As the most populous city in the state of Florida and with some of the biggest range of beaches in the state, Jacksonville can be considered the seaside capital of the Sunshine State.
However, to say that it’s nothing but sun, sea, and sand alone is to miss the sheer glut of sights, attractions, and interesting days and evenings you can have in the 904.
Here, we’re going to look at just a few reasons you might want to take a closer look at Jacksonville – it truly is more than just its beaches!
Jacksonville Florida: A Lot More Than Just Its Beaches
Take a Stroll Along the River
Jacksonville is called the River City, being set on the mouth the St. John’s River. It snakes all the way through the city and leads out onto the beaches, and is the central a focal point of the downtown area.
At 310-miles long (the state’s longest), you won’t be walking the whole length of the river, but Southbank Riverwalk is a great place to start. On this boardwalk you’ll find joggers, tourists, and can take the opportunity to watch the riverboats, the shorebirds, and downtown’s skyline reflected in the water.
To get to the north side of the river you can walk over the Main Street bridge, and from the bridge you’ll have great views down over Friendship Fountain, one of the largest water features in the country.
Water shoots up to 100 feet into the air every minute, with rainbow lights and patterned sprays giving off some pretty impressive images. This is a great place to rest, cool off, and even make a wish during your trip through the city.
Get Out Onto The River
Jacksonville really should be seen from the river. However, if you don’t feel like making a trek all along the riverside, then you can let yourself by carried along the river instead.
This doesn’t mean hopping in and hoping the current is friendly, but rather using one of the river taxi services in the city. These are tours that will take you all along the river, pointing out the great sights and attractions from the water.
There are also specialty cruises available from many of the water taxi operators, including those that can take you all the way out into the ocean for dolphin spotting.
Trails & State Parks
Jacksonville is a city that has been specifically built to connect with all kinds of trails, State Parks, and places to get out, get active and enjoy some of that sunshine that the state is so well known for.
One of the best places to get out for a hike or a bicycle ride is Little Talbot Island State Park. This barrier island is one of the least crowded areas that the city has to offer.
You can rent a bike on-site to ride through the park’s trails or along the sandy beaches, and you can even rent a place to camp for the night if you want to spend an evening away from the hotels.
Little Talbot Island State Park is open 8 am to sunset. Fees apply for day use, around $5 per car with up to 8 people, or $2 per individual / bike. Camping is around $30 which includes both water and electricity.
Other fantastic parks in Jacksonville (green is its color!) include Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, Fort George Island Cultural State Park, Big Talbot Island, and Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park.
Jacksonville actually has the largest urban park system in the country with more than 80,000 acres of parks. You have 3 National Parks, 7 State Parks and more than 400 City Parks, plus dozens of unique gardens and an arboretum.
Florida’s Capital for Golf
Jackonsville is one of the best places for golf-lovers, not only in Florida but in the United States itself. That’s why the PGA has made it their headquarters for over four decades now.
There is a wide range of greens, including the famous TPC at Sawgrass, where the Players Championship Tournament takes place every year. As well as many other top-rated golf courses in Jacksonville and the surrounding area.
You’ll find plenty of golf clubs, resorts, and family-friendly greens that you can enjoy, even if you’re not a member. Just remember your golf etiquette because the players here take the sport seriously.
Gorgeous Natural Attractions
Despite its size and population, Jacksonville is very notable for the fact that a lot of effort goes into helping to preserve its green spaces.
If you want to see nature growing at its most impressive, the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens have a huge range of different garden displays, with various different trails that can take you all through this wide expanse of different natural beauty zones.
There are 120-acres of urban woodland full of trails to explore, and from the trailhead next to the parking lot, a walkway leads all the way around a beautiful two-acre lake.
While there are plenty of Jacksonville things to do to fill your days, the nights in Jacksonville are exciting too, with a host of beach clubs, relaxed bars, and live music venues.
Head Downtown towards the intersection of N. Ocean and E. Bay Street, to a district called “The Elbow”. This is a popular place for both locals and visitors for a chill night spent with craft cocktails, DJs, and live music.
Stop in at The Florida Theatre, 1904 Music Hall, Dos Gatos, The Volstead, Bold City Brewery, and Intuition Ale Works. There are also great evening entertainment spots like the Alhambra Dinner Theater too, which runs a wide variety of shows throughout the year.
You’ll find cool beach dives scattered along the Jacksonville coastline, serving everything from tropical cocktails to places like Poe’s Tavern, which is a gastropub with more than 50 beer options.
Art & Culture
Any good metropolis should have a thriving art scene, and Jacksonville is no different.
The most famous of its galleries is the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, which offers a look at over 5000 pieces of art, including permanent exhibitions from every period in history, looking into pre-historic eras as far back as 2,100.
When you’re done taking in some history and art, you can also take a walk outside, where the gardens that it’s named for offering excellent places to rest and recuperate to enjoy the rest of your journey, including some truly impressive water features.
Galleries like the Cummer Museum do feature more contemporary pieces from artists living and working in Jacksonville, but if you want to find where the artistic current is living and thriving,m there are plenty of great places for that, too.
The Art Walk brings pop-up galleries, music, and more out each month. The Riverside Arts Market opens from March to the end of November and brings out the creative energy that makes up the root of the city’s cultural identity.
Image credit: Liz (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Dive into History
Jacksonville is a city with a long and complex history. It’s called the First Coast, because it was the first settlement in the state made by the arrival of Europeans.
There is plenty of history in Jacksonville to explore, though Timucuan Preserve is not only of the most gorgeous natural spots that the city has to offer but also a reminder of the area’s first residents. This is one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast, and has 6,000 years of human history to dive into.
The Kingsley Plantation offers history of freedom and enslavement; stories of both landowners and those who were forced to come to Florida to work on those plantations, their labor providing wealth to the people who owned them.
Fort Caroline offers the tale of a lost colony; the short-lived French presence in sixteenth century Florida. Here you will find stories of exploration, survival, religious disputes, territorial battles, and first contact between American Indians and Europeans.
The local Historical Society also runs a range of events that can help you find your way through the maze that is the city’s history to come away with a better understanding of how the metropolis that stands there today was built.
Image credit: Shrickus (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons
There are of Course 22 Miles of Beaches
Of course, Jacksonville is a lot more than the sheer glut of beaches but we shouldn’t neglect those gorgeous stretches of coast, all the same!
There are 22 miles of Jacksonville beaches on the city’s coastline and they offer a wide range of different experiences, with family beaches like Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach as well as some of the more unspoiled nature spots like Blackrock Beach and Huguenot Park.
Aside from soaking up some sun, these beaches offer plenty of excellent places to boat, dive, surf, kayak, and more. There are plenty of beach rentals in the city to make your accommodation as well if you want to wake up to the ocean spray every day.
You should have certainly gotten the idea that Jacksonville is replete with things to do, things to see, and places to go by now.
The next time you’re heading towards Florida or even looking for a place to go from within the state, try a week in the busiest, the bustling city the state has to offer.