Traveling through Jacksonville? If you find yourself with more time to explore, be sure to spend time tackling some of the best day trips from Jacksonville, FL. The largest city in Florida, Jacksonville is the perfect launch spot for side trips into Northeast Florida and beyond. Within a short drive, you’ll discover natural springs and historic towns—and even be able to swim with dolphins.
Even if you’ve got limited time in Jacksonville, the proximity of the barrier islands and the iconic Daytona Beach will have you thinking twice about your travel plans. Explore beyond Jacksonville to experience natural wonders like Blue Spring State Park or even the famous historic city of St. Augustine.
Ready to supercharge your Jacksonville trip? Venture beyond the city with help from our guide to the best Jacksonville side trips.
Top-rated side trips from Jacksonville, FL
Reached by boat or by car, Amelia Island is one of the top-rated day trips from Jacksonville. The barrier island lies just 40 minutes north of Jacksonville. With historic brick streets cutting through the island’s natural beauty, there’s an outstanding balance of culture and fun to be had on Amelia Island.
The coastal community has a storied past. And its heritage has been well-preserved through the years. Roam the historic Downtown streets to learn about the island’s 4,000-year history. You’ll discover beautiful architecture, with many buildings placed on the National Register of Historic Places. If you want to stay overnight, some of its historic homes now house intimate bed & breakfasts.
After enjoying a drink at the Palace Saloon, the oldest bar in Florida still serving beverages, head to Fort Clinch State Park. Along with exploring the history of this Civil War-era fort, the park’s shady shores, hiding one of the most popular Amelia Island beaches, are an excellent place to hunt for seashells. With its many ocean treasures, don’t be shocked if you stumble upon a set of pearly shark teeth.
Finish your sightseeing on Amelia Island with a sunset cruise. You may even be able to spot dolphins, manatees, and wild horses on nearby Cumberland Island.
For a fun road trip and a ferry ride in one, head to Cumberland Island. Just 45 minutes by car followed by a 45-minute ferry ride, the island, just over the border in Georgia, is a wonderful escape from Jacksonville. Like St. Augustine, Cumberland Island provides visitors with a stunning array of old buildings and ruins.
You can access the island via the National Park Ferry or an arranged private boat. Once you arrive, you’ll have a chance to explore the Tabby House. Built in 1790 by General Nathan Greene, the home is the oldest on the island. It was created using “tabby,” a mix of oyster shells, lime, sand, and water.
A great way to get around Cumberland Island is on a bike. You can rent them on arrival. On a bike, you can easily ride out to the striking ruins of Dungeness Castle, a mansion destroyed by a fire in 1959.
Another fascinating part of exploring the island is its wild horses. The horses have survived on Cumberland Island since being left behind during the Civil War.
The Cumberland Island National Seashore has many unique stories to tell; why not join a walking tour? Your guide will help you understand the historical layers of the island, from the castle to the African American settlement to the beautiful animals that call the island home.
A straight shot south on the I-95, Daytona Beach is one of the must-do side trips from Jacksonville. Full of attractions, thrill rides, miles of beaches, annual festivals, and the iconic Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach is a destination that has it all.
At any time of year, Daytona Beach is well worth the visit. Starting at Daytona Beach Pier, you’ll enjoy wonderful views of the city and the coast. If you fancy yourself a fisherman, you can chuck in a line right off the side of the pier. From the pier, you’ll also see a series of thrilling rollercoasters and Daytona Lagoon water park.
Once you have your fix of adrenaline-pumping action, continue along the Daytona Beach Boardwalk. The popular boardwalk hosts superb oceanside dining options and live music. Dig into its charms while enjoying its festive atmosphere.
Aside from its hard-packed white sands, Daytona Beach is most famous for the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most prestigious event. The Daytona International Speedway is a must-see for sports fans.
Got more time? You can also add in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America to round off your itinerary. Afterward, return to the vibrant downtown for free music events at the Daytona Beach Bandshell.
With seven springs and a standard, balmy temperature of 72 degrees, there’s never a bad time to visit Ginnie Springs. Even in the winter months. Around 90 minutes southwest of Jacksonville, Ginnie Springs, is an amazing place to go for a swim, especially if you’ve already spent enough time on some of the most popular beaches on Florida’s East Coast.
At Ginnie Springs, there are three freshwater sections where you can swim and go diving: the Ginnie Ballroom, Santa Fe River, and the Devil’s Spring System.
Aside from splashing around the water, locals love to come to this popular spot to enjoy some relaxing kayaking. You’ll also spot a few stand-up paddleboarders roaming the waters.
Beyond the springs, you can dry off and stretch your legs on one of the several hiking trails. If you aren’t in a rush to get back to Jacksonville, camping is available here, too. There are RV hookup sites along with a series of tent sites along the river.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Speaking of springs, Ginnie Springs isn’t the only one you should consider for Jacksonville side trips. A similar distance from the city, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is fed by a series of springs and surrounded by dense forests.
With calm rivers all year round, this oasis is the perfect spot for tubing along the slow current with the entire family. Not to worry: You can rent your own tube from within the park and experience the fun yourself. Importantly, access to the artesian springs is also handicap-friendly.
Within Ichetucknee Springs State Park you’ll find a full-service concession stand for snacks and treats. A nearby general store has more variety and offers a shuttle service up and down the river.
Off the water there are just as many outdoor activities to embark on. You’ll discover some excellent bird-watching locations, several hiking trails through the forests, and picturesque picnic spots.
After some more tubing or even scuba diving, check out the exhibits and interactive activities at the Visitor’s Center.
Just over an hour away from downtown Jacksonville, Jekyll Island has several points of interest and a beautiful, sugar-sand beach. A member of the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island is a barrier island just off the coast of Georgia. (But don’t worry, no ferries are needed to get here.)
Jekyll Island enjoys the charm of Spanish moss over the oak trees that feel uniquely Southern. On the other hand, with its palm trees and turquoise waters, the island could just as well be in the Caribbean.
Like many of the nearby barrier islands, Jekyll Island comes with its fair share of interesting history. None is more prominent than the Jekyll Island Club. At the beginning of the 20th century, it boasted a membership featuring some of the richest families in the world. Most notably, J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts say among its prestigious members.
Before settling in on one of the half-dozen exquisite local beaches, check out the National Historic Landmark District. Jump on a trolley tour and explore one of the most expansive restoration efforts of old cottages and buildings in the U.S.
Later, put on your best Vanderbilt impression and have lunch at the former Jekyll Island Club before enjoying the sun at Driftwood Beach.
Just shy of two hours south of Jacksonville and minutes away from Daytona Beach is the gorgeous Ponce Inlet. With great surf, powder-like beaches, and endless sun, the inlet is yet another fantastic day trip from Jacksonville.
One highlight of Ponce Inlet is its resident lighthouse. Standing at 175 feet tall, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest in the state. If you’re feeling up for the challenge, embark on the journey to the top of the lighthouse, featuring a whopping 200 steps. From the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views up and down the Atlantic Coast.
Opposite the lighthouse is the Marine Science Center. With interactive exhibits focusing on the local ecosystem and the history of Ponce Inlet, this is one of the best family fun activities in the area.
For some casual hiking through outdoor spaces, you can head to the Ponce Preserve or explore the Smyrna Dunes Park. The latter comes with an optional ocean swim that’s perfect on a hot summer day. There are also many outfits that will take you out on jet skis or into the ocean for deep-sea fishing.
Blue Spring State Park
Ever wanted to get up close to wild manatees? Make the journey to Blue Spring State Park. Under two hours south of Jacksonville, this park is reaping the results of an extraordinary conservation effort. In 1970, there were 14 known manatees in the area. By 2018 almost 500 were recorded.
To explore the waters of Blue Spring State Park and stumble upon these gentle giants, you can launch kayaks and canoes. Rentals are also available within the park. The animal encounters don’t end at our friendly “sea cows.” In fact, the park is an important habitat for ospreys, eagles, and kingfishers.
Swimming is another fun activity to do in the park. Just like Ginnie Springs, the water here is also an inviting 72 degrees. Jump on a tube or go snorkeling to take the fun to another level.
If you brought your walking shoes, you can wander beyond the springs on a series of nature trails. A good place to start is the 4.5-mile-long Pine Island Trail.
Known to many as “horse country,” Ocala, two hours southwest of Jacksonville, has played a significant role in many Hollywood movies. This is in part because of the walkways lined with leafy oak trees, dangling Spanish moss, and antique shops. Visually, Ocala is a page out of yesteryear.
Ocala lays claim to one of Florida’s best freshwater streams, with a backdrop of rolling hills and unspoiled nature. There’s no doubt this storybook city is one of the most popular Jacksonville day trips.
After roaming the historic Downtown Square, established in 1847, make your way to Silver Springs State Park. With stunning scenery, fresh air, and even fresher water to jump into, Silver Springs State Park is a great place to begin.
From there, more exceptional nature is on the cards. Make your way to Ocala National Forest, home to the renowned Juniper Springs. At Ocala National Forest you’ll find the Juniper Run, a 7-mile kayak/canoe journey set under the dense canopy of old-growth forest. It’s rated as one of the best river journeys in the country.
Of course, no visit to Ocala would be complete without horseback riding. End your time here with a ride at dusk through the scenic countryside.
Just 45 minutes south of Jacksonville lies the popular tourist town of St. Augustine, a place that comes with a balance of land and water adventures. The historic city is home to several ancient buildings, none more prominent than the oldest masonry fort in the contiguous USA.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is the centerpiece of local history. Tours of the 300+-year-old fort include insight into rooms of old soldiers and prisoners. You’ll also get to explore the gun deck (with its epic city views) and weaponry demonstrations.
To keep up the history trend, continue on to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, the Oldest House Museum Complex, and St. Augustine’s Old Jail. All three tell the tale of Spanish occupation and the lives of residents up to the modern day.
Once you have your history fix, it’s time to hit the beach. (Hey, you’re in Florida after all!)
To go further off the coast, St Augustine offers fantastic kayaking on Salt Run. You can also dive alongside dolphins at Marineland Dolphin Adventure.