What to do in Jacksonville the Week of the Gator Bowl

The 63rd annual Gator Bowl kicks off with a week-long celebration to gear up for the first-ever match up between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the University of Virginia Cavaliers.  Make sure to cheer your team on with the players and cheerleaders at the team pep rallies and at the annual Gator Bowl parade in Downtown Jacksonville on Dec. 31.  The following day, get pumped up at the Budweiser Tailgate Party located in the shadows of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium beginning at 10:00 a.m.  Fans can enjoy interactive games, team mascots, and food and beverage specials.  Call (904) 630-3690 or visit http://www.gatorbowl.com for a complete list of Gator Bowl events.

Try the popular blue cheese Crispy Chips at Bistro Aix, located just south of Downtown in Jacksonville's historic and trendy San Marco district.  Bistro Aix is an award-winning restaurant with an exciting atmosphere, a food and wine menu full of distinctive flavors and impeccable professional service.  Call (904) 398-1949 or visit http://www.bistrox.com.

See the beer-brewing process at the Budweiser Brewery.  Learn how they brew perfection in the open-air gallery overlooking the floor of the Brew Hall, while marveling at the high-speed packaging operations.  The brewery is only one of five Budweiser breweries in the country.  Guests 21 and over can enjoy a complimentary tasting following the tour.  Call (904) 696-8373 or visit http://www.budweisertours.com.

Don't forget to pack your fishing poles and visit the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier.  At 1,300 feet, the new pier features a 20-foot wide wooden deck and is a great spot for kids to watch the fisherman reel in their latest catches! Besides all of the great fishing, the pier also provides a great view of Jacksonville Beach.  The pier includes a concessions area, bait shop and restrooms.  Spectators can visit the pier for $1, with children under 6 admitted free. Hours of operation are 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.   http://www.jacksonvillebeach.org

Be a part of the excitement at the Jacksonville Landing during Gator Bowl weekend, located along the Northbank of the St. Johns River in Downtown and site of the team pep rallies on Dec. 31.  Experience the live entertainment on the famed courtyard on New Year's Eve.  The Jacksonville Landing is home to restaurants and nightlife along with the Twisted Martini, an upscale entertainment and dining venue with South Beach sophistication and newcomer, Maverick's, a rock and honky-tonk bar where the bravest patrons attempt to master the mechanical bull.  Call (904) 358-1188 or visit http://www.jacksonvillelanding.com.

Spend a day at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens exploring 2,000 rare and exotic animals and over 1,000 unique plant species.  The newest addition to the zoo, The Gardens at Trout River Plaza, opened to the public in October.  The plaza is located along the banks of the Trout River and features a formal garden with walls, columns, a fountain and unique plants.   While there, check out the "Range of the Jaguar" exhibit, home to animals, birds and reptiles from South America. Call (904) 757-4463 or visit http://www.jaxzoo.org

Travel the outdoor waterways of Northeast Florida with Kayak Amelia.  Offering guided tours for beginners and experienced kayakers, nature enthusiasts get an up close view of the wildlife surrounding the Timucuan Preserve.  Be on the lookout for manatees, unique birds and even dolphins!  Call (904) 251-0016 or visit http://www.kayakamelia.com.

Check out the latest exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, located at Hemming Plaza in the heart of Downtown Jacksonville.  "Essence and Materials: Works by Minoru Ohira" headlines the opening show of the fall season at the museum.  Minoru Ohira's uses Japanese hand saws and hatchets to return salvaged wood to it the essence of its origins showing now through Jan 8, 2008. Call (904) 366-6911 or visit http://www.mocajacksonville.org.

Don't miss Jacksonville's local hotspot for chocolate lovers, the Peterbrooke Chocolatier Production Center.  Enjoy sampling and indulging yourself with chocolate-covered popcorn, chocolate-covered strawberries, fresh-baked cookies and more.  With numerous locations throughout Northeast Florida, the production center offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the creations come to life!  Call (904) 398-2489 or visit http://www.peterbrooke.com.

With over 1,224 holes of golf, and home to 72 public and private courses, Northeast Florida is the ideal spot to play a round.  The World Golf Hall of Fame celebrates the history and sport with interactive displays, memorabilia and trophies on display.  Now featured at the Hall of Fame is "Gary Player: A Global Journey" an in-depth look at one of golf's most traveled athletes. Also, see newly acquired items from his 50th Masters Tournament.  Call (904) 940-4123 or visit www.wgv.com.

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens presents Oh Say, Can You See: American Art from the West Foundation Collection during the Championship weekend. The exhibition features 50 oil paintings by preeminent American artists from the 19th century through the early 20th century.  Among the masterpieces in this collection is a gorgeous view of the Via Appia, the ancient section of the great Roman road that led to Southern Italy by the American artist John Linton Chapman showing now through Jan. 2, 2008.  Call (904) 356-6857 or visit www.cummer.org.
Get a unique perspective of Northeast Florida on a guided Segway eco-history tour with EcoMotion Tours. Experience wildlife and history in a setting like no other, traveling through off-road paths in the heart of Fort George Island. All tours are guided, with riders equipped with a wireless headset to learn from guides of native plants, animals and history of the trails.  Be on the lookout for tortoises, rabbits and for the lucky travelers - the occasional alligator off in the distance. Call (904) 251-9477 or visit www.ecomotiontours.com

Enjoy Downtown's premiere riverfront restaurant, the River City Brewing Company, located along the Southbank of the St. Johns River.  Try a taste of local flavor with Mayport Shrimp, brought in fresh daily from the Northeast Florida waterways.  The Brewhouse Lounge offers live entertainment weekly along the river deck, providing a breathtaking view of the Jacksonville skyline.  Also check out the on-site brewery and see the beer brewing process, as the restaurant creates its own flair with flavors such as the Jag Lite, Jackson Pale Ale, Red Rooster Ale and Riptide Porter.  Call (904) 398-2299 or visit www.rivercitybrew.com

Shoppers will delight with the opening of 40 new stores exclusive to Northeast Florida market at the St. Johns Town Center.  Home furnishings, jewelry, footwear, specialty stores and of course, fashion, are among the highlights opening just in time for holiday bargains. New stores include: Abercrombie, Aldo, Arden B., Baker's, Bebe Sport, Betsey Johnson, BCBG, Brooks Brothers, Coach, Guess, MAC Cosmetics, Marciano, Pottery Barn, Sole Mio, The Walking Company, Tommy Bahama, Urban Outfitters and West Elm.  Call (904) 998-7156 or visit www.simon.com