Experience the Best: Unique Things to Do in Jacksonville, FL

Estimated read time 20 min read

Welcome, fellow wanderers! Looking for an abundance of exciting and diverse activities? Discover the top things to do in Jacksonville, FL, a city that seamlessly blends metropolitan charm, rich history, and breathtaking natural beauty.

Jacksonville is a city that flawlessly combines metropolitan charm, rich history, and spectacular natural beauty. Jacksonville, the largest city in the continental United States by land area, has a plethora of unique and enjoyable activities for everyone to enjoy. Join us as we explore the 16 unique activities that await you in this enchanting city.

Introduction: Jacksonville’s Unique Blend of Attractions

Jacksonville seamlessly blends a bustling cityscape with gorgeous, preserved natural spaces. The city is a treasure trove of art, history, wildlife, outdoor activities, and unforgettable tours, just waiting to be discovered. We’re about to explore 16 of Jacksonville’s unforgettable activities that will provide you with experiences you simply can’t miss.

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Things to do in Jacksonville, FL

Arts & History

1. Revel in Artistic Brilliance at Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

(you can also engage with the museum from home with the Virtual Arts4All Festival.)

Are you ready to enter a world of color, imagination, and natural beauty? Then, let’s begin our adventure at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville. This location is truly something special.

This museum, located on the picturesque banks of the St. Johns River, is a lovely blend of world-class art collections and European-inspired gardens. 

Did you know this was once the house of famed art collector Ninah Mae Holden Cummer? Today, it has been transformed into a treasure trove displaying a diverse range of spectacular artworks, each one honoring the breathtaking beauty of nature.

Oh, and don’t be concerned about bringing the kids. The Cummer Museum has considered everything! They feature a fantastic interactive children’s exhibit that is both entertaining and educational. It’s an ideal way for children to get their feet wet in the realm of art.

Cummer museum gardens

2.  Delve into History at Kingsley Plantation.

Right here in Florida, we have our very own time machine – the Kingsley Plantation. Buckle up, because this isn’t your average historical site.

You see, this place is more than just a plantation. It’s the oldest surviving plantation house in Florida. Can you believe that? It’s been here, silently witnessing centuries of stories that shaped the world as we know it.

Imagine this: it’s the eighteenth century, and Florida is buzzing with dreamers and pioneers. Enter Zephaniah Kingsley, a man with a master plan to accumulate wealth. His strategy? Buy lands, establish plantations. But here’s the twist – this ambition came with a significant human cost as countless individuals were forced into labor.

As you roam around the beautiful landscapes of Kingsley Plantation, you’ll sense these past lives and their stories echoing in the breeze. You’ll learn about the lives of not only the plantation owners but also the enslaved people who worked tirelessly on these lands, all vital threads in the rich tapestry of Florida’s history.

Get ready for the saga of Anna Kingsley. Here’s a story you’d think was made up – an enslaved woman turns into the wife of a plantation owner, and then becomes a plantation owner herself. Still, life wasn’t all roses for Anna. She found herself navigating a tumultuous world of shifting politics and alliances, and boy, does she have some stories to share.

So, how about it? Fancy a step back in time? Kingsley Plantation is not just a history lesson—it’s a ticket to a past era filled with real-life drama and complex human stories. It’s a must-visit for anyone looking to explore the deep roots of Florida’s heritage. Get ready to jump in – the past awaits!

3. Walking Through History at Fort Caroline.

It’s time to shift gears from plantations and jump straight into the action-packed world of French colonial history. Our next stop? None other than the enigmatic Fort Caroline.

Fort Caroline isn’t just a monument frozen in time—it’s a fully-fledged time machine whisking you back to the sixteenth century. Picture the daring explorers as they voyaged into the unknown, taking a gamble on life in the New World. They left everything familiar behind, driven by ambition, faith, and a thirst for adventure.

As you walk through the fort’s remains, you can almost hear the echoes of the past— the hardship of survival in a land so foreign, the charged atmosphere of religious clashes shaping early America, and the thunder of territorial battles waged between the European titans.

But hold on, it wasn’t just Europeans here! There’s another riveting storyline brewing. The French colonists and the native tribes – their first meetings, a whirlwind of cultural exchange and conflict that left a legacy spanning centuries. There’s so much to learn about these fascinating interactions.

Fort Caroline isn’t just a pretty view—it’s a must-visit spot for anyone eager to peel back the layers of America’s intricate history.

Wildlife & Nature: 

 4. Encounter Wildlife Up Close at Catty Shack Ranch 

Craving a walk on the wild side? Say no more! Let’s whisk you off to the Catty Shack Ranch, a sanctuary where the wild roars a little louder. Imagine coming face-to-face with the kings and queens of the jungle, from majestic tigers to stealthy lynxes. This is no ordinary visit—this is a life-altering encounter.

The Catty Shack Ranch isn’t just a sanctuary, it’s a haven of hope. They’ve made it their mission to rescue these magnificent big cats from unimaginable conditions, providing a haven where they can stretch, roar, and just be themselves again.

Want to get the inside scoop on these cool cats? The dedicated volunteers will take you on an informative journey, sharing stories that will leave you in awe of these incredible creatures. You’ll learn about the ins and outs of the ranch and the crucial role it plays in preserving these endangered species.

But that’s not all! Brace yourself for a truly heart-pounding spectacle—the night feeding event. As dusk descends and the air fills with an electric anticipation, you’ll witness the raw power of nature in action. Picture this: big cats pacing, eyes glowing in the twilight, ready to pounce on their dinner. This awe-striking event is a sure-fire way to feel the wild pulsating in your veins.

So grab your tickets in advance and get ready for an unforgettable rendezvous with the wild at Catty Shack Ranch. Trust us—it’s a sight that will linger in your memory long after you’ve left.

Big cat laying with paws in the air.

 5. Family Fun at Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens 

Ready to dive deeper into the world of wildlife? Let’s hop over to the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, where the excitement never stops! With a staggering collection of over 2,000 rare and exotic animals, and a mesmerizing variety of more than 1,000 plants, this place is a thrilling exploration for all ages.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens isn’t just a zoo; it’s a wild wonderland that’s been capturing hearts since 1914. Nestled beautifully on the riverfront, this wildlife haven has played a key role in wildlife conservation, educating visitors about the beauty and fragility of our natural world.

Get ready to cross continents as you journey through the zoo’s vibrant exhibits. Walk through the African Overlook for a glimpse of the savannah’s majesty, step into the Wild Florida exhibit to explore the state’s native species, or take a trip down under with the Australian Adventure. Don’t forget to say hello to the tigers at the Land of the Tiger exhibit or marvel at the grace of the jaguars in the award-winning exhibit. And that’s just the beginning!

But it’s not all wild roars and chirping birds. If you’re looking for a moment of calm, you can stroll over to the scenic dock and soak in the tranquil views of the Trout River. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a place where adventure and tranquility coexist, promising a day of pure magic for everyone in the family.

fountain play

 6. Animal Encounters at Tree Hill Nature Center 

Nestled in the vibrant heart of Jacksonville lies the Tree Hill Nature Center, an enchanting escape for all those who hear the call of the wild. This is no ordinary nature center – it’s a treasure trove for nature lovers, bursting with wonders just waiting to be discovered.

Experience the thrill of hands-on animal encounters where you can feel the softness of a rabbit’s fur or marvel at the intricate patterns on a turtle’s shell. Tree Hill isn’t just about observation, it’s about participation. It’s about igniting a love for nature that will last a lifetime.

But it’s not all about the animals. The center is crisscrossed with tranquil walking trails that meander through the lush flora of Northeast Florida. Let the stress melt away as you soak in the serenity of the butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Listen to the soothing songs of the birds and let the peace of nature wash over you.

And for those eager to dive deeper, the center offers a range of educational programs for all ages. Whether you’re a budding naturalist, an experienced hiker, or someone just looking to connect with nature, Tree Hill has something for everyone. They even host summer camps, school field trips, and community events like guided nature walks and astronomy nights.

 7. Birdwatching Experience at Castaway Island Preserve 

This 312-acre nature preserve is a haven for a multitude of avian species, making it a must-visit destination for birdwatchers.

As you venture into the preserve, you’ll be greeted by an enchanting marsh ecosystem brimming with captivating wildlife. Grab your binoculars and follow the winding nature trails that lead you through this intricate habitat. Keep your eyes peeled for graceful herons, elegant egrets, and other winged wonders that call this preserve home.

For an elevated perspective, stroll along the wooden boardwalk that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Marvel at the vibrant tapestry of marsh grasses and the serene beauty of the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s a picturesque scene that will leave you in awe.

Feeling peckish? Find a tranquil spot amidst nature’s splendor and indulge in a peaceful picnic. As you savor your meal, relish the symphony of birdsong and the gentle rustling of marshland creatures. It’s a moment of serenity that truly connects you to the natural world.

 8. Nature’s Spectacle at Timucuan Preserve 

Get ready to immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Timucuan Preserve, home to one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the entire Atlantic Coast. Brace yourself for a magical experience that seamlessly blends history and nature.

As you step into the preserve, you’ll be greeted by a breathtaking convergence of the salty Atlantic Ocean waters and the majestic St. Johns River. Prepare to be captivated by the diverse landscape that unfolds before your eyes – from sprawling coastal dunes to lush hardwood hammocks and expansive salt marshes. Each step unveils a new vista, a new moment of natural wonder.

Marvel at the stunning views of the shoreline, where the waves dance and the gentle sea breeze whispers tales of time. Take a moment to listen to the harmonious symphony of wildlife, as birds chirp, frogs croak, and creatures of the marsh go about their daily rituals. It’s a sensory delight that transports you to a world untouched by modernity.

Timucuan Preserve offers an array of experiences for nature enthusiasts of all kinds. If you seek tranquility, embark on a peaceful hike through the winding trails, where the embrace of nature rejuvenates your spirit. Let the vibrant colors of flora and the melody of birdcalls be your companions along the way.

For the more adventurous souls, seize the opportunity to embark on an exhilarating kayak ride. Glide through the waterways, exploring hidden nooks and crannies as you forge your own path. Feel the thrill of exploration as you navigate this pristine coastal wonderland.

Whether you’re a seasoned nature lover or just beginning your journey into the great outdoors, Timucuan Preserve offers an experience that resonates with every soul. It’s a place where history intertwines with nature, creating a tapestry of wonder and awe.

 Outdoor Activities: 

 9. Serene Sunrise Views at Jacksonville Beach 

Calling all early birds! Jacksonville Beach beckons with a promise of breathtaking sunrise views that will leave you in awe. Start your day off right by witnessing the magical moment when the sun ascends over the shimmering waters, casting its golden hues across the horizon. It’s a sight that’s bound to ignite your sense of wonder and fill you with gratitude for the beauty of nature.

Visiting the beaches in Jacksonville, Florida offers an unparalleled coastal experience. Picture miles of pristine sand stretching out before you, inviting you to indulge in a world of outdoor activities. Take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters, letting the gentle waves wash away your worries. Find your ideal place on the soft beach and soak up the warm sun while basking in the peaceful ambience.

If you’re feeling daring, grab a surfboard and glide down the ocean’s surface, savoring the exhilaration as you glide. Cast your fishing line into the sea and put your angling abilities to the test in the hopes of landing a valuable catch to add to your beachfront memories.

For those seeking relaxation, simply lay back and let the rhythmic sound of the waves lull you into a state of pure bliss. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, savoring every moment of serenity and solitude.

The beaches of Jacksonville offer a haven for both locals and visitors alike, providing ample space for everyone to find their own slice of paradise. Whether you’re seeking adventure, tranquility, or simply a place to soak up the beauty of the coast, Jacksonville Beach delivers.

So, set your alarm clock and be ready to greet the day at Jacksonville Beach. 

 10. A Quick Tour of Jacksonville’s Bridges at Cancer Survivor’s Park 

Escape to a place of inspiration and tranquility at Cancer Survivor’s Park in Downtown Jacksonville. This hidden gem offers a serene setting where you can take a leisurely stroll and marvel at the impressive bridges that Jacksonville is renowned for. It’s a unique blend of city views and a peaceful park atmosphere, creating an experience that is both uplifting and rejuvenating.

As you wander through Cancer Survivor’s Park, you’ll encounter miniature replicas of the city’s remarkable bridges, elegantly spanning a tranquil pond reminiscent of the iconic St. Johns River. These beautifully crafted structures serve as a symbol of resilience and strength, mirroring the triumphs of those who have overcome the challenges of cancer.

The park itself is adorned with uplifting sculptures and plaques that pay tribute to the courageous individuals who have fought and conquered this formidable disease. You’ll find yourself immersed in a space that radiates hope and celebrates the indomitable spirit of cancer survivors.

One notable feature of the park is a computer display that proudly showcases the names of cancer survivors who have bravely battled the disease for over five years. It serves as a testament to their unwavering determination and serves as a source of inspiration for all who visit.

 11. Embrace Nature at Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens 

Get ready to immerse yourself in the wonders of nature at Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens. Nestled in the heart of Jacksonville, this serene and picturesque nature reserve invites you to embark on a captivating adventure across its expansive 120 acres of natural landscape.

As you step onto the trails of the arboretum, you’ll be greeted by a symphony of vibrant colors and fragrant scents that permeate the air. With over three miles of winding hiking trails, you’ll have ample opportunity to explore and discover the diverse ecosystems that call this place home.

The arboretum showcases a stunning array of habitats, including wetlands, hardwood forests, and sandhill ecosystems. Each step along the trails reveals a tapestry of native plants, from delicate wildflowers to majestic towering trees. Keep your eyes peeled, as you may encounter a variety of wildlife that inhabit these habitats, from songbirds to graceful deer, adding a touch of magic to your journey.

Marvel at the meticulously crafted sculptures that dot the landscape, seamlessly blending art with nature. These beautiful works of art serve as reminders of the harmonious relationship between human creativity and the natural world.

Educational exhibits and events provide a deeper understanding of the delicate balance of ecosystems and the importance of conservation. Whether you attend a guided nature walk or participate in a hands-on workshop, you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for the intricate web of life that thrives within the arboretum.

 12. Water Adventures at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park’s Splashpad 

Looking to beat the heat and have a blast with your family? Look no further than Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park’s Splashpad. This water wonderland is the perfect destination for a fun-filled day that will leave everyone with unforgettable memories.

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park is a beautiful jewel nestled in the breathtaking natural splendor of Jacksonville, Florida. This sprawling park has something for everyone, from outdoor aficionados to beachgoers and all in between.

With almost 20 miles of picturesque pathways winding through dense vegetation and meandering waterways, nature lovers will be spoiled for choice. Whether you enjoy hiking, biking, or jogging, these pathways are ideal for immersing yourself in nature’s calm and discovering the park’s hidden treasures.

But the good times don’t stop there. Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park has a beautiful beach where you can soak up the sun, create sandcastles, or enjoy a refreshing dip in the Atlantic Ocean’s crystal-clear waters. The gentle

For those seeking aquatic adventures, the park’s freshwater lake offers an array of water activities. Grab a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard and navigate the tranquil waters while taking in the breathtaking views that surround you. Fishing enthusiasts can also cast their lines and try their luck at catching some of the local fish species.

When it’s time to refuel, the park provides ample picnic areas where you can enjoy a delicious meal surrounded by nature’s splendor. And if you’re planning an extended stay, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park offers camping facilities that allow you to spend the night under the stars, truly immersing yourself in the park’s natural wonders.

For families, the highlight of the park is undoubtedly the Splashpad. Bursting with water activities and interactive features, this aquatic playground will keep the kids entertained for hours. From water sprays and fountains to water guns and tipping buckets, the Splashpad offers endless opportunities for laughter and excitement.

hanna

 13. Hiking Bliss on Little Talbot Island’s Dune Ridge Trail Loop 

This gorgeous walk combines stunning beaches, intriguing wetlands, and enchanting forest vistas that will take your breath away.

As soon as you step onto the trail, you’ll be met with the rhythmic sound of crashing waves and a soft sea wind. The trail’s coastal section highlights the raw beauty of the shoreline, with pure sandy shores stretching as far as the eye can see. Allow the serene ambiance to wash over you as you take in the magnificent views of the glittering ocean.

As you venture further, the trail leads you into the magical realm of marshes. Marvel at the delicate ecosystem teeming with diverse plant life and observe the vibrant colors of the marsh grasses swaying gracefully in the breeze. Keep a look out for the abundant birdlife that lives in these wetlands, as they soar across the sky or wade in the shallow waters.

The trail next leads you deeper into the forest’s embrace, where you’ll be encircled by towering trees and a lush canopy overhead. Nature’s earthy aroma fills the air, and the dappled sunshine seeping through the leaves creates a beautiful play of light and shadows. Take your time enjoying the tranquility of this wooded retreat and listening to the symphony of nature’s noises.

Throughout the Dune Ridge Trail Loop, you’ll encounter informative markers that offer fascinating insights into the unique ecosystems and wildlife that thrive in this area. Learn about the delicate balance between land and sea, the interconnectedness of the diverse habitats, and the importance of preserving this natural treasure for future generations.

palm in the sand

 14. Coastal Exploration at Black Rock Beach, Big Talbot Island 

Prepare to be captivated by the coastal beauty of Black Rock Beach at Big Talbot Island. This hidden gem is a paradise for budding photographers, with its distinctive black rock formations and fascinating driftwood sculptures that make for unique and striking compositions.

As you step foot onto the sandy shores of Black Rock Beach, you’ll immediately be greeted by the dramatic contrast between the dark rocks and the glistening waves of the ocean. These ancient rock formations, shaped by the forces of nature over thousands of years, create a mesmerizing backdrop that will truly elevate your photography game. The interplay of light and shadow on the black rocks provides endless opportunities for artistic expression and stunning visual compositions.

But the beauty doesn’t stop there. As you explore further along the beach, you’ll encounter intriguing driftwood sculptures that have been shaped and weathered by the elements. These artistic creations add an element of wonder and whimsy to the landscape, inviting you to unleash your creativity and capture their unique charm through your lens.

 15. Scenic Riverwalk Stroll to Friendship Fountain 

As you conclude your outdoor adventures in Jacksonville, treat yourself to a leisurely stroll along the enchanting Riverwalk, leading you to the iconic Friendship Fountain. Prepare to be mesmerized by breathtaking city views, especially as the sun begins its descent, painting the sky with vibrant hues.

The Friendship Fountain, a true landmark of Jacksonville, stands proudly overlooking the majestic St. Johns River. Its magnificent display of water and lights creates a captivating spectacle that is sure to leave you in awe. Take a moment to relax, soak in the serene atmosphere, and capture stunning photos of this picturesque scene. Whether you’re alone or with loved ones, the Friendship Fountain offers the perfect backdrop for cherished memories.

Just a short walk away from the fountain awaits the renowned Jacksonville Riverwalk. This 2.5-mile pedestrian walkway offers an ideal path along the riverbank with great views of both the river and the city skyline. Lace up your walking shoes, hop on a bike, or simply take a leisurely stroll as you immerse yourself in Jacksonville’s natural beauty and urban charm.

The Riverwalk is a scenic treat as well as a hive of activity. Along the route, you’ll come across a plethora of tantalizing options, ranging from delectable eateries and charming stores to captivating attractions. Indulge in a delectable dinner while experiencing the flavors of local cuisine, or peruse the boutiques for one-of-a-kind gifts that will remind you of your time in Jacksonville.

As night falls, the Riverwalk truly comes alive. Colorful lights illuminate the pathway, casting a magical glow over the surroundings, while live music fills the air, creating an ambiance of energy and excitement. Take a moment to soak up the vibrant atmosphere and revel in the vibrant nightlife that Jacksonville has to offer.

friendship fountain

 Tours: 

 16. Must-Try Tours for the Ultimate Jacksonville Experience 

To end your Jacksonville adventure, join one of the many incredible local tours. Whether it’s a food tour, a craft beer tour, a boat tour, or a historic tour, you’ll gain insights you just can’t get anywhere else.

Why Jacksonville Should Be Your Next Adventure Destination 

By now, you should have a taste of what Jacksonville offers, and we’re sure you’re just as enamored with this city as we are. Jacksonville truly is a city like no other, full of hidden gems, natural beauty, rich history, and heartwarming southern charm. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to plan your Jacksonville adventure. We promise it’s going to be unforgettable!

Happy Wandering Jacksonville!

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