A true picture of North Florida’s visual-arts scene can be painted best with a wide brush. Housed in everything from contemporary urban lofts to funky beachside cottages to state-of-the-art exhibition spaces, the area’s art galleries offer a full spectrum of paintings, photographs, sculpture and crafts.
Many art galleries are within walking distance of each other, and organized art walks held on a monthly basis in Amelia Island's Fernandina Beach, downtown Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Beaches area and St. Augustine give an overview of gallery offerings and are perhaps the best way to experience all the art the First Coast has to offer. Travel down northeast Florida's coast with us to find bold, cutting-edge works by emerging artists, finely honed crafts and paintings of sublime realism that celebrate the Florida landscape.
Amelia Island is home to more than just beautiful beaches; it’s also a destination for several upscale galleries and talented artists. The island’s Second Saturday Artrageous Artwalk focuses on the charming galleries around Centre Street in the seaside town of Fernandina Beach. It is a unique opportunity to poke around some of the town’s shops and to meet and mingle with the island’s large community of artists. Enjoy great art, good conversation, appetizers and wine as you admire photography, pottery, copper, metal, stained glass, watercolors, acrylics, oils and batik.
Start the night at Island Art Association Gallery, a cooperative gallery with some 50 members who show works in a variety of media. Other participating galleries including the women-powered Shady Ladies and Blue Door Artists, which you’ll recognize by the bright blue door and funky painted stairs. The art collective consists of eight individual art studios; each month, a different artist is featured. The Artwalk runs from 4-7 pm from October through March and from 5-8 pm from April through September.
At Downtown Vision’s First Wednesday Art Walk, some 8,000 art enthusiasts turn out each month to visit dozens of galleries, museums, restaurants and bars in downtown Jacksonville from 5-9 pm. Hemming Park hosts a plethora of artists seeking to show and sell their works. Shop a mix of unique, handmade items—from paintings to jewelry—crafted by both emerging and established artists. The Pen Crafter peddles handmade writing instruments; Offensive Me sells paintings and prints of pop-culture-inspired pieces (think Star Wars characters and superheroes done in bright colors); and Pandora’s Boxes sells, you guessed it, boxes, crafted from domestic and exotic woods from around the world. You’ll also find live music and DJ sets at Hemming Park, plus fun yoga classes that welcome all levels. A Kid Zone on Laura Street features activities such as interactive mural art, magic, music and more.
Local landmarks also get in on the fun: The Florida Theatre gives free behind-the-scenes tours during the event, and MOCA offers free admission from 5-8 pm. Visitors can wander the museum’s five floors, which contain nearly 800 works by notable artists such as James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell.
In Jacksonville Beach, every second Tuesday of the month brings the Jax Beach Art Walk, from 5-9 pm. The family-friendly event takes place in front of businesses along First Street, from Beach Boulevard North to Fifth Avenue North. Dozens of talented local artists set up their wares alongside businesses like Beachside Swimwear and the Shim Sham Room, many of which offer specials and live music by local musicians during the event.
Nearby in the coastal cities of Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach, the North Beaches Art Walk sets up shop every third Thursday from 5-9 pm. The event, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is held at multiple venues, including Archway Gallery, First Street Gallery (where many of the pieces are inspired by coastal living) and Adele Grage Cultural Center, where a different artist is featured every month. Over 55 local artists—from woodworkers to jewelry designers—and live performers share their talents each month, turning the streets of the Beaches Town Center into an ocean of art and creativity.
Finally, we come to St. Augustine. At one time, in the early 20th century, the city was home to the largest art colony in the South, with hundreds of artists living and working there. Today, the Ancient City’s First Friday Art Walk invites art lovers to visit eclectic galleries to enjoy new art exhibits, refreshments and live entertainment from 5-9 pm. Founded and sponsored by the Art Galleries of Saint Augustine, the popular cultural event winds through historic downtown St. Augustine (from Aviles to King streets to St. George Street and even over the Bridge of Lions onto Anastasia Island and the beach) and consists of over 25 participating galleries representing over 450 artists. Find everything from classical art and modern art to ceramics and textiles created by both local and national artists.
Each month, the cultural epicenter of the local art community, the St. Augustine Art Association, hosts a free opening reception, complete with live music and an award ceremony for its new exhibit. Check out Aviles Gallery, named for and located on the oldest street in the USA, which represents many local, award-winning artists and showcases beautiful landscape paintings and scenes of St. Augustine. Local artists also show at the Butterfield Garage Art Gallery, located in a former automotive garage.
Cultural institutions like the Lightner Museum—once the grand Alcazar Hotel, it now houses Victorian-era antiques including stained-glass works by Louis Comfort Tiffany—also participate. Start a free self-guided tour at any of the venues, then get from place to place with free transportation provided by Ripley’s Red Sightseeing Trains and the Old Town Trolleys. After 9 pm, the celebration continues with after-parties at local clubs and restaurants.
St. Augustine also hosts the artsy Uptown Saturday Night on the last Saturday of every month from 5-8 pm. Locally owned art galleries, antique stores, unique shops and restaurants along the five-block area of San Marco Avenue between Ripley's Odditorium and the Mission Nombre de Dios showcase their products, offer special deals and serve refreshments. Can’t-miss gems include High Tide Gallery, Cool and Collected, Goldfinch Boutique and Luli’s Cupcakes. The festive event also offers live music, artists, special showings and much more.
Drive farther south on A1A and you’ll see where all this artistic inspiration comes from. Ancient oaks shade the road as sky, ocean, marsh and river come together in a panoramic landscape that brings out the artist in almost all who see it.