Exploring Downtown Jacksonville’s Historic Heritage of Cultural Gems

Downtown Jacksonville is home to Fortune 500 companies, fire-eating street performers and football. But there is so much more to this cultural mecca where art, music and history abound amid this bustling hub of exploration and discovery.

By Kieran Kern

Riverside Arts Market (RAM)

Situated at the terminus of the Northbank River Walk, RAM is an eclectic destination attracting art lovers, treasure hunters, foodies and music fans from March to December. Jacksonville’s creative side comes out to play, showcasing pottery, paintings, jewelry and accessories from more than 100 of Jacksonville’s artists.

RAM also has a farmer’s market and three event stages featuring live entertainment ranging from barbershop quartets to belly dancers and beyond. The warm community feel is what brings singles, couples and families back every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

Just a stone’s throw away from RAM, the Cummer Museum provides the perfect opportunity to peruse masterpieces from the likes of Winslow Homer and Peter Paul Rubens. The Gardens are an ideal spot for a stroll to reconnect with yourself, your sweetheart and nature. The Italian Garden, with its reflecting pools and ficus-covered gloriette, serves as a natural exhibition hall to Italian marble garden ornaments and hundreds of azaleas. And the English Garden welcomes visitors to walk along the brick paths and grass walks to have their breath taken away by the naturalistic sweeps of native foliage enhancing live oaks along the riverfront.

Museum of Science and History

Cross the St. Johns River and get up close and personal with a T-rex on the grounds of the Museum of Science and History (MOSH). For kids and kids-at-heart, there is an endless supply of activities at MOSH.

Unearth the latest discoveries in paleontology via life-like animatronics, full-scale skeletons and fossils from around the world. Explore specimens from the Florida fossil record to learn more about how the state was shaped when the waters that covered it during the Cretaceous Era receded. Learn about animals from fierce super sharks to saber-toothed cats that called Florida home.

James Weldon Johnson Park (formerly Hemming Park)

Set foot inside James Weldon Johnson Park and you’re instantly a part of history. Considered the oldest public park in Jacksonville (sold to the city for ten dollars in 1866), this 1.5-acre urban plaza is the heart of downtown’s vibrant community. James Weldon Johnson Park is the gathering hub of eclectic city-goers looking for a little slice of everything.

Flanked by Jacksonville’s historic downtown landmarks, “the square” offers a unique central setting that hosts year-long activities and cultural events—from farmers markets, yoga classes, and the Downtown Art Walk (first Wednesday of every month), to pop-up skate parks, family festivals and live concerts.

The Ritz Theatre and Museum

Constructed in 1999 on the site of the 1929 Ritz Theater, it is the premiere African American arts facility in the historical La Villa area of downtown Jacksonville.

The museum’s mission is to preserve the material and artistic culture of Northeast Florida and the African diaspora in an educational and entertaining manner, whereas the theatre is home to jazz, R&B, a contemporary concert series, a monthly spoken word event and a widely popular amateur night. If you want to see a show or be a part of one—the Ritz is the place to be.

Day into night, downtown Jacksonville is a premier destination to connect with Floridian art, history and culture. Click here for more recommendations on the latest happenings and things to do this year.

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