Welcome to Jacksonville, Florida, a coastal city boasting stunning beaches, a thriving arts scene, and many outdoor adventures. If you’re looking for a fun-filled road trip destination or planning your first visit to Jacksonville, you’re in for a real treat. From world-class museums to exciting nightlife and miles of sandy beaches, Jacksonville offers something for everyone. In this article, we will guide you through the 13 best things to do in Jacksonville, FL, to make the most of your time in this beautiful city.
1. Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop
Get sweet at Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop, an absolute gem in Jacksonville! Over a century old, this downtown Victorian mansion stands out amongst the rest. You can explore room after room of exquisite gourmet treats, and $5 will also get you an exclusive peek at Sweet Pete’s factory in action.
The soft and easy-to-chew caramels are a must- Sweet Pete’s produces over 10,000 pounds yearly. If you’re brave enough to make it to the end of the 30-minute tour without purchasing, your willpower is off the charts!
2. Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
Another gem in Jacksonville’s arts and culture scene is the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens on the banks of the St. Johns River. The museum boasts over 5,000 artworks from various regions, periods, and mediums, from ancient to contemporary. Artists include Rubens, Rockwell, Warhol, and Bearden.
Cummer’s outdoor gardens feature breathtaking St. Johns River and bridge views and unique art installations, including a giant oak tree that has been thriving for centuries. The English gardens were my favorite.
The museum also offers art classes, lectures, children’s programs, and other events throughout the year, as well as traveling exhibits. On my visit, Bijous Parisiens: French Jewelry from the Petit Palais, Paris, was a touring show featuring lovely and creative jewelry pieces that were easy to admire.
Cummer Museum of Art is closed on Mondays. Admission is $20 for adults and $15 for seniors, students, military, and educators. Come by the Cummer Cafe for lunch (crab cake sandwich, shrimp & grits, chicken salad croissant) or refreshments (house wine, classic cocktails, chai, and coffee).
Fun Fact: Several businesses feature free admission to the Cummer Museum, including the second and third Tuesdays of the month (4 to 9 PM), the fourth Friday (4 to 9 PM), and the first Saturday of the month (10 AM to 4 PM). There is free admission to SNAP EBT and WIC cardholders every day.
3. Jacksonville’s Beaches
One of the best things to do in Jacksonville is to soak in the sunshine and saltwater at the beaches along the Atlantic Coast. Atlantic Beach, located east of Jacksonville, offers pristine sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a laid-back atmosphere. You can go swimming, surfing, fishing, or just relaxing under the sun while enjoying the beach’s amenities and nearby restaurants.
Fun Fact: Jacksonville has more shoreline than any other city in the country, with a whopping 1100 miles between the St. Johns River, Atlantic Ocean, and Intracoastal Waterway.
4. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Located in the heart of Downtown Jacksonville, the Museum of Contemporary Art is a must-visit for art lovers and those who appreciate modern design. The MOCA hosts artworks from emerging and established artists, both nationally and internationally acclaimed. It regularly updates exhibits that showcase photography, painting, sculpture, video, and new media.
On your visit, you may also be able to participate in various workshops, events, and programs. Stop by the MOCA gift shop, which has an excellent collection of books and art-related items to take home as souvenirs.
If it is still there, in Project Atrium (the huge hanging exhibit in the main hall) was an incredible kinetic sculpture by Juan Fontanive that shows a seasonal color change through a display of thin metal rods, pulleys, drives, and linkages. The choreography is beautiful.
All galleries and facilities are wheelchair accessible, plus they have wheelchairs for use, as well.
5. Big Talbot State Park
Big Talbot Island State Park is a scenic spot for those seeking outdoor adventures. The park features hiking trails, kayaking and paddleboarding opportunities, and picturesque beaches that offer a unique view of the driftwood-washed shore. You can also go birdwatching, fishing, or picnic with your loved ones.
Big Talbot State Park is home to various wildlife, such as ospreys, bobcats, and sea turtles, so keep your eyes peeled for these magnificent creatures.
6. Alhambra Theatre
If you’re in the mood for entertainment, head to the Alhambra Theatre in the Southside area of Jacksonville. This 2,000-seat theater offers various Broadway-style performances, comedy shows, and live music concerts. Before the show, you can also enjoy a delicious three-course dinner requiring a separate ticket.
I went solo to see a Christmas production (A Christmas Carol) and felt welcome sharing a table with others. The meal was excellent, with multi-courses and holiday flair.
The Alhambra Theatre is a great place to spend an evening out with friends or family and create unforgettable memories. It is easily one of my favorite dinner theaters in the country.
I loved the size and charm of the local theatre, and the production was fantastic! Great acting, lovely costumes, and beautiful singing made for a perfect night. The 2023-24 season at Alhambra Theatre includes Legally Blonde: The Musical, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show Live.
7. Timeless Oceanfront Accommodations: Casa Marina
Discover the historic Casa Marina Hotel with its prime beachfront location, great for refreshing salty air and stunning sunrises. This Jacksonville Landmark is a European-style Spanish Mediterranean-designed hotel with 1920s glitzy era features.
Casa Marina has Historic Hotels of America status, too, which is an important designation. The center of the hotel has a lovely verandah, perfect for curling up with a good book or unwinding after a busy day sightseeing.
Twenty-three spacious boutique-style rooms have charming, feel-like-you-are-at-home furnishings and modern necessities. The hotel offers several ADA-compliant rooms.
One of the most well-known offerings at Casa Marina is the Sunday Brunch, which has garnered many accolades in its twenty-plus years running. Expect classic brunch dishes, fresh local seafood, and mouthwatering house-made desserts.
Hours are 9 AM to 1 PM; reservations are suggested. Bottomless mimosas are available for $15 with the purchase of an entree.
On the 3rd floor is a rooftop bar and restaurant where guests enjoy exceptional happy hour deals, including discounted sliders and stellar martinis. This lounge is lively and popular amongst locals; the Jacksonville Pier is only a short walk away.
Casa Marina is also a prime wedding for weddings, rehearsal dinners, and corporate events.
8. St. Johns Town Center
The St. Johns Town Center is an inviting open-air mall boasting over 100 stores! Shop at beloved brands such as Louis Vuitton, Vineyard Vines, Lilly Pulitzer, Bluemercury, Psycho Bunny, and Sur La Table. The palm-tree-lined streets create a serene atmosphere for strolling and browsing.
The mall’s anchor stores are Nordstrom and Dillards. If you are not a shopper, grab a bite at the Cheesecake Factory or sip on a latte at Barnes & Noble.
9. Catch a Jacksonville Jaguars Game
Sports enthusiasts will be thrilled to explore the vibrant sports scene of Jacksonville, Florida. As a football fan, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a must-see team. Additionally, the city proudly hosts two major college sporting events: the FL vs. GA football game and the exciting TaxSlayer Bowl, which features top teams from the SEC, Big 10, and ACC.
Jacksonville also has indoor football, minor league baseball, competitive surfing and fishing, basketball, golf, and hockey. With such an abundance of options, there’s never a dull moment in this Florida city.
10. Eat Some Delicious Meals
I only had the chance to eat a couple of meals in Jacksonville, so I am no expert, but what I did have, I really enjoyed. Maple Street Biscuit Company is super delicious for breakfast and won’t break the bank. I go for the Squawking Goat, with a fried chicken breast, goat cheese medallion, and house-made pepper jelly.
For lunch, I feasted at Salt Life Food Shack, a fun, surf-themed beach restaurant with a tasty menu of burgers, seafood, sushi, and more. The casual two-story eatery features live music daily. I highly recommend the Crunchy Chicken Thai Bowl, with almond-crusted chicken over a bed of rice and veggies in a yellow-cream curry sauce. Fresh coconut shavings added a nice additional layer to the already flavorful dish.
11. Riverside Arts Market
If you are in Jacksonville on a Saturday, head to the Riverside Arts Market (RAM) under the Fuller Warren Bridge near Downtown. This open-air market features over 100 vendors selling local artworks, crafts, vintage items, and fresh produce. You can also enjoy live music, food trucks, and other entertainment while enjoying the riverside views.
The market is a great place to discover local talent, taste local flavors, and socialize with locals.
12. Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Spread over 120 acres, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is home to over 2,000 animals representing over 300 species. Here, you can see African elephants, tigers, lions, and other exotic animals in their natural habitats. The zoo also features beautiful botanical gardens, where you can stroll and marvel at the colorful collections of plants and flowers.
In addition to animal exhibits, the Jacksonville Zoo offers educational programs, behind-the-scenes tours, and seasonal events, such as the annual Zoo Lights during the winter holiday season.
13. Deck the Chairs
Are you looking for a festive, family-friendly event to get you in the holiday spirit? Look no further than the annual Deck the Chairs event in Jacksonville Beach, Florida! Each year, local artists transform the city’s iconic lifeguard chairs into stunning works of art, all with a unique holiday theme.
Visitors can stroll along the beach and take in the creative displays while enjoying live music, food trucks, and even visits with Santa Claus himself!
Deck the Chairs is the perfect way to celebrate the season in Jacksonville and create lasting memories with loved ones. Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind holiday extravaganza — one of the most unique in the state.
Bonus Jacksonville Features
Street art or murals are all the rage in the United States and worldwide. Some of the world’s most talented muralists created a few of the impressive Jacksonville murals. Look for these vibrant works of art in Riverside, Murray Hill, and Jacksonville Beach neighborhoods.
Also, try to take in Hemmingway Park Sculptures. You will definitely want to see the giant human head and mouth art installment. More than 90 food trucks are around Jacksonville; many are parked around these outdoor gems.
Explore a Great Florida Destination
Jacksonville, Florida, is a city that has it all – incredible art and culture, outdoor recreational activities, and beautiful beaches. This list of the top 13 things to do in Jacksonville, Florida, is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are many other attractions and events to explore.
I hope this guide has inspired you to plan your next adventure to Jacksonville and make some memories in this vibrant city.
Did we miss anything that you love to do?
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