Looking for the Best Things to do in Jacksonville?
If you’ve ever visited Florida, you’ve probably glimpsed the sprawling city of Jacksonville from your airplane window. Jacksonville is far more than a fly-over city, though.
Situated on the coast of northeastern Florida, Jacksonville has more land area than any other city in the contiguous United States. That means Jacksonville has a plethora of activities for any kind of visitor. Whether you’re an art fanatic or a beach bum, you’ll definitely find plenty of reasons to visit Jacksonville.
There’s a lot to discover in the Bold New City of the South, so here’s a list of the top 19 things to explore!
19 Best Things to do in Jacksonville FL
Art and Local History
1. Discover The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
Founded in 1961 and located on the banks of the St. John’s River, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens is a must-see for any visitor to Jacksonville. On Tuesdays, Fridays, and the first Saturday of every month, the museum’s over 5,000 pieces of art and four gardens are free to explore.
The Cummer’s art collection spans from 2100 B.C to modern times, and includes important pieces by Peter Paul Reubens, Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer, and many more. The Cummer also houses The Wark Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain, an 18th-century work of over 700 pieces.
Once you’ve admired the art indoors, step outside and wander through the Sculpture Garden, the English Garden, the Italian Garden, and the Olmsted Garden. Each garden offers a stunning array of flowers and contains unique features such as reflecting pools, marble lawn ornaments, and a pergola. One of the best Jacksonville activities.
2. Local Art at the Riverside Arts Market
Experience local culture at the Riverside Arts Market, one of Jacksonville’s most unique events. The Riverside Arts Market is held every Saturday along the St. John’s River under the Fuller-Warren Bridge. The Riverside Arts Market features the work of local artists.
If you’re searching for a unique souvenir, look for local paintings, handmade jewelry, and sculptures. Handcrafted soaps, jams, and baked goods are also sold at the Market. The Market is a hub of farm-fresh food, craft beers, and ethnic cuisines.
Donate books you no longer want, and take as many volumes as you like, from the Market’s book table. There are also fun activities for the kids, like card-making and an opportunity to make chalk art. When you’re not shopping, enjoy live music and a stroll along the bank of the St. John’s—keep an eye out for dolphins!
3. Spend an Evening at The Florida Theater
Wondering what to do in Jacksonville? Why not spend an evening at the theatre.
Jacksonville has been a hub of dramatic arts, cinema, and music for almost a hundred years. Founded in 1927 and located in Downtown Jacksonville, the grand Florida Theater was once the largest playhouse in the state.
Today, the Florida Theater shows both new and classic movies, puts on plays, and hosts concerts, comedians, and other events. Upcoming productions include a Summer Movie Classic Series, Judy Collins, Alice in Wonderland, The Nutcracker, Jim Gaffigan, and the Electric Light Orchestra.
The Theater’s past events have included everything from the Peking Opera to John Legend, and from Snoop Dog to the Les Ballets Africains. Famous entertainers like Elvis Presley, Bob Newhart, and Lynard Skynyrd, have all performed at the Florida Theater.
The Theater offers a full bar and an assortment of snacks. It’s easy to find a place to park nearby—street parking is free after 6 p.m. on weekdays and all day on the weekends. The Florida Theater, with its nearly 2,000 seats, marble pillars, and terrazzo floors, is a masterpiece in its own right.
4. Enjoy Live Music at The Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts
The Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts is located in the urban core of the city and on the banks of the St. John’s River. The Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts contains 3 venues: the Jacoby Symphony Hall, the Moran Theater, and the Terry Theater.
Established in 1949, the Jacksonville Symphony calls the Jacoby Symphony Hall home. The Jacksonville Symphony’s award-winning musicians perform anything from Bach to pieces based on Simon and Garfunkel.
The Moran Theater contains nearly 3,000 seats and hosts a Broadway Series, ballets, and operas. The smaller Terry Theater offers an eclectic mix of dance performances and musicals. Upcoming productions at the Center include Jerry Seinfeld, the Jersey Boys, the Southern Soul Music Festival, and Celeste Barber.
5. Go Back in Time in Historic Mandarin
The southern region of Jacksonville, Mandarin, contains landmarks important to Jacksonville’s early history. From 1867 to 1884, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famous abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, made Mandarin her winter home.
A plaque just off of San Jose Blvd. marks the former location of her home. The Mandarin School was founded by Stowe in 1872 and today serves as the Mandarin Community Center. Another 19th-century school still standing in Mandarin is the St. Joseph’s Mission Schoolhouse for African-American Children. Established in 1898 by French Catholic nuns, this school educated African-American children during a time of segregation, and is the last standing one-room schoolhouse in Jacksonville.
The Historic Mandarin Store and Post Office, established in 1911, was once the main shop in the Mandarin area. Since its restoration in 1998 and the return of its original furnishings, it offers visitors a glimpse of life in Old Florida. The nearby Mandarin Museum contains several exhibits showcasing Jacksonville’s history from the time of the Timucuan Indians to the modern-day.
6. Take a Walk in Evergreen Cemetery
Stroll beneath moss-draped oaks and explore Jacksonville’s local history in the historic Evergreen Cemetery. Established in 1880, Evergreen Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in the city that is still in use and covers over 160 acres.
The cemetery, located near Downtown Jacksonville, is known for its ancient trees and beautifully carved headstones. A unique 96-foot-tall carillon tower stands within the cemetery and contains over 2,000 crypts and a chapel. Several important local and national figures are buried among the 80,000 graves in the cemetery, including the founder of the city Isaiah D. Hart, five Florida governors, and four U.S Senators.
The Yellow Fever Memorial, erected in 1890, commemorates the Yellow Fever epidemic that struck the city in 1887. Other points of historical interest within the cemetery are the graves of Cora Crane, one of the first female war correspondents, John Jackson Dickison, a Confederate Cavalry officer, and Grace Wilbur Trout, a leading suffragette.
Outdoor Adventure and Nature
7. Explore the John’s River
Florida’s longest waterway, the St. John’s River, meanders through Jacksonville on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. The St. John’s is one of the few rivers in the world that flows northward and covers over 310 miles. To explore the “River City,” just rent a water vehicle from one of Jacksonville’s boat rental businesses or book a tour on the River Taxi.
The St. John’s connects to other major waterways worth exploring, like the Intercoastal and the Julington Creek. If you choose to paddle on the Julington Creek, you can dock at two of Jacksonville’s coolest restaurants (more on Clark’s Fish Camp and the Julington Creek Fish Camp later.)
There is more to do on the St. John’s and its tributaries than just boating. Waterski in Mill Cove, enjoy some quiet fishing in Peter’s Creek, and stop for a picnic in the historic Cherry Park. While cruising the St. John’s, look for Bald Eagles, dolphins, manatees, and of course gators.
8. Spend A Day at the Beach
Jacksonville boasts more than 20 miles of beaches. You can choose to soak up the sun, splash in the waves, or watch the local wildlife on Jacksonville’s best beaches: Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach, and Big Talbot Island’s Boneyard Beach.
Each beach offers a unique way to enjoy the ocean. When you’re not relaxing on the sand, scuba dive at one of Jacksonville Beach’s 100 artificial reefs, or surf the waves at Atlantic Beach. Enjoy saltwater fishing and viewing the sunrise off of the Jacksonville Beach Pier.
If you want to escape the crowds and experience a unique coastal ecosystem, stop by Big Talbot Island’s Boneyard Beach. This beach is located within a state park and is known for its massive driftwood trees, 30-foot bluffs, and wildlife. Keep an eye out for sea turtle nests and shorebirds on this beach.
9. Visit the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Located on the Northside of the city, over 2,000 animals and 1,000 plant species call the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens home. The Jacksonville Zoo is over a hundred years old, and is listed as one of the top 25 zoos in the United States.
A variety of exotic birds, including Flamingos, live in the Zoo’s River Valley Aviary. You can glimpse crocodiles, cheetahs, and monkeys in the African Loop, and can pet stingrays in the Stingray Bay. The Wild Florida exhibit allows you to see species native to the state such as Florida panthers, alligators, bald eagles, and bobcats. In the Range of the Jaguar exhibit, explore a replica of a Mayan Temple while searching for jaguars, boa constrictors, and poison dart frogs.
In the Play Park and Splash Ground, kids can watch penguins while wandering through mazes and climbing rock-walls. The Zoo’s Land of the Tiger Exhibit houses 4 endangered Sumatran and Malayan tigers. The newly-constructed Great Apes exhibit is home to gorillas, mandrills, and colobus monkeys. The public can view the apes exploring the new overhead walkways and climbing the 50-foot kapok tree.
10. Local Wildlife at The Jacksonville Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
The Jacksonville Arboretum and Botanical Gardens lies on the Northside of the city, and spans over 120 acres. The Arboretum contains 13 unique ecosystems and is home to a plethora of flora and fauna, streams, and lakes. For only $3.00, you can enjoy any of the 7 trails that wind around lakes, through pine flats, and into ravines.
If you take the Live Oak Trail, you can spot the United State’s largest Loblolly Bay tree which stands 117 feet tall and with a diameter of 46 feet. Along the Lake Loop Trail are cyber yoga stations—just scan the QR code with your phone to access suggested yoga poses for that section of the trail.
While walking on any of the trails, you can enjoy hundred-year-old oaks, Southern magnolias, blueberry patches, and Honeysuckle Azaleas. Look out for endangered Gopher Tortoises, Great Blue Egrets, and white-tailed deer. Before heading to the Arboretum, check the website for any upcoming presentations on local wildlife and events being held in the park.
11. See The Treaty Oak
The Jesse Ball DuPont Park near Downtown Jacksonville is home to a stunning oak tree with a colorful history. Today, the tree is a protected landmark with an age near 250 years and branches that span over 150 feet. The tree is the most ancient in Jacksonville and is even older than the city itself. In the early 1900s, the tree was used as a backdrop for silent films.
During Jacksonville’s rapid expansion in the 1930s, however, the tree’s very existence was endangered by developers. In order to save the tree from destruction, a local reporter published a story that claimed the tree was the site of a treaty signing between European settlers and Native Americans.
There’s only one problem with the story—it isn’t true. Thanks to the reporter’s fabrication, though, the tree was spared and still stands today. Though no treaty was signed beneath the tree’s massive branches, it is still a masterpiece of nature worth seeing.
Shopping and Dining
12. Wander through Chamblin Bookmine
If you’re a bibliophile, you’ll never want to leave Jacksonville’s most magical bookstore, Chamblin Bookmine. It’s easy to lose yourself, and an hour or two, in Bookmine’s twisting passages and endless aisles of books. Bookmine offers a wide selection of genres, from Jane Austen to Stephen King, at extremely affordable prices.
You can find almost any book at Chamblin’s, including used and new editions, rare books, autographed copies, and works by local authors. The oldest book currently for sale at Bookmine dates from the 16th century! Bookmine was founded in 1976 and has two locations in Jacksonville: the Westside store and the Uptown branch near the city center.
The Uptown Bookmine has a café with gluten-free and vegetarian options. If you happen to have any books that you’d like to sell to Bookmine, they will give you a store credit that can be used towards your next purchase. Check out Bookmine’s website for any upcoming book signings and to easily find your favorite book. With so many genres and unique finds, Bookmine is a great place to explore on a rainy day.
13. Souvenir shop in Sugar Bear
Visiting an antique store is often a great way to explore a city’s local history and to find unique souvenirs. Sugar Bear is a quaint antique store tucked near the Julington Creek in the Mandarin region of Jacksonville. The store may be little but it bursts with local flavor.
All the vendors in Sugar Bear are local individuals and each booth has a distinctive theme. Carefully search each stall for anything from antique teacups to vintage children’s books, from elegant jewelry to Civil War-era pictures.
Sugar Bear doesn’t just sell antiques: many of its vendors sell handmade home décor, collectibles, and other interesting odds and ends. If you find something at Sugar Bear you’d like to refurbish, check out Sugar Bear’s DIY blog on their website for some helpful tips.
14. Dine and Shop at Five Points
Five Points is a historic shopping district within the Riverside region of Jacksonville. Full of quirky boutiques, unique eateries, and fun entertainment options, Five Points is a great place to experience the culture and diversity of Jacksonville. If you’re in Five Points and you love tacos, Taqueria Cinco is the place for you. Though Taqueria Cinco specializes in making unique tacos, they also have Quesadillas, Tostados, and other Mexican-style street foods.
The Black Sheep Restaurant serves American cuisine, and is an award-winning restaurant with nationally-acclaimed chefs. The Black Sheep offers brunch and dinner, a full bar, and rooftop seating with excellent views of Downtown Jacksonville.
Made from locally-sourced ingredients, their delicious Braised Lamb, Shrimp and Grits, and Certified Angus Ribeye, pair perfectly with their award-winning wines. Be sure to catch a movie at the historic Sun-Ray Cinema.
Built in 1927, Sun-Ray Cinema was the first theater in Florida to show talking pictures, and is still a great place to watch a show while snacking on delicious food. Stop by 5 Points Vintage to shop for unique knick-knacks, and check out the Bark Boutique for canine-friendly cakes and dog-themed accessories.
15. Dinner at Clark’s Fish Camp
Clark’s Fish Camp is one of Jacksonville’s most unique family-friendly restaurants. Situated on the banks of the Julington Creek, Clark’s offers both an affordable and an unforgettable dining experience. Clark’s Fish Camp contains hundreds of taxidermy animals, from tigers to giraffes, and even houses a live alligator named Lily.
If you can’t get a table near Lily’s tank, don’t worry—you can glimpse gators and manatees swimming outside in the creek. The menu is just as unique as the decoration. For the adventurous, there is gator tail, escargot, frog legs, kangaroo, and ostrich.
For the less daring, there are delicious macaroni and cheese hot dogs, salmon, and chicken tenders. Since Clark’s overlooks the water, it is accessible by boat and provides a beautiful view of the creek. Clark’s casual and rustic atmosphere makes it a perfect place for anyone looking for a taste of Old Florida.
- See more: Best restaurants in Jacksonville
16. Relax at Julington Creek Fish Camp
The Julington Creek Fish Camp is a high-end restaurant with a relaxing atmosphere and lovely views of the water. Located in a newly-renovated building just a few yards from the Julington Creek, it is one of the most popular eateries in the Mandarin area.
The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner.It offers a variety of delicious seafood with a Southern twist, including Mayport shrimp and grits, grilled salmon, fried oysters, and devilled crab. Unwind with one of their signature drinks like the Creekside Mule, the Beachside Rita, or the Stay-Cation. They also offer a wide selection of beers and wines.
Due to its proximity to the Julington Creek Marina, it is an excellent option for those who have spent the day on the water. Just dock at the marina and walk over to enjoy a meal at the Fish Camp.
Sit back and watch the sunset over the creek from the restaurant’s balcony. If you happen to be visiting Jacksonville in December, the balcony offers a great view of the annual Lighted Boat Parade.
17. Fun and Games at Java Game Haus
The Java Game Haus is a cozy board game café located in the Southside region of Jacksonville. With over 600 games ranging from The Settlers of Catan to Poker, and from Hearts to Yahtzee, the Java Game Haus is a fun place to socialize and grab a quick bite.
They offer a selection of affordable cold and hot beverages, snacks, pastries, pizzas, and sandwiches. Choose a table, pick a game, order some food, and play for as long as you want for a flat fee. Throughout the week, Java hosts a learning night so you can stop by and have fun trying out a new game with others.
The Mandarin Gamers meet for a day of games every Sunday, and several other groups meet for activities like Dungeon and Dragons and Magic Modern. Just check out Java’s website for upcoming meetings and events. Everyone is welcome to attend!
18. Have Something Sweet at The Poppin’ Box
Satisfy your sweet tooth at The Poppin’ Box. Located a five-minute drive from Mandarin, the Poppin’ Box is a family-owned popcorn and candy shop.
This bright little store offers over 60 flavors of popcorn, a variety of classic candies, handmade fudges, and unique sodas. Their popcorn flavors are both daring and delicious. Birthday cake, cinnamon roll, dill pickle, and jalapeno ranch are just a few of their more unusual popcorn flavors. They also offer traditional options like chocolate or caramel-covered popcorn.
Their fudges are made at the store and the flavors offered vary every day. Just call the store ahead of time to learn what kind of fudges are being made that day. The Poppin’ Box also sells other sweet treats, from candy apples to chocolate drizzled pretzels.
If you’d like to have your purchases shipped, the Poppin’ Box ships to anywhere in the country. You can design your own gift basket and customize it to fit your special event or recipient. The Poppin Box also offers a children’s story hour and free slushies for the kids every Monday during the summer.
19. Pizza at Moon Dog Pie House
If you’re looking for an Italian restaurant with a twist, check out Moon Dog Pie House near the Mandarin region of Jacksonville. Moon Dog Pie House is decorated inside with colorful graffiti art and rocks an urban vibe.
Try their delicious and affordable macaroni pizza, Bark at the Moon Barbeque Pizza, or the Big Bang Shrimp Pizza. Their more classic options, a New York thin-crust or a Chicago deep dish, are great for sharing with friends. Moon Dog also has gluten-free alternatives.
They offer more than just pizza, though—check out their fresh salads, tasty paninis, and scrumptious strombolis. Choose one of Moon Dog’s over 20 beers or pick a wine from their selection. When the weather is pleasant, take advantage of Moon Dog’s outdoor seating. If you stop by on a Tuesday, you can buy one pizza and get one half off. Thursday is happy hour all day!
It’s easy to see why Jacksonville is a unique and fun city to visit. This list just skims the surface of all the things to do in Jacksonville. With so much to discover, why don’t you make Jacksonville your next vacation destination?