Visiting Jacksonville - What to See and Do
(Jacksonville International Airport JAX, USA)
Forget what you might have read about Jacksonville
in the past. The 'fragrant' paper mills and drab city center have been replaced by a thriving banking and insurance sector that is fuelling the revitalization of this large Florida
Most travelers don't put JAX, as the locals call it, on their short list of Florida destinations. However, there are some 20 miles / 32 km of lovely Atlantic coastline to play on, an abundance of scenic championship golf courses and balmy weather all year round. State parks litter the countryside around Jacksonville for even more recreation opportunities and outdoor attractions.
The most impressive sides of JAX can be seen in the downtown district, along the broad St. Johns River. On either side of the river, two impressive waterfront retail developments have emerged in recent years. Both the Southbank Riverwalk and the Jacksonville Landing are the hot spots in town when you want a good meal, a fun night out or a little afternoon shopping.
Ten things you must do in Jacksonville
- Jacksonville Landing and the Southbank Riverwalk are both excellent centers for wining, dining and shopping. Their locations facing each other along the banks of the St. Johns River ensure the best scenery and atmosphere available in the city. You'll find free outdoor concerts and attractions along the promenade when the weather is warm.
- One of the largest art museums in the southeastern part of America is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in downtown Jacksonville. Housed in the historic Western Union Telegraph Building, its permanent collection is boosted by five separate galleries with constantly changing exhibitions. Also onsite are education studios and a kid's interactive center.
- Jacksonville's zoo is one of the most ecologically conscious in the country. It has a tremendous range of wildlife, from the local 'Wild Florida' section to the rainforest setting of 'Range of the Jaguar' and the appealing 'Asian Bamboo' botanical garden. The Kids' Zone is particularly impressive, almost a little zoo playground all on its own. With some 120 acres / 50 hectares to work with, plan to spend at least half a day at the zoo.
- Between March and November, the weather is balmy enough to head to one of the region's beaches. There are plenty to choose from within 20 minutes of town, including Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach - with their little town centers, and Jacksonville Beach further south - with its notable surfing scene.
- The golfing options around Jacksonville are superb. There are more than a dozen championship courses within an easy drive of the city, and several of them rank among the best in America. The most famous is the Player's Stadium Course at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort, right on Ponte Vedra Beach. There are plenty of public courses as well, if you can't manage to get into the private clubs.
- A wonderful way to experience Jacksonville is with a river cruise up the St. Johns River. Two stern-wheel paddle boats run daily cruises up the river, with a range of different types of cruise depending on the season. You can enjoy a dinner cruise, sightseeing cruise or even a dancing cruise on these charming old-style paddle boats.
- An interesting cultural excursion can be found at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The sprawling grounds of a Tudor mansion are home to this impressive little museum that features artifacts dating back 4,000 years right up into the modern era. The American Impressionists are the highlight of its art collection, but more exciting items like the Japanese woodblock prints are also very much of note. Perhaps even more enchanting are the grounds of the museum, set along the river and beautifully landscaped.
- Jacksonville has its very own professional NFL football team. The Jaguars play their home games at the new EverBank Field with a capacity of some 70,000 spectators. When the Jaguars aren't playing, the stadium hosts nearby university football games and even the major Gator Bowl every New Year's Day.
- History buffs will find a very interesting and rare site nearby, at the Zephaniah Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island. The 19th-century plantation is now a national park with a restored main house, outbuildings and 23 slave cabins. Attractions detail the life of slaves in this rice-growing region, and the 40-minute guided tours by park rangers are fascinating.
- Learn more about the Civil War at Camp Milton. This fort was an important Confederate base and saw plenty of fighting. It has been restored to a certain degree, and the 124-acre / 50-hectare site is awash in wildlife and natural scenery. Actors re-enact life in 1884 Jacksonville, telling stories and having the occasional battle. It is both a nice nature area, as well as an interesting historical site.