Paul has lived in north central Florida for over ten years and traveled around the state extensively, visiting Jacksonville many times.
Jacksonville is a large city in northeast Florida with a fascinating history and many fun attractions, including plenty of museums, beaches, parks, shops, sports, street art, and places to eat.
The city is not that far from the border with Georgia and is just over an hour's drive from where I live in north central Florida. It's a very affordable destination and I've been there many times for business, as well as pleasure. There always seems to be plenty of new things to discover each time I visit.
Aside from its impressive history, Jacksonville's other claim to fame is that it is the largest city by area in the contiguous United States. It's also the most populous city in Florida. The center of the city is focused around the St John's River, an area of the city which has experienced a lot of investment in recent years (money well spent, in my opinion).
Whittling down all the many things to do in Jacksonville to a top 10 has not been easy. I've tried my best to include some of my own personal favorites, as well as provide a range of different attractions that will hopefully appeal to a wide range of people.
Things to Do in Jacksonville: Top 10
Here are my top 10 things to do in Jacksonville, FL.
- Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
- Amelia Island
- The Florida Theatre
- Jacksonville Riverwalks
- Atlantic Beach
- Kingsley Plantation
- MOSH! The Museum of Science and History
- Adventure Landing
- Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
- Jax Ale Trail
I explore each suggestion in more detail below.
1. Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
This downtown museum can be found along the St. Johns River, and offers fine art and European-style gardens. Originally the home of Ninah May Holden Cummer, a local collector and philanthropist, who's aim was to create "a center of beauty and culture" in Jacksonville.
For younger visitors, the museum also has an interactive children’s exhibit, making it a great place for all art lovers.
If you like this museum, you might also like the Museum Of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCA), which is located at the University of North Florida.
2. Amelia Island
Amelia Island is a family friendly option and lies about 30 miles northeast of downtown Jacksonville. It hosts historic attractions, as well as beaches, and generally has a relaxed atmosphere.
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During the Jim Crow era, the destination was a safe vacation spot for African Americans after Florida's first Black millionaire, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, purchased 200 acres of beachfront and called it American Beach. Nowadays, there's a history museum, waterway cruises, as well as plenty of hiking options.
3. The Florida Theatre
Built in 1927, this stunning performing arts theater has a classic, old-world feel and is worth visiting if you get the chance. I've seen a number of performances there, comedy and music, and always thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There is also another Jacksonville theatre, the Ritz Theatre and Museum, which focuses on African-American culture, another visit worth making.
4. Jacksonville Riverwalks
The St. Johns River is the historic heart of Jacksonville and there are two sections of riverwalks, the Northbank and Southbank. They are pleasant to stroll, especially in the evening as the sun goes down, and they can be used to access a number of attractions, restaurants, and hotels. You will also see plenty of street performers and music.
5. Atlantic Beach
Jacksonville isn't on the beach, but if you drive east from the city, you will reach the coast in no time. You can even take the scenic route to reach Atlantic Beach via the St. Johns River Ferry. As well as the sea, sand, and sunshine that you'd expect, there are many other opportunities for fun, including deep-sea fishing charter companies. While access to the Atlantic Beach is free, be aware that it can get very crowded during the summer months.
6. Kingsley Plantation
For those who find history fascinating, I would recommend a visit to the Kingsley Plantation. Located to the east of the city on Fort George Island, this site is a great example of a grand Southern mansion from the pre-Civil War era. You'll find a plantation house, a barn, a kitchen house, and the remnants of some 25 cabins, where the enslaved people were kept. Although it represents a dark period from Florida's past, it's none-the-less a thought-provoking experience to find out how people lived in the 19th century.
The Fort George Island Cultural State Park is also worthy of additional exploration. As well as the fort, and the surrounding nature and wildlife, the island used to also host the The Ribault Club, Jacksonville's glamorous club for celebrities and the wealthy in the Roaring Twenties
7. MOSH The Museum of Science and History
The MOSH is a family-friendly and positively mind-blowing museum that's focused on science and nature. The Bryan-Gooding Planetarium is perhaps the star of the show, using cutting-edge technology to enable visitors to immerse themselves in outer space, but there's plenty more exhibits there to entertain and inform. It's one of the finest museums in all of Florida, in my opinion.
8. Adventure Landing
Adventure Landing is a fun and family friendly theme park located at Jacksonville Beach that's been around since the mid-1990's. There are plenty of wacky rides and attractions, many of them with a water-based theme. While my daughter loved the rides, I particularly enjoyed a round of miniature golf and the laser tag.
9. Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
This is a great attraction for families, as there is something for everyone. The Jacksonville Zoo occupies 22 acres and has more than 2,000 animals and 1,000 plant species. I'm a particular fan of the giraffes and otters, and also the big cats. Looking for manatees at the scenic Trout River dock is fun too. Like most modern zoos, the Jacksonville one has increasingly placed a large emphasis on wildlife conservation in recent decades.
10. Jax Ale Trail
A great choice for beer lovers, the Jax Ale Trail is a self-guided tour of the city's craft breweries. The beer tours are run by Brew Bus Jacksonville and Play Harder Tours and take in most of Jacksonville's breweries, as well as some great restaurants and bars that brew beer. There's a Jax Ale Trail Brewery Passport, which you can use to collect stamps at the places you visit, and later exchange for freebies and deals.
How Long Is the Jacksonville Northbank Riverwalk?
The Northbank Riverwalk is two miles long and runs from I-95 in Riverside to Berkman Plaza not far from the Sports District. It's definitely worth a stroll along, if you ever find yourself in Downtown Jacksonville, even if you don't cover the entire length.
© 2021 Paul Goodman