Perched along the Atlantic Ocean in northeast Florida, the sprawling city of Jacksonville combines an idyllic natural setting with an array of urban attractions. With its sandy beaches and multitude of waterways, the city is a popular tourist destination, with large numbers of families drawn here by the abundance of kid-friendly activities on offer.
With its mix of coastal adventure and places of interest laying inland too, Jacksonville is a great choice for families planning a Florida vacation. To help you build an itinerary for your trip, we’ve picked out 12 of the best things to see and do in Jacksonville with kids in tow, ensuring you memories to last a lifetime.
Admire animals and other great attractions at a world class zoo
One of Florida’s most popular family attractions, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is far more than a common or garden zoo. As well as its array of animals on display, there’s also a splash play park, a wildlife carousel, a Discovery Building packed full of toys and activities, and a miniature train that loops the entire park. As for its myriad of exotic creatures, among the highlights are giraffe feeding and the chance to watch live jaguars prowl around recreated Maya ruins.
LOCATION 370 Zoo Parkway HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Let the kids off the leash at an all-action adventure park
A mere hop, skip and a jump from Jacksonville’s sandy shore, Adventure Landing offers a magical day of all-action family entertainment and fun for every age and predilection. Whether it’s splashing around in a waterpark, testing your putting skills at mini golf or sending your adrenaline pumping on a roller coaster, there’s no end to the excitement.
LOCATION Jacksonville Beach HOURS Mon-Thurs 11am-7pm Fri-Sat 11am-9pm Sun 11am-8pm
Immerse yourselves in science, history & more
Also known as MOSH, The Museum of Science & History is part of a long parade of family-friendly attractions on the Southbank along the St. Johns River. The fully interactive museum is perhaps the area’s flagship venue, with its exceptional collection of exhibits and displays that explore all aspects of science, marine life, social history and space.
LOCATION 1025 Museum Cir
Take the kids to a well-equipped fun centre
A state-of-the-art facility spread over 40,000 square foot, The Batt Family Fun Center is another perennial family favourite. There’s a bowling alley, a games arcade, a billiards tables, 18 holes of Krazie glow golf, and endless other fun-packed activities that will keep the kids entertained for hours on end. For refreshments, there’s also a full-service snack bar.
LOCATION 1838 Cassat Avenue HOURS Mon–Thurs 10am-11pm Fri-Sat 10am-1am Sun 11am-11pm
Visit a fun-filled children’s museum
Focussed on providing kids with a fully interactive and immersive experience, Jacksonville’s “Hands On” Children’s Museum is a major draw with families visiting the city. Among the most popular features are a recreation of a castle and – less conspicuously – a grocery where your littles ones can indulge in a spot of retail role play. There’s also a picnic area and a free play zone.
LOCATION 8580 Beach Boulevard HOURS Mon-Sat 9.30ma-5pm Closed Sun
Get your sugary fix at an acclaimed candy store
Sweet-toothed visitors to Jacksonville will want to pencil in a visit to Sweet Pete’s during their stay. A veritable mecca for candy lovers, the store’s décor is almost as colourful as its produce, with kaleidoscopic tables and chairs inviting patrons to sit back and sample the nearly 1,000 different types of candy on sale. As well as its tempting sugary wares, the store also hosts regular classes and events including chocolate making workshops and an adults-only Candy and Cocktails party.
LOCATION 400 North Hogan Street HOURS Tues-Sun 10am-6pm
Enjoy the great outdoors at an Arboretum & Gardens
Spread across some 120 acres of urban woodland and open every day of the year, Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens is a nature lover’s paradise. Teeming with wonderful walking trails and beautifully kept gardens, the space is a magical spot to come and be as active or as leisurely as you please, while surrounded by nature’s finest.
LOCATION 1445 Millcoe Road HOURS Mon-Thurs 8am-7pm Fri-Sun 8am-5pm
Sample some local culinary treats on a food tour
Jacksonville has a vibrant foodie scene and there’s no better way to explore it than by joining an organised tour of its culinary hotspots. One of the city’s most renowned tour companies are Taste of Jacksonville Food Tours, who offer a variety of themed tours, all run by experienced, knowledgeable and entertaining guides. Highlights include a casual stroll through some of Jacksonville’s best known areas, such as Historic San Marco, as well as the city’s lesser known spots, while stopping along the way to savour some of the delicious fare being served at several charming local restaurants. Private tours are also available.
Traverse the waters of a state park aboard a kayak
Kayaking enthusiasts visiting Jacksonville have the perfect chance to indulge their passion at Big Talbot Island State Park. Off the coast of the park’s famous Boneyard Beach, visitors can either go solo or join an organised kayak tour, during which there’ll be the chance to explore tidal pools, creeks and salt marshes with a paddle in hand, while looking out for diverse habitats including snails, clam shells, and horseshoe crab tracks, as well as spying roseate spoonbills and great egrets stalking their prey. Both seasoned and novice paddlers are all welcome.
LOCATION A1A North, Jacksonville
Come and meet some rescued big cats
On select days and evenings each week, the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary opens its doors to visitors who can come and meet an assortment of rescued big cats. Among the exotic residents at the not-for-profit sanctuary are lions, Siberian tigers, white tigers, black leopards, cougars, and a bobcat. Expert guides are on hand to lead you on a tour of the facility.
LOCATION 1860 Starratt Road HOURS Mon-Sun 1pm-3pm
Savour some top notch grub & music at a buzzing festival
One of the most eagerly awaited events on Jacksonville’s annual social calendar is the Great Atlantic Seafood & Music Festival. Offering top quality live music, tons of kid-friendly rides and games, and as much fresh seafood as you can eat, the buzzing beachfront festival attracts large crowds every year – not least because it’s entirely free to enter.
LOCATION Seawalk Pavilion, 75 1st Street North, Jacksonville Beach
Relive your childhood at a games arcade
The perfect indoor attraction for a rainy day, Dave & Buster’s video game arcade is guaranteed to captivate kids as well as any adult that’s gone through (or is still in) a gaming phase. As well as a dazzling array of classic and virtual experiences games, visitors can also drink and dine here ‘till their heart’s content, meaning that even if you’re not into gaming, you’ll still be able to kick back and relax while family members are otherwise engaged.
LOCATION 7025 Salisbury Road HOURS Mon-Thurs 12pm-11pm Fri-Sat 12pm-12am Sun 12pm-10pm