Jacksonville, with gorgeous beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and up-and-coming neighborhoods with great shopping and dining, is a rewarding place to visit. It is Florida’s largest city based on population, and the country’s top city based on land mass. There’s a lot to see and do, Jacksonville’s diverse neighborhoods each has a distinctive edge to it.
St. Johns Town Center
Most business travelers will find themselves staying downtown or along the riverfront. In addition to numerous hotel options, the city’s main convention center brings more than 275,000 square feet of event space drawing large-scale functions to the city. Then there’s the downtown Riverwalk where you can jog or stroll along the water’s edge. On game days, downtown buzzes with energy with TIAA Bank Field, where the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars play, the main attraction.
TIAA Bank Field
Whenever you choose to visit, it is easy to get around town if you have a car or using rideshare services. There’s also a modern monorail system, the 2.5-mile Skyway, that takes guests around the downtown core and across the river. River taxis are another option to get around town while experiencing the city from a different point of view.
No matter what the weather, Jacksonville has activities for every taste. Fans of the outdoors will find the largest urban park system in the country here: there are more than 400 city parks, seven state parks and two national parks in the Jacksonville area. Its beaches are fantastic, too, with more shoreline than any other Florida city. While Jacksonville may not be top of mind when it comes to beaches, it sure has a lot of them.
If you don’t have time to spare for a relaxed beach day, at least drive the A1A Islands Trail, which is a 40-mile scenic route that stretches from Fernandina Beach in the north through Amelia Island and all the way down to South Jacksonville Beach. The views are beautiful and takes you through Talbot Islands State Park and near Kingsley Plantation, one of the last remaining plantation houses in Florida.
Whether you are here for work and have a few extra hours or planned a road trip to or through Jacksonville, these entertaining suggestions should give you plenty to do for an afternoon. Mix and match your favorite activities based on how much time you have, or delve into one and save the rest for your next visit.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Families will love exploring this dual-purposed attraction with more than 2,000 exotic animals and 1,000 species of plants. Part animal habitat, part botanical gardens, you can easily spend an entire afternoon here (if not longer). The Land of the Tiger exhibit is highly recognized for its multiple viewing areas including from an underwater vantage point. Other exhibits showcase animals in their native habitats like the “plains of East Africa” with elephants, cheetahs and lions or “wild Florida” with black bears and alligators.
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
Art and Soul in Jacksonville
If you enjoy art museums, the city has two prominent options: the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in the Riverside/Avondale neighborhood and the downtown Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Jacksonville. The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is the largest fine arts museum in this part of the state. Now featuring more than 5,000 pieces of art, there is a lot to see both indoors and outside. Paintings, sculptures and modern design pieces compose the vast collection. At the MOCA, the trend is all modern and avant garde pieces. Between the two, there is something for every taste, and that’s not to mention the vibrant street art and colorful murals within the downtown area. A self-guided tour of 55 downtown murals is available on the Visit Jax app.
Jacksonville: What You May Learn
Jacksonville’s museum seen goes beyond engaging art. The city’s visitors centers offer a museum passport worth picking up. Participating museums stamp the passport with each visit; four stamps earns a free prize.
The Museum of Science & History mixes together entertaining exhibits that showcase the region. There are live animal exhibits, planetarium programs, and interactive displays. Discover more about the area’s African American heritage and history at the Ritz Theatre and Museum. The Beaches Museum describes the history and culture of the many beach communities that surround the city. It’s more than just sand and waves. Exhibits cover the indigenous cultures that occupied the area centuries ago as well as cultural topics like the women’s suffrage movement, which is presented through the work of local artists.
Side Trip to San Marco
Across the river from downtown, this historic neighborhood features stately homes, eclectic boutique shopping, art galleries, breweries and plentiful dining choices. If you spot the fountain of lions, you’ll be reminded about the sister partnership the neighborhood has with Venice, Italy. Be sure to download the “Beach Buggy” app to request free rides via electric carts or larger vans. Just a tip and a smile will get you where you need to go around the beaches and San Marco neighborhood.
Intuition Ale Works
JAX Ale Trail
Highlighting the large number of breweries in the area, the JAX Ale Trail describes all of them and provides a passport that you can get stamped with each visit. The easiest way to experience it is to take the Jax Brew Bus tour, which takes you to several stops over a period of 4.5 hours where you can sample as many as 15 local craft beers.