Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary#5 in Best Things To Do in Jacksonville
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.
Catty Shack Ranch is a bit of a drive from downtown Jacksonville — about 16 miles north along I-95, to be exact. But those who have made the trip say it's well worth it. "We all had a great time watching these beautiful animals and hearing their stories," said one TripAdvisor user. "I'm glad there are places like this to care for them."
Daytime tours of Catty Shack Ranch are offered from 1 to 4 p.m., while nighttime feeding tours take place between 6 and 8:30 p.m.; tours are not offered every day, so you'll need to check the website for the most recent schedule. Tours can be purchased online; day tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for children, while evening tours cost $15 for adults and $10 for children.
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#1 Amelia Island
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.
Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach are a bit of a hike from downtown Jacksonville, and traffic can be treacherous. If you'd like to make the most out of a visit to these beachside communities, consider setting up camp there — the island is home to some of the area's more opulent accommodations, including The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. You'll also find numerous vacation rentals and condos that can accommodate larger groups. Just be sure to make your reservations well in advance if you're planning to visit in the summer.
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