Things To Do In Jacksonville FL: A Comprehensive Guide To Visiting The Historical City
In Florida’s most populated city, there’s always something going on! From seaside excursions and nature exhibits to historic attractions and museum visits, you’ll never run out of activities to experience! Founded in 1822, Jacksonville has since become a beacon of deep-rooted history and adventure, from Amelia Island and Sun Ray Cinema to Catty Shack Ranch and The Escape Game Jacksonville! The legendary 904 also features 22 miles of beaches and endless top-rated dining options. Read here to learn more about all the experiences this legendary city has to offer!
For the animal lover in you, talk a walk on the wild side by visiting Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, where you’ll find a variety of exotic big cats that have been rescued from tumultuous conditions and brought to live in this beautifully preserved forever home. Ranked the #1 attraction in Jacksonville by Trip Advisor, the Catty Shack Ranch provides a safe and sustainable environment for tigers, lions, pumas, leopards, lynx, foxes and more, all with the help of a group of well-trained volunteers and medical professionals. Take a tour of the sanctuary with any number of big cat handlers who look like Indiana Jones (kidding).
Nestled in the nook of Nassau Sound, Big Talbot Island is a protected nature preserve and white sandy beach offering a coveted place for birdwatchers and photographers to capture fleeting moments in time. With designated areas for picnics, hiking, boating and nature study, Big Talbot Island State Park is a peaceful place to relax on the bluffs, fish in the salt marsh or explore the driftwood landscape. Look for the salt-washed skeletons of oak trees, cedar trees and other pieces of the boneyard that wash up from the shore. If your looking for a comprehensive list of Jacksonville beaches & water activities click here.
The lucky observer just might spot the hatching of baby shore birds as spring approaches at this secluded barrier island. Located just south of Big Talbot Island, this park is home to dozens of species of migratory birds who use the route to rear and raise their young. Go camping, mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking, swimming, surfing, or even have your wedding along a white, sandy beach or in a secret garden. It’s open year-round and usually dog-friendly.
Not the planet, but the astronomically stunning beach that abuts the coastal community of Jacksonville’s northeast corner and Palm Valley, Neptune Beach invites beachgoers looking for rest and relaxation, and a lot of delicacies to pleasure your palate. From the towering palm trees by day to the Instagram-worthy sunsets by dusk, you’ll just have to see these views up close. This area is primarily a travel destination for summer tourists. Check out the giant Jaguar statue at Beaches Town Center for a cool photo against the sunset. Check out a full guide to Jacksonville beaches.
A low-lying, flat and sandy beach, Atlantic Beach in northeast Jacksonville offers another laid-back piece of paradise for those who enjoy golf, parks, and other outdoor activities. Like to surf? Plenty of that here, with unobstructed access to waves, wildlife and wonder. Stop by Jax Surf and Paddle and pick up a new board, grab a beer at the Atlantic Beach Brewing Company or watch the sea turtles sunbathe by the stream at Howell Park nearby.
Popular with surfers and wakeboarders, this beach on the southern side of Ponte Vedra Beach and just south of St. Augustine Beach is a great location for searching for seashells, using your metal detector for interesting finds or combing the sand for shark teeth. Horseback riding is allowed during designated times and so is driving on the beach. Pop over to Poppy’s Italiano or Bogey Grille for some grub after a long day soaking up sun.
Affectionately known as MOCA to locals, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville is part of the Cultural Institute of the University of North Florida and has been a staple in the area for nearly a decade. Unlike older museums, this modern-day gallery boasts works that were crafted after the Internet was invented – many technologically advanced and satisfying for younger art aficionados. With contemporary exhibits like monumental walls of questions that pique the mind, the outdoor geometric forms of Larry Bell and the ephemeral materials of the past and present of Gala Porras-Kim, MOCA aims to engage audiences appreciative of modern art.
Discover the fast-paced, interactive world of science at MOSH. Generate your own electricity, move your body to see how exercise affects long-term health, and visit animals indigenous only to the east coast, without getting your feet wet. As the city’s most visited museum, there’s a place called KidSpace, where children under 5 can stimulate their minds by probing (literally) parts of science and history on a level they can understand.
Built on two-and-a-half acres of historic, 20th century Florida gardens, the Cummer Museum holds some of America’s finest art collections in the southern part of the country. With an exhibit dubbed, “The Art of Nature,” museum-goers will experience nothing short of the apex of culture when coming here. Expect reflecting pools, fountains, majestic gardens, sculptures, that sort of thing. Don’t be surprised to see people doing yoga on the grass. The place is just that peaceful!
Housed in the former Alcazar Hotel from 1888, this museum boasts a lot in the way of 19th century art, artifacts and architecture reminiscent of the Gilded Age. Walk up to two towers and through a Spanish-style corridor with ivory pillars. You’re not in Rome, remember. You’re still in Jacksonville, but it won’t feel that way when you see the crystal chandeliers, stone arch bridge over the coy pond and palm trees lining the courtyard. Care for a Turkish bath? It can probably be arranged.
On Saturdays, head under the Fuller Warren Bridge to Riverside Arts Market for a smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, salads, hors d’oeuvres and everything in between. For the most meticulous of meal preppers, you’ll find fresh, local produce – even craft beer! With a massive variety of small businesses – everything from urban and rural farmers and bakeries to art dealers and crafters of handmade goods – this market offers the best the local community has to offer in terms of local food, crafts and wares. You won’t be disappointed.
This 1.5-stretch of beach is fun for city people who like to play corn hole while sipping on some suds, sunbathing, and don’t have a dog sitter for Fido, because the good news is, he (or she) is welcome here. There’s a lake for fishing, a host space for campers, bike trails and ice cream shop nearby. The history of the place is cool, too, as it was originally Florida’s first beach community for African-Americans during the period of segregation in the south.
Icemen Hockey, Jumbo Shrimp Baseball & Jags Football
Attention sports fanatics! If you don’t think of hockey when you think of Florida, think again. The Jacksonville Icemen minor league professional hockey team offers fun and seasonal entertainment for the whole family. The Icemen usually play a 36-game home schedule each season – 19 of which are on Friday and Saturday nights. They play in the same arena Rihanna and Celine Dion played sold-out shows, so expect a spectacle.
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, formerly known as the Jacksonville Suns, is a minor league baseball team in the city. Named the 28th most valuable minor league baseball team by Forbes magazine in 2016, the Jumbo Shrimp uses the slogan “Shrimply the best!”
Pro football more your speed? Watch the city’s NFL team, the Jaguars, play throughout the season at their home stadium of TIAA Bank Field, where the Jags boast the world’s largest scoreboards.
Take a day trip about an hour south of Jacksonville to the historic city of St. Augustine, which lays claim to being the oldest in the nation. Shop, dine and imbibe along this 17th century Spanish thoroughfare known for its tranquil beaches, iconic architecture and famous attractions preserved in time. Best to reserve an entire day for this visit – St. George Street will surprise even the most curious of history buffs, from the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse (200+ years!) to Ponce de Leon’s “Fountain of Youth” to the many boutiques, bakeries, galleries and gift shops along the way. Lots of foot travel should be expected, so wear comfy shoes.
This upscale, open-air mall in Jacksonville’s southeast corner offers lots in the way of shopping and dining. With more than 170 stores, the palm-tree lined streets of St. Johns Town Center is described as an “outdoor lifestyle mall” featuring high-end retailers like Dillard’s, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Urban Outfitters, Swarovski and West Elm. Fod food, look for options like P.F. Chang’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy and The Cheesecake Factory. There’s convenient accessibility by car from highways I-95, I-295 and J. Turner Butler Boulevard and downtown beaches.
“Ahoy, mateys!” Thrilling water fun, adventure and expedition await you at this aquatic water slide amusement park in downtown Jacksonville. Shipwreck Island offers a half million gallon wave pool and four extreme water slides without the fear of sharks, jellyfish or (real-life) pirates! Targeting kids and young adults, this crazy complex also includes a wave pool, “Gator Alley,” the “Wacky Worm Roller Coaster,” laser tag, mini golf, batting cages, an arcade, go-karts and much more.
Ready to take it to the edge? The Edge Rock Gym markets itself as part competitive rock-climbing gym – part freestyle life sport that allows your mind and body to be free while reaching for new heights. With a super knowledgeable, friendly and encouraging staff, look for Groupon coupons to make your experience even more affordable. Great for big parties or even a date.
Situated at the mouth of the Trout River, the Jacksonville Zoo sits on more than 100 acres of land where 2,000+ exotic and domestic animals call it home. See exhibits like the African Forest, the River Valley Aviary, Stingray Bay and the Land of the Tiger. Considered one of the city’s premier attractions with millions of visitors a year, the zoo is a massive playground for both kids and adults, offering a majestic view of the river and easy access to local highways. The zoo is active in animal conservation, providing 45 programs regionally and nationally and donates a good chunk of every ticket sold to conservation efforts around the globe. Don’t be afraid to pet the pygmy goats or feed the giraffes! This one is a must-see for wildlife lovers of all ages.
An historic two-screen movie theater equipped to show talking pictures from the 1920s, this place opened in the Five Points district of Jacksonville and has been a popular destination for tourists and locals who have a knack for the nostalgic. It’s one of the only vegan-friendly movie theaters in the state, offering veggie and gluten-free options as well as popcorn and other tasty treats. After ordering at the counter, servers at Sun Ray Cinema bring your food and drink (including beer and wine) right to your seat. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the movies of old.
Back in the day, it was a single table for two – by candlelight – crystal dinnerware and cloth napkins, and a live performance. Today, it is a beautiful theatrical performance mimicking Broadway with dozens of tables (also dimly lit) but a huge stage, delectable delicacies and three-course meals. With shows like “Singing in the Rain,” “Grease,” and “Cinderella,” this dinner theater has captured headlines from coast to coast for its classic and hilarious renditions of various show biz favorites. Just 15 minutes from Jacksonville Beach, this would make the perfect topping off to a luxurious lounging day.
Book ahead if you want a good seat at this 100-year-old, high-demand music venue that accommodates everything from ballet to opera to contemporary pop, jazz, rock, country and blues in downtown Jacksonville. Opened in 1927, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to Mandy Moore.
Hikers, joggers, skateboarders, cyclists, roller bladers, scavenger hunters and the like – take your binoculars out and explore the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail, which is a multi-use 14-mile asphalt path connecting Jacksonville with the town of Baldwin, Florida. Once used by CSX Transportation as part of its railroad system, the trail has gone unused for rail purposes for decades and is now a thoroughfare suitable for non-motorized vehicles and those on foot. No matter how you get down the path from one end to the other, you’ll pass some residential and rural areas, abandoned cars, shade trees and a power plant. Great for photos, too.
Early interaction between indigenous Native Americans and French explorers come to life at this site in the Timucuan Preserve. Located on the banks of the St. Johns River, the Fort Caroline National Memorial commemorates a point at which European settlers attempted to establish a colony in this part of Jacksonville. Take the kids for the afternoon or treat yourself to a little slice of southern history.
Step out into nature and surround yourself with some of Florida’s most beautiful flora and fauna. The 126-acres inside Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens was once a dump site for appliances, cars, tires and other random junk. Conservation-minded locals recognized the value of the site in 2004 and reshaped the landscape into the arboretum it is today, which offers more than three miles of hiking trails through natural ecological habitats. Walk down the Jones Creek Trail, through the Lake Loop and over the Live Oak Trail to find bald cypress trees, American hornbeam and swamp azalea.
After all that walking, chances are, you’ll be thirsty! Visit the Jax Ale Trail to sample a variety of craft brews mixed up by seven local breweries right in Jacksonville. The “trail” is self-guided, meaning you go at your own pace to each of the breweries on the tour. When you book it, you’re handed a Jax Ale Trail Brewery “passport,” which grants you access to each brewery. The more stamps you collect, the higher your chances are of winning special prizes and cool beer swag.
Dubbed the “mecca for African-American culture and heritage in Florida,” the Ritz Theatre is located in the LaVilla neighborhood in Jacksonville and was once also nicknamed the “Harlem of the South.” Many trailblazers of gospel, jazz, funk and pop music, entertainment and dance were drafted here. It also helped launch the careers of many singers and dancers well known today like Dionne Warwick and Jon Secada.
These unique neighborhoods have a lot in the way of shopping, dining and Instagrammable-worthy snaps if you’re willing to do the exploring! The two neighborhoods are linked by a commercial district called Five Points, the King Street District and the Shoppes of Avondale. Voted one of the hippest parts of town, you’re sure to bump into some of Jacksonville’s trendiest people along the sprawling shopping corridors, and you’re also close to the Cummer Museum, where there’s no shortage of art and natural beauty.
With nothing short of five-star reviews on Tripadvisor, the Taste of Jacksonville food walking tour is one of summer’s hottest attractions. Prepare for a culinary adventure and come hungry! Your guide will take you to five to six tasting locations around Jacksonville’s Southbank section, where you’ll eat up the best the city has to offer. Great for a big party or a small family gathering.
Insatiable appetite? We know about that. The First Coast Foodie Crew can help here. Proudly nicknamed the “Bold New City of the South,” Jacksonville has a wild variety of flavors for the pickiest of palates and offers walking food tours through some of the city’s best locations for food and drink. Whether it’s Shrimp and Grits Sunday, Taco Tuesday or Funnel Cake Friday, this historic riverside food tour promises to satisfy your craving.
Imagine a 360-degree view of the St. Johns River, Jacksonville’s Main Street and Jacksonville Landing – a bridge usually frequented by joggers, bikers, sight-seers and couples walking hand-in-hand. It’s a giant, paved promenade crossing the river where you can watch the water taxi routes go back and forth, and maybe catch a glimpse of a wedding on the river banks, a jazz fest after dark, or a kayak launch.
As part of the National Park Service’s Ecological & Historic Preserve of Florida, Timucuan encompasses 46,000 acres of open, untouched landscape full of trees, wildlife and fresh air. Here, you’ll find the Fort Caroline National Memorial, Kingsley Plantation – which is an historic cotton plantation complete with interactive educational exhibits, the state parks of Big and Little Talbot Islands, and vast spans of hiking trails, natural parks and ecology all around.
This pooch-popular playscape is Jacksonville’s largest, with 42 acres of all kinds of terrain for Rover to run on, splash around in and crawl over. Open daily, the park does require a small fee for a single day visit or you can purchase an annual membership. People and their pups are welcome to stay well after dark (and past regular visiting hours). There are also a few entry requirements that tag along with this experience, including that Buddy (or Bella) be neutered or spayed before visiting, show proof of a recent rabies vaccine and that children be strapped in a stroller. It’ll all be worth it though, once your four-legged friend has gotten all that energy out – off leash – and you treat yourself to the amenities offered at the private country club that provides fitness, recreational and socializing opportunities in a safe, fun and enclosed environment.