Home to the beautiful St John’s River and the longest coastline of any city in the United States, Jacksonville is one of the most popular cities in the Sunshine State of Florida – and easily one of the most charming.
It’s also one of the most populated.
Between the countless urban parks, world class cuisine and thriving nightlife, there’s no shortage of excitement in this coastal river city.
Jacksonville also happens to be ideally located in terms of its proximity to the various neighbouring gems, including everything from national seashore beaches populated by wild horses to ancient natural springs.
With most of these prime destinations situated less than an hour away from the city, you’ll find that it’s easier than ever to enjoy Florida’s stunning attractions in the space of a day.
Here are 15 of the best day trips from Jacksonville.
1. Blue Springs State Park
Easily one of the most beautiful and popular stretches of the St John’s River, the waters of Blue Springs State Park span an impressive 2600-acres of pristine, unspoiled, tantalizing landscape.
A mere two hours from the hustle and bustle of Jacksonville, the springs are also home to West Indian manatees that are visible during manatee season and add to the gorgeous azure attraction of the warm waters.
As you’d expect, the summer months see many locals and visitors arriving to swim and kayak through Blue Springs and embark on guided ecological excursions throughout the area.
2. Ichetucknee Springs
Only a couple of hours away from the bustling city, you’ll find one of Florida’s most beloved and popular natural attractions, the irresistible Ichetucknee Springs.
The gorgeous network of sun-dappled springs is a refreshing playground for children and adults alike, with countless people visiting each year to enjoy the crystal-clear waterways.
The most common pastime is swimming or tubing down the river, which is accessible to all thanks to the abundance of nearby stores selling affordable tubes.
Also on offer is cave diving, with the prime location being Blue Hole Spring, the largest of the springs in Ichetucknee.
3. Amelia Island
A mere 30-miles away from Jacksonville lies the serenely beautiful Amelia Island – an Atlantic barrier island with sweeping white sand beaches and a lush, forested interior peppered with marshlands.
The urbanised area of the island offers intriguing art galleries, historic saloons and a decidedly laid back and charming small-town atmosphere.
Another highlight on Amelia Island is Fernandina Beach, an area nestled in the northeast corner of the island boasting a fine collection of pristine beaches, upmarket resorts and fantastic golfing opportunities.
Here, you’ll also find popular festivals ranging from music to foodie throughout the year.
For a fascinating insight into a historic Floridian settlement, make the one hour journey to the traditional city of Palatka, where you’ll find a healthy dose of old town charm.
With perfectly preserved homes and churches dating back to the 1800’s, a visit to Palatka can feel like stepping back in time, not to mention offering an intriguing alternative to the streets of Jacksonville.
The thriving art scene both in galleries and on the street only adds to the vibrant and culturally rich atmosphere and is best enjoyed on an excursion like the Palatka Mural Tour.
For a nature outing, you can venture out to the Ravine Gardens State Park, home to two enormous ravines and an abundance of beautiful gardens.
Another pristinely beautiful escape from metropolitan life comes in the form of the sun-drenched region of Ocala, boasting mile after mile of untouched natural reserve – the most attractive of which is the Ocala National Forest.
Here, you’ll find a mixture of enchanting glens flanked by weeping willows, and tranquil springs with clear waters.
Juniper Run and Silver Glen Springs are particularly popular for a refreshing dip in swimming holes and tubing routes, while the Silver Springs State Park offers land activities such as horseback riding.
Situated on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa is one of Florida’s most well-travelled and exciting cities.
Thanks to its west coast location and year-round warm climate, Tampa is an excellent beach destination, home to popular spots like Clearwater Beach or the quieter, but even more gorgeous Indian Rocks Beach.
With fishing excursions galore, top-notch seafood restaurants, and a decidedly marine-oriented way of life, a day trip to Tampa will have you wishing for a life by the coast after a few hours.
The sizeable college town of Gainesville is not only a buzzing hub full of youthful charm, thanks to it being home to the University of Florida, it is also a hotbed of state parks and various natural attractions.
Without even having to leave the city, nature lovers can enjoy the impressively vast, 62-acre Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, or live butterflies at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Venturing further afield, marvel at enormous sinkholes in Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, amongst other naturally occurring phenomena.
8. St Augustine
To say St Augustine is a bucketlist Floridian destination would be an understatement, to say the least.
The oldest city in the United States – let alone Florida – is a delight for those with an interest in history, architecture, or simply just appreciate a gorgeous town.
The beautiful architecture is decidedly European, and it’s easy to spend hours wandering the cobblestone streets taking it all in.
The palm-lined, lamp-illuminated plazas are particularly pleasant to walk around in the evening.
If you’re in search of incredible views of the town, then climb to the top of the St Augustine Lighthouse, where you can see the historic city from up high in all its majesty.
9. Cedar Key
Around three miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll find the positively minute but irresistibly cheerful fishing village of Cedar Key, known for its small size and laidback, friendly atmosphere.
Food is usually one of the most important aspects of a visit to Cedar Key, and the local shellfish are claimed to be among the sweetest and very best in the world.
Other than the world-class seafood, the key is a wonderful place to wander around in flip flops and unwind.
10. Ginnie Springs
One of the lesser known springs near Jacksonville, but no less attractive, the Ginnie Springs are known for the clarity of their waters, making them particularly popular with snorkelers and divers.
Less than two hours from Jacksonville, Ginnie Springs offers better cave diving opportunities than its Floridian counterparts, thanks to the huge network of subterranean caverns under the surface that are captivating to explore by yourself or in a group.
The glittering bodies of water are also a delight to swim and tube in, offering a refreshing respite from the hot Florida sun.
11. White Springs
In less than an hour you could be unwinding in one of Florida’s smallest and most picturesque towns, surrounded by rugged natural beauty that offers a variety of activities.
A world away from busy Jacksonville, the sparsely populated town of White Springs is a welcome escape from city life and is full of antique shops, preserved historic homes and championing a laidback pace of life.
If, however, you want a more active visit, you’ll find the thrilling Big Shoals State Park on your doorstep, where you can tackle world class whitewater rapids.
For a happy medium between the two, you can enjoy countless leisurely hikes along the trails found at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park.
12. Ponce Inlet
A quaint coastal community that is also home to the tallest lighthouse in the state, Ponce Inlet is an excellent day trip for families and travellers looking for a quieter alternative to nearby Daytona Beach and the crowds associated with it.
The attractive, crowd-free beaches here offer incredible waves to surf and miles of shell-strewn beach to wander along.
Of course, the highlight is the view from the top of the 203-step lighthouse, from which the panoramic vistas will not disappoint.
13. Cumberland Island
Given its southern position in the state, Jacksonville is, in fact, not very far from Georgia.
One of the closest attractions is the gorgeous and unique island of Cumberland.
Board a ferry at St Mary’s to get there, and be sure to bring your camera to capture snapshots of the local flora and fauna.
Cumberland Island’s most intriguing feature is the herds of wild horses roaming free along the sweeping beaches and tree-lined dirt roads.
Having lived here for generations, the horses are undomesticated and fascinating to observe in their beautiful home.
14. Daytona International Speedway
Home to one of the nation’s most beloved and exhilarating sports, the Daytona International Speedway is a thrill to visit on any day of the year, regardless of whether you get to see one of the huge events such as the Daytona 500. You’ll have the chance to walk along the track and check out some race-winning cars that are housed there.
For speedsters, there’s the chance to ride with a pro or even drive the car yourself on differently priced tours.
15. Big Talbot Island
Only 20-miles east of Jacksonville, you’ll find the thriving, naturally abundant Big Talbot Island, one of the most ecologically diverse of the Floridian sea islands.
Discover marshlands populated by wild birds at Sarabay, or have a picnic at The Bluffs in one of the picturesque pavilions at the water’s edge.
One of the highlights is a visit to Boneyard Beach, which is famed for the abundance of sun-bleached, salt-washed tree skeletons populating the shore.