The largest city by area in the continental U.S., Jacksonville is an underrated vacation destination nestled along the Atlantic Ocean. Boasting lively downtown riverside areas, pleasant neighborhoods, a thriving arts scene, family-friendly attractions and easy access to stunning coastline, Jacksonville is the perfect combination of big-city and Southern charm. While family-friendly museums and outdoor adventures dominate during the day, the city comes alive when the sun goes down with its buzzing craft-beer scene and cosmopolitan nightlife. A handy guide for your next trip to the city, here are some of the fun and unique things to do in Jacksonville, Florida.
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Appreciate beauty at Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens
Home to one of the finest art collections in the Southeast, the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens holds nearly 5,000 objects in its Permanent Collection, from Camille Pissarro to Norman Rockwell. An engaging attraction that features interactive features for kids to enjoy the collection here highlights American and European paintings that date back to 2100 BC. Don’t miss a chance to explore the 2.5 acres of beautifully manicured gardens, where visitors can meander through a picturesque oasis lined with reflecting pools, ornate fountains and eye-catching sculptures. One of the oldest trees in Jacksonville, soak in the scenic surroundings underneath the canopy from the towering 150-foot Cummer Oak.
See the stars at MOSH! The Museum of Science and History
Located across the St. Johns River from downtown Jacksonville, MOSH! The Museum of Science and History is perfect for science and history enthusiasts. Specializing in an array of permanent exhibits that highlight fascinating local history and science, visitors can explore three floors of permanent displays such as full-scale skeletons, fossils from around the world and life-sized dinosaurs. Exhibits cover topics such as the human body, the history of Jacksonville and the Great Fire of 1901, while the KidSpace is perfect for young kids and the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium is sure to pique the interest of visitors from all age groups with live star shows and cosmic concerts.
Soak in nature at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
Located on 45,000 acres of wetlands, waterways, salt marshes, and coastal dunes, this preserve offers a diverse array of landscapes and outdoor adventures. Established in 1988, it was named after the Timucuan Indians who resided here for over 1,000 years. Diverse wildlife viewing is abundant and is not uncommon to spot dolphins, manatees and a various colorful bird species. While the Kingsley Plantation and Fort Caroline offer a historical peek into the area’s past, American Beach, Cedar Point and Theodore Roosevelt Area offer unspoiled natural landscapes and unique Florida ecosystems.
Learn about Florida's past at Kingsley Plantation
Named for its early owner Zephaniah Kingsley, The Kingsley Plantation is located on Fort George Island featuring a centuries-old Spanish colonial estate surrounded by spectacular ocean views and lush forests. Soak in the beautiful landscape and dive into the rich history of the region, where the world’s largest concentration of slave cabins stands. Take a tour of the property and see where Zephaniah Kingsley and his wife lived for over 25 years and managed a workforce to produce cotton, citrus fruit, sugar cane and corn, and explore the former plantation home, slave quarters and barn.
Explore Little Talbot Island State Park
A beautiful area with serene surroundings, Little Talbot Island State Park boasts more than 5 miles of pristine coastline where you’ll be hard pressed to find a pack of tourists. One of Florida’s few undeveloped barrier islands remaining along the state’s northeast coast, visitors here will find salt marshes and sand dunes in addition to prime sunbathing opportunities. Head to the bone yard to see a unique collection of washed up trees, or indulge in a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, surfing, and fishing. Spacious pavilions provide the perfect respite for a beachside picnic, while bird watching is another local pastime. Wildlife enthusiasts might even spot a glimpse of a river otter, marsh rabbit or bobcat strolling the area.
Catch a show at the Florida Theatre
Open since 1927, Florida Theatre is one of only four remaining high-style movie palaces built in Florida during the Art Deco era of the 1920s. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, it is a premier destination for arts and culture in Jacksonville. Visitors can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the venue, from the backstage to the balcony, and can see where Elvis Presley once played in 1956. Soak in the beautiful details of this venue, with its French, Spanish and Italian-inspired decor that highlight its old extravagant style. These days, visitors can catch anything from ballet and opera to contemporary pop, jazz, rock, country, and blues, as it’s not only used for movies but live concerts throughout the year.
Get wild at Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
An animal care ranch that focuses on the rehabilitation of rescued and endangered big cats, Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is a fantastic family-friendly attraction. Residents of this facility include tigers, lions, cougars, leopards and even bobcats. Kids in particular will enjoy the up close and personal interaction with these creatures in their natural habitat and the guided tours. The sanctuary even offers special events throughout the year where you can get an exclusive glimpse of the big cats at night in what is called a “Roar N’ Snore”. Here guests can book a campsite near the animals, go on a night feeding tour, and indulge in S’mores by a bonfire.
Hop on The Jax Ale Trail
Perfect for craft brew enthusiasts, The Jax Ale Trail is a combination of Jacksonville’s local breweries, where visitors can embark on a self-guided tour and gain a Jax Ale Trail Brewery Passport that can be stamped at each of these beer hotspots to receive prizes. While we don’t condone drinking and driving, this beer-related adventure highlights the area’s award-winning craft brewery scene. Two companies run the tour, where visitors can pop into local breweries that include Aardwolf Brewing Company, Bold City Brewery, Engine 15 Brewing Co., Green Room Brewing, Intuition Ale Works, Pinglehead Brewing Company and Veterans United Craft Brewery.
Shop for treasures at Riverside Arts Market
A lively weekend market, Riverside Arts Market is a popular attraction where visitors from around the city come to support local businesses. Created for artists and artisans to sell their products, visitors can find an array of artwork in addition to handcrafted jewelry, homemade jam and fresh fruit and vegetables. Perfect for a day of strolling around its myriad of stalls, the vendors, producers, and farms showcase their wares while live music fills the air and anything from barbershop quartets to belly dancers and fire-eaters perform for a crowd. Food vendors and trucks also line the bustling market with a variety of international cuisine, making this attraction appealing for visitors of all ages.
Spot a giraffe at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Spanning across 117 acres and featuring over 2,000 animals, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is the perfect day trip to take the entire family where you’ll find a unique walking safari through its range of exciting exhibits. An award-winning “Range of the Jaguar” is a real highlight, while the kids will be delighted at the Giraffe Overlook and beautiful Savanna Blooms garden. Walk through the “Land of the Tiger” to get an up close look at these elusive creatures, while visitors can also spot a variety of great apes, big cats, and elephants. Feed stingrays at “Stingray Bay,” or head to the Play Park and Splash Ground to cool off after a day of adventure.
Take a hike in Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens
A perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens is a hidden gem in the city. Stretching across 126 acres of lush natural surroundings, the terrain here is not like the rest of Jacksonville, as visitors will find a ravine 800 feet long and sloping hills. Home to a variety of wildlife, visitors will find a variety of trails to explore. The Lake Loop wraps around a two-acre lake, while The Ravine Trail follows the rim of a deep ravine with picturesque streams and the Live Oak Trail is lined with centuries-old live oak. Perfect for a day out with the kids, educational signs can be found throughout the area to detail specific tree species and natural habitats.