Jump to section: Jacksonville
If you’re looking for a little getaway with some great outdoor options, put Jacksonville, Florida, at the top of your to-go list.
With a warm temperature year round, a massive shoreline, and the joy of the Florida sun, Jacksonville will give you some good adventures and good pictures to prove it.
Keep reading for a list of some of the best outdoor activities in Jacksonville!
Spend a Day at the Beach
The beach is arguably one of the biggest attractions in Florida, and no other city has as much shoreline as Jacksonville. With twenty-two miles worth of beach, it’s hard to pick a favorite or spend just one day playing in the sand.
Its four main beaches — Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, and Mayport Beach — have plenty of fun-in-the-sun activities and are typically the more popular spots. Other beaches like Ponte Vedra Beach, Mickler’s Landing, and Huguenot Memorial Park are also worth visiting, especially if you want to experience more of the city while getting in the water.
Jacksonville is a great place for surfers of any skill level. Don’t be intimidated by the others riding the waves — the main beaches are the perfect places to learn! If you don’t have your own board, there’s plenty of surf shops that allow you to rent one, as well as give beginner lessons for those of us trying the sport for the first time. Stop by Jacksonville Surf and Paddle to buy or rent the essentials. If you’re a more experienced surfer looking for the best waves in Jacksonville, make your way straight to Huguenot Memorial Park or to the Mayport Poles through Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.
Maybe you’re not familiar with stand-up paddleboarding (you may think it’s just a surfboard being used incorrectly), but it’s starting to get more and more attention anywhere there’s a body of water. It requires a bit of balance and a tenacity to get back up once you’ve fallen down. You can rent a paddleboard to take out to the ocean waves, and we dare you to try some paddleboard yoga while you’re out there.
If your goal is to be a beach bum, then a Jacksonville beach is the place to be. The sun and waves will make you feel at peace while you lay out with a good book, take a stroll in the sand, or just sit under an umbrella and people watch.
You can even try surf fishing or throw the perfect cast from the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier! (Just make sure you get your Florida fishing license before you bring out your bait.)
Want a cheat sheet for where to go and what to do when it comes to Jacksonville beaches? Look through our Jacksonville Beach Guide for more ideas on how to enjoy your time in the sand, including where to eat.
Explore the St. Johns Waterways
The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida, and it just happens to run right through the center of Jacksonville. There’s plenty of places to just overlook the water (like the scenic Memorial Park), but the river’s also a great way to get outside, explore the city, and have some fun.
Kayaking is a fun and easy activity for most people, and Adventures Up the Creek has a handful of unique kayak tours that you need to check out.
They offer guided tours through the Jacksonville Zoo, downtown Jacksonville, around Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island, and through the Ortega River at Stinson Park.
Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen, comfy clothes, and some extra water!
While paddleboarding in the ocean can be the highlight of your beach trip, Jacksonville also has quite a few launches from the St. Johns where you can drop your board in the river. The river waters might be a little calmer than those ocean waves. To rent a paddleboard and even join an eco tour, visit Black Creek Outfitters, where you can also rent a kayak if you happen to change your mind at the last minute.
Ride the River Taxi
If you want to see the St. Johns but are feeling a little lazy, we suggest climbing aboard the St. Johns River Taxi. For just $10, you can hop on and off their taxi from nine different locations. Although we think of “taxi” as just a means of transportation, the river taxi doubles as the perfect way to see the Jacksonville skyline while you sit back and enjoy the sun.
For an even lazier pastime than riding a river taxi, you can try your hand at fishing the St. Johns River.
The river is home to bass, seatrout, red drum, flounder, catfish, and more, so there’s a variety of fish that you can reel in. This part of the river, known as the Lower Basin, is unique in that there are both freshwater and saltwater options when it comes to fishing!
Some great fishing spots by the river include Stockton Park, Memorial Park, and Mill Cove. Don’t forget to get your Florida fishing license before you grab your fishing pole.
Stroll through the City’s Gardens
Jacksonville’s gardens aren’t your run-of-the-mill backyard tomato gardens. These massive retreats in the city will make you appreciate nature and the creativity of landscape. Stroll through for a pleasant day outside.
The gardens at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens sit right behind the St. Johns River, but don’t let the word “museum” stop you. While inside sits the largest fine arts collection in Northeast Florida, outside, the immaculate Cummer Gardens are like a work of art that you can walk through. Who knew a garden could look like this?
With a history that goes back over a hundred years, the Cummer Gardens are part of the National Register of Historic Places. It has four main gardens — the Olmsted Garden, Italian Garden, English Garden, and the recently installed Sculpture Garden. Each is marked by its own unique landscape, including reflecting pools, fountains, sculptures, plants, and more. You might even forget you’re in Jacksonville until you see the St. Johns River that sits behind the Gardens!
For a more natural approach to a garden, you can also enjoy the foliage and sights at the Jacksonville Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. If you’ve never been to an arboretum or botanical garden, you can expect to see some unique plants and trees that are protected for scientific study. Plaques around the garden will tell you just what plant you’re looking at. This peaceful environment will give you a chance to connect with nature and be inspired by it’s beauty. Explore and meander through the 120 acres, 7 trails, and 13 different ecosystems in these gardens.
We also have to mention the botanical gardens at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Yes, zoos are mainly where you can see animals (keep reading for more on that!) but the Jacksonville Zoo is unique in that it also offers some beautiful gardens to roam through. Amazingly, these gardens are integrated into the zoo’s animal exhibits as well. Six different gardens, each with a unique theme and inspiration, will keep you looking until you lose track of time.
Hang Out with Some Animals
You probably didn’t expect to see this one on the list, but for the animal lovers out there, it’s worth noting that you can see some extraordinary animals in Jacksonville. These top-rated attractions are fun with a little bit of education sprinkled on top.
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is your first stop for seeing animals. It’s mapped out by continent, and from the Asian Bamboo Gardens to the Plains of East Africa, exhibits will give you a glimpse of the variety of wildlife around the world, all from the backyard of Jacksonville. As you “travel,” you can meet bald eagles, zebras, kudus, flamingos, tamarins, manatees, cheetahs, and more. Also, you can rest assured that the zoo’s Wildlife Wellness Team is taking care of every creature, no matter how big or small.
For a classic and well-guided adventure, go horseback riding at the Diamond D Ranch, which is about half an hour away from the middle of Jacksonville. You can book guided tours for two or more people for up to five hours!
Depending on which tour package you chose, you could ride through Diamond D’s 500-acre ranch or the Jennings State Forest, stopping at a beautiful historic church that’s in the middle of the forest. Don’t forget to tip your tour guide!
Be sure to visit the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary to encounter big cats and support a nonprofit that helps to rescue them from bad situations. The sanctuary hosts tigers, lions, pumas, leopards, and lynx, as well as foxes and coatimundis. You can join a walking tour or plan your trip to be there for a night feeding tour. The feeding tour isn’t for the faint of heart! While the cats usually lounge and sleep during the day tours, they may get a little rowdy during feeding time. The sanctuary has been ranked as one of Jacksonville’s top attractions, so make your way there if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience!
Take a Hike
Hands down, hiking is one of the best outdoor activities, and the trails in Jacksonville are some of the most unique landscapes you’ll find yourself in. There’s so much wildlife waiting to be discovered. Trailheads are scattered all throughout the city, and a few beaches even offer a great experience against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Here are a few Jacksonville hikes to add to your list.
The University of North Florida Nature Trails
Right by the university campus, these trails will fully immerse you in the beauty of nature. They aren’t super long, but you’ll still see some wildlife like turtles and fish in the lake. You can also pause for a pic while you walk across the boardwalk. It doesn’t get too busy out here, but these trails are still well-worn, easily accessible, and great for any level hiker.
Spanish Pond Trail
This two-mile hike is part of the Timucuan Preserve to the north of Jacksonville. It starts off as a wooded boardwalk that will lead you to look over the historic Spanish Pond. The trail doesn’t loop, but it does connect to the Theodore Roosevelt Area where you can continue hiking and exploring. If you choose to continue hiking, be sure you pay attention to any signs and trailheads to avoid getting lost. Don’t forget to pack your bug spray, too!
Talbot Island Trails
Big Talbot Island and Little Talbot Island both offer great hikes, birding, and camping options. Just north of Jacksonville on the coast of the ocean, these gorgeous state parks have a variety of ecosystems and sights to see. Plan on spending the better part of a day out here so you can take your time.
One notable trail is Black Rock Trail on Big Talbot Island, which will take you to Black Rock Beach. This beach is unlike any other beach in Jacksonville — the black “rocks” on the shore are actually chunks of compressed sand that look like cooled lava! This geological formation is super unique in the United States (it’s actually quite rare outside of Hawaii), so make sure you pack a camera to capture the memories.
If you need a paved option for a stroller or biking, Timucuan Trail is a great choice. It’s almost three miles long and runs through shady forests for a little bit of coverage from the sun.
On Little Talbot Island, make your way to the Dune Ridge Trail where you can explore five distinct natural communities. The trail runs for four miles, and the last mile and half will take you through the beach for a beautiful hike looking over the water.
While on Little Talbot, you should also stop by the Campground Nature Trail, which is an easy one-mile hike. It starts by the salt marshes of Myrtle Creek and passes through the forest. This hike will give you a picture of the island’s wildlife.
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
This 450-acre park offers plenty of space for hiking, camping, biking, and more, plus you can access the Mayport Poles for some of the best surfing in town. The hike here is an almost three-mile long loop. It’ll take you across several bridges and right next to a lake in the middle of the park. There is a $5 fee to enter the park. However, because there’s so much to do at Hanna Park, you might want to consider extending your stay with a couple nights of camping.
South of Jacksonville at the Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park, the Island Trail winds through the forest near the Ortega River. For almost two miles, this trail is home to some floodplain habitats that you want to pay attention to (and maybe avoid) as you hike. Just make sure you read the trailheads and wear sturdy shoes for this one. Be aware that there are some places on the hike that are unmarked. This trail is a good one to test out your directional ability, and the scenery of the forest makes it a beautiful place to truly explore.
Visit the Riverwalk
Anyone up for sightseeing on the St. Johns River? The Jacksonville Riverwalk is a 1.2 mile scenic walkway along the river. There are a lot of city sights to see from the path, so have your camera on hand! Especially on a clear day, the Riverwalk is a cool reminder of the unique geography of downtown Jacksonville. While walking, you can spot the Friendship Fountain, the Museum of Science and History, and the TIAA Bank Field, where the Jacksonville Jaguars play! Since joggers and bikers frequent the Riverwalk also, be aware of your surroundings as you sightsee.
Relax at a City Park
With over 400 parks and recreational spaces in Jacksonville, there’s plenty of options for planning picnics or throwing frisbees. The bigger parks are definitely worth a day trip. (Go back to the hiking section for more info on those). But the other local parks around the city are great for relaxing on a cool afternoon! A lot of them sit on the edge of the St. Johns River, giving you some beautiful scenery while you take a break in the sun.
There are gems scattered all about Jacksonville. Memorial Park and Riverside Park in the Five Points neighborhood are great stopping points if you’re in the area. Five Points has a lot of restaurants and pubs to check out and is very walkable.
Stockton Park in the historic Ortega neighborhood is a peaceful spot. You’ll also get one of the best views of the Jacksonville skyline.
Metropolitan Park has 32 acres of waterfront glory. The park doubles as an event space, and has hosted events like the Jacksonville Jazz Festival.
For cityscape views of Jacksonville, visit Friendship Park in the Southbank area. It’s also where you’ll find Friendship Fountain, which lights up at night with huge multi-colored water jets.
Just a few minutes from Friendship Park is Treaty Oak Park, home to the ancient Treaty Oak Tree. It’s an estimated 250 years old, has a trunk over 25 feet in circumference, and spreads out over 145 feet. In short, it’s massive, and we don’t blame you if you want to climb its branches (even though it’s not allowed).
If you’ve got your four-legged friend with you, let him or her run around Dog Wood Park where there’s 25 acres of fenced-in land, including a small pond and doggy showers. There’s a small fee to enter, but Dog Wood’s a great place to let your pup burn off some energy.
Tour the City’s History
There’s no shame in being a history buff in a city like Jacksonville. There’s a lot to see and a lot to learn! You can walk through the city’s historic neighborhoods on a self-guided tour or book with an official tour company. With the help of the GPSmyCity app, you can go at your own pace. Their self-guided Jacksonville tours include a museums and galleries tour, a tour of the southern bank of the city, and a tour to see some of the most beautiful religious buildings.
If you don’t mind staying on a schedule, book a tour with the Jacksonville Walking Tour. Their top-rated tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays will give you a peek at memorable sites and underground tunnels. Be sure to plan ahead for the tour since there’s only one time slot each day they run. Put on your walking shoes, then meet up at 10:00 a.m. at the Jacksonville Landing escalators to join in the fun!
For those who are interested in historic homes, take a leisurely walk through the neighborhoods of Old Arlington, Ortega, and the Riverside/Avondale Historic District. The beautiful homes and the architecture in these neighborhoods will take you back in time.
In Old Arlington, one place to look for is the Norman Silent Film Studios which is “Jacksonville’s Only Surviving Silent Film Studio Complex.” Founded in 1916, filmmakers sought to create positive perspectives of African American characters. It’s been designated as a National Historic Landmark, so you can’t leave this one off your list.
In Ortega, the streets are lined with beautiful, historic mansions. You’ll see one of the best views of the Jacksonville skyline from the banks of the river in this neighborhood.
The Riverside/Avondale District on the west side of the St. Johns also has historic homes that you can marvel at. Several restaurants and boutique shops might also catch your eye if you’re looking for some food or souvenirs.
Just Get Outside!
Whether you’re trying to relax or looking for an adventure, outdoor activities in Jacksonville have a lot to offer. Your trip is bound to be a good one if you follow our guide and are open to exploring. Be sure to pack your sunscreen!