9 Fun Things to Do in Jacksonville With (and Without) Kids

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Palmetto trees and gorgeous blue sky of Jacksonville FL
Palmetto trees and the gorgeous blue sky of Jacksonville. Florida. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

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.

Feed a giraffe at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Get up close and personal by feeding a giraffe at the Jacksonville Zoo. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

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.

Surf board details in Jax Surf and Paddle Shop
Jax Surf and Paddle offers surf and SUP lessons and rents beach gear. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

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

Social distancing is easy on the wide open Jacksonville Beaches
Spread out and enjoy some relaxation on one of the Jacksonville beaches. Time on the beach is definitely one of the best things to do in Jacksonville, with or without kids. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

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.

Ride with Go Tuk'n around Downtown Jacksonville
Riding in the Jacksonville version of a tuk-tuk with Go Tuk’n is one of the fun things to do in Jacksonville with kids. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

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.

Art installation in downtown Jacksonville, Florida
Go Tuk’n rides allow you to see art as never before in Downtown Jacksonville. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

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.

Exterior view of the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville FL
Museum of Science and History is one of the best things to do in Jacksonville FL. Photo courtesy of MOSH Jacksonville

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.

Read More: Head North of Jacksonville to St. Marys, a Charming Georgia Town

Where to Stay Near Jacksonville, Florida

There are lots of options for hotel stays near Jacksonville, including vacation rentals. Use this interactive map to help you find a place to stay in the area.


Sarah Gilliland is a mom to fraternal twin girls and a baby boy, lover of road trips big and small, and a passionate SEC football fan (War Eagle!). Although her father’s military service took her all over the world as a child, Sarah’s family now calls Birmingham, Alabama home. Sarah happily shares the ups and downs of her parenting journey at On the Road with Sarah. When she’s not writing or traveling, Sarah is digging deep into a good book, binging on Netflix, or planning other people’s vacations.
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