Welcome to Jacksonville, Florida, a vibrant and diverse tourist destination with a perfect blend of stunning coastline, rich history, and a pulsating cultural scene. Often overlooked in favor of more famous Florida destinations, Jacksonville is a city that prides itself on its authentic charm and friendly locals. A visit to Jacksonville promises outdoor adventure, cultural experiences, and mouthwatering cuisine. Let’s embark on a journey to explore the top 5 must-visit places in Jacksonville, FL, that should be on your travel bucket list.

Fun Fact 💡- Largest city by land area in the contiguous United States

Jacksonville Beach

Start your Jacksonville adventure at Jacksonville Beach, a sun-soaked paradise known for its pristine sandy shores and vibrant atmosphere. This bustling beachfront community offers a variety of activities for all ages and interests. Stroll along the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier, a favorite spot among locals and tourists alike for its panoramic ocean views. If you’re in the mood for some adventure, why not try your hand at water sports activities such as surfing, paddleboarding, or kayaking? Jacksonville Beach is renowned for its excellent surf conditions, making it a popular spot for novice and experienced surfers.

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After a day of fun and adventure, wind down at one of the many beachfront restaurants and bars. Here, you can savor fresh seafood from the Atlantic Ocean, complemented by a tropical cocktail. The culinary scene at Jacksonville Beach is as diverse as it is delicious, with various dining options ranging from casual beach shacks to upscale eateries. Then, immerse yourself in the lively beach-town ambiance, where various local shops and entertainment options await. From beachwear boutiques to live music venues, there’s something for everyone at Jacksonville Beach.

A visit to Jacksonville Beach would not be complete without spending some time at the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier. Stretching 1,320 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, the pier offers stunning coastline views, making it the perfect spot to watch the sunrise or sunset. It’s also a popular spot for fishing, with a variety of fish species found in the surrounding waters.

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Fun Fact 💡- One of the top cities for fishing in the US

So whether you’re an avid angler or simply someone who enjoys the simple joy of casting a line, the pier is a must-visit. As you stroll along the pier, you’ll find it’s an excellent spot for people-watching and soaking in the laid-back beach vibe.

Jacksonville Beach offers many water sports activities for those seeking some adrenaline-pumping action. The beach’s consistent waves make it a popular spot for surfing, attracting locals and visitors alike. Several local shops offer surfboard rentals and lessons for those new to the sport. If you prefer something a bit more relaxed, paddleboarding and kayaking are great ways to explore the calm waters of the Intracoastal Waterway. As you paddle, don’t forget to take in the scenic views and watch for local wildlife. Here are five local wildlife worth keeping an eye out for: 

1. Manatees: Known as gentle giants, manatees are a rare sight that can sometimes be seen near the docks or creeping through the water in warmer seasons.

2. Pelicans: It’s common to see these large birds making a deep dive to catch fish. This is a sight, especially if you’re lucky to witness it up-close.

3. Ospreys: These powerful raptors can be spotted soaring over the water, scanning for prey. Don’t forget to look up – they are essential to the local wildlife.

4. Sea Stars: If you’re exploring the shallows, especially during a low tide, you might be lucky to find some colorful sea stars scattered across the soft, sandy floor.

5. Ghost Crabs: Known for their light-colored, almost translucent bodies and quick sprints across the sand, keep an eye out for these interesting creatures throughout the beach area. 

Remember, while spotting these incredible creatures is an exciting experience, it’s important to enjoy them from a distance and never disturb their natural habits. Happy wildlife watching!

Riverside Arts Market

Head to the Riverside Arts Market for an immersive arts and culture experience. This vibrant market is located under the Fuller Warren Bridge and showcases Jacksonville’s creative community. Every Saturday, the market comes alive with local artists displaying their works, local farmers selling fresh produce, and food vendors offering a delicious array of eats. As you peruse the stalls, you’ll be treated to live performances by local musicians, adding to the lively atmosphere. The Riverside Arts Market is more than just a shopping destination – it’s a place to connect with the local community, discover unique treasures, and support local artists and businesses.

The Riverside Arts Market is a staple of Jacksonville’s arts and culture scene. With over 100 vendors, the market offers a diverse range of locally crafted art, including paintings, jewelry, and pottery. As you browse the stalls, you’ll find one-of-a-kind pieces that reflect the creativity and passion of Jacksonville’s local artisans. Whether you’re looking for a unique gift, a piece of art to decorate your home, or want to admire the creativity on display, the Riverside Arts Market is the place to be.

Here are the top five that I suggest you make a beeline for during your visit: 

  1. Jax and Jake’s Art – A highly praised vendor, Jax and Jake’s Art showcases a versatile range of hand-crafted items. Their vibrant paintings and intricately assembled jewelry are must-sees for visitors.
  2. Willow & Clay Pottery – For lovers of ceramics, Willow & Clay Pottery has you covered. Their pottery includes beautifully crafted items, often incorporating natural elements and designs, providing a unique take on traditional ceramic work.
  3. Lydia’s Stitches – Immerse yourself in textile art with Lydia’s Stitches. This stall offers an attractive array of hand-sewn and quilted pieces, from clothing to home decor items.
  4. Wild Oak Woodworks – Specializing in sustainable hand-crafted wood products, they stand out with their unique takes on everyday items. Their skillfully carved pieces combine both practicality and aesthetic appeal.
  5. John’s Orchids – If you’re a plant lover, John’s Orchids is an absolute must. Offering a wide variety of orchids, this vendor has cultivated a reputation for their plants’ spectacular beauty and health.

In addition to the art, the market also features a food section that’s a foodie’s dream come true. Here, you’ll find a smorgasbord of culinary delights from local vendors, offering everything from farm-fresh produce and artisanal cheeses to gourmet sandwiches and homemade pastries.

The market also hosts food trucks serving various cuisines, so whether you’re in the mood for tacos, barbecue, or vegan treats, you’re sure to find something to satisfy your cravings.

Five top picks for your tastebuds at the Riverside Arts Market include: 

1. Fusion Food Truck: This truck is a must-visit for its incredible blend of Indian, Thai, and Mediterranean flavors. Be ready for a taste explosion! 

2. Delish Kebabs: As the name suggests, this food truck serves mouth-watering, freshly grilled kebabs. Their tender chicken, beef, and veggie skewers are worth the queue. 

3. Cely’s Filipino Food: Cely’s offers a delightful array of classic Filipino dishes. A favorite is their Lumpia – crispy, savory spring rolls you won’t forget quickly. 

4. Manny’s Cuban Food Truck: Manny’s offers authentic Cuban cuisine from their mobile kitchen. Their traditional Cuban sandwiches are to die for. 

5. On The Fly Sandwiches & Stuff: This food truck is your best bet if you’re looking for hearty and innovative sandwiches. From pulled pork to veggie wraps, they’ve got something for everyone. 

There you have it! Five fabulous food trucks that will take your taste buds on an unforgettable culinary road trip at the Riverside Arts Market. Bon appétit!

Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

Step into a world of artistic wonder at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Located in Jacksonville’s historic Riverside neighborhood, the museum is home to one of the finest art collections in the Southeast. With over 5,000 works of art from 2100 B.C. through the 21st century, the museum offers a diverse range of artistic styles to appreciate. After exploring the art, wander through the museum’s award-winning gardens, which are a testament to the beauty of nature and the art of landscaping. The Cummer Museum is not just a place to view art; it’s a place to experience it.

The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens is home to an extensive art collection that spans centuries. The collection includes works from European masters such as Peter Paul Rubens and Thomas Moran and renowned American artists like Winslow Homer and James McNeill Whistler. The museum also features a significant collection of Meissen porcelain, one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world. With its diverse collection, the Cummer Museum offers something for every art enthusiast, from classical to contemporary art.

Beyond its art collection, the Cummer Museum also features beautifully designed gardens. The gardens are not just an extension of the museum; they are works of art in their own right. The English Garden, Italian Garden, and Olmsted Garden each offer unique design elements and plantings that provide a tranquil oasis in the city’s heart. As you wander through the gardens, you’ll come across stunning floral displays, serene water features, and majestic trees, offering endless photo opportunities.

The museum also offers a variety of educational programs and workshops for visitors of all ages. Whether you’re an art aficionado or a casual visitor, these programs provide a deeper understanding of the art on display and the artists who created them. From guided tours and art classes to lectures and film screenings, there’s always something happening at the Cummer Museum.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Embark on a wildlife adventure at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Home to over 2,000 animals and 1,000 plant species, the zoo offers an unforgettable wildlife experience in a beautiful natural setting. Explore the zoo’s diverse animal exhibits, where you can encounter majestic lions, graceful giraffes, playful otters, and much more. The Jacksonville Zoo is more than just a place to see animals; it’s a place to learn about them and their important role in our world. The zoo’s commitment to conservation and education is evident in its interactive exhibits and engaging programs.

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As you explore the zoo, you’ll encounter various habitats replicating the animals’ natural environments. In the African Loop, you’ll encounter elephants, rhinos, and zebras, while the Land of the Tiger offers a glimpse into the world of these magnificent big cats. The zoo’s bird collection, featuring species worldwide, is equally impressive. From the colorful lorikeets in the Australian Adventure to the flamingos in the Main Camp, bird lovers will be in heaven.

The Jacksonville Zoo also offers a range of interactive experiences that bring you closer to the animals. One of the crowd favorites is the giraffe feeding experience, where you can hand-feed these gentle giants. There’s also the Wild Florida loop, where you can see native Florida species such as alligators, black bears, and red wolves. The Play Park and Splash Ground offer younger visitors a fun-filled escape with water features, play equipment, and a carousel.

In addition to the animal exhibits, the Jacksonville Zoo also features stunning botanical gardens. These gardens showcase the zoo’s commitment to plant conservation and offer a peaceful retreat from the animal exhibits. Stroll through the Savanna Blooms Garden, which features plants native to African and Florida savannas, or explore the Asian Bamboo Garden, home to various bamboo species. With its diverse plant collection and beautiful landscaping, the gardens are a must-see for nature lovers.

St. Johns River: Jacksonville’s Lifeline

The St. Johns River, often called Jacksonville’s lifeline, is a significant part of the city’s identity and culture. This majestic river, one of the few in the United States that flows north, offers a wealth of recreational activities and natural beauty. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an angler, or a photographer, the St. Johns River is a destination you won’t want to miss.

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As you immerse yourself in the charm of Jacksonville, a boat ride on the St. Johns River can’t be overlooked. The vast expanse of water, reflecting the clear blue sky above, is a sight to behold. Some popular boating options include privately chartered vessels, guided tour boats, and even self-driven pontoon rentals. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of dolphins playfully navigating the waves or manatees lazily swimming by in the warmer months. 

Sport fishing is another activity that draws locals and tourists alike to the St. Johns River. The river teems with various desirable species, including largemouth bass, bluegill, and catfish. If you’re an angler, you know there’s nothing quite like the thrill of casting a line into these waters. 

For those inclined towards more tranquil pursuits, the river banks offer a serene setting for bird-watching, picnicking, and photography. Keep your binoculars; you might spot an osprey diving for fish or a regal egret proudly strutting by. The river’s breathtaking scenic beauty is sure to inspire your inner photographer. 

We can’t talk about the St. Johns River without mentioning the iconic Dames Point Bridge, a landmark that has come to represent Jacksonville itself. With its distinctive cable-stayed design, it’s a sight that catches everyone’s eye. It’s definitely worth a photo moment, especially at sunrise or sunset. 

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Multiple parks along the river offer excellent vantage points for watching the sunset. In these tranquil moments, as the sky is steeped in shades of pink and orange, you’ll truly understand why the St. Johns River is considered Jacksonville’s lifeline. 

Remember: the St. Johns River is more than just a body of water – it’s a testament to Jacksonville’s rich history, diverse aquatic ecosystem and a source of endless recreational options. It gives the city its unique charm and character. So don’t just pass by, explore it and find your own connection with the river during your visit to Jacksonville.

So there you have it, the insight into Jacksonville, FL. Let this city’s charm, both old and new, surge through you when you pay a visit. Dive into its thriving cultural scene, soak in the sunshine at its beautiful beaches, marvel at the architecture, and bite into the delicious local cuisine. There’s truly something for every visitor in Jacksonville. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a dedicated foodie, or an adventurer, Jacksonville, FL, awaits to pamper you with its southern hospitality. Remember, every corner of this city has a story to tell, so come ready to explore, engage, and experience Jacksonville in all its glory!

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