Film star Oliver Hardy, of Laurel and Hardy fame, once filmed a 1916 silent movie on Forsyth Street in Downtown Jacksonville. Elvis Presley was forbidden by a local judge to do his “gyrating hip thing” when he performed in 1956 at the Florida Theater. And Andrew Jackson never set foot in the city that was named after him. He was just the hero of the day when the city of Jacksonville was built.

Those are just a few of the fun facts I learned about Jacksonville while taking a Top to Bottom Jacksonville Walking Tour led by Gary Sass, owner of AdLib Luxury Tours & Transportation.

On the one and three-quarter hour, 10-block excursion, Sass, dressed as Jackson, takes you to interesting places around the city’s core downtown. And, as he leads you in and out of buildings, he spins stories around interesting fun facts about the First Coast.

It’s good educational exercise, and a family-friendly activity.

A Tunnel through the Past

“People want to see things that are a little behind-the-scenes,” said Sass, who includes a visit to an underground bank tunnel on the tour. “It’s an orientation to downtown, with history.”

A version of the tour open to the public leaves from The Jacksonville Landing at 10 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, and Sass and his tour guides also lead private group tours at pre-arranged times. The Top to Bottom excursion is just one of 65 tours of North Florida led by AdLib Luxury Tours & Transportation, which Sass and his wife Susan founded eight years ago. It goes on, rain or shine – and in our case, through a lot of rain.

“I know a little about the history of the city,” Jacksonville resident Pam Crawford said before we set out. Her mother was visiting from Pennsylvania, “so I thought this would be interesting,” she said.

Our history lesson began right outside The Jacksonville Landing, at the Jackson statue, and then continued up Laura Street to the Bank of America Tower. At 42 stories, the building is the tallest in Jacksonville, with views of the entire city in every direction from the top floor.

From there, we took the elevator down to below ground, to a tunnel under the old Atlantic National Bank Building. In the early 1900s, banks connected to each other through underground tunnels that were not advertised to the public and the tour includes a visit to safe deposit boxes and an old vault that Sass has partially restored for the tour.

Leaving there, we ventured above ground again, paying a visit to the Visit Jacksonville office, where we watched some silent movie clips that told about the city’s past as the first Hollywood. Other stops along the way included The Carling, built as a grand hotel in the 1920s and now luxury apartments; the Florida Theatre, where Elvis once performed; and the Wells Fargo Center, which Sass calls the city’s “signature building, because you always see it in photos of the skyline.”

It was a great tour – by the end, I knew a lot about the buildings in that skyline.

Jacksonville’s Top to Bottom Tour is now offered every Tuesday and Thursday. Enjoy the River City’s unique sites and untold stories. Discover secret underground tunnels and see amazing skyline views. Tuesday’s tour includes a stop inside the Florida Theatre. Thursday’s tour includes a behind the scenes look at the Jacksonville Symphony and a visit to Southlight Gallery.
Tuesday/Thursday 10:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
$20/p ($15/adult current special, $5/child)
Meet at The Jacksonville Landing escalators, located at 2 West Independent Drive.

The new Jacksonville Ghost Tour called “River City Haunts” is offered every Friday night at 8 p.m., reservations required 24-hours in advance. It features the darker side of Jacksonville with tales told by local spirits. Hear from the first settler of Downtown, Lewis Zachariah Hogans and other ghosts why the city is haunted.
Friday 8 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., additional times based on demand.
$20/p ($15/p current special)
Meet at The Jacksonville Landing escalators, located at 2 West Independent Drive.

AdLib Luxury Tours & Transportation is a licensed Receptive Tour Operator in North Florida. They offer a custom service for groups of ALL sizes with 65 specialty tours of Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Amelia Island and Ponte Vedra Beach. “AdLib” allow customers to be flexible with their itinerary.
For reservations, call 904-827-1845 or email gary@adlibtours.com.