Free Things To Do in Jacksonville
- #1View all PhotosfreeAmelia Island#1 in JacksonvilleFree, Neighborhood/Area, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/Area, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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 laid-back atmosphere. In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Amelia Island also provided a safe vacation haven for Jacksonville's Black residents. Florida's first Black millionaire, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, purchased 200 acres of beachfront on Amelia Island and called it American Beach. Here, Black vacationers could enjoy the island without the threat of racial discrimination or violence. In 2002, the beach was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. To learn more about the beach's culture, stories and heritage, consider a visit to the American Beach Museum.
While on the island, you can also 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 visitors particularly recommended laying your towel along the shores of Fernandina Beach, a small community that stretches along the northern part of the barrier island.
- #2View all Photos#2 in JacksonvilleBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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 hosted 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, you can take advantage of Ponte Vedra Beach's museums, shops and eateries. Recent visitors were also big fans of the beach, thanks to the soft sand and dolphin sightings.
Ponte Vedra Beach is also home to some of the area's more upscale hotels, including the Lodge & Club at Ponte Vedra Beach. However, be aware that accommodations here fill up quickly during the golf tournaments in the spring and during the summer, so make your reservations well in advance if you plan to stay here.
- #3View all PhotosfreeAtlantic Beach#3 in JacksonvilleBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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 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, including a shore stroll – a favorite activity among recent visitors.
You can visit Atlantic Beach at any time, day or night, and access is free. However, other attractions around town may operate on different schedules. To learn more about what there is to see and do in Atlantic Beach, visit the Florida Tourism Board's website.
- #5View all Photos#5 in JacksonvilleFree, Hiking, Recreation, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Hiking, Recreation, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located on the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, which also houses Kingsley Plantation, Fort Caroline National Memorial aims to tell the story of the French colonial presence in 16th-century Florida. In addition to short walking trails, the site also houses a visitor center with exhibits detailing the preserve's natural history and environment, European exploration and settlement, and the Timucua Indians. There is also a scaled-down replica fort that was built in 1964 and is based on historic drawings of the original French fort.
Past visitors applauded the impressive St. Johns River views and the scenic nature trails found at Fort Caroline.
- #8View all Photos#8 in JacksonvilleFree, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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. You'll notice everything from handmade pottery and silk screens to T-shirts and fresh produce at the different booths. While you're browsing, you can enjoy entertainment from 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.
Past visitors said that though the market is small, it's worth perusing. Others appreciated the free nearby parking and the market's covered location under an overpass (perfect for hot or rainy days).
- #12View all Photos#12 in JacksonvilleMuseums, Free, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Free, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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. Kingsley moved to Fort George Island in the early 1800s with his wife and three children. His wife, Anna, originally hailed from Senegal and was purchased by Kingsley as a slave. She was freed by her husband in 1811, upon which she acquired her own land on the St. Johns River and purchased slaves. When the family began occupying the Kingsley Plantation in 1814, Anna helped manage a workforce of roughly 60 enslaved people, who produced cotton, citrus fruit, sugarcane and corn on the plantation thereby supplying the Kingsley family's wealth. Because the free Black population in East Florida (a Spanish province) maintained certain rights and privileges at the time, owning land and enslaved people was a common occurrence for free people of African descent. This would all change when Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821 and racial discrimination began to shape legislative policies.
Over the course of his lifetime, Zephaniah managed to expand his plantation empire to include more than 32,000 acres (across four plantation complexes) and owned more than 200 enslaved people.
- #15View all Photos#15 in JacksonvilleFree, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
For a quiet escape into nature that doesn't require much of a drive, head to the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens. Spanning 120 acres, the arboretum offers 3 miles of hiking trails, a 1-acre lake and a variety of plants and flowers.
Past visitors appreciated the serene atmosphere of the gardens and applauded the many benches stationed along the trails. Others were happy to find the flower and plant varieties clearly labeled, offering a learning opportunity for both kids and adults.
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