Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Spend the Day at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
- 2. Take a Surf Lesson with Jax Surf and Paddle
- 3. Enjoy a Relaxing Day in Jacksonville Beach
- 4. Explore Downtown Jacksonville with Go Tuk’n
- 5. Traverse the St. Johns River
- 6. Stroll Along the Riverwalk
- 7. Take a Wildlife Sanctuary Tour
- 8. Visit the Museum of Science and History (MOSH)
- 9. View Art at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
- 10. Timucuan Ecological Preserve and Historic Center
- 11. Cheer On the Jacksonville Jaguars
- Where to Stay Near Jacksonville, Florida
Have you vacationed in Jacksonville yet? If not, you’re missing out. This northeastern Florida city has it all. Combine some of the best east coast beaches on the Atlantic Ocean with urban attractions like world class museums, destination dining and a walkable downtown. It all adds up to a fun vacation, whether you’re traveling with the kids, your partner or with the girls. Here are the best things to do when visiting Jacksonville.
The writer was hosted for this trip by VISIT FLORIDA.
1. Spend the Day at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
People of all ages will enjoy touching a stingray at the Stingray Bay exhibit and feeding a giraffe in the Giraffe Overlook at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Other notable animal encounters included hearing a true Florida “gator growl” as well as learning about the zoo’s efforts to rehabilitate and release manatees back into the wild.
It was a hot day when we visited, which made the Play Park and Splash Ground area look particularly inviting. It was open for families to use, but we didn’t have time to splash around and cool off, much to my kids’ dismay. Next time, I’ll plan to bring an extra set of clothes so we can change before getting in the car and heading to our next stop.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Opening dates and hours at all attractions as well as entry requirements (such as mask wearing) are subject to change without notice. Always call ahead or check the website before venturing out for the day.
2. Take a Surf Lesson with Jax Surf and Paddle
Jacksonville Beach is a 25-30 minute drive from downtown Jacksonville. This Atlantic beach boasts waves just big enough for experienced surfers, but not too big for novice surfers. It turns out surfing is much tougher than it looks! One of my twins was able to stand up on the board by the end of the lesson. However, her sister and I never managed to stand. We had fun trying, and it was a unique mother-daughter bonding activity.
We took lessons from Jacksonville Surf and Paddle on Neptune Beach, which also offers Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) lessons, surf camp and beach rentals.
If surfing or paddle boarding isn’t really your thing, the company also rents kayaks, bikes and beach umbrellas. Imagine biking along the beach or kayaking on the St. Johns River and enjoying the natural beauty of northeast Florida! It’s easy to get active outdoors in such a gorgeous location.
Read More: Fun Free Things to Do in Jacksonville with Kids
3. Enjoy a Relaxing Day in Jacksonville Beach
Sometimes, you just need a day to relax. If that’s the case, pick a spot on the beach and park it. Our family found plenty of space to spread out on the expansive Jacksonville beaches. If you plan an extended visit to the beach, I recommend renting beach equipment. Chairs, umbrellas and beach balls are affordable to rent from Jax Surf and Paddle.
Beach umbrellas are especially important. They offer some protection from the hot Florida sun. (Don’t forget the sunscreen. These are our favorite sunscreens for kids and babies.)
Renting at the beach will make more room in the family vehicle and cut down on all the sand kids love to bring back with them.
Other beaches in Jacksonville can be found in Little Talbot Island State Park and Big Talbot Island State Park. These state parks have picturesque nature trails, palmetto trees and Big Talbot Island State Park is home to the Boneyard, a collection of “bones” of bleached live oaks on the shore that have been worn down from that salt and sand.
4. Explore Downtown Jacksonville with Go Tuk’n
Those hop-on, hop-off buses in most major cities are a good way to get a feel for a place when you first arrive, but they’ve got nothing on Jacksonville’s Go Tuk’n! It’s a unique way to get a feel for the city that turned out to be one of my kids’ favorite things to do in Jacksonville.
A “tuk tuk” is the nickname for auto rickshaws that are popular transports in other countries. The Go Tuk’n vehicles look a little like an oversized golf cart, but they’re modeled after authentic European tuk tuks. It’s a great way to see the sights without having to find a place to park, especially when you’re not familiar with Jacksonville. My kids loved the ride almost as much as they loved learning the history of the city.
Because we were trying to make the most of our time, our knowledgeable guide combined a few tours into one.
We spent a good portion of our time checking out the amazing public art installations around the riverfront area and in the business district.
We also visited historic neighborhoods such as Riverside and Avondale and saw beautiful homes that were more than 150 years old.
The company also has adult-focused tours which provide transportation around the city to visit all the local craft breweries.
5. Traverse the St. Johns River
“The River City by the Sea” boasts almost 40 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway canal and the longest stretch of the St. Johns River. It’s one of the few rivers in the United States that flows north instead of south. This is another one of those modes of transportation that is fun for kids: the historic St. Johns River car and passenger ferry. This unique transportation connects Highway A1A to Mayport Village and Fort George Island.
6. Stroll Along the Riverwalk
Walk the three-mile Riverwalk alongside of The Jacksonville Landing and visit the Riverside Arts Market where you can hear live music more often than not. Both activities are free to do, making it an inexpensive, outdoor activity perfect for all ages.
7. Take a Wildlife Sanctuary Tour
Animal lovers will definitely enjoy the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary Tour. Catty Shack Ranch is a non-profit organization that aims to educate the public about the dangers of owning exotic animals, such as lions and tigers, as “house pets.”
Tours are offered on a limited basis as the sanctuary is run by volunteers. Daytime tours are more kid friendly than the nighttime feeding tours which can bring out the roars of the hungry big cats.
Meant solely as a “forever home,” the Catty Shack Ranch doesn’t trade, sell or breed any of its rescued animals.
8. Visit the Museum of Science and History (MOSH)
The Museum of Science and History, also known as MOSH, offers many interesting exhibits that make learning on vacation more fun. Located on the south bank of Jacksonville’s famous Riverwalk area, it is one of the top museums in the city.
What can visitors see when they visit MOSH? In addition to core exhibits such as “Health in Motion” and “Atlantic Tails,” there are also traveling exhibits. Check their website to see what exhibits are in-town while you visit.
9. View Art at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is the largest fine arts museum in Northeast Florida. Located in the Five Points area of the Riverside neighborhood, the museum fits right in with its eclectic neighbors.
Viewing priceless works of art may not appeal to all kids, but, thankfully, there is the outdoor garden space that will allow for more freedom of movement if kids in your group need it.
With more than 5,000 pieces in the museum’s permanent collection, visitors could easily make an entire day of visiting the galleries and gardens.
10. Timucuan Ecological Preserve and Historic Center
This 46,000-acre US National Park site is home to the Fort Caroline National Memorial and Kingsley Plantation.
- Fort Caroline educates visitors on the short-lived French presence in Florida in the 16th century.
- Kingsley Plantation educates visitors on the history of slavery in the United States, but specifically in regards to Zephaniah Kingsley who founded the plantation in the 18th century. The plantation house tours are limited as the structure is fragile, but other events and tours of the grounds are equally as educational.
11. Cheer On the Jacksonville Jaguars
If you’re visiting Florida during football season, pick up tickets for a football game. The Jacksonville Jaguars are the home NFL team and tickets are plentiful. They’re not very good…now. But they’ve got one of the most promising young QBs in the game. Trevor Lawrence made his mark at Clemson, leading the Tigers to the national championship as a freshman. Jaguars fans are hopeful he’s the key to turning their franchise around.
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