Roaming through Northeast Florida? Spend some time experiencing all the best things to do in Jacksonville, FL. Florida’s most populous city, Jacksonville is loaded with exciting tourist attractions and stunning landscapes.
Brimming with Southern charm and natural beauty, Jacksonville is located on the banks of the St. Johns River. Known locally as Jax, the city offers over 1,000 miles of pristine, undisturbed shoreline. A city steeped in history, there’s more to Jacksonville than meets the eye. With its stunning nature reserves, tropical beaches, and thought-provoking museums, there’s never a dull day in Jax.
Not sure what to do in Jacksonville? Plan your Jax trip with this complete guide to the best places to visit in Jacksonville, FL.
Best places to visit in Jacksonville, FL
Jacksonville Beach is a beautiful, meandering stretch of oceanside paradise. Popular with tourists and locals, the area offers plenty of maritime activities. You’ll enjoy surfing, swimming, and sailing as well as mouth-watering seafood and mellow games of golf.
With the Atlantic Ocean on its doorstep, it’s no surprise to see aquatic life resting beneath the waves. Make sure to take your camera to Jacksonville Beach. Snap pictures of the fish, rays, and dolphins that regularly make an appearance.
Jacksonville Beach Pier offers stunning panoramic views of the beachside. You’ll also find a concession and bait shop. Head there during sunset and channel your inner photographer.
Built up an appetite? Grab some food at one of the restaurants along Beach Boulevard. Or for a Southern comfort food indulgence, pop into Maple Street Biscuit Company. The famed chain started in Jax, spreading its fluffy buttermilk biscuit goodness across the entire Southeast USA. The cafe sits on Hwy A1A between Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is one of Jax’s true highlights. Boasting 73 acres of protected landscape, the zoo is home to over 200 animals and over 100 plant species.
Whether you’re traveling with children or exploring alone, Jacksonville Zoo is a must-visit. It holds the distinction of being Florida’s only walking safari. It also offers the chance to have some face-time with the resident animals.
Jacksonville Zoo houses apes, giraffes, monkeys, elephants, and so much more. There’s even a stingray feeding station at Stingray Bay if you’re feeling particularly brave.
Over the years, Jacksonville Zoo has received praise for its maintenance, beauty, and treatment of its animals. Fun for the whole family, a visit to Jacksonville Zoo is a must.
Kingsley Plantation offers a candid, thought-provoking look into the 19th century. Named after English slave trader Zephaniah Kingsley, this picturesque home is steeped in dark history.
Located on Fort George Island, Kingsley Plantation encompasses several outbuildings. Besides the main plantation house, you’ll also find a 60-acre garden, and well-preserved slave quarters. There’s also a kitchen house, named ”Ma’am Anna House,” located next to the main house.
The juxtaposition between the estate’s natural beauty and its history is truly compelling. An exploration of the slave cabins will give you an idea of life during Zephaniah Kingsley’s era.
The plantation is protected by the U.S. National Park Service and is open year-round. If you’re a history buff, don’t miss a visit to this stunning, yet complicated plantation.
Fort George Island Cultural State Park
Nature-buffs will get their kicks by visiting the serene, picturesque Fort George Island Cultural State Park. Stretching over 3 miles, the park’s loop trail careens through the island’s maritime forest. It’s popular with hikers, runners, walkers, and casual observers. Fort George Island Cultural State Park is also one of the best places to go in Jacksonville for a laid-back kayaking trip. (If the weather is suitable, of course.)
Fort George Island Cultural State Park is rich in history. Native Americans settled on Fort George Island and took full advantage of its waterside location. The island was also home to an 18th-century military fort defending the southern flank of Georgia.
Several years later, colonists built the Kingsley Plantation in the vicinity. Today, the famous Ribault Inn Club serves as a center for contemporary visitors to Fort George Island.
Amelia Island State Park
Another natural Jacksonville highlight, Amelia Island State Park boasts 200 acres of beaches, marshes, and lush forest. Visiting, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve crash-landed in the heart of the African savannah.
Amelia Island State Park is a popular spot around Jacksonville for horseback riding. Booking a horseriding tour, you’ll get a glimpse of how life used to be like and what Florida looked like in years gone by.
At Amelia Island State Park you can also plan a chilled-out fishing session on one of Amelia Island’s best beaches. Or simply soak up the sights while walking around this natural paradise.
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When you’re done with its outdoor activities, venture northward to the island’s main town of Fernandina Beach. The 19th-century red-brick Victorian buildings in Fernandina Beach’s town center hide many of the top attractions in Amelia Island, including cool shops, galleries, and restaurants. It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat and partake in some leisurely shopping.
Castaway Island Preserve
When it comes to natural beauty, you simply can’t leave out Castaway Island Preserve. With its towering trees and photogenic wildflowers, the park’s trail is a highly Instagrammable spot popular with all age groups. It’s one of the coolest places to see in Jacksonville for outdoor adventurers.
Located on San Pablo Rd S, Castaway Island Preserve is jam-packed with natural wonders. It also boasts an interactive trail, marked by animal prints, that’s perfect for the kids.
If you’re feeling adventurous, bring your own kayak or canoe. Sunrise and sunset are particularly beautiful times of the day. Visit in the morning or evening to enjoy stunning views of the water and thriving greenery.
The whole family will enjoy exploring Castaway Island Preserve, even your pets. Unwind from the hustle and bustle of the city and take a detour into nature at this lovely park.
Huguenot Memorial Park
Craving some rustic sea air? Huguenot Memorial Park has everything you need. Located near the mouth of the St. Johns River, this vibrant park is a fantastic sunbathing spot. While catching some rays in the Florida sunshine, you can watch others surf, swim, and sail in the pristine water.
Huguenot Memorial Park also possesses 70 campground sites, a kids’ playground, and a picnic area. There’s something for the whole family here. To get reacquainted with nature, Huguenot Memorial Park is the perfect Jacksonville escape.
Fort Caroline National Memorial
The Fort Caroline National Memorial aims to preserve and memorialize the brief French presence in 16th-century Florida. Situated on the banks of the St. John’s River, this charming settlement is steeped in history and legend. For history buffs, it’s one of the top points of interest in Jacksonville, FL.
Originally founded in 1564, Fort Caroline National Memorial has been painstakingly preserved. It serves as a reminder of the long-lost world of French Florida. Explore the hiking paths and reconstructed structures to immerse yourself in the history of Jax’s early European settlers..
At the dawn of the New World, European nations were eager to stake their claim on the country now known as the United States. Fort Caroline National Memorial is one of the earliest examples of this colonization. A visit here will certainly transport you back in time.
Riverside and Avondale
Looking to experience Jax’s cultural side? Bask in the charming streets of Riverside and Avondale and immerse yourself in the area’s abundant culture. The neighborhood charms with its illustrious 19th-century cultural history. For foodies & art lovers, Riverside and Avondale are among the top Jacksonville tourist attractions.
Riverside and Avondale are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The twin neighborhoods are among Jacksonville’s trendiest and most sought-after areas. Its world-class art galleries are breathtaking. There’s also an abundance of quirky, unique shops where you can splash your cash.
Be sure to check out the famous Riverside Arts Market located under the Fuller Warren Bridge. Visiting the market, you’ll meet the local artists, craftsmen, and farmers. This bustling Riverside Arts Market is rich in culture, fresh produce, and food. It’s an ideal location to spend a lazy afternoon.
The historic Shoppes of Avondale are snuggled within the heart of the Avondale district. Visitors can shop in small, local businesses and invest in the local economy. With its lined trees and easy-going atmosphere, the Shoppes of Avondale is a wonderful location for young and old alike. Head there during peak hours to soak in the bustling, neighborly spirit.
Jax Ale Trail
Fancy wetting your whistle with a delicious, local craft ale? Head down to the Jax Ale Trail and sample some of the delicacies on offer. With great bars, friendly service, and mouth-watering craft ales, it’s one of the top Jacksonville sightseeing spots.
After receiving your Brewery Passport, you’ll have the freedom to roam the smorgasbord of craft breweries along the Jax Ale Trail. Be sure to get your passport stamped to win cool and unique prizes.
The Jax Ale Trail is popular with all age groups and is a wonderful way to spend a laid-back Sunday. You can even participate in a group brewery tour and make friends along the way.
Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens
Eager to connect with your inner Zen? Head down to Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens and become one with nature. The gardens feature 120 acres of stunning woodland, a serene lake, and an accessible walkway. Located ten minutes away from downtown Jax, these idyllic gardens are as full of history as they are beautiful. Escaping city life for a few hours at this natural hotspot is one of the top things to do in Jacksonville, FL.
The Jacksonville Arboretum’s rickety wooden bridges and lopsided terrain remind of a mid-20th century gold-mining expedition. There’s also a peaceful lake where visitors can unwind surrounded by beautiful trees. Be sure to take your camera to the Jacksonville Arboretum for picture-perfect snapshots.
Tree Hill Nature Center
Eager to give back to the Jax community? Be sure to check out the Tree Hill Nature Center. This non-profit organization aims to preserve its trees, animals, and plant life for future generations to enjoy. By paying a small admission fee, visitors invest in the well-being and maintenance of Florida’s natural landscape.
The walking trails at the Tree Hill Nature Center are nothing short of breathtaking. There’s also a chance for face-to-face meetings with the animals. Owls, hens, goats, alligators, and turtles are waiting for you. Be sure to take the kids, as they’ll love the opportunity to meet them all in the flesh.
Little Talbot Island State Park
With five miles of pristine beach, Little Talbot Island State Park is truly a sight to behold. Alongside the untouched beaches and flowing ocean are three miles of woodland hiking trails. You’ll marvel at soaring pine trees, dense ferns, and sun-kissed dunes. Little Talbot Island State Park is chock-full of natural beauty.
Outdoor lovers will appreciate the range of activities at Little Talbot Island State Park, too. At the park, surfing, swimming, canoeing, and fishing are all popular pastimes. Little Talbot Island State Park is a true hybrid between rural magnificence and oceanside wonder. It’s got a little something for everyone.
Big Talbot Island State Park
Located just north of Little Talbot Island, Big Talbot Island State Park is yet another Jacksonville favorite for outdoor adventurers. The nature preserve sits on a large sea island, teeming with diverse habitats from salt marshes to maritime forests.
Although the state park is most famous for its Boneyard Beach, there are plenty more surprises along the shoreline and inland. Tramp down the Blackrock Trail, leading to Blackrock Beach, for a rugged alternative to the popular driftwood beach.
If you’re visiting with family, carve out time for The Bluffs. Breathe in the fresh sea breeze as you enjoy a picnic lunch while overlooking the water.
Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
Ever wanted to see big cats in real life rather than on Tiger King? Pop in for a visit to the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located 15 miles from downtown Jacksonville on Riverside Ave. It offers close-up looks at the graceful, formidable animals who grace its grassy landscape.
Featuring tigers, lions, pumas, leopards, and lynx, the range at Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is eclectic. There are always fun events held here, including night feeding tours. Head there on a balmy summer evening to see what they’re all about.
Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is open year-round, but its hours are limited due to its volunteer staff.
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
The glorious overhanging palm trees of Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park put visitors in the heart of a tropical paradise. The scenic trails are pet-friendly and offer sweeping views of the flora and fauna. For outdoor activity, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park is one of the top Jacksonville points of interest.
At Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, you’ll spot a long stretch of beach. Here, visitors can immerse themselves in various water-borne activities. Swimming may be prohibited, but feel free to kayak and canoe on the freshwater lake.
Hosting a family party or business function? Dolphin Plaza is an ideal location with its waterside views and 2,000 square-foot of space. There’s also a campground site and cooking facilities to help give your outing that rustic charm.
Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
Fancy injecting some culture into your getaway? Then head to the famous Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The largest fine art museum in Florida, it attracts people from all over the world. Step in to witness thousands of beautiful artifacts on display.
The Cummer Museum of Art is situated within a breathtaking botanical garden. After viewing the artwork, take a stroll around the gardens and lose yourself in the abundant beauty and collage of colorful flowers.
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens also offers classes, a gift shop, and a quirky cafe. If you’re eager for some inspiration, this museum is the spot for you.
The cacophony of crashing waves and blistering winds have made Boneyard Beach what it is today. Hidden away in Big Talbot Island State Park, this three-mile stretch of beach is littered with sun-worn tree fossils. In parts, it almost resembles a dinosaur burial ground. The fallen trees have a crucial role as a natural barrier from seasonal floods.
Whilst not as glamorous as other popular beaches in Jacksonville, Boneyard Beach’s creepy charm will provide an enticing alternative to usual seaside attractions. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty to see these spellbinding trees up close.
Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail
The Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail encompasses 14.5 miles of natural beauty. The site of a former railway line, it’s been preserved and converted into one of the city’s best walking and biking sites.
Whether you choose to get around on foot, bike, skateboard, or rollerblades, the trail will transport you across town. Along the way, you can stop for a bite to eat at one of Jax’s many cafes and restaurants or a food truck.
If you have a spare day on your trip, burn off those vacation calories by traversing the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail.
Museum of Science and History (MOSH)
Located on Museum Circle along the Southbank Riverwalk, the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) is a Jacksonville must-see for science geeks and history buffs. Opened in 1941, the museum is the city’s most-visited and a blast for the entire family.
Discover the dazzling marine life of Northeast Florida at award-winning Atlantic Tails. Or learn more about Jacksonville, Florida’s earliest inhabitants through to the modern-day at Currents of Time. If you’re looking for something more interactive, MOSH also offers daily science shows, planetarium tours, and live animal shows.
Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts
Located in the heart of Downtown Jax, Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts is one of the most important cultural centers in Northeast Florida. Throughout the year, the three-venue complex hosts world-class performers, from the Jacksonville Symphony to Broadway musicals to rock concerts.
Know your dates? Check out the center’s event calendar to see’s what playing during your Jax trip.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Home to the largest collection of its kind in Northeast Florida, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) begs art lovers to explore. Located next to James Weldon Johnson Park (formerly Hemming Park), the museum hosts over a thousand works of art, spanning everything from paintings to prints to sculptures.
Arranged in six themes, the permanent collections at the Museum of Contemporary Art feature artwork from emerging and established international, national, and local artists. Popular artists represented at MOCA include Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Longo, and Alex Katz.
Check out MOCA’s official site for a list of their current exhibitions.
Beaches Town Center
Perched on the Atlantic Ocean at the eastern terminus of Atlantic Boulevard, Beaches Town Center is the most popular hangout spot around Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach. The open-air shopping area teems with cool boutique shops, top-notch restaurants, and even a couple oceanfront resorts.
If shopping is your jam, you’ll find over a dozen boutiques to browse at the Beaches Town Center, selling everything from fashion to surf gear to home decor.
To fuel up after your beach day, select between two dozen restaurants peppering the streets. For delectable Asian noodles, whip out your chopsticks at Hawkers Asian Street Food. Or unwind with margaritas and classic Mexican fare at the Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar.
Fort Clinch State Park
Located north of Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Fort Clinch State Park blends an interesting history lesson with a beautiful swath of nature. Thanks to its unique history and natural beauty, it’s often listed among the most interesting Florida state parks.
The 1,400-acre Fort Clinch State Park centers around its historic fort, dating back to the Civil War era. Exploring the fort, you’ll discover a wealth of galleries, walking guests through the history of the park. Military history buffs should try to visit on the first weekend of the month to experience the park’s monthly cannon-firing demonstration.
Aside from the fortress, Fort Clinch State Park features several biking paths & hiking trails meandering through its maritime hammock under the shade of towering live oak trees. As your traipse around the trails, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, including gopher tortoises.
Ritz Theatre & Museum
Located in the historic LaVilla neighborhood, the Ritz Theatre & Museum is one of the city’s most important historical performing arts venues. The site centers around a beautiful 1929-era theatre and a museum, with a variety of exhibits focused on African-American culture in Florida.
In its heyday from the 1920s to the 1960s, the Ritz Theatre & Museum was the pulse of LaVilla, an area once known as the “Harlem of the South.” To this day, the theater continues to be an important force in promoting African-American arts & culture in the Jacksonville area and in Florida.
If you want to catch a show at the historic theater, check its official schedule to see what’s on during your trip.
Best places to stay in Jacksonville for sightseeing
For travelers, the best places to stay in Jacksonville, FL, lie in the city’s southeast. Many of the city’s best hotels fall in & around the Deerwood neighborhood and the St Johns Town Center. To enjoy Jax’s seaside pleasure, there’s also a cluster of accommodations around Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach.
For a value stay in Jax, spend your nights at this budget-friendly 3-star hotel. You’ll enjoy spacious modern rooms along with excellent amenities, including an outdoor pool.
Add a little flair to your Northeast Florida visit with a night at this colorful mid-range hotel. Brighten your day with the hotel’s hip & funky decor. End a day of Jacksonville sightseeing with a dip in the outdoor pool or soak in the hot tub.
The trendy Aloft is the perfect place to add a dash of style to your trip. Rooms show off hip & artistic designs. Grab a nightcap in the stylish on-site bar, w xyz, to top off the evening.