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Featuring a mix of white sand beaches, natural springs and state parks, North Florida is home to some of the Sunshine State’s most beautiful, untouched landscapes. Aside from its natural beauty, it also boasts historic landmarks and family-friendly attractions without the crowds of tourists you’re used to in other parts of the state. From outdoor adventures to world-class cultural institutions, here are the best things to do in North Florida.
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Amelia Island is a treasure trove of history and heritage, with plenty of exciting things to do for the entire family. Walk along the brick streets of Fernandina Beach and admire buildings listed on the National Register, or go beachcombing for seashell treasures. Hop on the Amelia Island Trolley for a tour of the town, stop by the Palace Saloon for a drink at Florida’s longest-operating saloon and head out for a sunset sail along the waterfront.
Home to one of Florida’s most famous shorelines, Washington Oaks State Park in Palm Coast is known for its picturesque coquina rock formations that line its beach. Aside from its 400 acres of coastal scenery that sits between the Atlantic Ocean and Matanzas River, you can walk along the footpaths to discover beautiful floral displays and citrus trees in the garden or go fishing along the seawall.
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens stretches out across 117 acres and features over 2,000 animals. Take the entire family to this top attraction in Jacksonville, where you can get up close to a range of exotic animals, from jaguars to giraffes and tigers, in its collection of exhibits. You can also feed stingrays, admire curious elephants and cool off in the on-site Play Park and Splash Ground.
You’ll find one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, where its 6,000 acres of natural surroundings offer a tranquil escape throughout the year. Its swimming area is the perfect place to cool off in Florida’s heat, while the popular glass-bottom boat tours and hiking trails are a haven for nature lovers.
Home to one of the finest art collections in the Southeast, the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens in Jacksonville holds nearly 5,000 objects in its permanent collection. There are interactive features that the kids will enjoy, while history enthusiasts will be impressed with the American and European paintings that date back to 2100 BC. Outside you’ll find a collection of beautifully manicured gardens with reflecting pools and ornate fountains.
Devil’s Millhopper boasts one of Florida’s most unique geological wonders. A National Natural Landmark, visitors who come here will discover a 120-foot deep, 500-foot wide and 10,000-year-old limestone sinkhole. Located in Gainesville, this 71-acre park features an observation deck where you can see its half-mile bowl-shaped cavity that sits amongst a miniature rainforest filled with towering live oaks.
Home to one of the best beaches in Florida, the shoreline at Henderson Beach State Park has Appalachian quartz sand. It’s sugar white sand lines its 6,000 feet of scenic shoreline, where you can soak up the sunshine on a towel or take a dip in the emerald Gulf of Mexico waters. Rent a bike and cruise the area, pack a picnic, or spend the afternoon exploring the walking trails.
Ginnie Springs really puts on a show with its mesmerizing natural landscapes, boasting one of the clearest springs in the state. You’ll find a plethora of outdoor recreation on offer here, from canoeing up the river to tubing, snorkeling and diving excursions. It’s 72-degree water temperatures are ideal for an afternoon swim, while cave divers will find plenty to explore in its unique underwater cave system.
Gainesville is home to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, where you’ll find 26 unique gardens and Florida’s largest display of bamboos. Spread out across 62 acres, you can take a stroll through the picturesque ginger garden, water garden, hummingbird garden then visit the herb garden to see a range of exotic flora and fauna and cascading waterfalls.
Open since 1927, the opulent Florida Theatre is an iconic piece of Florida history, standing as one of only four remaining high-style movie palaces in the state. A premier destination for arts and culture in Jacksonville, you can see the stage where Elvis once played, catch captivating ballet and opera performances or see a live music show.
St. Augustine is full of charm with its centuries-old buildings and historic downtown area, and the Castillo De San Marcos is a must see. Constructed in 1672, it is the oldest masonry structure of its kind in the United States. After you explore this National Monument, see cannon firing demonstrations and musket drills in the Colonial Quarter, then sample the water from the famous Fountain of Youth.
One of the most beloved state parks in North Florida for paddlers and tubers, Ichetucknee Springs State Park in Fort White is a hotspot for outdoor adventures. It’s six miles of cool, crystalline spring-fed waters and nine crystal clear springs will melt your stress away, where you can float or paddle under the canopy of shaded hammocks of live oak and cypress trees.
Visit the Florida Museum of Natural History to see live butterflies from around the world in its Butterfly Rainforest exhibit. There are other animals to see here, including turtles and fish, while the colorful flowers and waterfalls create a tranquil ambiance. You can learn something new about Florida’s unique habitats, and browse through its exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the area.