Florida’s most populous city, Jacksonville and its surroundings are a hive of buzz and activity, with a huge amount of fun-packed things to see and do.
A highly liveable city with eclectic neighbourhoods and surrounded by sandy beaches, and abundant waterways, Jacksonville is one of Florida’s most desirable destinations – for both residents and visitors. If you’re planning a trip and would like some ideas for putting an itinerary together, here’s our pick of 12 of the most fun attractions and activities to be found in around the city.
Discover an array of exotic wildlife
Home to almost 2,500 rare and exotic animals, along with thousands of plant varieties, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is one of the city’s most perennially popular attractions. Highlights include the chance to feed giraffes at the African Overlook zone, watching otters float along in the Wild Florida exhibit, admiring kaleidoscopic birds called lorikeets in the Australian Adventure zone, and peering up as tigers roam overhead at the Land of the Tiger exhibit.
370 Zoo Parkway, Jacksonville / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Explore a hip and historic neighbourhood
There’s no better way to get to know a city than to stroll its streets and in Jacksonville the perfect destination for a gentle amble is the charming tree-lined streets of historic Riverside & Avondale. Listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, the adjacenent neighbourhoods are Jacksonville’s oldest and coolest districts, packed full of great restaurants, antique stores, high-end boutiques, chic bars and top class museums.
Delve into Jacksonville’s burgeoning craft beer scene
Over the past few years an increasing number of independent, small-production breweries have been popping up across Jacksonville, and today the city boasts one of the largest concentrations of craft breweries anywhere in Florida. In celebration of this fast-growing industry, the Jax Ale Trail was devised, a free self-guided tour of some of the area’s best purveyors of craft beer. All you do is pick up a Jax Ale Trail Brewery Passport at any of the participating breweries before heading off on your own journey of beer discovery.
If you’ve only got the time – or the constitution – to take in one Jacksonville brewery, then we’d recommend Fishweir Brewing Company. Located in the city’s Murray Hill neighbourhood, they deliver a unique brewery and taproom experience, with visitors invited to come and try out several styles of beer that are less common to the Jacksonville area, including their signature farmhouse style “sour” beers that owe their distinct flavours to a mixed fermentation process. The brewery’s friendly staff will be on hand to answer any questions you have about their beers and the production techniques behind them.
Immerse yourselves in art and culture
Perched on Jacksonville’s Southbank Riverwalk, the Museum of Science & History (AKA ‘MOSH’) is among the city’s most visited cultural venues and a great place to while away an afternoon – particularly on one of the city’s infrequent rainy days. Offering an immersive experience full of hands-on displays and installations, the museum is jam-packed full of fascinating exhibits that explore both science, local history and Northeast Florida’s cultural and natural ecosystems.
1025 Museum Cir, Jacksonville / Mon & Thurs-Fri 10am-5pm Sat 10am-6pm Sun 12pm-5pm Closed Tues-Weds
If you prefer your culture outdoors, then how about joining an organised and fully guided Public Art Tour? The first of its kind collaboration with local creative agency ArtRepublic Global, the tour invites guests to visit and admire 70+ public art mural, mosaics and statues that have been created by local and international artists and scattered around the Jacksonville cityscape. The tour price includes pick up from select local hotels, your friendly and knowledgeable guide, and an audio headset.
Uncover the magic behind theme park rides
It’s fair to say that Sally Dark Rides have come a long way since their creation in Jacksonville in 1977. Initially formed to build a talking tooth fairy that taught children in dentists’ waiting rooms about oral care, the company have grown to become a world leader in the design of animatronic characters and so-called ‘dark rides’. Operating out of a 40,000-square-foot facility in the city’s downtown district, the company offers immersive, free of charge tours that invite visitors to discover how our favourite characters and rides are brought to life through script and music writing, set design, lighting and special effects. Tours are available to both groups and individuals (minimum age 7) throughout the year, except the summer months.
745 West Forsyth Street, Jacksonville / Tues & Thurs 9am-1pm
Learn to surf at Jacksonville Beach
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to ride the waves then a visit to Jacksonville provides the perfect opportunity. Hosted by experienced and fully vetted coaches, you can join a group surfing lesson for two people on Jacksonville Beach that will introduce you and your partner to the fundamentals of surfing, including basic safety measures, pop-up and paddling technique, and how to tackle rips and currents. Lessons run for 1.5 hours and a surfboard is provided as part of the cost.
Attend a world class music festival
Just as in many other US cities, jazz is a big deal in Jacksonville. Each year on Memorial Day weekend, the city plays host to the nationally acclaimed Jacksonville Jazz Festival that attracts some of the genre’s biggest names. Free to enter, among the highlights is a traditional piano competition that sees five finalists competing for the chance to perform on the downtown Main Stage. There are plenty of food and drinks stalls to keep revellers in good fettle too.
Venues throughout downtown Jacksonville / Sept – Oct each year
Visit one of Florida’s only remaining plantation homes
Perched within Fort George Island State Park, a 35-minute drive south west of Jacksonville, Kingsley Plantation is the former home of English-born slave trader Zephaniah Kingsley and is one of the last remaining plantation homes in Florida, serving as a reminder of America’s dark past of exploitation. Today you can join tours of the house, in which you’ll learn about its fascinating history and the people who lived here during the late 1700’s and 1800’s.
11676 Palmetto Avenue / Weds-Sun 9am-5pm
Explore the magical waters around Jacksonville
Surrounded by idyllic islands, gorgeous beaches and charming bays, Jacksonville is a wonderful base from which to enjoy a yachting adventure. If you’re seeking such an experience, your first port of call should be Now and Zen Sailing Charters, an acclaimed local company that arranges a variety of charter packages to suit your tastes and budget, all aboard a comfortable vessel that sleeps four guests in two private cabins. Among their most popular tours are sunset cruises, day sails and sailing vacations of anything from one night to several weeks to destinations including Amelia Island, Cumberland Island and Jekyll Island. Add-ons such as gourmet dinners are also available.
Or for an alternative water-based experience, how about an Amelia Island Guided Kayak Tour? Taking place on Lofton Creek, a fresh water tidal creek, the tour offers intrepid guests the chance to see a wealth of wildlife, majestic cypress trees, flowers, and more. Designed for beginners and entirely family friendly, you’ll receive a brief introduction before grabbing your kayak, paddle, and life vest – all included in the price – and taking to the water. For the next 1.5 to 2 hours, you’ll get to enjoy a dose of Floridian nature whole navigating the waters of the bucolic creek, leaving you with plenty of memories to savour.