Jacksonville Travel Guide

USA  #9 in Best Places to Visit in Florida
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Best Things To Do in Jacksonville

Jacksonville often acts as a springboard for Atlantic coast exploration; the popular shoreside towns of Atlantic Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach and Amelia Island are all within an hour's drive from the downtown area. But stick around Jacksonville and you'll find that this sprawling city has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to entertaining leisure travelers — especially families. The Jacksonville Zoo houses expansive habitats for giraffes, elephants and cheetahs. (For more big cats, take a safari through Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary.) And for the love of the arts, spend an afternoon in The Cummer or the MOCA or a Saturday at the Riverside Arts Market.

How we rank Things to Do
  • #1
    Amelia Island
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    #1 in Jacksonville
    Recreation, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Recreation, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    About 30 miles northeast of downtown Jacksonville, the relaxed community of Amelia Island draws families in droves with its 13 miles of beaches, historic attractions and relaxed atmosphere. While here, you can learn about pirate lore at the Amelia Island Museum of History, look for alligators and wild horses while on a waterway cruise, hike through Fort George Island Cultural State Park or simply lounge on the sand. Recent guests particularly recommend laying your towel along the shores of Fernandina Beach, a small community that stretches along the northern part of the barrier island. "The beaches are second to none. The water is clean and warm. Downtown is charming and filled with good shops and restaurants," said one TripAdvisor user.

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  • #2
    Atlantic Beach
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    #2 in Jacksonville
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Jacksonville isn't located right on the beach, but it won't take you long to get to the coast. Head 16 miles due east along Route 10 and you'll find yourself in the charming town of Atlantic Beach. Once the first year-round Native American settlement in North America, Atlantic Beach now features vacation rentals, laid-back eateries, golf courses and, of course, a long stretch of soft sand. However, travelers warn that the summer months bring heavy crowds to the shoreline. Travelers say that spring and fall offer excellent weather and plenty of space to sprawl. Plus, there's plenty to do here even when the temperatures aren't conducive to a beach visit. "Of course, it is much nicer during the good weather months, but even in winter […], most of the area attractions are open," one TripAdvisor user attested.

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  • #3
    Ponte Vedra Beach
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    #3 in Jacksonville
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The southernmost of the Jacksonville Beaches, Ponte Vedra Beach draws leisure travelers in search of sprawling sands and, of course, golf. This fairly small community on the Atlantic coast (about 22 miles southeast of downtown Jacksonville) is best known as the home to the PGA Tour and The Players Championship, which are played at the famous TPC Sawgrass — and that's just one of many courses and country clubs in the area. But if you would prefer to skip the fairways, Ponte Vedra Beach also features several museums, a variety of shops and an array of eateries.

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  • #4
    Riverside Arts Market
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    #4 in Jacksonville
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Every Saturday in downtown Jacksonville (about a block from The Cummer Museum), hundreds of craftspeople and vendors gather at the Riverside Arts Market. Adorning the different booths, you'll notice everything from handmade pottery and silk screens to T-shirts and fresh produce. While you're browsing, you'll be kept entertained by numerous street performers, and when you begin to feel peckish, you can grab something to eat from one of the many street food sellers who set up shop here. "I had fish and chips for lunch while sitting on bench overlooking the river and watching the musicians play. Kettle Corn for dessert....does it get any better than that?" one TripAdvisor user asked.

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  • #5
    Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
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    #5 in Jacksonville
    Tours, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Tours, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Lions and tigers and … well, there are no bears, but you'll certainly find lions and tigers at the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as leopards, cougars and bobcats. This nonprofit organization specializes in rescuing big cats and providing them with a safe place to live. For visitors to the Jacksonville area, Catty Shack offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with these amazing animals. The sanctuary offers guided tours of the facility — both during the day and at night — that introduce visitors to the more than 40 animals. During the 45-minute guided tour, Catty Shack staff will tell you all about the sanctuary's residents, their natural habitats and personal anecdotes about interacting with the cats. Stay up late for a nighttime tour and you can see the animals during feeding time.

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  • #6
    The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
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    #6 in Jacksonville
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens makes an excellent addition to the historic Brooklyn neighborhood, sitting just southwest of downtown Jacksonville. Established in 1958, this beautiful art museum has made a mission out of art education and community enhancement. In addition to housing impressive exhibits, The Cummer offers seminars and lecture series while working with Duval County Schools on additional programs for kids. But back to the art: This museum houses more than 5,000 works from various artists, including Camille Pissarro and Norman Rockwell. And while you're here, make some time for a stroll through the gardens, which feature fountains, reflecting pools and a canopy created by towering old oak trees.

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  • #7
    Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
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    #7 in Jacksonville
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Sitting on the edge of the Trout River, about 7 miles north of downtown Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a must if you're visiting the city with kids. This facility is the only walking safari in northeast Florida; you are invited to wander the grounds, where you'll find opportunities to get up close and personal with animals like giraffes, great apes, big cats and elephants. The sprawling grounds also house Stingray Bay (where you can try your hand at feeding stingrays) and the ever-popular Play Park and Splash Ground (where you can cool off after a day in the Florida heat).

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  • #8
    Little Talbot Island State Park
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    #8 in Jacksonville
    Beaches, Parks and Gardens, Recreation
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Parks and Gardens, Recreation
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you've come to northwest Florida to take advantage of the warm weather and Atlantic coast, consider a visit to Little Talbot Island State Park. Catching the ocean waves about 25 miles northeast of downtown Jacksonville, Little Talbot Island boasts more than 5 miles of shoreline that lacks the crowds of other Florida beach destinations. But don't just come here to lounge along the sand. As one of the few undeveloped barrier islands remaining along the state's northeast coast, Little Talbot Island encompasses a variety of habitats — from salt marshes to sand dunes — that house a wide array of critters. Wildlife-watchers may catch a glimpse of such native species as river otters, marsh rabbits and bobcats.

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  • #9
    Kingsley Plantation
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    #9 in Jacksonville
    Museums, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Set in Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve — one of the last bits of unspoiled wetlands along the Atlantic Coast — Kingsley Plantation is the former home of Zephaniah Kingsley. His story is slightly different than those of other plantation owners: He moved to the area in 1814 with his wife and three children, only his wife, Anna, was a former slave hailing from Senegal. Anna helped manage a workforce of roughly 60 slaves, who helped the Kingsleys produce cotton, citrus fruit, sugar cane and corn. Over the course of his lifetime, Zephaniah Kingsley managed to expand his plantation empire to include more than 32,000 acres (across four plantation complexes) and more than 200 slave workers. However, Anna worked hard as an advocate for the end of slavery, even on her own property.

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  • #10
    Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
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    #10 in Jacksonville
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you've come to Florida for the beach, a 17-mile drive east of downtown Jacksonville will get you to Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, home to 1½ miles of clean, soft sand along the Atlantic coastline. And if that's not enough for you, this bit of shoreline offers some of the best surfing conditions in northeast Florida. But according to recent visitors, these aren't the only reasons to visit the park. "If you surf […] you will find some of the area's best waves here. But there are other activities to enjoy: bike or hiking trails, and a small lake for fishing," said one TripAdvisor user.

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  • #11
    Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville
    View all Photos
    #11 in Jacksonville
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Art aficionados won't want to miss the chance to visit MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, in downtown Jacksonville. This facility showcases nearly 1,000 individual works from artists like Alex Katz, Robert Longo and Philip Pearlstein. The museum's vast galleries house everything from paintings to sculpture to photography, while temporary exhibition space hosts touring works that explore artistic styles.

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  • #12
    Museum of Science & History
    View all Photos
    #12 in Jacksonville
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Located across the St. Johns River from downtown Jacksonville, the Museum of Science & History is worth a visit if you've got kiddos in tow. Although some recent visitors note that the museum itself is a bit small, many say that it was a big hit with members of the whole family. Displays include information on everything from the ocean to the history of Jacksonville to the human body, and interactive exhibits help keep younger visitors engaged. And if your little ones need to get rid of some pent up energy, you can take them to the museum's KidSpace, a spacious playground designed with kids ages 5 and younger in mind.

    ...Read More »

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