Local Expert Guest
- Things to Do
- Food & Drink
- Where to Stay
- Travel Tools
Jacksonville has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of America’s coolest and best value vacation destinations. Known locally as Jax, Jacksonville offers access to world-class nature reserves, fantastic fishing, 22 miles of beaches, a vibrant nightlife, a bohemian arts scene, and heaps of history.
The Florida Theatre is a historic movie palace dating back to the 1920s. Over the past century, this venue has seen some of the most momentous events in entertainment history, including one of Elvis Presley’s first concerts. Today the Florida Theater hosts over 200 events from contemporary country and blues to opera and ballet.
Check out the Alhambra Theatre. Founded in 1967, it is now the longest-running professional dinner theatre in the US. And following a complete renovation in 2009, it is the best place in town to take in dinner and a show.
The Ritz Theatre & Museum opened in 1929 originally catered to Jacksonville’s black community and now contains a museum of African American History and Heritage. You can go there to enjoy a concert or maybe take part in their popular amateur night (you must submit audition videos first).
You can catch popular Broadway shows at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, listen to the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra playing live in the Jacoby Symphony Hall at the Times-Union Center, or let your hair down at a Southern Rock concert.
Did you know that Jacksonville is the Birthplace of Southern Rock? The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd were both formed in Jacksonville along with more recent Southern Rock bands such as Mofro, JJ Grey, Molly Hatchet, and .38 Special. Check out Daily’s Place for upcoming concerts in all genres.
If you want to learn how to paddle a stand-up paddleboard, to kayak, or to surf, head on over to Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.
The park’s calm 60-acre freshwater lake is a great place to try paddleboarding or kayaking for the first time. You can rent single and double kayaks in the park from Adventure Kayak Florida. You can also book kayaking lessons and kayaking tours from the same company.
The park also features 1½ miles of sandy beach with the best surfing spot in Northeast Florida, known as Mayport Poles or simply The Poles. The Poles offers great surfing conditions year-round for experienced to expert surfers. Other popular surfing spots in Jacksonville are Huguenot Park, Jacksonville Beach Pier, and Atlantic Beach, which is perfect for newbies.
The great thing about surfing in Jacksonville is the soft sandy bottom. You don’t have to fear tough tumbles because there’s no rough reef. Experienced surfers will appreciate the big winter waves, and beginners will love the gentler summer surf.
Jax offers an enviable variety of saltwater and fresh angling opportunities. You can sail out to sea in a chartered boat and enjoy deep-sea fishing in the Gulf Stream, drop a line from a bridge or pier, or go fishing on the St. Johns River.
Waterfront preserves and parks along the banks of the St. Johns River provide easy access for fishing. You can expect to catch black drum, flounder, jacks, redfish, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, tarpon, trout, and other saltwater fish.
Between the barrier islands and the mainland are marshes, wetlands, creeks, and flats making up the Intracoastal Waterway. Docks and piers provide access, but you might prefer to fish from a kayak or boat.
The one-mile-long Nassau Sound Fishing Bridge is one of the best fishing spots in Jacksonville. You can pull black drum, jack, tarpon, and whiting out of the Nassau Sound.
Jacksonville offers hikers a wide range of possibilities. Nature-lovers should head for the barrier islands just north of the city. You can explore the shoreline and pristine beaches within Little Talbot Island State Park.
Alternatively, hike along Black Rock Trail to explore the diverse barrier island habitats in Big Talbot Island State Park. While you’re there, check out Black Rock Beach, which features petrified trees and fascinating geological formations. Why not take your dog for a pre-historic walk?
Hikers looking to stretch their legs can follow the old railway line between Jacksonville and Baldwin. The 15-mile Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail threads through tall oaks and features an extra 8 miles of side trails through public conservation lands.
Speaking of dogs … your dog will be delighted if you take him to Dog Wood Park. This off-leash dog park features a swimming lake, an agility course for athletic hounds, a dog-washing station, and lots of fun hiking trails for canines big and small.
Jacksonville is a great place to explore early colonial history. In 1564, French settlers built Fort Caroline. Sadly, the Spanish destroyed the fort in the following year. However, you can visit a replica of the original fort at the Fort Caroline National Memorial in the Timucuan Preserve to learn about the conditions faced by the early waves of Europeans landing upon America’s then hostile shores.
Visit the Kingsley Plantation to explore an 1814 plantation house and its outbuildings. Learn about the different lifestyles of the slaves and the plantation owners on a park-ranger-guided tour. And head over to the Riverside/Avondale District to admire fine historic properties now housing antique stores, upscale restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, bohemian boutiques, nightclubs, and more.
Jacksonville offers a vibrant arts scene. Public art murals by local and international artists are displayed on walls around the historic neighborhoods. Head on down to the CoRK Arts District to meet with local artists and attend art events. CoRK Arts District provides 80,000 square feet of space for artists to express themselves through galleries, displays, and other events. You can find CoRK Arts District on the Corner of Rosselle and King (CoRK!).
The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens displays an amazing range of 5,000 pieces of fine art within a beautiful historic home and gardens. Take your kids there to entertain them in the interactive children’s exhibit. The University of North Florida invites you to appreciate the latest trends in art within the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MOCA) in Downtown.
Check out the Imagination Squared exhibition in Jacksonville Public Library to view the contributions of 910 amateur artists preserved on 5” wooden squares. The library even provides a space where you can create art of any kind — Jax Makerspace. They provide the room and equipment for you to get involved in film making, music, robotics, creative writing, invention, model making, sewing, and many more artistic endeavors.
If you love felines, head to Catty Shack Ranch. This ranch rescues big cats such as tigers from abusers. You can enjoy a tour of the ranch, discover the cats’ tragic stories that led them here, and learn about how big cat conservation works.
To at night to observe the night feeding. Seeing the power in the cats’ limbs and jaws as they tear into whole carcasses will send a shiver down your spine. It might sound gruesome, but there’s a good reason Catty Shack Ranch is the TripAdvisor #1 attraction in Jacksonville.
And if you want to see more tigers, check out Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The zoo features over 2,400 exotic or rare animals. It’s also a great place to learn about wildlife conservation. The giraffe feeding event is popular with everyone.
Local Expert Guest