Jacksonville is known as a traditional business hub, but the city’s younger population is booming and hip neighborhoods are sprouting up across town. The water remains a draw for locals and visitors, with miles and miles of beaches and waterways. Some think of Jacksonville as a relatively young and transient city, but you’ll find many historic neighborhoods, buildings, and landmarks. There’s a wealth of fresh seafood to be enjoyed, as well as homestyle southern cooking. Jacksonville has plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors as well as regional art and culture. Branch out and explore some of Jacksonville’s historic and up-and-coming neighborhoods, and of course hit the beaches for some sun, sand, and waves.
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Best things to do in Jacksonville
What is it: Large commercial beach area with everything from surf to nightlife.
Why go: With more than 22 miles of beach and 40 miles of Intracoastal Waterway, it’s no wonder Jacksonville is the birthplace of the “Salt Life” movement. Jax Beach, as it’s known locally, is a well-maintained stretch of sandy beach with a famous fishing pier and plenty of water activities, including surfing. The boardwalk features ample dining and shopping, and the Sea Walk pavilion hosts music, movies, and more in warmer months. After a long day soaking up the sun, check out the oceanfront bars and clubs.
What is it: Two adjacent neighborhoods that are both hip and historic.
Why go: Riverside is one of Jacksonville’s oldest neighborhoods. You’ll find an eclectic mix of bohemian boutiques, cafes, antique stores, bars, and the historic Sun-Ray Cinema. Craft breweries such as Bold City and Intuition are thriving alongside a growing food scene on King Street. Avondale has a more sophisticated charm, with specialty shops, galleries, and fine dining. When traveling between the two neighborhoods, be sure to check out the Five Points Historic district; the iconic five-point flashing traffic light is surrounded by a collection of artsy shops and cafes. Walk around to enjoy the architecture, oak trees, river views, and community.
What is it: The PGA Tour is headquartered just outside of Jacksonville in Ponte Vedra Beach, and the unofficial “fifth major,” The Players Championship, is held annually in May at the stunning TPC Sawgrass.
Why go: Even if you’re not a golf fan, the tournament’s party scene is a blast - especially at the course’s signature 17th hole, the “Island Green,” one of golf's most recognizable and difficult holes. With one of golf’s biggest payouts on the line, the best golfers in the world come every year, thrilling golf fans with up-close-and-personal opportunities.
What is it: Extensive art collection and beautiful gardens in the Riverside District.
Why go: With nearly 5,000 works of art, the Cummer Museum houses one of the finest art collections in the state. It began with a private collection that was bequeathed along with the donor’s beautiful gardens. You’ll find significant works of European and American art, Meissen porcelain, Japanese prints, rare books, and other intriguing objects. The grounds feature historic gardens with fountains and sculptures overlooking the St. Johns River. Stroll the English Garden, Italian Garden, and visit the Cummer Oak, believed to be nearly 200 years old.
What is it: Quaint, historic fishing village with shopping and dining.
Why go: Mayport is located where the St. Johns River meets the Atlantic. You’ll find historic buildings and remnants of its past as a booming fishing and manufacturing town. It’s still a great place to fish, and you’ll find plenty of seafood shacks serving fresh, local Mayport shrimp. Singleton’s and Safe Harbor are two of the most popular. Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park has a beach, some of the best biking and hiking trails in the area, and beautiful views of the Atlantic.
What is it: Officially called the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl for sponsorship purposes, a matchup between the SEC and ACC/Big10/Notre Dame.
Why go: Jacksonville has plenty of spectator sports, from the NFL’s Jaguars to minor league baseball, competitive fishing, and pro golf. Held annually on New Year's Eve at TIAA Bank Field, the Gator Bowl is one of the oldest college bowls; the game dates back to 1946 and was the first to be televised nationally. Regardless of the teams playing, there are pep rallies, parties, live music, and other public celebrations that make it a lively event worth checking out.
What is it: A sanctuary for the rescue, care, and rehabilitation of endangered big cats.
Why go: Catty Shack cares for big cats rescued from illegal ownership situations or maltreatment. For cat lovers, it’s an opportunity to see big cats closer than anywhere else. Lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, and bobcats and others roam the grounds. Meet and learn about the cats on guided tours. Night feeding tours are also available. For an extra special big cat experience, camp out on site at the annual Roar ‘n Snore event.
What is it: Roadside spot serving southern fried chicken and sides since 1939.
Why go: Back in the day, Atlantic Boulevard was the only road to the beach, and Beach Road Chicken Dinners - Jacksonville’s oldest restaurant - opened to cater to hungry locals. Bring your friends, grab a table, and settle in for some fine fried food. Sides like creamed peas, corn nuggets, fried okra, biscuits, and mashed potatoes are served family style and come with free refills. Try some livers, gizzards, or hearts for something a little different. And don’t forget to pair with a sweet tea.
What is it: One of the largest self-contained fountains ever built, located Downtown on the river.
Why go: The Friendship Fountain was built in 1941 and has offered liquid entertainment to passers-by since then. More than 60 nozzles shoot water up more than 100 feet. There are picnic tables and benches surrounding the fountain, a perfect backdrop for a picnic. At night, the fountain is lit up with 265 lights. Music plays in conjunction with the water; the schedule includes ambient music, patriotic classics, and other seasonal soundtracks.
What is it: Marketplace along the Jacksonville riverfront featuring shopping, dining, and nightlife.
Why go: The two-level Jacksonville Landing - Downtown’s most popular commercial destination - is a gathering place on the St. Johns River. An art project called The Landing Walls has enhanced the area with murals painted by local artists. With more than 300 events each year - including concerts, festivals, football festivities, holiday tree lightings, New Year’s Eve celebrations, and more - there’s always something going on at The Landing.
What is it: Monthly art walk featuring galleries, museums, and other venues.
Why go: Rain or shine, the Art Walk is held the first Wednesday of every month. Spanning more than 15 blocks, participants include galleries, museums, cultural venues, restaurants, bars, and other local businesses. There’s live music and street performers in Hemming Park. In just a few years, the Art Walk has become a popular event with strong community support.
What is it: Rustic waterfront dive serving fresh seafood and exotic meats surrounded by wildlife real and stuffed.
Why go: Clark’s is a local institution that’s fun for the whole family (except the easily freaked-out). Inside you’ll see what may be one of the largest privately-owned taxidermy collections. Tigers, monkeys, birds, giraffes, and more - all of whom died from natural causes - grace the walls and ceilings. You’ll also see Lilly the gator in her tank, and may even catch a feeding if she’s not hibernating. The extensive menu includes everything from jalapeno poppers and fried or grilled seafood platters to antelope, snake, yak, and “gator toes.” Walk around outside for more wildlife spotting, and catch a sunset if you can.