August 8, 2018 | Active Adult Travelogue

Variety is the spice of life, and life in Northeast Florida is full of surprises.

Whether you are looking for stunning beaches, vibrant arts, flavorful cuisine, or unique cultural treasures, Florida’s First Coast puts everything first, including your heart’s desire. Tee up at a PGA championship golf course or listen to smooth jazz at a Jacksonville festival. The truth is, there is so much to see and do in this bright corner of the Sunshine State, that you will be hard-pressed to live out a dull day.

Artisan Lakes of Nocatee is a gated, picturesque neighborhood of lush greenery and water that features 196 homesites. The surrounding piney woods lend to the comforting sense of privacy residents (55+) are entitled to, but also promote a natural calm unheard of in city surroundings. One often hears a chorus of trills and whistles from the trees – the forest is a natural aviary for a variety of nesting song birds, and every now and then it is a friendly resting spot for passing deer, foxes, and nocturnal animals. The master-planned development and design of Artisan Lakes combines luxury and flexibility to give residents a home setting that is both attractive and worthwhile; every detail counts – from our palm-tree-lined streets to our manicured greens to our private amenities – to give this neighborhood the look and feel of a permanent paradisal hotspot.

Floridians live in sunshine. The First Coast alone sees an average 224 sunny days a year, lending to America’s aptly-named “Sunshine State,” and locals and tourists alike agree the golden Florida glow stirs vibes of excitement, and no one can be expected to stay indoors when such fine weather begs for you to venture outside. Northeast Florida has a humid subtropical climate with long, hot summers and short, mild winters. The hotter part of the year (May to September) drives folks to the beaches for sand and surf, while November through April usher in the most pleasant climate change, with dry, partly cloudy days and nights – perfect for strolling festivals, theme parks, outlet malls, and other First Coast favorite spots. Coastal breezes off the Atlantic moderate these seasonal temperatures, and summer thunderstorms drop a significant 52 inches of rain a year.

Ponte Vedra and its neighboring seaport town of St. Augustine offer enticing methods of relaxation and cultural engagement. Explore the impressive collection of 19th century art and artifacts housed at the Lightner Museum – fondly dubbed Florida’s Smithsonian, or discover buccaneer riches at the Pirate & Treasure Museum. Drink from the fabled Fountain of Youth at its namesake Archaeological Park, and interact with dolphins in unique, playful ways at the Marineland Dolphin Adventure. Treat yourself to a hot stone massage and milk bath at the Sawgrass Spa and rejuvenate your inmost being with delicious smoothies and healthy teas at the Spice & Tea Exchange. Shop your favorite brands at St. Augustine Outlets or find special gifts in the boutiques of Sawgrass Village. When you and friends eat out, you will quickly discover food – the preparation and serving thereof – is an art form in these seaside towns. Being so close to the Atlantic caters you to fresh seafood, and local chefs love to create new, flavorful dishes of international influence, like the French fare at JJ’s Bistro or the French, German, and Swiss cuisines at Le Pavillon. After a sunny day at the beach, cool off with a gourmet ice pop from the Hyppo, serving over 450 flavors from chocolate sea salt to watermelon vodka to lavender lemon crème. Be sure to experience the fun and culture of these beach towns’ annual events, such as the Spanish Wine Festival in October, featuring over 70 vinos for you to sample, and Nights of Lights (November through January), where the whole of St. Augustine glows with holiday magic from ground to rooftops.

Jacksonville (Jax) – a 30-minute drive northwest on I-95 – is a sprawling urban jungle of increasing popularity and possibility. Florida’s biggest city, it boasts a bustling atmosphere of business and entertainment along the longest stretch of the St. Johns River. Be swept up in the vibrant creativity of this top arts destination when you tour downtown’s First Wednesday Art Walk or the sands’ Jax Beach Art Walk. There is also the Riverside Arts Market, where over 100 artists, makers, and farmers sell original works and wares, or you can appreciate timeless masterpieces – a collection of 5,000, including favorites by Norman Rockwell – at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. Experience the magic of a live performance at the Florida Theater; this 1927 grandiose movie theater has evolved to host opera, dance, theater, fashion shows, variety shows, trade shows, and screenings of classic films. Go wild with the big exotic cats at Catty Shack Ranch or tour the gourmet candy factory, Sweet Pete’s, and get a personalized chocolate bar. Watch the Blue Angels soar overhead at the annual NAS JAX Air Show, or cheer on the Jacksonville Jaguars to another touchdown. Explore the bohemian neighborhood of Five Points, with its funky cafes, vintage boutiques, and antique shops, or shop your favorite brands at St. Johns Town Center. Your taste buds are in for a thrill when you order from the elegant bistros, rustic fish camps, and everything in between Jax has to satiate your hunger. Brunch at Restaurant Orsay, with its classic French fare and southern American influences, is a local favorite, and fine dining culminates at seaside Azurea at One Ocean, where fresh seafood served with eclectic flavors derived from Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas are enhanced by the elegant atmosphere and sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean. Feelgood food trucks are a growing sensation in Jacksonville, but for those times you want a casual, sit-down place with wholesome comfort food, trek over to the Metro Diner for fried chicken and waffles; the Maple Street Biscuit Company for the Squawking Goat; or Carmine’s Pie House for a Purple Haze pizza. After a hearty meal, tap into the Jacksonville beer scene by visiting local breweries, starting with the Bold City Brewery for a Killer Whale Cream Ale.

Orlando – a 2-hour venture south on I-95 and I-4 – is a magical place, a fascinating center of activity and amusement that goes beyond the familiar tourist scene. This is the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” home to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and other family-fun attractions that trade in fantasy for all ages; but this beautiful city has more to offer than isolated worlds of constructed merriment. Watch a rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center or submerge yourself in the story of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. Bone up on bones at the Museum of Osteology, which houses an impressive collection of over 400 animal skeletons. Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Chocolate Kingdom, take pictures with lifelike celebrity figures at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, and be fascinated by the world’s greatest oddities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Sports fans are pumped for each new season of Orlando Magic basketball, and the Orlando City Soccer Club has a fervent following in MLS matches. Treat yourself to a “zero gravity” signature massage at the Ritz-Carlton’s luxury spa, where treatments are naturally sourced from resident honey bees and local orchards to give you a truly healthful, rejuvenating experience. Shop luxury brands at the Mall at Millenia, or stroll the boutiques along Park Avenue, Winter Park to find unique fashions and gifts. Enrich your time at Park Avenue with a visit to The Wine Room, where guests sample over 156 hand-selected wines from around the world by way of the Room’s Enomatic wine dispensing machines. Sample the diverse flavors of Orlando’s growing foodie scene, from the curry ramen at Domu to the savory BBQ (with Caribbean, Latin, and Asian influences) at Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa. Fine dining at Victoria & Albert’s, with its modern American cuisine tastefully supplemented by global fare like Italian truffles, Japanese beef, and North Florida oysters, makes a lovely tribute to a romantic evening. Mango’s Tropical Café has exotic entertainment, with live Samba, Cuban Conga, and other Latin dances, or you can chill out at the minus5° Ice Bar, the city’s premium ice attraction, featuring floor-to-ceiling ice architecture and décor.

Outdoor adventures abound on the First Coast and prove to be as much a part of the Floridian lifestyle as the exciting cityscapes. The nearness of Artisan Lakes to Ponte Vedra Beach and the shores of St. Augustine gives you leave to enjoy the sand and surf closer to home, with enriching moments like watching baby sea turtles hatch at Mickler’s Landing or hunting for shark teeth at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Research Reserve. However, a short excursion to Jacksonville will plunge you into nature’s playground. With 22 miles of pristine beaches, 40 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway, and the longest stretch of the St. Johns River, Jax offers plenty of opportunities to engage in thrilling water sports and marine wildlife encounters. Popular sands like Jacksonville Beach, Neptune, Mayport, and Atlantic are pet friendly and see happy comers play beach volleyball, surf waves, sunbathe, swim, sail, kiteboard, and enjoy summer music festivals. Jacksonville is home to over 100 artificial reefs made from sunken boats, planes, and culverts, and there is a myriad of marine life for divers and recreational fishermen to see and catch. You can also charter a boat to one of Jax’s premier freshwater or saltwater fishing spots to catch flounder, redfish, spotted seatrout, sharks, and more. Kayak or paddleboard along the peaceful canals of the Intracoastal Waterway, where you can come face to face with dolphins and manatees. Jacksonville boasts the nation’s largest urban park system – over 80,000 acres, with 10 state and national parks, dozens of city parks, gardens, a national preserve, and an arboretum. You can hike, bike, or ride a horse along the designated trails, and even camp under the stars or observe native fauna; no matter which park you choose, you are sure to feel revived by the great outdoors. If you look for out-of-doors excitement in Orlando, you can soar over the city sites in a hot air balloon; stroll the groves at Showcase of Citrus; or listen to the captivating music of the 60-bell carillon in the Singing Tower of Bok Tower Gardens.

Florida’s First Coast is one of the most attractive golf destinations this side of the nation. Boasting over 75 miles of the finest coastal courses, as well as the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, and acting as host to THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Northeast Florida puts the game on a pedestal and brings to life its history. You can witness the showcase of excellence that tees up at the PLAYERS every May, and then play the legendary course yourself; it favors no particular style or skill, but presents a balanced layout of short, medium, and long holes with par-3s, -4s, and -5s. There are right and left doglegs, and the course routing ensures no two consecutive holes play in the same direction; plus, there is the famous 17th hole on its peninsula that intimidates many players, but you can photograph yourself sinking the putt. Then, if you are feeling lucky, you can play the Stadium’s sister course, Dye’s Valley, that has water on every hole. The World Golf Hall of Fame entertains and challenges players with its own two award-winning 18-hole championship courses at World Golf Village. First, the Slammer and Squire, co-designed by architect Bobby Weed and Fame Members Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen, features a layout that emphasizes the short game and rewards good shot making while preserving the natural beauty of the landscape. Then, the King and Bear, the only course collaboration between golf legends, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, demands powerful driving over a layout that incorporates elements from both the traditional Scottish-links and American courses. Beginners to the nature of the game have nothing to fear; the PGA Tour Academy – an easy 20-minute drive southwest-south on I-95 – is an exceptional, full-service game improvement facility that employs certified professional trainers and the latest technology to equip you with an advanced skill set and help you achieve personal goals.

At Artisan Lakes, residents have access to private amenities to help them stay active and foster new relationships with neighbors. The clubhouse is the center of activity, where friends can convene in the multi-purpose room, shoot billiards, or engage in friendly competition on one of the two pickleball and bocce ball courts. Set up a game of washers on the event lawn, or practice sinking the ball on the putting green. There is a fitness center and outdoor infinity pool and spa, with surrounding lounge chairs, covered cabanas, and fire pit. You can reserve the demonstration kitchen for private dining parties or participate in regular cooking classes; the clubhouse caters to other fields of learning, hosting seminars on varying interests, and there are several resident-driven group activities, like book clubs, mah-jongg, and bunco. While the private amenities of Artisan Lakes satisfy the immediate interests of active adult residents looking for dynamic, social-engaging pastimes, the grand-scale coastal community of Nocatee that Artisan Lakes is a part of has transformed its acreage into a unique setting of fun and fancy that caters to a truly exceptional quality of living, while still preserving the peaceful beauty of the area’s natural woodland surroundings.

Nocatee blends a variety of neighborhoods with exceptional facilities and recreation to promote a lifestyle that is original, well-balanced, and active, while embracing a positive sense of community. All residents – singles, large families, and active adults – are welcome to share these public spaces, amenities, and outdoor features. The fully-equipped Fitness Club promotes feel-good workouts with personal trainers and group fitness classes, or folks can play a few rounds on the basketball, pickleball, and volleyball courts at the Swim Club Green before counting laps in the Green pool. Summers are better at the Splash Water Park, complete with thrilling water slides, a lazy river, and a 35-ft high zip line, or you can launch a kayak on the Intracoastal Waterway. Nocatee has several tranquil parks and greenspaces that are dog-friendly and include sports play fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, and fishing ponds, but residents can also enjoy quality time in the great outdoors while jogging the trails of Nocatee Preserve, a 2,400-acre conservation area that preserves native Florida flora and fauna. The Nocatee Town Center has exciting restaurants and shopping, and all these amazing amenities are easily accessible by way of electric vehicle paths for denizens’ eco-friendly transports. As part of the enriching community spirit, Nocatee hosts a variety of events, including Food Truck Fridays, car shows, drive-in movie nights, a farmer’s market, and so much more throughout the year. Moreover, residents enjoy special perks like theme park discounts, reduced-price tickets to the Jacksonville Jaguars games, and rewards with the Cabana Beach Club.

Artisan Lakes showcases charming traditional single-family homes throughout its neighborhood. These single-story abodes pose unique blends of durable stucco finish, with stone, brick, or wood siding, and some design qualities of the contemporary style are portrayed, like tall windows that allow more light to shine in on the open floorplans, and the optional sliding glass door onto the screened, covered lanai that facilitate a connection with the outdoors. The Royal (50s) and Executive (60s) collections each have four available floorplans, with living space ranging from 1,755 to 2,306 sq. ft. for the Royal and 2,159 to 2,893 sq. ft. for the Executive. These plans offer 2 to 3 bedroom, 2 to 3 bath layouts, with 2 to 3 car garages. Should you need to live with extended family, the Florence floorplan of the Executive Collection includes a Next Gen suite, complete with a private bedroom, bath, and living room. The expansive kitchen, formal dining room, and generous gathering room encourage formal dinner parties and evenings of entertainment. Work from home in the study, which you can also turn into additional storage or a private studio, gym, or game room. Some plans feature extended, covered front porches for those early risers who like to enjoy the morning air, while reading a good book and sipping a hot cup of coffee. A sense of spaciousness is enhanced by the walk-in closet of the master suite, and there are optional features for various floorplans that add an additional touch of luxury; these extras can include a fireplace in the gathering room or a pet shower in the laundry room. Every new home is also built with desirable details and items like stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops, LED down lighting, and USB port outlets – all included at the best possible value.

It is yours to discover that life in the Sunshine State is bright with new possibilities. You can sprinkle your days with exciting moments at theme parks, artsy avenues, sparkling beaches, first-rate festivals, and a great deal more. In addition, the enriched lifestyle upheld by Artisan Lakes and Nocatee make it easy to launch new, worthwhile friendships. Do not delay any further; put yourself first on the First Coast.

Additional Sources

Guide to Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine

Guide to Jacksonville

One Artistic City (Jacksonville)

10 Must-visit Beer Stops in Jacksonville by Bryan M. Richards

Florida Theme Parks by Visit Florida

10 Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks by Donna Heiderstadt

50 Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks by Jayleen Nazario

Beaches & Waterways (of Jacksonville)

Get on the Water (in Jacksonville) by Captain Dave Sipler

The Beaches & Historic Mayport (of Jacksonville)

Meet the Neighbors of Nocatee – Resident Reviews

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