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- 1. Spend the Day at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
- 2. Take a Surf Lesson with Jax Surf and Paddle
- 3. Enjoy a Relaxing Day in Jacksonville Beach
- 4. Explore Downtown Jacksonville with Go Tuk'n
- 5. Traverse the St. Johns River
- 6. Stroll Along the Riverwalk
- 7. Take a Wildlife Sanctuary Tour
- 8. Visit the Museum of Science and History (MOSH)
- 9. View Art at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
- Bonus Activity: Timucuan Ecological Preserve and Historic Center
Jacksonville, Florida, is known for having some of the most amazing beaches in the United States. It’s also well known as the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team. But is it more that just those popular attractions? In addition to its famous Atlantic coast beaches and sports experiences, there are many things families can do together. These are our favorite family friendly things to do in Jacksonville.
Located in northeast Florida, Jacksonville is a city teeming with natural beauty and exciting activities. From relaxing to educational, families can choose their style of fun for a Visit Jax experience, from outdoors to educational. What if you’re visiting Jacksonville without kids? No problem! All of these activities translate to adult fun as well.
Disclosure: The writer was hosted for this trip by Visit Florida.
1. Spend the Day at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
My kids really enjoyed touching a stingray at the Stingray Bay exhibit and feeding a giraffe in the Giraffe Overlook at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Other notable animal encounters included hearing a true Florida “gator growl” as well as learning about the zoo’s efforts to rehabilitate and release manatees back into the wild.
The zoo does not require face mask use unless a six foot distance could not be maintained between groups. We were able to maintain distance from others through most exhibits thanks to the zoo’s social distancing markings and one-way traffic signs for incoming foot traffic. We put our masks on when we were not able to keep distant from others.
It was a hot day when we visited, which made the Play Park and Splash Ground area look particularly inviting. It was open for families to use, but we didn’t have time to splash around and cool off, much to my kids’ dismay. Next time, I’ll plan to bring an extra set of clothes so we can change before getting in the car and heading to our next stop.
TravelingMom Tip: Opening dates and hours at all attractions as well as entry requirements (such as mask wearing) are subject to change without notice. Always call ahead or check the website before venturing out for the day.
2. Take a Surf Lesson with Jax Surf and Paddle
Jacksonville Beach is a 25-30 minute drive from downtown Jacksonville. This Atlantic beach boasts waves just big enough for experienced surfers, but not too big for novice surfers. It turns out surfing is much tougher than it looks! One of my twins was able to stand up on the board by the end of the lesson. However, her sister and I never managed to stand. We had fun trying anyway, and it was a unique mother-daughter bonding activity.
We took lessons from Jacksonville Surf and Paddle on Neptune Beach, which also offers Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) lessons, surf camp, and beach rentals.
If surfing or SUP isn’t really your thing, the company also rents kayaks, bikes, and beach umbrellas. Imagine biking along the beach or kayaking on the St. Johns River and enjoying the natural beauty of northeast Florida! It’s easy to get active outdoors in such a gorgeous location.
3. Enjoy a Relaxing Day in Jacksonville Beach
Sometimes, you just need a day to relax. If that’s the case, pick a spot on the beach and park it. Our family found plenty of space to spread out on the expansive Jacksonville beaches. If you plan an extended visit to the beach, I recommend renting beach equipment. Chairs, umbrellas, and beach balls are affordable to rent from Jax Surf and Paddle.
Beach umbrellas are especially important. They offer some protection from the hot Florida sun. (Definitely remember the sunscreen. These are our favorite sunscreens for kids and babies.)
Renting at the beach will make more room in the family vehicle and cut down on all the sand kids love to bring back with them.
Other beaches in Jacksonville are found in Little Talbot Island State Park and Big Talbot Island State Park. These state parks have picturesque nature trails, palmetto trees, and Big Talbot Island State Park is home to the Boneyard, a collection of “bones” of bleached live oaks on the shore that have been worn down from that salt and sand.
Read More: Florida Family Vacation Ideas
4. Explore Downtown Jacksonville with Go Tuk’n
Those hop-on, hop-off buses in most major cities are a good way to get a feel for a place when you first arrive. But they’ve got nothing on Jacksonville’s Go Tuk’n! It’s a unique way to get a feel for the city that turned out to be one of my kids’ favorite things to do in Jacksonville.
A “tuk tuk” is the nickname for auto rickshaws that are popular transports in other countries. The Go Tuk’n vehicles look a little like an oversized golf cart, but they’re modeled after authentic European tuk tuks. It’s a great way to see the sights without having to find a place to park, especially when you’re not familiar with Jacksonville. My kids loved the ride almost as much as they loved learning the history of the city.
Because we were trying to make the most of our time, our knowledgeable guide, Toni, combined a few tours into one.
We spent a good portion of our time checking out the amazing public art installations around the riverfront area and in the business district.
We also visited historic neighborhoods such as Riverside and Avondale and saw beautiful homes that were more than 150 years old.
Our guide was also quick to point out that the company has adult-focused tours. Those provide transportation around the city to visit all the local craft breweries.
Our desire to stay mostly outside, coupled with a time crunch because we were only in Jacksonville for two days, meant that we couldn’t see and do everything we would have liked. Isn’t that the way the best family vacations go?
Here are some additional things to do in Jacksonville that we hope to try on a future visit:
5. Traverse the St. Johns River
“The River City by the Sea” boasts almost 40 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway canal and the longest stretch of the St. Johns River. It’s one of the few rivers in the United States that flows north instead of south. This is another one of those modes of transportation that is fun for kids: the historic St. Johns River car and passenger ferry. This unique transportation connects Highway A1A to Mayport Village and Fort George Island.
6. Stroll Along the Riverwalk
Walk the three-mile Riverwalk alongside of The Jacksonville Landing and visit the Riverside Arts Market where you can hear live music more often than not. Both activities are free to do, making it an inexpensive, outdoor activity perfect for all ages.
7. Take a Wildlife Sanctuary Tour
Like most tweens, my girls are animals lovers. They would definitely enjoy the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary Tour. Catty Shack Ranch is a non-profit organization that aims to educate the public about the dangers of owning exotic animals, such as lions and tigers, as “house pets.”
Tours are offered on a limited basis as the sanctuary is run by volunteers. Daytime tours are more kid friendly than the nighttime feeding tours which can bring out the roars of the hungry big cats.
Meant solely as a “forever home,” the Catty Shack Ranch doesn’t trade, sell, or breed any of its rescued animals.
8. Visit the Museum of Science and History (MOSH)
The Museum of Science and History, also known as MOSH, offers many interesting exhibits that make learning on vacation more fun. Located on the south bank of Jacksonville’s famous Riverwalk area, it is one of the top museums in the city.
Currently, reservations must be made in advance to visit the museum, whether you are a member or just a one-time visitor. Visitors also are required to wear masks at all times.
While some of the high touch, small capacity experiences are closed at this time, you can expect these activities when visiting MOSH:
- An Outdoor Science Experience on the side lawn toward Friendship Fountain, weather permitting.
- One 15-minute Animal Encounter in the Florida Naturalist’s Center.
- Stylus pens for use on touchscreens and buttons around the Museum. Return the pens at the end of your visit.
- Limited capacity in exhibit spaces, Florida Naturalist’s Center, and Museum Store to encourage social distancing.
What can visitors see when they visit MOSH? In addition to core exhibits such as “Health in Motion” and “Atlantic Tails,” there are also traveling exhibits. “Dinosaurs Around the World” highlights the different types of dinosaurs and their history on our planet. This traveling exhibit runs through October 4, 2020.
9. View Art at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is the largest fine arts museum in Northeast Florida. Located in the Five Points area of the Riverside neighborhood, the museum fits right in with its eclectic neighbors.
Viewing priceless works of art may not appeal to all kids, but, thankfully, there is the outdoor garden space that will allow for more freedom of movement if kids in your group need it.
As with MOSH, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens has new guidelines for visitors to follow based on the current climate of the world:
- To minimize touch points and monitor onsite capacity, all visitors must reserve tickets online in advance.
- Each gallery and garden has capacity limits based on social distancing guidelines.
- All visitors must wear facial coverings while inside the Museum. The only exceptions are children under age 5 and anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove the mask without assistance. The museum will provide masks to anyone who arrives without one.
- Many pathways will be designated one-way traffic.
- Visitors are expected to follow social distancing guidelines and stay at least 6 feet apart at all times.
With more than 5,000 pieces in the museum’s permanent collection, visitors could easily make an entire day of visiting the galleries and gardens.
Bonus Activity: Timucuan Ecological Preserve and Historic Center
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, not all national parks and historic sites are open for visitors. Such is the issue with the Timucuan Ecological Preserve. The 46,000-acre US National Park site is home to the Fort Caroline National Memorial and Kingsley Plantation.
- Fort Caroline educates visitors on the short-lived French presence in Florida in the 16th century.
- Kingsley Plantation educates visitors on the history of slavery in the United States, but specifically regards to Zephaniah Kingsley who founded the plantation in the 18th century. The plantation house tours are limited as the structure is fragile, but other events and tours of the grounds are equally as educational.