Square
The quaint shopping scene in the district around San Marco Square highlights local vendors and world-class artistic talent. You could spend days exploring the eclectic shops in this historic area. If you’re a fan of art and culture, you’ll particularly love the art, gallery, and theater scene around San Marco Square. More than anything, you’ll appreciate the feeling of a small neighborhood community blended with the talent and class of a greater city. Here are some of our local favorites in arts, culture, and shopping:
- Art. Twice a year — in April and November — the whole neighborhood comes out for the San Marco Art Festival, which features handmade jewelry, photography, art, paintings, and an incredible community feel.
- Theater. Founded in 1938, Theatre Jacksonville is the United State’s oldest community theater (the company itself has been around since 1919!)
- Music. Jack Rabbits on Henderson Avenue is a great place to catch live music and have a drink with friends.
- Shopping. Boutiques like the Dancing Elephant showcase the eclectic designs of local artists and artisans all around the world. But you could spend days exploring all the local shops that make San Marco so special.
The Great Outdoors in San Marco
Did you know that Jacksonville has the largest urban park system in the United States? And that it also boasts more shoreline than any other city in the U.S.? This passion for Florida’s incredibly diverse ecosystems will take you beyond the commercial district of the San Marco Square.
Metro Jacksonville has dubbed San Marco as “Jacksonville’s Most Walkable Neighborhood” — for good reason. With 14 parks in this verdant neighborhood, we’ll highlight just a few of our absolute favorites:
- Established in 1922, Belmonte Park highlights Northeast Florida’s incredible oak trees and beautiful landscaping.
- Adjacent to the San Marco Library, Southside Park features a playground and basketball court.
- Balis Park, located in the middle of San Marco Square, features the bronze Windy Days sculpture and ties together San Marco’s unique mix of green spaces, community areas, and artistic appreciation.
- If you want to catch a gorgeous sunset with friends and family (especially gorgeous in the wintertime), check out Riverfront Park near San Marco Square.
And if you’re a boater or a fisher, you’ll be smitten by the beautiful St. Johns River. It’s a unique part-saltwater system, making it home to sea-dwelling creatures like dolphins and manatees.
Local Homes in a Central Neighborhood
Located only five minutes from Downtown Jacksonville, San Marco offers the best of both worlds. Enjoy the cozy, residential, and community-oriented feel of San Marco while still enjoying the close proximity to the city proper.
Aside from the gorgeous architecture and historic significance of this area, it really stands out for its community-oriented feel. The neighborhood of San Marco puts an incredible amount of effort into establishing safe biking and pedestrian routes for children, with the Safe Routes to School project of 2013 emphasizing the importance of helping neighborhood kids get to school safely. Young families love the amazing school system in San Marco, which includes Hendricks Avenue Elementary and the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.
By combining the proximity to Jacksonville’s jobs and culture with the community-centric coziness of a small town, San Marco delivers a unique experience for those looking to settle in Jacksonville.
San Marco — A Unique Neighborhood in Jacksonville, FL
We love this neighborhood for so many reasons. The history, architecture, and beauty of San Marco Square is undeniable, while we can never get enough of the enjoying the neighborhood’s many parks. With its cozy, tight-knit feel and beautiful waterfront vibes, San Marco is a neighborhood you have to see to believe.