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Jacksonville is THE Football Town

Photo: Rob Foldy/Stringer Gttty Images

Photo: Rob Foldy/Stringer Gttty Images

As NFL travel gets bigger and bigger, fans are finding themselves strategically picking an away game to add to their calendars as a way to see their team in a new environment…and calling it a vacation. It’s a win-win (assuming your team wins the game…).

Throughout my NFL travels, I’ve been to a number of stadiums and sports towns, and I have to say that Jacksonville is near the top of my list for many reasons.

For starters, what about their newly added scoreboards (largest in the league) broadcast in a resolution no one in the world has (sorry Jerry Jones), free and workingWi-Fi throughout the stadium, and the fact that liquor is available throughout the entire stadium. Off to a good start, right?

Probably the most unique part of the stadium has to be the Clevelander Deck, an addition brought on for the 2014 season. The Clevelander Deck features two heated spa pools overlooking the field from the north end zone, as well as the Clevelander’s Famous Frozen all-natural drinks featuring the Mickey’s Rum Runner, the Cleve Colada and blend of them both in the Miami Vice, and of course everything else offered at the bar. The deck also features live entertainment including the Clevelander Dance team, DJs and live music, as well as 20 full-service cabanas and a postgame party on the Clevelander Deck, which remains open (and serving) two hours after the end of every home game.

A few other notables in favor of attending a game at EverBank Field – the Jaguars are the only team in the NFL to rank in the top three across every category of fan experience as voted on in the Voice of the Fan survey, which was recently released by the NFL. An outdoor stadium in Florida can get brutally hot, so they created a fantasy lounge (State Farm Neighborhood Fan Cave), which is free and open to the public and features air-conditioning, 34 power leather recliners, 21 TV’s broadcasting all of the other games, three Xbox stations and 12 surface tablets. The Jaguars are also the first NFL team to offer Oculus Rift virtual reality experience, which lets you view replays and live action in a 3D format, free.

The team also has a college football style-walk in called The Prowl where the team takes the field for player intros as they walk through the fans. Anyone can go down and be part of it and it gives a truly unique game day experience. Due to the salacious heat, the stadium also has three cool zones feature 120ft worth of cooling benches that are basically bleachers you sit on that blast cold air-conditioning.

Even though Jacksonville is the smallest TV market to have an NFL team, it’s no doubt a football town having hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 when the Patriots beat the Eagles.

Also, leaving the game at EverBank Field is one of the easiest I’ve experienced, with 12 gates and 65-90 lanes of exit. One thing they do at the stadium, unique to anything I’ve seen at any others, are exit signs that label what parking lots are right outside. (Example: Exit here for parking lots A-E.) It saves a lot of time leaving the stadium, especially if you’ve had the joyous pleasure of partaking in any adult beverages.

Of course, there are quite a few reasons outside of EverBank Field to add Jacksonville to your football agenda (sorry Jaguar fans, but your record isn’t one of them).

Way against popular belief, Jacksonville is not a large retirement home by the sea. In fact, it has the youngest population in all of Florida (yes, even Miami). It’s also a city you don’t have to choose the beach or the city – you get both for the price of one (well, you’ll probably need a rental car to accomplish said task, but you catch my drift).

Prefer to drink in the local scene? Then you’ll love the brand new Jax Ale Trail Passport, which is a self-guided tour connecting all seven of the local craft breweries in Jacksonville (Bold City, Intuition Ale Works, Aardwolf, Green Room, Engine 15, Pinglehead, and Veterans United Brewery). Intuition Ale Works (my favorite) has plans for late 2015 to move its brewery to Downtown, next to EverBank Field, complete with a rooftop beer garden overlooking the St. Johns River. There is an actual passport (and prizes) guests can pick up and get stamped as they attempt to visit all seven breweries as you Drink Your Trail Off!

You’ve also got bars like Dos Gatos, The Volstead, The Flying Iguana, Bar X, and The Grape and Grain Exchange to choose from that combine exciting flavors that promote a farm to bar flavor in their adult concoctions. There is also a secret speakeasy, literally located behind the bookshelf at The Grape and Grain called the Parlour. Another great combo of food and drinks is pizza at V Pizza followed by drinks at Sidecar (you guessed it, directly next door).

If you’re active and you know it, raise your hand. No seriously, this is a city you’ll have to prove it. With average temperatures year-round of 72 degrees, you’ll always see people outside running anywhere on the 22 miles of sandy beaches, where the sand is perfectly packed for runners. You’ll also see surfing, paddleboarding, biking, skateboarding, and yoga and cross-fit studios on practically every corner. There are also 72 public and private golf courses to choose from, if that’s your thing. Many of the area courses were designed by legends like Tom Fazio, Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Jacksonville is also home to the World Golf Hall of Fame, PGA Tour Headquarters and TheChampionship.

Completely opposite of fit and active, Jacksonville is home to two of the best burgers I’ve everhad. First is Black Sheep, which is walking distance to a number of other fun bars and restaurants complete with a terrific happy hour and a great place to meet locals. They serve a number of handcrafted cocktails and be sure to check out the rooftop bar. The second spot is M Shack, which features all natural and hormone-free burgers that are incredibly juicy. I’m a chick and I say they are both well worth the calories, so consider that the only endorsement you need.

For other food options, Jacksonville has quite the diverse menu with casual elegance (think good food in beach attire) and classic southern food, just like your mama used to make. It’s also a hotspot for nightlife, unique bars, pubs and music venues like Underbelly in downtown and Jack Rabbits in San Marco.

If football’s your main reason to visit Jacksonville, that’s a terrific start (especially considering the Jags track history), but there are plenty of off-field activities to keep you busy during the day and night leading up to the game.

Go enjoy the city and may the best team win!

This article originally ran in the sports section of CBS Man Cave Daily – click here to see the original post.