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Jacksonville is the largest city in the state of Florida and one that’s not to be missed for families. Its rich history intrigues and its beautiful beaches delight. St. John’s River runs right through the heart of Jacksonville’s downtown while museums and artistic culture entertain throughout the city. Beautiful beaches and relaxing day trips to paradise abound, as well as a step back in time to the oldest city of our nation (St. Augustine). Here are our top 10 things for families to do in Jacksonville!
10. Shipwreck Island Waterpark at Adventure Landing
Cool off and have a blast at Shipwreck Island at Adventure Landing. This water park has a little bit of everything. The kids will enjoy acting like little pirates in The Pirates Play Village while adults catch some rays from the side lines. Older kids and parents will get their adrenaline pumping on the Xtreme slides such as the Eye of the Storm and the Hydro Half-Pipe. The wave pool will be a hit for the whole family!
9. Peterbrooke Chocolatier Production Center
Take a tour of the Peterbrooke Chocolatier Productions Center located in San Marco Square. Savor the delicious chocolate covered popcorn while strolling along the streets of San Marco Square. Meander the square to discover fabulous boutiques, art galleries, and the fountain of lions. Visit during April or November to attend the San Marco Art Festival!
8. The Jacksonville Jaguars at Everbank Field
For an exciting night, watch the Jacksonville Jaguars play at Everbank Field where Super Bowl XXXIX was held. There are a variety of seating options to choose from including Field Seats, Club Tables, Spa Cabanas, Party Cabanas, and the Bar Rail. Be sure to visit the State Farm Fan Cave, which is air-conditioned and open to all ticket holders. Ask about the Family Fun Zone located in Section 227 when purchasing your tickets for a truly kid-friendly game. If you have kiddos 12 and under, be sure to enroll them in the Jaguars Cub Club or Kids Club to receive special discounts and fun activities created just for them!
7. Museum of Science and History
Every member of the family will LOVE the Museum of Science and History. New and exciting exhibits for kids to explore and learn from are ever-present, along with entertaining and educational events. Be sure to visit the museum’s events page when planning a visit so that you don’t miss a thing! Kids will love to participate in the Extreme Science show; it is hair-raising! The MOSH is part of the ASTC Passport Program, and ASTC members get in for free. If not a member, save a few dollars by visiting on $5 Fridays!
6. Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
Enjoy the fresh air, fresh water, and beautiful sandy beaches at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. There is plenty to do here; visitors can camp, surf, fish in the lake, hike, and bike. There is also a playground and a splash park for the little ones. For the surfer in the family, be sure not to miss surfing at The Poles located in Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.
5. Top to Bottom Walking Tour
The Top to Bottom Walking Tour is such a blast! During the tour, guests experience Jacksonville’s history from the tippy top of the city all the way down to its secret underground tunnels. Learn about the fire that burned 146 blocks of Jacksonville and left almost 10,000 residents homeless. Tour takers can view pictures that compare what the city looked like back then to the present day. Included with the tour is a behind the scenes look at the Jacksonville Arts. There is so much to learn and experience during this walking tour. Make sure to leave enough time after the tour to enjoy lunch at the Skyline located in the Bank of America Tower where a beautiful bird’s eye view of downtown Jacksonville awaits.
4. Timucuan Preserve
Spend the day at Timucuan Preserve in Jacksonville, Florida. This park has so much to offer! Throughout the Preserve, hike, explore historical sites, go to the beach, take a ride on a segway, horseback ride, and kayak. Kids can even become Junior Rangers! A few of the must-see sites include: Fort Caroline, the Kingsley Plantation, and the Ribault Club. Visit the parks website where a list of an entire day’s itinerary can be created just for you. Don’t forget to pack your bug spray, water, and lunch!
3. Beaches Museum & History Park
The Beaches Museum and History Park is a great stop for the train lovers and history buffs! A visit includes the Train Foreman’s House, The Train Depot, The Steam Locomotive, The Post Office, and the Heritage Garden. Guests enjoy learning about the history of the area’s beach communities, as well as the people and trains that made life possible at the turn of the 20th century. The Beaches Museum is also a host to some fabulous events, so plan your visit accordingly.
2. Catty Shack Ranch
Experience the big cats and support a good cause during a visit to Catty Shack Ranch. This non-profit organization cares for animals in need; it also offers daytime and night-time tours. There are lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, and bobcats to see and learn about. What an experience to see these adorable cats in real life!
1. Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a lovely zoo located along the Trout River. Be surrounded by beautiful plants while learning about amazing creatures, as the Botanical Gardens and zoo are intertwined. The Land of the Tiger exhibit is something not to miss! Visit in the morning and get those cameras ready…prepare to be in awe!
Where to Eat
Jacksonville is home to some funky, fun restaurants. Here are a few that are sure to satisfy everyone’s taste buds!
Maple Street Biscuits brings something unique to family vacations with its yummy sandwiches. Choose from the Squawk on the Street, The Loaded Goat, or The Reinhold. Sounds fun, right? Mexican food lovers should try TacoLu. The quirky decor and friendly atmosphere is as fun as the tacos are tasty! It’s located right next to Adventure Landing, so fill up on some delicious eats before hitting the water park!
After spending a day at the beach, nothing is better than a delicious milkshake. The MShack has that covered; patrons can grab a delicious burger and then cool off with a decadent milkshake. The Marshmallow Brulee milkshake is sure to hit the spot! Or how about pizza? Build your own pizza at Your Pie; then let them bake it fresh for you in their brick oven. Kids will love this unique pizza experience. The city of Jacksonville will not let you go hungry!
Where to Stay
Jacksonville has many lodging options for families from downtown luxury hotels that are close to shopping, museums, and the St. John’s River, to beach resorts just outside the city.
At One Ocean Resort & Spa each spacious room has a beautiful view of the ocean. This resort has many things to offer families including spa packages, a summer kids club, and pet friendly accommodations. Pets have their own amenities too.
Aloft in Tapestry Park offers spacious rooms for families. The upbeat, friendly staff is welcoming, and the outdoor saltwater pool is refreshing for the weary traveler. There is a Starbucks located right outside the hotel’s front doors and Your Pie restaurant is right up the street. A great family hotel in Jacksonville is the Candlewood Suites. It offers very spacious suites that include a fully equipped kitchen. An available kitchen when traveling with kids is a luxury as mine are always hungry!
Jacksonville is fabulous, but so are some of its surrounding cities and nearby beaches! Don’t miss out on some of these once in a lifetime opportunities!
Amelia Island is a barrier island off of Florida, surrounded by beautiful pristine beaches and only 45 minutes from downtown Jacksonville! Make time to visit the Amelia Island Museum of History, enjoy the beautiful beaches, and then explore the antiques, boutiques, artwork, and dining in Centre Street and downtown Fernandina Beach! The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is a wonderful family friendly hotel option!
Swim with a Manatee in Crystal River
The only place in the world where you can swim with manatees is only an hour away from Jacksonville in Crystal River. The Plantation Dive Shop provides everything needed to experience these gentle giants up close and on a personal level. Call before visiting to reserve a spot as tours fill up fast!
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Space, the final frontier! Learn all about the final frontier at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Kids can play a real live game of Angry Birds, walk among the rockets at the Rocket Garden, and come nose to nose with the Space Shuttle Atlantis. When done exploring the complex, catch a bus tour to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Have a blast on the Space Coast of Florida!
Florida’s Historic Coast: St. Augustine and Ponte Verde
Visit Florida’s beautiful Historic Coast that includes the significant city of St. Augustine, as well as the towering dunes and the natural beauty found in the lagoons of Anastasia Island’s wide beaches off shores of Ponte Vedra Beach. In St. Augustine, hop on the Old Town Trolley for a fabulous tour of the oldest city in our nation, founded in 1565. Trolley tickets are good for 3 days and allow admission to the St. Augustine History Museum and Beach Bus Shuttle service! Visit the Castillo De San Marcos National Monument and the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park; ranger tours of the fort are available each day and on Saturdays a live cannon firing occurs! Finally, enjoy lunch at the LePavillon, located in a historical house that some say is haunted. Tour the Whetstone Chocolate Factory or the San Sebastian Winery and finish the day off with shopping for souvenirs from the quaint little shops of St. Augustine.
Lead photo by: Bigstock/SeanPavonePhoto