Jax to its friends, this youthful city in Northeast Florida occupies a huge area, the largest of any in the contiguous United States.
So you can soak up the big city energy downtown, watch the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field, walk the riverfront and hop across the river aboard the Jacksonville Water Taxi.
But Jacksonville is also 22 miles of white sands at the Beaches, a chain of coastal settlements on the barrier island to the east.
Some of the most ancient artifacts in the country have been discovered in the Timucuan Preserve, equivalent to a national park and comprising a gigantic protected space with wetlands, forgotten plantations and eerie beaches where maritime woodland has been overcome by the Atlantic.
Let’s explore the best things to do Jacksonville:
1. Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
At the turn of the 20th century the Cummer Lumber Company was the largest landowner in the Florida.
Ninah Cummer, wife of the heir Arthur Cummer, spent the 1940s and 50s amassing the art collection that gave rise to this museum.
The Cummer Museum of Art was built on the Cummer estate in 1961 in place of two family homes, and the three gardens around it retain the layout they had when the Cummers lived here.
That original inventory has grown to over 5,000 works of art, jumping across eras and regions of the world.
There are paintings by Rockwell, Rubens and Winslow Homer, as well as Japanese prints, rare books and Ancient Egyptian artifacts including the Stele of Iku and Mer-imat, dating to 2100. What grabs the headlines though is the Constance I. and Ralph H. Wark Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain, comprising more than 700 pieces from the first half of the 18th century.
Outside are the English Garden, Italian Garden and Olmsted Garden (designed by the famous firm), all at the foot of the majestic Cummer Oak, thought to be as old as 200 years.
2. Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Often hailed as one of the best zoos in the United States, the Jacksonville Zoo may confound your expectations for what a zoo can be.
This attraction is engaged in dozens of conservation programs worldwide and has groundbreaking enclosures that are both humane and exciting to experience.
Along those lines is Land of the Tiger, which allows its Sumatran and Malayan tigers to pass overhead on a raised trail system.
The award-winning Range of the Jaguar meanwhile recreates a rainforest environment, complete with Mayan ruins containing habitats for anacondas, pygmy marmosets, Amazon tree boa constrictors and poison dart frogs.
In one enclosure here, capybaras, giant anteaters and howler monkeys exist side-by-side, while sunbitterns, red-capped cardinals and macaws perch in the canopy just above the trails.
Elsewhere you’ll get close to bonobos, gorillas, manatees, komodo dragons, elephants and giraffes, and will get to touch and feed a variety of harmless rays at Stingray Bay.
3. Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
Mostly north of the St.Johns River as it bends towards the Atlantic is a 46,000-acre U.S. National Preserve containing a mosaic of natural habitats, but mostly wetlands and waterways.
The space is named for the Timucua Indians, who occupied most of northern Florida and southern Georgia when the Spanish arrived.
A few of the spots on this list, like the Kingsley Plantation, Talbot Islands State Parks and Fort Caroline National Memorial, lie within the preserve’s borders.
For a hike there’s the Theodore Roosevelt Area on the south bank of the St. Johns River where in the space of a few minutes you’ll cross five different Florida ecosystems.
Piles of discarded oyster shells here are a thrilling vestige of the lost Timucua culture.
Over the river, the Fort George Island Visitor Center is in a repurposed country club building from the 1920s.
Exhibits document the island’s natural and human past, and afterward you can take a moment to rest by the malva blooms and oaks in a rocking chair.
4. Little Talbot Island State Park
Take the scenic A1A out of downtown Jacksonville and after cross the St. Johns and Fort George Rivers you’ll be on an undeveloped, 2,500-acre barrier island.
Coming from Jacksonville’s low-lying terrain you’ll be struck by Little Talbot Island’s hilly woodland of sky-scraping pines, southern live oaks and ferns, all growing on ancient dunes.
The four-mile Dune Ridge Trail passes beneath the branches of live oaks draped with Spanish moss and is fringed by spicy bay, cedar, palmetto and holly.
Eventually you’ll be out in the open dunes and on the beach, where the bleached skeletons of trees line the shore.
There’s a full-facility campground at Little Talbot Island, which also rents out bicycles and canoes if you want to discover the salt marsh to the west of the island, a haven for nesting and migrating birds.
5. Big Talbot Island State Park
Also undeveloped, Big Talbot Island is the next stop on the A1A, and blends coastal hammock, coastal scrub, tidal marsh and beach ecosystems.
For visitors the obvious draw is Boneyard Beach, at the end of the Blackrock Trail.
There you’ll witness the effects of fast-paced coastal erosion, where a forest of live oaks and cedars has been enveloped by the beach and exposed to the salty ocean.
The white twisting trunks and branches have an eerie beauty, and you don’t need to be an expert photographer to get some haunting shots.
Just as otherworldly is Blackrock Beach and its dark sedimentary rock formations looking almost like lava flows.
In the creases and depressions are rockpools teeming with life.
6. Amelia Island
Well within Jacksonville’s orbit, Amelia Island looks like most people’s idea of a holiday paradise.
That is, a quiet white sandy beach that seems to go on forever, a golf course for every weekday, horseback rides on the beach and a sprinkling of history taking in a failed Huguenot colony.
Rise early to watch the sunrise and you may be spot a pod of bottlenose or a breaching right whale (between November and April). Everything is a little smaller and cuter on Amelia Island, so accommodation is provided by charming bed and breakfasts and luxury hotels to be treated like a star for a night or two.
7. Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
Sitting between the developed Beaches area and the village of Mayport is a rare pocket of mature maritime hammock woodland edged by a long strip of beach.
Hanna Park is a 450-acre paradise if you want to forget your cares on the beach, or take part in some wild activities.
You can zoom off along 15 miles of mountain biking trails, some of which have drops and turns to test expert riders.
There’s also a 60-acre lake on a former sand quarry for canoeing and kayaking.
Close to the lakeshore are shaded patches where you can escape the sun, and scan the banks for alligators and birdlife.
On its north side is a playground and splashpad for wee ones.
The white sandy beach looks like something out of a brochure, and has the kind of waves that surfers travel for: Provided you already know your way around a board, the Poles at the top end of the beach is the best surf spot on the First Coast.
8. Fort Clinch State Park
The northern tip of Amelia Island, guarding the entrance to Cumberland Sound, is right on the Florida-Georgia line and has been fortified since the 1730s when the region was under Spanish control.
As it is now, Fort Clinch dates to the Third System, a network of seacoast defences from the middle of the 19th century.
With the advent of the rifled cannon in the Civil War, Fort Clinch was obsolete as a defence, and by the 20th century had been abandoned.
In the 1930s the site was restored by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a Great Depression employment initiative, and today costumed re-enactors give a sense of the garrison life in the 1800s on tours.
Try to be here on the first weekend of the month to see a cannon being fired and watch a demonstration of 19th-century battle skills.
In the 1,400-acre state park nature trails wind between sinuous mature oaks.
You can hunt for shark’s teeth in the sand, spot gopher tortoises on the trails, and on Cumberland Sound you may see a nuclear submarine on its way to or from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, a few miles along the sound.
9. Atlantic Beach
For a hassle-free day at the beach, just get onto Atlantic Boulevard and keep going until you see the ocean.
In that long string of coastal communities at Jacksonville Beaches, Atlantic Beach was developed in the 20s and 30s and is all about the simple delights.
There are no big hotels or malls; just a beach backed by residential neighborhoods.
Space is plentiful on the soft, white sand, and the waves break a long way out, leaving lots of shallow water to saunter through.
Go north and there’s a rare piece of maritime hammock at Hanna Park, and to the south are the mom and pop stores, independent restaurants and chic bars of Beaches Town Center.
10. Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
Strictly a forever home for rescued big cats, the Catty Shack is doesn’t trade, sell or breed any of its inhabitants.
The facility, with its own animal hospital, opened to the public for the first time in 2004 partly to educate the public about the dangers of keeping exotic animals as pets.
Living happily in clean and spacious enclosures are bobcats, leopards, cougars, tigers and lions, but also coatis and Arctic foxes.
Catty Shack Ranch is non-profit, so all of the proceeds go back to its inhabitants.
You can see them on once-weekly public tours, either during the day when they’re normally asleep or chilling out, or at night when they’re much more active and feeding.
There are also seasonal events here, like the Haunted Forest throughout October, mixing classic Halloween scares with the real-life growls of big cats.
11. Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
This institution has 11 branches around the United States and was established in the 1980s by the real estate magnates Davis and Marsha Karpeles.
The Karpeles gathered the largest collection of historic manuscripts, documents and books in the world.
In this invaluable library are The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the Bill of Rights, a first print of the Gutenberg Bible’s Ten Commandments, George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, and many more.
These are shared and rotated around the ten branches, all in monumental buildings.
Jacksonville’s is the stately First Church of Christ, from 1921, hosting up to four exhibitions from the collection each year, as well as shows from other major collections.
12. Riverside and Avondale
At this residential area a short way up the St. Johns River from downtown you’ll encounter Jacksonville at its most genteel.
Riverside took shape towards the end of the 19th century on former plantation land and has lots of bungalow plantation-style houses.
Avondale came later, in the early 20th century, as a single planned neighborhood.
Homes in the latter are mostly in the Mediterranean Revival style, in fashion in the 20s and 30s.
There was ample provision for green space in Avondale, at 15 pocket parks, and the streets are wreathed in the foliage and blooms of live oaks, dogwood, magnolias, azaleas and palms.
The Cummer Museum is in this part of town, as is Five Points, a young and cool enclave of little shops, cafe terraces, nightclubs and craft breweries.
Here look for the two-screen Sun-Ray Cinema, in business since 1927 and still going strong.
Riverside and Avondale is one of the largest districts on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States.
13. Kingsley Plantation
Deep in the Timucuan Preserve at the top of Fort George Island is a small remainder of a once vast plantation, established by the Quaker Zephaniah Kingsley (1765-1843) at the end of the 18th century.
Kingsley and his family lived here for 25 years, during which time he married four enslaved African women, practicing polygamy, and had nine mixed-race children.
This peculiar and complex story is told at the former estate, where the owner’s house still stands (c. 1797, and the oldest plantation-era structure in Florida). Some way south are the remnants of 23 of the original 32 slave houses.
One of these buildings has been restored for an insight of life on the plantation for a slave, while the others are in varying states of ruin.
You can take tours of the owner’s house on weekends, peruse exhibits about the site at the kitchen house and see inside a 220-year-old barn.
14. Museum of Science and History (MOSH)
This museum where children can get in touch with regional history and the scientific world has been around in some form since 1941. As it is now, the Museum of Science and History is a modern attraction bursting with interactivity for experiential learning.
Kids can learn about healthy lifestyles and movement at Health in Motion, touch intertidal species at Atlantic Tails and walk through 12,000 years of history in Northeast Florida at Currents of Time.
For children under five there’s Kidspace, weaving scientific concepts and history into an indoor playground.
To complement these exhibits, MOSH keeps a wealth of artifacts and scientific objects, including thousands of zoological specimens, ephemera from 19th and 20th-century Jacksonville and Timucuan Indian finds.
These go into important short-term exhibitions, like 2019-20’s Legacy of Lynching; Confronting Racial Terror in America.
15. Jacksonville Riverwalks
These riverside promenades on the north and south bank of the St. Johns River were laid down in stages from the mid-1980s to the 2000s.
There’s 1.25 miles of paths on the Southbank, starting roughly at the monumental Friendship Fountain in the west and running to just past the Lexington Hotel in the east.
The Northbank Riverwalk is a little longer, linking downtown landmarks like the Hyatt Regency, the former Jacksonville Landing and the CSX Transportation Building.
After the closure of the Jacksonville Landing Marketplace, Southbank has the livelier of the two riverwalks, with a smattering of restaurants (Chart House, Ruth’s Chris), MOSH, sweeping views over to downtown and frequent sightings of dolphins and manatees in the water.
16. Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail
In the early 1990s the railbed of an old east-west Atlantic Coast Line Railroad corridor was bought up by the City Of Jacksonville to be turned into a multi-use trail.
This was one of the first projects of its kind in the state, creating a gentle, paved route between Jacksonville and Baldwin for walkers and cyclists, with a parallel equestrian trail.
The Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail is 14.5 miles long and an accommodating 3.7 meters across, cutting through hardwood uplands, wetlands and flatwoods.
If you take your time you stand a good chance of seeing lots of wildlife, like wild turkeys, hawks, buzzards, alligators, rabbits, armadillos, gopher tortoises and a few snake species.
17. TIAA Bank Field
Impossible to miss as you cross into downtown Jacksonville on the Hart or Mathews bridges are the grandstands and craning light structures of TIAA Bank Field.
Megastars like the Rolling Stones, U2 and Green Day play this stadium on national tours, and the annual Florida-Georgia college football game often takes place here in October or November.
But TIAA Bank Field is most famously the hunting ground of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 67,800-seater stadium was built when the franchise was formed in 1995, and was last given a makeover in 2016. The Jaguars have managed three Division Championships, the last in 2017, but no Super Bowls as yet.
A revamp in 2013 furnished TIAA Bank Field with its colossal end zone scoreboards, the largest HD LED displays of their kind in the world, at 110 meters long.
There are also two wading pools, for Jaguars fans willing to pay for the luxury, and a city’s worth of dining, including concessions from restaurants in downtown Jax.
Fans and curious sightseers alike will get a kick out of a guided stadium tour, taking place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, showing you around the owner’s suite, the press box, the end zone tunnel and those pools.
18. The Florida Theatre
This performing arts venue with lavish Medieval Revival decor was born as a movie palace in 1927. The Florida Theatre is one of only four movie palaces of this style and period in Florida and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places following a long-term restoration in 1982. If you’re in town, you shouldn’t be too discriminating about what you watch at the Florida Theatre, because the interiors are splendid (check out the coffered proscenium arch) and the acoustics are sublime.
This is the stage for the Florida Ballet and the Jacksonville-based Theatreworks company.
There are A-list comedians, major recording artists on tour, Broadway musicals and children’s shows, while the Community Nutcracker performance is an annual treat in December.
19. Friendship Fountain
When this fountain was unveiled in its namesake park on Southbank in 1965, it was the largest and tallest in the world.
The Friendship Fountain still has epic dimensions, with a basin more than 60 meters in diameter and three rings of sprays, the centermost shooting water 30 meters into the air.
A maximum 16750 gallons (76,147 liters) of water a minute is discharged by the Friendship Fountain three rings.
By the 2000s the Friendship Fountain’s pipes had been corroded, but this sparkling monument was returned to its former glory with $3.2m renovation in 2011. There’s a program of performances all day long, but the fountain is at its best after sunset, when the jets are illuminated by 265 computer-controlled lights.
20. Jacksonville Water Taxi
You could fork out for a private tour company, but the easiest and cheapest way to see Jacksonville from the St. Johns River is by water taxi.
Linking the Northbank and Southbank Riverwalks, this service was introduced by the city in 1987 and in 2019 had four boats in its fleet.
They dock at Jacksonville Landing on the Northbank, Friendship Fountain, Doubletree Hotel and Lexington Hotel on the Southbank, and then cross the water to Metropolitan Park Marina by TIAA Bank Field.
An all-day pass costs $10 and you can buy tickets once you’re aboard the boat.
21. Memorial Park
Jacksonville’s third-oldest park was laid out in the refined Riverside neighborhood after the First World War.
This site was chosen by the Rotary Club to pay tribute to the 1,200 Floridians who died in the conflict, and the park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers, sons of the famed Frederick Law Olmsted and dedicated in 1924. Memorial Park’s centerpiece is C.
Adrian Pillars’ (1870-1937) bronze sculpture, Life, depicting the winged figure of youth.
There’s a balustrade along the riverbank in front where you can cast your eyes across the widest stretch of the St. Johns River.
There may not be a prettier place in Jacksonville for a picnic, and the sunsets are fabulous.
22. Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens
For most of the 20th century this patch of land at a once large-scale industrial site on Mill Cove had a sorry tale to tell.
It was a strip mine for zircon from the 1940s to the 60s, then an illegal dump where unwanted cars and home appliances ended up.
But in the 1970s the land was bought by the city to serve as a buffer for a wastewater treatment plant and nature took hold once again.
Thirteen different ecosytems developed here, and in the 2000s a plan was approved to turn this hilly site into a botanical attraction.
There are seven trails conveying you into these habitats, like the Jones Creek Trail, guiding you into wetlands growing swamp bay, bald cypress, swamp dogwood and American hornbeam.
The Live Oak Trail tunnels beneath the branches of southern live oaks dating back more than 100 years.
The park sustains wildlife like alligators, armadillos, foxes, a variety of snakes, turtles and the gopher tortoise.
23. Fort Caroline National Memorial
A short-lived French colony was established by the Huguenots during the French Wars of Religion on the north bank of the St. Johns River in 1564. Fort Caroline was immediately in the sights of the Spanish, who founded St.
Augustine in 1565 and set about wiping out the Huguenot settlement.
Fort Caroline was named in honor of King Charles IX, and during its short existence was ridden with illness, attacked by the Timucuan Indians and ultimately sacked by the Spanish who executed several hundred Huguenots.
The Fort Caroline National Memorial, in the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, is somewhere to ponder the early years of European exploration, first contact between Europeans and Native Americans and the territorial conflict that beset America in the Early Modern Age.
The fort’s ditch and earthwork ravelins are intact, and this is also the setting for the visitor center for the whole Timucuan Preserve, open seven days a week.
24. Maple Street Biscuit Company
Jacksonville has an over-abundance of dining choices if you’re up for high-quality comfort food.
One of a few chains to have made a start in Jax is Maple Street Biscuit Company, which has made waves across the South for its indulgent, fluffy buttermilk biscuits.
These come with a house-made sausage or shiitake gravy and are stuffed with fried chicken (five options), egg and collard greens or goats’ cheese and spinach.
As a perfect accompaniment, Maple Street Biscuit Company pours rich locally roasted coffee.
Beside this delectable menu, what earns Maple Street a place in everyone’s heart is its emphasis on community, with bench seating encouraging neighbors to get to know each other, and for out-of-towners to participate in local life, if only for a meal.
25. Riverside Arts Market
The southern terminus of the Northbank Riverwalk at the Fuller Warren Bridge is the scene of a bustling weekly market, held every Saturday from 10:00 to 15:00. More than just a shopping event, the Riverside Arts Market has yoga and dance performances, live music and speakers at a 350-seater amphitheatre known as the Artists’ Square.
Since 2016 the food stalls at the market have been producer-only, so you know you’ll be supporting local businesses when you shop for fresh produce, cheeses, baked goods, coffee, honey, soy candles, fabrics, spices, flowers, organic cosmetics and cute arts and crafts.
There’s an almost overwhelming number of food trucks, and no shortage of vegan options to boot!
26. Jacksonville Beach Pier
Like most piers, the Jacksonville Beach Pier is in a constant struggle against the elements.
The first pier from 1922 was destroyed in 1999 by Hurricane Floyd.
This was rebuilt within five years, but then Hurricane Matthew came along in October 2016, and Irma a year later, causing new damage.
In November 2019 repairs were ongoing, but the pier was accessible, and lets you step out over the breaking waves to see the coastline stretching out for miles to the south.
Just over 190 meters long, the pier is a haunt for anglers, and even has its own bait shop.
27. Safe Harbor Seafood Market & Restaurant
For most of its 30-year history Safe Harbor Seafood Market, next to the St. Johns River in historic Mayport, has operated as a wholesale business.
But things have got a lot more boutique since 2013, when the company opened its restaurant.
You’ll get to sip on a cold beer, scope the river and enjoy mahi-mahi, snapper, scallops, triggerfish, mussels, crab, whether you want it steamed, fried, baked or grilled.
There’s gumbo, conch fritters, clam chowder, freshly shucked oysters, shrimp dip, hush puppies, rolls and fried baskets, on a menu that adapts to availability.
To really go southern you can order your shrimp, scallops, grouper or snapper “blackened”, that is pan-fried with a tasty herb, spice and butter crust.
In the market there’s abundant fish and seafood to prepare at home, and the restaurant can also work wonders with anything that takes your fancy here.
28. The Ritz Theatre & Museum
The Lavilla neighborhood west of downtown was a pulsating place to be between the 1920s and 1960s, when it was referred to as the “Harlem of the South”. That time was quickly forgotten when crime and other social problems pushed entertainment aside.
But in the 1990s the Art Deco venue that captured Lavilla’s mid-century essence was renovated in a multimillion-dollar project, down to it emblematic corner sign.
The Ritz Theatre & Museum dates from 1929 and deals with African American culture in Northeast Florida.
In 2019-20 “Through Our Eyes” invited prominent artists to interpret the concept of “Revolution” in a range of different media.
As a stage there’s a lot going on, and the schedule bubbles with talent shows, comedy, plays, family entertainment and concerts.
29. Huguenot Memorial Park
Behind this park, just north of where the St. John’s River flows into the Atlantic is the enormous watery expanse of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
This leaves Huguenot Memorial Park almost stranded on its 295-acre horseshoe-shaped peninsula, which is great if you want to return to the wild for a few hours.
According to the Audubon society this is the best place for birding on the First Coast.
The white sandy beach pitches gently into the Atlantic and has a dune system behind.
If you’re traveling in a 4WD vehicle you’re even allowed to park up on the beach next to the dunes.
The break is sufficient for surfing, there’s a brisk breeze for kiting and there are fishing spots all along the coast.
The park has facilities like a playground, picnic area and a 70-site campground, handy if you want to get up early to catch the sunrise.
30. Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts
The region’s prime destination for live entertainment first opened in 1962 and has three venues: The Moran Theater, seating 2,979, the Jacoby Symphony Hall (1,724) and the Terry Theater (609). This glass-paneled Modernist building was given a facelift in the 1990s and is the seat of the Jacksonville Symphony and the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra.
The Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Artist Series also presents the Broadway in Jacksonville series, putting on professional of favorite musicals (Wicked and Bandstand in 2019-20). Some selections from the Symphony’s season 2019-20 season were the soundtrack from UP!, Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus, Schumann’s Four-Day Symphony, the annual Holiday Pops and Handel’s Messiah.
31. Sweet Pete’s
Across Hogan Street from City Hall is a fine white villa that went up in 1903 as the Seminole Club, for Jacksonville’s movers and shakers.
There’s a veranda and a rooftop garden, while the third floor was added for wealthy bachelors in 1907 and is rumored to have been a bordello.
Three presidents are known to have paid the club a visit – Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and JFK – but as with much of downtown Jax, the building was left abandoned in the 1990s and apart from a brief respite in the early 2000s was left empty until 2014 when Sweet Pete’s showed up.
A colorful little oasis downtown, Sweet Pete’s is a child’s notion of the perfect candy shop, with its own kitchen and eye-popping displays of every candy you can imagine.
You can go behind the scenes on a “Chocaholic Tour” to see how chocolate is made, taste different types and a have a personalized bar made to take home.
Sweet Pete’s ice cream is a perfect summer treat, and in the run-up to Christmas you can make your own candy canes.
32. Beaches Town Center
The Jacksonville Beaches have a mostly quiet residential atmosphere apart from little built-up areas like Beaches Town Center where Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach merge at the end of Atlantic Boulevard.
Roughly four blocks squared, this pedestrian-friendly district has palm-shaded sidewalks, little boutiques, yoga studios, galleries, shops for watersports, ice cream/frozen custard parlors, craft breweries, two palatial oceanfront hotels and a big helping of restaurants and bars (deep breath). Naturally everything is seconds from the ocean, and if you tire of the beach you can potter around these streets, doing some window shopping and trying to choose from pizza, sushi, Mexican, subs, seafood and more.
33. Jax Ale Trail
Jacksonville’s beer scene is in rude health, and with well over 20 craft breweries and restaurants brewing their own beer it would be impossible to keep up if it wasn’t for the Jax Ale Trail.
In 2019 this included 15 stops, but new breweries open by the year.
At the first brewery you visit you can ask for a passport, which will be stamped at every brewery you visit for the chance to win prizes.
Visit four and you’ll get a koozie; eight will earn you a t-shirt, and there’s a special secret prize for anyone who dedicated enough to visit them all.
As a rule, every brewery on the Jax Ale Trail fills growlers, so you take your favorite beer to-go.
And if you have to pick just one establishment, you can’t go wrong at the multi award-winning Green Room Brewing, right in Beaches Town Center.
There are 16 taps, with a slew of IPAs, a stout, a red ale, a blonde and a pale ale among the seven permanent beers, and eccentric seasonal brews like the Key Lime Knee High session IPA and Punksin’ Kax pumpkin amber ale.
34. St. Johns Town Center
When this snazzy open-air mall arrived in 2005 it brought with it many brands that were new to the Jacksonville shopping scene at the time.
St. Johns Town Center is close to the University of North Florida campus and has given rise to a shopping enclave between the Beaches and downtown, with an Ikea close by and a branch of TopGolf, which we’ll come to later.
On St. Johns Town Center’s leafy streets (watch out for traffic) there are upwards of 170 tenants, with a fair few luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Lacoste, Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co.
These are interspersed with mall ever-presents like Gap, GameStop, Old Navy, Lush, Sephora, Apple, a LEGO store, Microsoft and food and drink options such as Cheesecake Factory, Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse, Starbucks and California Pizza Kitchen.
35. Hemming Park
At this plaza on a single block in downtown Jacksonville you’ll be standing on the city’s oldest park, plotted back in 1857. Once a village green, this is still the administrative and judicial heart of the city, fronted to the north by Jacksonville City Hall, and to the west by the Bryan Simpson United States Courthouse.
Hemming Park is the hub for the Jax Jazz Fest in May, and on the First Wednesday of the month is taken over by vendors and musicians during the Jax Art Walk.
But if you come during an ordinary week there will be live music on Wednesdays and Fridays, and constant food trucks.
You check out the schedule on the Facebook page, and as of 2019 there were pitas, tacos, vegan choices and contemporary southern cooking.
36. Museum of Contemporary Art
On the east side of Hemming Park is the old Western Union Telegraph Building (1931), built by the Auchter Company, a construction firm responsible for much of Jacksonville’s cityscape.
In 2003, after the interiors were gutted and remodeled, this six-story building became the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is almost peerless in its field in the Southeastern United States.
There are around 16 exhibitions a year, for themes, movements, collaborations and solo artists.
Some of the many famous or established names to have featured in the last five years are Mary Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, Hans Hofmann, Fran Rampolla and Lorrie Fredette.
One recurring series is Project Atrium, where up-and-coming or mid-career artists make their mark with spectacular installations for the soaring Atrium Gallery.
There are also selections from the museum’s considerable reserves, with pieces by Hans Hofmann, Joan Mitchell, Ed Pashke and James Rosenquist.
Check online for events, like “Movies on the House” screenings and the Studio Practice Workshop Series.
37. Castaway Island Preserve
In from the Beaches and just off the 3,000-mile Intracoastal Waterway is a natural space on a salt marsh system rich with birdlife.
For young families the best part is the mile-long child-friendly interactive trail, with animal prints embedded in the path leading to interpretive boards.
The preserve’s boardwalk has a commanding view of the salt marsh for birding, and you can survey the Waterway from an observation platform.
If you have a paddleboard or kayak you could spend a few hours exploring the little channels, while there’s also a fishing pier, grills and picnic areas if you want to make a day of it.
38. Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena
There are three resident sports franchises at the indoor arena next to TIAA Bank Field.
You’ve got the ABA’s Jacksonville Giants (Basketball), the NAL’s Jacksonville Sharks (Indoor Football) and the EHCL’s Jacksonville Icemen (Hockey). Safe to say there will be high-quality sport on the menu, almost year round.
But the arena, inaugurated in 2003, is most famous as a space for live culture, hosting some of the biggest names in music and comedy, as well as Disney on Ice and WWE events.
The list of past performers is long and studded with names like Ariana Grande, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Prince, Rihanna, Eagles, Pearl Jam, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, and Kanye West.
There isn’t a bad seat in the house, downtown Jacksonville is moments away for local dining, while free Wi-Fi makes IG uploads easier.
39. Dog Wood Park
For anyone with a four-legged friend that needs to socialize, there are ten off-leash dog parks in Jacksonville.
The best of these is Dog Wood Park off the I-95 near Southpoint.
Not only are there 42 acres of grass, woods and a lake for your pup to explore, there’s also an agility course, a dog washing station and lots of fun obstacles.
Dog Wood Park does come with an entrance fee ($11 per dog), although if you’re a resident you could save money in the long run with membership.
Dogs over the age of eight months need to be neutered, and you’re required to bring proof of your pup’s rabies vaccine.
40. Tree Hill Nature Center
This non-profit preserve, natural history museum and animal attraction rests in more than 50 acres just across the river from downtown Jax.
The park contains Duval County’s second-highest point (growing a 300-year-old oak) and is threaded by three watercourses.
There are interpretive signs on the six main trails, through hardwood forest, native Florida flood plain and onto boardwalks crossing stream and swamp habitats.
You can brush up on northeast Florida’s nature at the hands-on museum, step into the Flight of Fancy Butterfly House and get close to animals like pygmy goats, skunks and all sorts of snakes, amphibians, lizards, turtles and tortoises.
41. Beaches Museum
The Beaches have a story of their own, which you can uncover at this museum a couple of blocks from the ocean in Jacksonville Beach.
This elegant clapboard building with a veranda is rented out for events, and has a non-denominational chapel for weddings.
As for exhibits detailing Jax’s coastal settlements, there’s a recreated boardwalk and post office, and a 28-ton steam locomotive.
Temporary exhibitions do a deep dive on the art, culture, development, nature and industry of the beaches.
In 2019-20 you could learn the ups and downs of Neptune Beach, over more than a century, perusing archive photos, artifacts and personal accounts.
The museum has a healthy events calendar, including the Jacksonville Symphony’s Beaches Chamber Series and an Art Fest in November.
42. Metro Diner
Barely a year goes by without this local diner chain winning “Best Breakfast in Jax” according to the local newspaper Folio Weekly.
Since it arrived in 1992 Metro Diner has gone regional, but the original location is 3302 Hendricks Avenue, in a diner building going back to 1938. There are 30 locations in Florida alone, but you can go to the spot where it all began for an indulgent southern-style breakfast.
Bring an appetite for breakfast, because we’re talking cinnamon roll pancakes, a spicy honey chicken biscuit, a salsa-topped western omelet, eggs Benedict, biscuits & sausage gravy, fried chicken and waffles and a signature “Breakfast Pie” with layers of cheese, eggs, red skin potatoes, onions, mushrooms and peppers.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
On the lighter side you could always order avocado toast, oatmeal or vanilla yoghurt with granola.
43. Main Street Bridge (John T. Alsop Jr. Bridge)
The most striking of Jacksonville’s nine bridges is a Jacksonville emblem, completed in 1941 and a mainstay of the city’s skyline.
Linking the South Bank with downtown, the Main Street Bridge is a steel lift structure, using trusses to allow traffic to pass along the St. Johns River.
As the other bridges have been reconstructed, this is now the only movable bridge in the city, and can also accommodate pedestrian traffic if you want a different perspective on the Jacksonville cityscape.
That steel frame, with two towers, is painted a sky blue, and opens on signal apart from in the morning and evening rush hours.
44. Mandarin Museum & Historical Society
If you have a Saturday free, you can drive a few minutes down the St. Johns’ River to the Mandarin neighborhood for a taste of the old Florida.
Mandarin chimes with people’s notions of the south, and has oaks trailing Spanish moss from its branches and romantic views of the water from this nub of land on the east bank.
The Mandarin Museum is in the waterfront Walter Jones Historical Park, accompanied by several fascinating historical buildings including a farmhouse, winery, sawmill and schoolhouse for African-American children.
This is all part of a plot purchased by a Major William Webb in 1875, where he cultivated beans, strawberries, oranges, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes to be shipped off on the steamers that docked in Mandarin.
At the museum you can trace Mandarin’s roots back to the Timucuans and learn about abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wintered here between 1876 and 1884. Special long-term exhibits profile a local WWI soldier and tell the story of the Union steamship sunk off Mandarin Point by a Confederate torpedo (mine).
45. Mickler’s Landing
In Ponte Vedra Beach, not far past the home of the PGA’s Player Championship at TPC Sawgrass, is another beautiful place to idle next to the Atlantic on a sunny day.
There’s a wooden walkover crossing the dunes from the parking lot to the beach, which is long, sandy and clear of development apart from the grand beachfront houses poking up behind the dunes.
Facilities at Mickler’s Landing include all the essentials like restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and this is another beach that accommodates cars (for a fee March to September). The water at this beach is a little clearer than those nearer the sediment laden outflow of the St.
Johns River, and the surf often deposits interesting little treasures on the sand, like fossilized shark’s teeth.
46. Shipwreck Island Waterpark
Families may be on the lookout for an alternative to the Atlantic and its strong surf, sand and jellyfish.
In which case you could set aside a few hours for this waterpark, a mile or two in from Jacksonville Beach on Beach Boulevard.
Shipwreck Island is more for younger children than teenage thrill-seekers, and has an expansive children’s activity center, a lazy river, a 500,000-gallon wave pool and a cluster of slides at the Pirate Play Slide Complex.
Dry-side there’s an amusement arcade, a karting track, batting cages, a mini-golf course and laser tag.
47. Congaree and Penn
Journey a few miles into Jacksonville’s hinterland for this working farm growing mayhaws (a tart fruit similar to crab apples), grapes, olives, rice and blackberries.
Congaree and Penn was only set up in 2014 on what was then just a rice farm, and has spent the last few years planting vines and what is thought to be the largest mayhaw orchard in the world (5,000 trees). You can swing by to pick your fruit in summer, and come for a meal at the farm’s kitchen, laying on home-pressed cider and smoked wings in a barbecue sauce made from the farm’s own blackberries.
Cogaree and Penn has a pumpkin patch in fall and on a farm tour families can ride a tractor-pulled wagon, see the vines, paddies, olive groves and orchards, and meet chickens, goats, guinea fowl and horses.
48. Topgolf Jax
If you’re unacquainted with Topgolf, it’s a new nightlife concept, essentially turning golf driving into an upscale bar sport.
In that sense your driving range bay becomes a luxury climate-controlled booth, furnished with big screens and full bar and restaurant service.
Topgolf’s variety of high-tech games, rewarding accuracy or power, will bring out the everyone’s competitive side.
Despite its glitzy atmosphere Topgolf can double as a venue for children’s parties in the afternoon, and you can even get individual and group lessons here during the day if you want to surprise your friends with your skills.
49. Alexander Brest Museum and Gallery
Although it’s not very well advertised off campus and has no website of its own, the art museum at Jacksonville University punches well above its weight.
Part of the Linda Berry Stein College of Fine Arts, the museum holds student thesis and juried exhibitions, but also has shows for established names like multimedia artist Shikeith and Leticia R.
Bajuyo and Jason Brown (dual exhibition) in 2019-20. In the museum’s permanent collection are cloisonné enamel, Boehm and Chinese porcelain, pre-Columbian pieces and Tiffany glassware.
50. Diamond D Ranch
You can saddle up for a horseback adventure at this 6th generation family-owned ranch a few miles south of Baldwin.
Diamond D Ranch has something for all ages and riding abilities, whether you want to stay on the ranch or ride out into Jacksonville’s picturesque hinterland.
For those who want a real taste of the wild, the two-hour, half-day and two-day rides take you out into the 25,000-acre Jennings State Forest in a mixed landscape of woodland and swamp, creased with ravines, and where you may see deer, alligators, hawks and otters.
51. Veterans Memorial Wall
For a moment of reflection when you visit TIAA Bank Field there’s a 20-meter black granite tribute to Jacksonville’s fallen servicemen and women, a few steps west of the stadium.
The monument was unveiled in 1995 and is unique for honoring veterans from every conflict since WWI, from the country’s six service branches: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.
The wall is also the venue for the solemn Memorial Day ceremony in May, when new names may be added to the wall.
By 2019 there were more than 1,700 inscriptions.
52. Jacksonville Jazz Festival
The second biggest jazz festival in the country hits downtown Jacksonville every May.
One of many great things about this four-day event is that all performances are completely free, unless you want to pay for VIP treatment.
There are two main stages, and a lot of side events, like a jazz brunch at the Omni Jacksonville Hotel, a piano competition at the historic Florida Theatre and free tuition from jazz masters at the Ritz Theatre.
The list of performers since the Jacksonville Jazz Festival’s inception in 1979 is star-studded to say the least: We’re talking Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Buddy Guy, Tony Bennett and George Benson, to name a small few.
53. Jacksonville Farmers’ Market
There has been a market serving Jacksonville a mile west of downtown at 1810 W Beaver Street since 1938. Trading from sunrise to sunset, the Jacksonville Farmers’ Market only closes on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
It’s like a giant grocery store, with an abundance of seasonal fresh produce, as well as fish and seafood, artisan cheese, syrups, baked goods, southern-style boiled peanuts, herbs and plants.
Each fruit and vegetable stand has its own specialty, be it stir-fry mixes or whole and cut greens.
54. The Avenues
This popular mid-market mall at the intersection of US 1 and Southside Boulevard has been trading since 1990 and was updated in the 2000s.
Hit up The Avenues for mall ever-presents like Claire’s, Dillard’s Foot Locker, H&M, Hot Topic, JCPenney, Lush, MAC, Pandora and Sephora.
On two levels there are two main drags that meet under a rather impressive glass dome.
For food and drink you can pick from Starbucks, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sarku, Sushi Burrito, Chick Fil-A and sweet treats from Cinnabon, Haagen-Dazs and Marble Slab Creamery.
55. Jacksonville Fire Museum
When we put this list together in November 2019 this lovable museum, operated by the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department had been closed for long-term renovations since 2017. When it’s open this is an attraction to be reckoned with, set in the brick-built Catherine Street Fire Station, across the Hart Bridge Expressway from TIAA Bank Field.
This relocated building is a relic from the city’s reconstruction after the Great Fire of 1901. Inside you can follow the evolution of Jacksonville’s fire service, from its earliest days in the 1850s, via the arrival of motorized vehicles in the 1920s to the creation of the Rescue Division in the 60s and the Hazardous Materials team in the 70s.
There’s horse-drawn and motorized fire fighting equipment, helmets, medals, axes and a compelling photo exhibition from the 1901 blaze.