Christmas at Walt Disney World

img_4147Christmas at Disney is one of the most magical times of year. I recently spent a weekend at the happiest place on earth during the full blown Christmas season. If you’re planningimg_3882 on visiting Walt Disney World anytime soon or planning a visit for next year, read on for some helpful tips on navigating your way through the hustle and bustle of the parks.

The day that I visited Magic Kingdom there was an estimated 80,000 people at the park. This trip included a lot of happiness, magic and crowds. The trick to planning your trip during this time of year is to PLAN AHEAD. If you want to ride some of your favorite rides- like Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, try to arrange fast passes about a month in advance. img_4158It is unlikely to score any fast passes on the day of your visit during this time due to the increased amount of visitors. Once you have purchased your tickets, made your hotel reservations (see our post on Epcot here for hotel recommendations), and obtained your fast passes, it’s time for park day! If you’re looking to save a little, like many of us are this time of year, I suggest eating breakfast at a fast food place, nearby restaurant, or even your hotel’s continental breakfast. This will save you money and time. Yes, Disney food is delicious and awesome, but who really wants to stand in a 30-minute line for an overpriced meal when you’ve got the whole park to explore!? Our go-to is always a Chick-fil-A just before I-4, which is quick and convenient. If you’re not a fast food person, Disney allows you to bring your own snacks and food into the parks. Make sure to check out their rules and regulations before packing your bag.

img_4151If you’ve decided to visit Magic Kingdom during your trip, you will not be disappointed by the sheer amount of Christmas decorations and cheer. After catching the ferry or monorail, you’ll arrive at Main Street USA. Main Street looks beautiful at this time of year- check out those fun holiday decorations! img_4171Magic Kingdom is the most popular park, so it will see the highest crowds. Once you’ve meandered through Main Street and if you’ve got some time before your first fast pass, I recommend starting the day in Adventureland. A lot of people will veer to the right and start in Tomorrowland. Starting out in a less crowded section will save you some time waiting in lines. Speaking of lines, expect to wait at least an hour sometimes two without a fast pass in the stand-by lines for the popular rides like the Seven Dwarves Mine Train and The Jingle Cruise.

If you’ve got some time or just want a break from standing, hop on the People Mover or the Walt Disney World Railroad. You’ll be able to sit back and relax as you cruise throughout the park.

Another tip that I was very appreciative to learn of is that you can get free water cups at any Disney quick service restaurant. Walking all around the park in the Florida heat can be exhausting. If you need a quick water break, walk into any quick service restaurant and politely ask for cups of water, a cast member will happily oblige. Make sure to catch the Festival of Fantasy Parade that happens at 2:00pm in December. You’ll be able to see all your favorite characters aboard their colorful parade floats. I love this parade because it’s a great place to see all your favorite princesses and characters in one place.

As you end your day make sure to stick around and watch the castle light up with it’s festive Christmas lights. They also have a fireworks show that begins at 9:00pm.

Other exciting extra features that are available at this time of year include Extended Park Hours or Magic Hours. Magic Kingdom is open until 11:00pm during the month of December. Make sure to consult Disney’s calendar since Magic Hours vary for certain days of the week. If you would like a little extra fun, check out Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This exclusive event is an additional ticketed event where you’ll get to see Mickey and Friends in their holiday best. Visit the official site here.

Happy Holidays and enjoy your trip at the Happiest Place on Earth!


Neighborhoods We Love: Atlantic Beach

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One Ocean

If you are looking for a relaxing vacation spot or the perfect staycation getaway you must plan a visit to Atlantic Beach’s One Ocean Resort and Spa. This luxurious resort holds a prime location with it being close to the heart of the quaint Atlantic Beach town center.  One Ocean provides its guests with extravagant suites and amenities for the whole family all while taking in the views of the picturesque Atlantic Ocean. Relax in your private beach getaway with floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean with private white sandy beaches in the foreground. A special feature that One Ocean offers their guests includes the choice to personalize your amenities. This gives guests the option to request any favorite snacks or beverages that will be ready and waiting for you upon your arrival. Once you’re settled in your personalized suite, guests are welcome to utilize the relaxing spa area. The spa features a wide variety of different types of packages including massages and facials among other revitalizing and relaxing amenities. One Ocean holds a prime location with it being close to the heart of the picturesque Atlantic Beach town center. You will not be disappointed with your choice to stay here with One Ocean offering something for everyone whether it be a vacation, staycation, or even a wedding, this resort has the perfect services for you.


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The Hotel Palms

You’ll find a private getaway at the Hotel Palms nestled in a quiet part of Atlantic Beach. The Hotel Palms aims to make you feel like an Atlantic Beach local throughout the duration of your stay. One of the features that makes this hotel particularly unique is its wide variety of rooms tailored to fit any type of guest’s desire. Some of these types of rooms include quaint bunk rooms to private beach bungalows and luxurious cabanas. The Hotel Palms specializes in unique amenities for guests to enjoy such as the beer and wine lounge, private courtyard, outdoor courtyard, and beach cruiser rentals just to name a few. Once you’ve gotten acquainted with the hotel, you’ll find that you are within walking distance to the beach and the Beaches Town Center where you can find many different types of local stores. This hotel is perfect for those who want a boutique hotel experience where you are encouraged to explore and participate in the activities just like a local.

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Next, we wanted to highlight a local designer that calls Atlantic Beach home. Elizabeth Sarah works to create unique jewelry for women that acts as an extension of the unique person that they are. Elizabeth Sarah designs all of her pieces with the intention for them to carry on luck, celebration, and love onto its wearer. Elizabeth Sarah has been creating one of a kind jewelry for thirteen years. With each and every piece she works to make her jewelry in the spirit of casual sophistication and products that are high quality with an individual design. The Atlantic Beach inspiration for her jewelry definitely shines through with many of her pieces paying homage to her home with different shades of blues and statement pieces from shells to sharks teeth are incorporated within. This jewelry makes a great gift to take back home, or a perfect present for yourself to remember your visit to this quaint oceanside town.

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Royal Palm village wine and tapas

The Royal Palm Village and Wine Tapas Bar is the perfect place to stop for an intimate wine tasting paired with delicious tapas. This local wine bar offers over 1,200 different types of wine for you to sample, along with fourteen local rotating drafts and over 200 types of craft beer. The motto used by Royal Palm Village is to keep their food and wine as authentic as possible, pouring their heart into the “farm to table” meaning. Their tapas are equally fresh sourcing their ingredients from local vendors and seasonal vegetables. A unique feature of this wine bar is that it offers its vast wine collection at retail prices to their customers, so you will be able to stock up on your own private wine collection! You can find this wine and tapas bar located in a quiet plaza  just a short drive from gorgeous Atlantic Beach.

Local Atlantic Beach expert, Julie Childers, REALTOR® with EXIT 1 Stop Realty, explains the neighborhood and real estate market.


Atlantic Beach is a quaint beach town on the northeast part of the Jacksonville beaches areas. This highly desired beach is in demand for a number of reasons: the small beach town, the mature trees and friendly neighborhood feel, the fabulous restaurants (some of the best in Jax) and shops, the wide open beach, and the 24 hrs a day dog friendly beach. While these are just a few reasons why families and singles want to live in AB, there are many more and it shows in the real estate market numbers. In fact, people love it so that the amount of homes on the market for sale are down 23% from last year. With an already low inventory market, this drives the competition for homes up in the area. The average sales price in 2019 of an Atlantic Beach home is $577,657. This is a 6% increase over the sale price of homes in 2018. Thus, more people are choosing to stay put in Atlantic Beach…with all the great perks, who wouldn’t!?

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JAX Cooking Studio

The JAX Cooking Studio is here to provide you with the tools to spice up your home kitchen while serving a fun and creative experience to their guests. JAX Cooking Studio offers its guests cooking classes that are open to all levels of cooks. The classes will teach you how to prepare delicious meals without breaking your budget. The classes offer cooking lessons with a wide variety of healthy foods designed to give you the nutrients your body needs without sacrificing taste! Find this Atlantic Beach gem located just minutes from the Jacksonville Beach area.

Johansen Park

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Johansen Park is a beautiful twelve-acre park located in the Selva Marina neighborhood, just blocks from the ocean. This gorgeous area is perfect for a family picnic or a pick-up game of Frisbee or soccer. In the spring you’ll be able to find the local Spring Arts in the Park festival featuring food, music, and art from local vendors. Make sure to mark your calendars in the spring for this family friendly event that occurs on the last Saturday in April from 10am – 6pm. This event is free and open to the public.

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A Father’s Day Gift Guide for First Coast Dads

Top of the Coast

Father’s Day is on Sunday and we wanted to get a guide of great local places to go for wonderful gifts for all types of Dads. Here is our guide to Father’s Day shopping for First Coast Dads.

Bookworm Dad

Chamblin’s Bookmine
Chamblin’s Bookmine is a local favorite and is located in Jacksonville’s downtown area-right across from Hemming Park. It offers a wide selection of books from all sorts of niche genres. You can spend hours browsing their large collection of books. The bookworm Dad will love anything from Chamblin’s or go together, treat him to coffee and let him choose his gift!

img_2219Snacks and a Show at the Sunray Cinema
The bookworm Dad will enjoy heading to the five points area in Riverside to check out a film and have a snack. You and Dad can catch indie classics and mainstream movies at Sunray and enjoy popcorn with the…

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Cinco de Mayo Around the First Coast: A Food Guide

Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862-however in the U.S. it has become a day to celebrate Mexican culture and cuisine. The First Coast has more than its fair share of delicious Mexican restaurants and we decided to highlight some of our favorite places to grab Mexican fare in honor of the holiday on Sunday.


TacoLu- Jax Beach

Taco Lu in Jacksonville Beach is a popular locals place and a must try for visitors. This restaurant mixes a chill surfer vibe with an authentic Mexican flare. You can dine inside or outside on their cozy patios. Outside, enjoy the beautiful murals painted on the walls while sipping on a glass of one of their many tequilas. Inside you’ll find intimate tables with brick fire places nearby for colder evenings, beautiful sugar skulls throughout the restaurant, and a variety of Spanish themed décor. Tacolu is also versatile for those stopping in for happy hour with a lively bar area that includes a spin the wheel drink selection, a couple of sports TV’s, and a wall of tequila. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu here. They feature a variety of different taco selections, all reasonably priced. The staff here is extremely accommodating and friendly. Another great bonus to dining here is their complimentary valet parking. This comes in handy on a crowded weekend or holiday night!

Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar-Atlantic Beach

photo credit: Flying Iguana Facebook

Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar  is located in the heart of Neptune Beach and offers delicious food, craft cocktails and a lively atmosphere. We would highly recommend the queso fondito and their speciality tacos like their Farm to Taco, Flying Fish Taco or their Dirty South Taco. You HAVE to try their Mexican street corn appetizer- it’s delicious. They also have an extensive list of specialty margaritas and other craft cocktails.

Burrito Gallery- Jax Beach and Downtown

Burrito Gallery is a local favorite that serves delicious and affordable Mexican food in a colorful atmosphere. They serve craft Margaritas and other cocktails along with burritos and tacos with unique fresh flavors like the fried chicken tender BLT taco. We would recommend trying the cajun shrimp or mahi burritos. They also offer a great happy hour and late night happy hour. The Burrito Gallery is having a celebration for Cinco de Mayo at all of their locations.

Cantina Laredo- St. John’s Town Center/Southside

Cantina Laredo is located in the heart of the St. John’s Town Center and serves gourmet Mexican cuisine with a modern twist and an upscale dining experience to match. They are a national chain but their Jacksonville location is a wonderful place to go for Mexican cuisine if you are looking for a nice night out. We recommend that you try their steak fajitas or fish tacos as well as their sopa de tortilla. They are also having a Cinco de Mayo party on the patio with prizes starting at 3:00 PM on Saturday.

Lola’s Burrito and Burger Joint- Riverside

photo credit: Facebook

Lola’s Burrito and Burger Joint  is located in the heart of the 5 points in the Riverside area. They serve a variety of cocktails and beer from local breweries along with a diverse menu of Tex-Mex fare. We recommend you sample one of their gourmet burgers with yucca fries or one of their grilled burritos. Lola’s often has events such as Taco Tuesdays and they are having an all day Cinco de Mayo celebration with discounted food and drinks along with a raffle drawing.

La Nopalera- San Marco

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photo credit: yelp

La Nopalera is a local Jacksonville family owned chain that serves traditional Mexican food and classic dishes. Their San Marco location is the one to check out- it is a neighborhood favorite due to it’s whimsical, vibrant atmosphere. We recommend you try their fajitas along with their house margarita.

Mi Casa Café- St. Augustine

Mi Casa Cafe is a fantastic restaurant in the heart of historic downtown St. Augustine that has live music and a beer and wine garden. A local favorite with a small but excellent menu this restaurant is all about the great location and lively atmosphere. We would recommend you try their hot Cuban sandwich or black beans and rice.

Mr. Taco Food Truck- Various Locations

Mr. Taco is located in a quiet neighborhood plaza located just off Bowden road. This authentic Mexican restaurant features your classic dishes from tacos and burritos to tortas and tostadas with flare. The atmosphere is cozy with friendly staff making for an enjoyable dining atmosphere. Not located near the southside area? Don’t fret! Mr. Taco has a fleet of taco trucks posted around the city, making it convenient to get your taco fix on the go! For a list of their food truck locations, check out the page on their website here.

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Featured Places:

Flying Iguana
207 Atlantic Blvd, Neptune Beach, FL 32266
(904) 853-5680

Cantina Laredo
10282 Bistro St, Jacksonville, FL 32246
(904) 997-6110

Mi Casa Cafe
69 Saint George St, Saint Augustine, FL 32084
(904) 824-9317

1712 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
(904) 249-8226

La Nopalera San Marco
1434 Hendricks Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32207

Burrito Gallery
21 E Adams St, Jacksonville, FL 32202
(904) 598-2922
Jax Beach:
300 Beach Blvd Ste 1, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
(904) 246-6521

Mr. Taco Food Truck
6426 Bowden Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32246
Various food truck locations check website
(904) 438-5202

Lola’s Burrito and Burger Joint
1522 King St
Jacksonville, Florida 32204
(904) 738-7181

Neighborhoods We Love: Riverside/Avondale

Neighborhoods We Love: Riverside/Avondale

Here at TOTC we have a passion for exploring the beautiful and eclectic neighborhoods that makeup the Northeast Florida area. We wanted to showcase the uniqueness of the areas in our “Neighborhoods We Love” feature series and we’re especially thrilled about the next neighborhood we’re featuring: Riverside/Avondale. We’ve highlighted some great areas in art, food, shopping and culture below.

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Nestled underneath one of downtown Jacksonville’s busy bridges you’ll find a wealth of local activity, the Riverside Arts Market. The Riverside Arts Market overlooks the beautiful St. John’s River with lovely parks and gardens surrounding the market space. Every Saturday from 10am – 3pm, you’ll be able to find almost any local treasure your heart desires. RAM has a variety of different vendors which range from local farmers selling fresh produce to artists selling homemade jewelry and bath products. Not to be outdone by the unique knick-knacks and gifts, RAM also hosts a collection of different local food vendors. Here you’ll be able to sample foods from all the wonderful cultures represented in Jacksonville. There are quite a few vegan and gluten free options available as well. This event is family friendly, with live music and performances almost every Saturday. It’s a must see if you are a new-comer to the area or a seasoned resident!


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The Cummer Museum is a vital source for the celebration of the arts and education in Riverside. This quaint museum located on the banks of the St. John features a host of different artists’ works. It’s also home to some of the most beautiful gardens the city has to offer. The mission behind the Cummer Museum is to engage and inspire through the arts, gardens and education. There is an array of programs to explore at this museum, all with inspired by art, nature and culture. Not only can you check out their gallery and gardens during business hours, but classes are available to the public for their enjoyment. Classes include interactive Art for Tots, Art for Two, and Art Adventures for children and adults alike. The Cummer Museum is also available to rent for private events like weddings and other celebrations.

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Historic 5 Points, named for its iconic 5-pointed traffic circle, is in the eclectic Riverside neighborhood just on the border of Avondale. Here the live music, art and food scene thrive. This neighborhood is overflowing with character. Here you can catch a movie at the vintage Sun-Ray Cinema or explore the treasures found at Fans & Stoves Antique Mall. 5 Points gives you that familiar “Main Street” feeling as you peruse its energetic streets. It’s a unique must-see in this neighborhood.

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Memorial Park is one of the local treasures of the Riverside/Avondale area. This 6 acre park includes a sprawling green field that’s perfect for a small soccer game or frisbee match. The space overlooks the St. Johns River and is bordered by sweeping oak trees. This park holds a lot of historical significance for the neighborhood. Unveiled in 1924, this park was created to commemorate the lives of Floridians killed in World War I. Names of more than 1,200 veterans were written on a piece of paper and placed in a box inside of the majestic sculpture that resides in the park’s fountain. Enjoy local musicians, set up a spot to fish, or relax in the sun. You can’t go wrong with visiting this beauty!

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We can’t mention all of these wonderful places without talking about the food, right? Black Sheep is a modern American restaurant located in the historic 5 Points district. They feature delicious food with most of it being sourced from local and regional farmers and purveyors. They choose to keep it simple with their philosophy by using fresh, local ingredients to create handcrafted food and cocktails for their customers to enjoy. Black Sheep offers a full bar, signature cocktails and an extensive wine list. They are open 7 days a week with casual brunch, lunch and dinner dining options. If you choose to dine here, make sure to check out their rooftop bar and lounge with an amazing view of the 5 Points and Riverside area.

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River and Post is one of the more upscale dining options available in the Riverside neighborhood. You’ll find this gem located at the top of one of the downtown skyrises. The view is comparable to none other in Jacksonville. Here you’ll see a gorgeous view of the downtown skyline along the St. John’s river; it’s exceptionally beautiful at sunset. Their mission is to create a warm and modern environment for guests where they can expand their culinary horizons. River and Post is available for reservations or private events.

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To close out your visit to this unique neighborhood, you’ll have to pay Biscotti’s a visit. Whether it’s a post-dinner indulgence or just a snack during your afternoon stroll, Biscotti’s offers a taste of locally made sweets that are sure to fill anyone’s sweet tooth. While they do offer a few café bites and cocktails during their happy hour, the desserts are what really make this place stand out. Biscotti’s strives to source locally and enhance the growth of the neighborhood’s charm. Enjoy your sweet treat and a coffee here while tucked snuggly away in the historical Klutho building that Biscotti’s calls home.

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Riverside Avondale Preservation was founded in 1974 when concerned residents saw their beautiful homes and businesses being demolished and decided to take action to protect their neighborhood. It has become their mission to advocate and support their historic buildings, vibrant local businesses, and nearby parks. This means so much more than just saving old buildings; RAP’s preservation efforts are about saving the heart of their community. This is no easy task. RAP works tirelessly alongside the residents, business owners, the city, and other groups to ensure that their history does not disappear.

Living in the Riverside Avondale historic district is a dream come true for many people. Every historic home in Riverside Avondale has a story to tell and showcases details that can be found nowhere else. Each home becomes a canvas for owners to create something new out of something classic.

April 27th and 28th marks the 45th Riverside Avondale Preservation Annual Spring Home Tour. This tour shows off the beauty and culture of this neighborhood with open houses of many of the homes, local eateries, and eclectic shops.

For tickets or more information, visit

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Local real estate agent Brooke Mida specializes in the area and summed up what the market trends are in the neighborhood.

“As one of my absolute favorite areas of Jacksonville, our beautiful booming city, the historic Riverside/Avondale area never fails to impress with its economic resilience and strength. During the first quarter of this year, median home prices were up 7% compared to last year. Last month, 6.3% of homes were even selling over list price!

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has spent time enjoying this artistic, creative, and vibrant community. Any resident will attest that there is nothing that they feel they are missing. It’s convenient location to downtown, endless beautiful parks near the water, countless local non-chain stores, bars and restaurants, historic landmarks, and museums give residents everything they could wish for at their fingertips.  Therefore, homes in the Riverside and Avondale are only projected to continue to grow in value,” Mida says.


*EDITOR’S NOTE: Most photos featured here are from the Instagram accounts of the places mentioned. 


Get in the Mardi Gras Spirit

Mardi Gras is on Tuesday but you don’t have to be in New Orleans to celebrate this festive holiday. There are places around town that are having events for Mardi Gras and the holiday wouldn’t be complete without savoring a delicious king cake.

King cakes are decorated in traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. King cakes usually have a tiny plastic baby hidden inside  which offers good luck to whomever gets the slice that contains it-along with the responsibility of buying next year’s cake.

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Here are some places to get king cakes around town:

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Cinotti’s Bakery  is a beach’s bakery that never disappoints! It has king cakes which can be customized with a variety of fillings. We ordered the classic cinnamon flavored cake along with a cream cheese filled one for a recent sales meeting in our office. They were both delicious!


You can view their full list of flavors and fillings here. We encourage you to order them a day or two in advance.  Cinotti’s also offers hand decorated cookies, cakes, cupcakes and donuts.

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Good Dough  is a local favorite. Their doughnuts are handmade from scratch in small batches throughout the day. They are selling a special king cake doughnut this Mardi Gras season.

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You can pre-order these special pecan cream filled doughnuts with cinnamon glaze until March 5th on their website here . The best part is each one has a tiny king cake baby on top of it so everyone gets to find one in their Mardi Gras dessert!

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Amaretti Desserts is a beloved local bakery which has two locations: one in Mandarin and one in San Marco. All their delicious desserts and pastries are baked from scratch at their Mandarin location.They also serve locally roasted Brass Tacks Coffee and espresso drinks. Amaretti Desserts offers  traditional cinnamon king cakes along with cream cheese or fruit filled ones. Make sure to call ahead and order your king cake which you can pick up this weekend or on Fat Tuesday because they are closed on Mondays.

photo credit: company website


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Gumbo YaYa’s is a delicious Jacksonville restaurant brings in their king cakes from the famous Gambino’s bakery in New Orleans. You can enjoy authentic New Orleans cuisine such as a po’ boy or gumbo along with a slice of king cake when you dine in.


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Publix is a great place to grab a king cake at the last minute. You can find ready-made King Cakes in your local Publix Bakery.

photo credit: Publix website

They offer king cakes in a variety of sizes and prices. So no need to stress this Mardi Gras- if you find yourself suddenly in the mood to celebrate on Tuesday you can just head to Publix and pick up a ready made cake! Various Publix locations in the greater Jacksonville area.

Great Mardi Gras Events to Check Out:


Jacksonville Mardi Gras Celebration and Pub Crawl

Saturday, March 2, 2019 from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM 

Jacksonville Beach, FL


Black and Gold Mardi Gras Ball

Saturday 6 PM- 10 PM

Springfield Improvement Association

Bold City Mardi Gras with Spice and the Po Boys

Saturday 8 PM

Bold City Brewery ·

Mardi Gras Dance Party

Friday 8 PM

The Dance Shack

Mardi Gras Pre Party

Saturday 12 PM

Tabula Rasa Brewing



Cinotti’s Bakery

1523 Penman Road


Good Dough

St. John’s Town Center

10281 Midtown Parkway Jacksonville, Fl 32246


San Marco

1636 Hendricks Avenue Jacksonville, FL 32207


Amaretti Desserts


14965 Old St Augustine Road


San Marco:

1992 San Marco Blvd.

Jacksonville, Fl 32207

Gumbo YaYa’s

14333 Beach Blvd #101, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250


Various Publix Locations 

TOTC’s Shop Local Holiday Gift Guide

Here at Top of the Coast we love to #shoplocal and we wanted to compile a gift guide of some of our favorite local stores to find gifts for anyone on your list. We’ve narrowed our guide down to a handful of categories and crafted our guide to reflect some of our favorite stores and businesses in the area! Happy holidays and happy shopping!

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Congaree and Penn



I know, you didn’t think they still existed, especially in Jacksonville. Well, they do at Congaree and Penn on Old Kings Rd. Do the following statements ring true in your heart?

  • You are moved by the Slow Food -food that is produced or prepared in accordance with local culinary traditions, typically using high-quality locally sourced ingredients – movement.
  • You enjoy an evening out, away from the city lights, and out in nature. One that features other like minded people with great food and great conversation.
  • You are a person who appreciates the time, skill and creativity that goes into products that you use?
  • You appreciate #shoplocal and would prefer to spend your resources supporting local businesses verses large box stores.
  • You enjoy history and have a deep respect for those who take the time, energy and passion for the preservation of culture and tradition.

If any or all of these statements found you shaking your head YES – then take every opportunity to go and visit the farm, or their website. I promise you will not be disappointed. The owners live on the farm and are great to interact with and learn from.

Congaree and Penn is a farm located 20 minutes outside of Downtown Jacksonville and offers wonderful events and goodies for foodies. They have events year round and they also offer a unique assortment of gifts on their website that feature gourmet fresh flavors that any foodie will appreciate such as creole tomato jelly, pecan oil, a variety of rices from their farm and other unique and flavorful items.

Manifest Distillery

credit: Manifest website

Manifest is downtown Jacksonville’s only full-scale distillery that opened up in the fall of 2016. They make craft spirits and offer a selection of vodkas, gins and whiskeys. They also have distillery tours where you  can go learn about what goes into making their craft spirits. The food and wine lover may enjoy making a cocktail with a bottle of their Florida Citrus Vodka, which is crafted with Florida grown oranges, grapefruit and lemon. You can check out more on their website here.

A Chef’s Studio

A Chef’s Studio is a local cooking studio for those looking to learn, share, discover and develop their cooking skills. If your gifting for a foodie who has got a passion for cuisine, give them this fun-filled and thoughtful gift where they’ll be able to sharpen their skills or learn a new technique. Choose from their popular guest chef taught, Home Chef Series, a group class, or their relaxed wine club! Check out the calendar here for upcoming classes!

Intuition Ale Works

Photo Credit: Intuition Ale Works

Intuition Ale Works is a local brewery, located in the entertainment area of downtown, established by native Jacksonville resident Ben Davis.Intuition works to create quality, flavorful beers for you to enjoy at their tap room and across Northeast Florida. Pick up a pack for your food and wine lover or take them downtown for a drink where they’ll be able to enjoy a cold one while overlooking the St. Johns River. Intuition also has tours available for free when you visit their downtown location. Tours include a walk through the brewery, the brew process explained, and any questions you might have!

Green Room Brewing

Green Room Brewing is the first microbrewery located in Jacksonville Beach. They cater to the casual drinker and beer aficionado that call Northeast Florida home.This brewery does not serve food, but with it’s convenient location it is near all the staple restaurants of Jax Beach. Feel free to bring your own food while you kick back and relax at The Green Room.

Bold Bean Coffee Roasters

For the foodie that enjoys a good cup of Joe, a gift from Bold Bean Coffee Roasters is for them! Treat them to a latte decorated with unique latte art and a pastry at three of their convenient locations. Bold Bean hosts stores in Jacksonville Beach, Riverside and San Marco neighborhoods. What makes these coffee shops so unique is that they feature a variety of different type of coffee drinks all served by baristas that are courteous and welcoming. If your foodie loves coffee, this is the perfect gift!

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Snacks and a Show at the Sunray Cinema


The art lover will enjoy heading to the five points area in Riverside to check out a film and have a snack. You two can catch indie classics and mainstream movies at Sunray and enjoy popcorn with the fixins bar or something more substantial like a Caesar salad, pizza, beer and wine or even a vegan (or regular) milkshake. Their website has their showtimes.


The art lover will enjoy a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville in downtown Jacksonville where they can attend one of their events, artist q & A’s or exhibitions. Afterwards you guys can head to their restaurant NOLA MOCA for a truly unique and delicious meal. The restaurant offers an eclectic menu and has a full bar that serves hand crafted cocktails. They are open late on Thursdays and Wednesday nights during Art Walk if you two want to make a night of it and have dinner there. You can check out the latest schedule of events and exhibitions on their website here.

Theater tickets from the FSCJ Artist Series


According to their website, “The FSCJ Artist Series is Northeast Florida’s major presenter of national and international touring attractions and is the presenting arm of the Florida State College at Jacksonville. The FSCJ Artist Series presents Broadway musicals and plays, as well as concerts, at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts downtown and at the Nathan H. Wilson Center for the Arts on Beach Blvd.” Their next season has some great shows lined up including Hamilton. Get tickets here.

Classes at the Art League of Jacksonville


The Art League of Jacksonville offers affordable art classes for children and adults. Get them tickets to an art class at their website here.

The Write Touch

The Write Touch is an adorable store in San Macro that has an assortment of stationary, gifts and accessories that they’re sure to love. You can pick up a gift at their San Marco store or online here.

Chamblin’s Bookmine


Chamblin’s Bookmine is a local favorite and is located in Jacksonville’s downtown area-right across from Hemming Park. It offers a wide selection of books from all sorts of niche genres. You can spend hours browsing their large collection of books. The art lover will love anything from Chamblin’s or go together, treat them to coffee and let them choose their gift!

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St. Augustine Amphitheatre


The St. Augustine Amphitheatre is a great place to catch live national acts and local music events. There are also several bars and restaurants that feature live music every night in downtown St. Augustine. You can also sometimes catch a few street musicians performing depending on the night.

Florida Theatre


Is a great place to catch a show with your music lover. You can see all the upcoming shows on their website and plan your event.

Other Great Live Music Venues

You can take your music lover to see a show at other excellent venues for live music like the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall , Jack Rabbits , Murray Hill Theatre and 1904 Music Hall just make sure to check online for upcoming shows and events.

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Rethreaded was started by Jacksonville native Kristin Keen. According to the company’s website, “Rethreaded renews hope, reignites dreams and releases potential for survivors of human trafficking locally and globally through business.” Rethreaded has products that are made in Jacksonville and benefit their cause which make great gifts. Items like their Threads for Hope bracelets and Grace Scarves available here.

Liv-N-Grace bracelets

Liv-N-Grace bracelets are the perfect gift for those who like to give back. They are gorgeous and come in a variety of colors and styles. The bracelets can be purchasedhere. Proceeds from the bracelets benefit The McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation which goes to two charities. According to their website, they are MARC centers, which serves over 300 at-risk youth in two Jacksonville communities. McKenzie’s Academic Resource Center’s offer academic tutoring, mentoring and developmental programs for students of all ages. And “McKenzie’s Home” The Foundation built three homes at the Okoa Refuge Orphanage in Uganda, Africa and in partnership with Okoa Refuge, provides medical care, food, shelter, education and love to over 75 girls, boys and infants.

A Gift from BEAM thrift

BEAM is a great place to find fantastic pieces at a great price. It also offers an eclectic mix of vintage clothes, accessories and art-all at a discounted price. The best part about BEAM is that all of the proceeds go to a great cause: the Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry.

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Ellie Bing
Ellie Bing is a great local boutique that has beautiful one of a kind vintage and modern jewelry and accessories.  There are two locations one in Avondale and one in Jax Beach and there is a new store opening in Ponte Vedra Beach. You can also shop online.

Rosie True

Rosie True is a local clothing boutique with a variety of designs. The boutique features smaller brands with local flare. Browse their collection online or in store of flowing dresses, tunic tops and vivid prints. Conveniently located with a store in San Marco and Jacksonville Beach, it is the perfect place to find a cute dress or fun piece of jewelry to make for a fantastic gift.

Pineapple Post

The Pineapple Post is another great local shop that has almost every gift imaginable for the stylish person in your life. They are probably best known for their stationary and invitations. What makes them unique is that they have an awesome selection of “print it yourself” items. Most shoppers would describe the style as preppy meets beachy. From home décor to accessories to stationary, you can’t go wrong here.

Pearl Home 

Located in the heart of Jacksonville Beach Pearl Home offers hip, modern high-end designs. It’s the perfect place to pick up a gift for your stylish loved one to display at home. It has several great interior design gifts like chic bedding and small artisan furniture pieces.

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The Bark Boutique

Is a pet store in the 5 Points area in Riverside which offers treats, toys and more your pet!  They have baked treats and cakes for dogs, training classes and more! Check them out at their store or online here.

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The Green Alligator

The Green Alligator is a wonderful gem located in the heart of Jacksonville’s Avondale neighborhood where you can find unique and educational children’s toys and specialty gift items for all the kids on your list. 

The Cummer Museum Children’s Museum

The Cummer Museum located in the heart of Riverside’s five points also houses a unique interactive and educational children’s area. A section is set up especially for tots with all sorts of art-related installations, interactive games and educational displays. The museum brings history alive with various special children’s exhibits of art and art history.Two of note are Art Connections, which brings art to life with things such as video installations and life-sized cutouts of impressionist paintings and Creativity Timeline, a vibrant three-dimensional mural depicting the entirety of art history, which spans an entire wall. In addition, the Cummer offers seasonal art classes as well as educational tours for children. A gift of a visit to the Cummer museum will be both fun and educational for the kids-and their shop has unique gifts as well!

Lucy’s Sweet Shop Cookie Decorating Party

Lucy’s Sweet Shop offers handcrafted cookies, cupcakes and cakes in a variety of flavors. The shop offers cookie, cake and cupcake decorating parties and fun for kids of all ages. Their party packages  have a 6 person minimum and 14 person limit. 

Sweet Pete’s Candy

Sweet Pete’s is a unique gem that features a variety of different kinds of candy. They are available for sampling and purchase in a beautifully decorated and whimsical shop. Upon entering Sweet Pete’s you’ll find their assorted chocolates and truffle bar to the right. Head to the back of the home and you’ll find a flight of stairs that will lead you to the second floor which houses the ice cream parlor, candy shop and fully functioning candy factory where you can oversee the creations from the glass observatory. You can purchase gift baskets or create your own in the store or online. 

All About Arlington

One of the things we love most about living in Northeast Florida is the beautiful mix of eclectic neighborhoods that make up the First Coast.  There are so many wonderful areas here-each with it’s own identity and each offers it’s own unique mix of local businesses, restaurants, art and culture. We decided  to do a “neighborhoods we love” series in order to spotlight some of our favorite things about each of these areas.

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We’ll be exploring everywhere but our first feature is on Arlington. We discovered some hidden gems in this neighborhood and we are excited to feature these in the highlights below. 

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The Artist Connection Theater is a new community theater located in the heart of the Arlington area. Lori Newton is the director of the theater and was able to sit down with us and answer a few questions about the theater and the philosophy behind it.

“The idea behind the specific name was to connect artists of all levels: professional, intermediate and beginner. We seek to establish connections between those types of individuals and then we also want to encourage other people to be involved who have never been involved before,” Newton said. 

The theater is fairly new and has already presented several shows. Newton explained, “We began in March of 2017 so we’ve been around a little more than a year and have had four shows so far which is about how many we want to do in one season which will add up to about four shows a year,” she said.

Those who are interested in becoming involved with the theater should turn to social media first.

“We advertise word of mouth for auditions and we are a non-profit so we don’t have a lot of extra funds so we try to use as much free advertising as possible. We try to do it through Facebook, Instagram, schools and through the businesses in the area. The auditions are open for everyone to come and participate,” said Newton.

Newton saw a need for community theater in the Arlington area and wanted to provide a creative outlet for that community.

“I grew up in a family that was involved in music and the arts. My brother is in theater, his family is in theater, my kids love the theater, they sing I have a child that dances. So we have arts in our family and eventually we would like the theater to incorporate all of the arts. We want to offer the opportunity for those of lower income to participate at a lower cost. That was part of my frustration with my kids being so involved with the arts and liking them so much but there wasn’t a lot of opportunity because training in the arts costs so much,” Newton explained. 

“When I did research to begin the theater in Arlington I looked at all the outlets for theater in the area. You have some in the area but not in Arlington. There wasn’t anything specifically in the Arlington area and they need an outlet too so we wanted to provide one that was right down the road,” she continued.

Newton explains that the theater is geared towards performing family friendly shows with a positive influence on people and all are welcome to participate. “We have actors of all ages in our shows so auditions are open to everyone,” Newton said.  “We encourage anyone with an an enthusiasm and love of the theater to audition-no training needed. We want anyone with a passion to be on stage to come audition and to develop something that you may have not known was there,” she continued.

The Artist Connection Theater has some really exciting things coming up to present to the community.

“Right now we’re auditioning for our next show which is It’s a Wonderful Life but I am working to get the royalty rights to some very exciting shows. At this point we have it scheduled to do another show in March, one in June and then one in September. We want to do plays and musicals. Our plan is to do one musical a season and the rest will be straight theater,” said Newton.

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You can catch the latest performance of the Artist Connection Theater, “It’s a Wonderful Life” December 14th-December 15th. The theater is located in the gymnasium at Terry Parker Baptist Church at 7024 Merrill Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32277.

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The Donut Shoppe

by TOTC contributing writer Jessica Harrison

New Orleans may have its Beignets, but Arlington has its Doughnuts – or should I say donuts!

I have to admit that I was skeptical at first.  I love doughnuts, and when I heard that Arlington, a suburb of Jacksonville, had some of the best doughnuts – anywhere – ever, I had to see for myself.

Going by on my way to work, it was dark and the sun had not even come up, but from down the street I could see activity, cars and lights and figured that something good had to be happening there.

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Long story short – the rumors are TRUE! I have had the privilege of having beignets at Café du Monde, amagwinya in South Africa, and many of the new glamour doughnuts in and around Jacksonville and other cities in the US.

But nothing really compares to the simple – yet truly delicious – American donut of when I grew up. I got a mix for the office and chose a blueberry cake donut for myself. It was truly sublime and had fresh blueberries in it!!

So needless to say, my skepticism is gone and I will drive again to Arlington to get more of these amazing donuts, at amazing prices, with wonderful service – often!

Hints for those who have not yet been –

The menu at The Donut Shoppe consists of donuts – cake and glazed, éclairs, and fritters and coffee – that’s it. You want eggs, and more, head somewhere else.

Come early, there is parking in the back, but why wait?

Come with cash – the prices are almost too low for me – did I say that?? But they only accept cash, no credit or debit cards here.

Get an assortment and try them all – they are truly amazing and you will be back.

So whether you are from Jacksonville, or just passing through Northeast Florida, a native or a visitor, make your way to The Donut Shoppe, locally owned and operated at 1534 University Blvd N. Jacksonville, FL 32211.

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The Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens

By TOTC Contributing writer Sharon Adkins

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Tucked up in a section of the general vicinity of Arlington is a great place to get away for awhile, stretch your legs, breathe in nature, take your dog for a stroll through the woods. The Arboretum is located at 1445 Millcoe Road, just north of Monument and just East of I-295. There is parking, a restroom and water fountains. I used the plural for the water fountains as there is one for humans and one for dogs, complete with usually one, if not two water bowls for your furry friend. A donation is requested as you head towards the trails. There are also trail maps available before you venture forth.

The Arboretum consists of 120 acres with seven trails that range from easiest to more difficult. If you do all the trails you can cover a bit over 2 miles of ground. Shortly after you walk in, if you bear to the left you will see the 2-acre lake. There is a very slight elevation change heading down to the lake. I like to take the Live Oak Trail and admire the over 100-year-old trees. From there I pick up the trail down to the lake. For the trip back to the parking lot it’s a tossup between the Ravine Trails or the remainder of the Lake Loop Trail.

The Arboretum is really neat as once you head out on the trails you find that you can barely hear the cars on I-295, if at all. All but one of the trails are dog friendly, but your pet must remain on the leash and you are asked to pick up after your pet. It is open 7-days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and they do lock the gates promptly at night so don’t be late getting back to your car. If you are so inclined there are also a few picnic tables, so you can enjoy your lunch over looking the lake. So, get off the couch and go check out the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens.

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The University Diner serves up abundant plates of classic American food along with neighborhood hospitality. They are known for their excellent service and friendly, neighborhood atmosphere.

The diner is open for breakfast and lunch and it’s menu offers classic diner fare such as burgers, fried chicken and chili cheese hot dogs along with an extensive breakfast menu.

An Arlington staple since it opened its doors in 1990, the diner has undergone some renovations recently for an updated interior. The University Diner is also close to the JU campus, so it’s perfect for JU students who want to stop and have a quick bite. You can grab breakfast and lunch any day of the week at the University Diner, located at 5959 Merrill Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32277.

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Lee Carroll’s Meat Shop

By TOTC contributing writer Sarah Morrison

My family frequently shops at Lee’s Carroll’s Meat Shoppe on University Boulevard. We believe in shopping local and we love Carroll’s because of the prices, the family atmosphere, and most importantly, the quality of the food. My husband grew up here but I’ve only been in Jacksonville for 11 years. If you’re anything like me, you may wonder how some of these local businesses got started. I got tired of wondering and decided I’d ask my favorites for their stories.

Here is what I learned about the best butcher shop in town:

Lee’s Carroll’s Meat Shoppe has been located in the heart of Arlington for 55 years. (That blew me away! Even my husband didn’t know they’d been around that long!) Their original location was on the corner of Arlington and Cessery. About 20 years ago, they moved to their current location to better accommodate the needs of our growing city. If you’ve been in town all this time, you know that the original name was Carroll’s Meat Shoppe. Dan Lee purchased this location when the original owner passed away. Not wanting to get rid of the well-known name associated with a well-liked business, he simply added a piece of himself to the title.

Jay is the manager who was kind enough to answer my questions. He’s been with them for almost three years now. He says when he came in we saw a lot of changes. Change can upset some people, but Jay says “you have to move with time or you’re going to get stuck…” He’s the reason we can now find such a variety of vegetables and other non-meat items on their shelves. Thank you Jay! My husband and I love how much we can purchase without hitting multiple stores.

They currently have five employees, though ideally, they would have seven, so if you’ve looking for a job you may consider putting in your application. Jay says they are always looking for the right people. Lee’s Carroll’s prides themselves on going the extra mile for their customers. While I was there, a gentleman came in and requested four Ribeyes with less fat in them. There were plenty of pre-cut Ribeyes but none of those looked good to him. No one made fuss and they were happy to cut him exactly what he needed. That is what Lee’s Carroll’s is all about. If you don’t see what you need, ask. There’s a chance it’s stored behind the scenes. Did you know they sell meats from deer, rabbit and gator? They also have pork belly and uncut bacon. Jay says their best sellers are steaks, but our favorite thing to buy from Lee’s Carroll’s is chicken wings. The price is always right and there is nothing better than my husbands smoked chicken wings on a Sunday afternoon – especially during football season.

We season them with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper. This does have a bit of a kick to it, but we use it on all our chicken and even our one year old eats it. If you use enough seasoning your wings definitely don’t need sauce, but if you’re a saucy person, we recommend Franks Wing Sauce cut with butter to taste. If you’re feeling adventurous scratch the traditional flavor. Instead of butter, add yellow mustard and your favorite BBQ sauce to Franks. I like to add a bit of datil pepper sauce for a little extra heat.

If you shop at Lee’s Carroll’s on Friday or Saturday, you might just run into us as we gear up for the weekend. We would much rather buy our meats from the competitively priced butcher than from Publix or anywhere else. Jay says supporting local businesses does more for the community than people realize. These small businesses tend to be family owned, or if they’re like Lee’s Carroll’s they at least maintain the family atmosphere. This location always tries to have a young person on staff, someone who’s never had a job before. They enjoy teaching teens to work efficiently, take pride in what they do and learn the value of a dollar. One business can’t change the world, but the right business can make an impact on the people in their little corner of the world. Keep up with Lee’s Carroll’s Meat Shoppe on Facebook to learn about weekly specials and the big things they’ll be doing in our community this next year. Lee Carroll’s is located at 2242 University Blvd N, Jacksonville, FL 32211.

Featured Places: 

Lee Carroll’s Meat Shoppe

2242 University Blvd N, Jacksonville, FL 32211

 University Diner

5959 Merrill Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32277

Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens

1445 Millcoe Road

The Donut Shoppe

1534 University Blvd N. Jacksonville, FL 32211

Artist Connection Theater 

7024 Merrill Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32277

Guest Writers:

Sharon Adkins, Sara Morrison and Jessica Harrison