Looking to add a new city to your Florida itinerary? The northern gateway to the Sunshine State, Jacksonville, FL, is a destination you can’t miss. With sandy shores and a thrumming nightlife scene, this North Florida city is a popular choice among families and college-aged bar hoppers alike.
Known as Jax among locals, Jacksonville is one of the Sunshine State’s hottest destinations. From beaches and nature reserves to bucket-list-type attractions such as zoos and museums, Jax is both full of excitement and opportunity for some R&R.
Ready to take your Florida getaway to the next level? This complete travel guide to Jacksonville will give you everything you need to plan the perfect holiday. Keep reading for the inside scoop on what to see & do, where to stay, and when to visit…
What to see & do in Jacksonville, FL
If you’re a beachcomber at heart, then hitting up Jacksonville Beach should take top priority when crafting your itinerary. In fact, with miles of sandy shores, turquoise waves, beachfront attractions, and some of the best beaches in Jacksonville, you may want to come back to this popular beach town day after day to take it all in.
Besides being a pretty chill place to hang out and work on your holiday tan, Jacksonville Beach is also a great place to spot local sea life. Keep your eyes peeled for colorful fishies, rays, and even pods of dolphins passing by.
Need a better vantage point? Take a stroll to the end of the Jacksonville Beach Pier. From up here, you’ll have the best view around (and a bait shop if you want to give pier fishing a try).
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
One of the best things to do in Jacksonville, FL, is to visit the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Trust us when we say this is no ordinary zoo—it’s a walking safari!
At Jacksonville Zoo, you can stroll through 73 acres of habitats and watch the animals free-roaming as they would be in the wild. With over 200 animals calling the zoo home, you’ll likely come face-to-face with your favorite species at one point or another.
When visiting the Jacksonville Zoo, be sure to upgrade your general admission to include the “total experience.” The upgraded package includes train and carousel rides, animal feeding tickets, and even a 4D theatre showing.
Located on Fort George Island, Kingsley Plantation awaits to take you on a journey back in time steeped in Southern history. This 19th-century estate is dappled with towering willow and palm trees, a sprawling 60-acre garden, and a white owner’s house, which has been preserved by the state to operate as a museum.
All that said, Kingsley Plantation has a dark history, owned by one of the region’s most prominent slave traders. Today, the plantation presents an important opportunity to reflect on the past and learn from our mistakes, coordinated by the U.S. National Park Service.
On a guided tour of the Kingsley Plantation, you’ll visit the slave’s quarters and kitchen house. All the while, you’ll hear the stories of those who once lived on the estate, some of whom lived on to become free landowners.
Amelia Island State Park
If you have extra time in Jax, castaway on one of the best day trips from Jacksonville, FL, to Amelia Island State Park. This reserve, over 200 acres large, is dripping in wanderlust-worthy experiences and scenery that’ll make all your friends back home green with envy.
With beautiful beaches, marshes, and tropical forests to explore, Amelia Island State Park is sure to be a crowd-pleaser with every beach bum, amateur naturalist, and fisherman in your travel crew. You can even add on experiences like horseback riding on the beach or kayaking through the mangroves in search of local wildlife.
One of the popular (and free!) things to do on Amelia Island is going shelling, which is just a fancy way of saying hunting for and collecting seashells. Oysters, periwinkle, and sand dollars are all popular finds. What an amazing souvenir and memory to bring back home!
Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
If you’re only planning to visit one museum during your time in Jacksonville, make sure it’s the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The largest fine arts museum in the state, it boasts a highly impressive permanent collection of over 5,000 historic and contemporary works.
Even if you’re not a big fan of art galleries, the botanical gardens at the Cummer Museum are worth the trip all on their own. Cascading fountains, manicured bonsais, beautiful booms, and historic architecture….it doesn’t get much more picturesque than that. You’ll feel like you’re living inside a painting. Don’t forget your camera; you’re going to want to capture this beauty forever!
For an extra-memorable meal, consider dining al fresco in the Cummer Gardens. On Friday nights, the museum cafe hosts elegant picnics in the garden at a surprisingly affordable price per person.
Where to stay
Now that you’ve chosen Jax for your next getaway choosing among the best places to stay in Jacksonville will be your next big task. Each neighborhood in Jacksonville has a different target traveler in mind, offering a vastly unique experience from the next, so choosing the right one for you is important. Here is a quick breakdown of a few of the most popular options:
Though there are some budget and mid-rage accommodations scattered throughout the neighborhood, Downtown Jacksonville is the ideal choice for travelers who want to splurge and live the high life for the weekend.
Downtown Jacksonville is fast-paced with a buzzing nightlife scene. It’s also chalked full of boutiques for the shopaholics, renowned restaurants for the foodies, and museums for the self-proclaimed art snobs.
For families or those who prefer a more laid-back pace, Southpoint is an excellent choice. You won’t need to sacrifice any of the amenities or attractions of Downtown Jacksonville, but you can take a step back from the bright lights and nightlife scene.
Both hotels and dining options are available aplenty in Southpoint with a wide range of price points, making this prime location accessible with almost any budget.
This is the place to be if you want a wholesome, well-rounded experience at a mid-range to luxury price point. Deerwood has great shopping malls, restaurants, parks, and easy access to the seaside.
Deerwood is also a popular choice among outdoor enthusiasts, with hiking trails and freshwater fishing areas at your doorstep.
If you’re a total beach bum choosing Jacksonville for some time in the sun, don’t bother leaving Jacksonville Beaches. Also known simply as The Beaches, this “town” consists of several beach communities, including Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach.
A series of beach resorts and coastal condo rentals will keep you close to the shoreline here, making your daily trek to the ocean a short one. You can even fall asleep to the sound of the waves! Give surfing a try or eat ocean-to-table seafood at a groovy beach bar—there’s plenty to do here, so even the most restless beachgoer will love it.
When to visit
The best time to visit Jacksonville is from March to May or from September to November. By traveling in the early spring or early fall, you’ll avoid the massive swarm of tourists (and the sweltering heat) during the summer peak. Plus, in addition to smaller attraction lineups and nice weather, these months will also help you to secure lower rates for your hotel stay and flights.
Travel to Jacksonville in the winter months is the most budget-friendly, but may not give you the warm temperatures you expect when booking a sun holiday.
Jacksonville is served by Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), located 13 miles north of Downtown Jacksonville. Several major airlines offer direct flights to JAX from major U.S. and international destinations, including:
- Allegiant Air
- American Airlines
- American Eagle
- Breeze Airways
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
Jacksonville is well-connected by road to other cities in Florida and neighboring states. Popular driving routes to/from Jacksonville and estimated driving times include:
- St. Augustine, FL (53m)
- Gainesville, FL (1h15m)
- Orlando, FL (2h9m)
- Miami, FL (5h3m)
- Savannah, GA (2h1m)
- Atlanta, GA (4h53m)
Without a doubt, driving a car is the easiest way to get around Jacksonville, Florida. This means that unless you’re visiting as part of a road trip or you already live within driving distance, you’re probably going to want to spring for a rental car. Especially if you want to explore some of the surrounding areas and take a day trip or two, renting a car is your best bet.
If renting a car is not within your budget, or you plan to stay in the city proper, there are a few public transportation options to suit your needs. The Skyway is a free monorail service that operates in the downtown core between attractions. The Riverside Avondale Night Trolley is an affordable way to get home from bars and nightlife venues. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on the local bus schedule or on hailing a taxicab.