jacksonville florida

Where to Stay & What to do in Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida, has a little bit of everything. It is on the coast for your laid back Florida beach town fix yet has an urban center. You’ll also find year-round sunny weather, stunning landscapes, and plenty of attractions. Jacksonville is a unique destination for both locals and visitors. If you’re wondering what to do in Jacksonville, Florida, this article should help you out.

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Best Coffee Shops in Jacksonville, Florida

Sago Coffee is right in Jacksonville Beach and we loved grabbing coffee to go before our morning beach walk. The employees were super friendly and the coffee was delicious. I love their ambiance. When the weather is nice, they have the option to be an open air coffee shop. I would have loved to work from there one day.

Bold Bean has their own homemade syrup and a lot of other coffee shops use them as their roaster. I got an iced latte with their spicy chocolate syrup. It was such a unique flavor and I loved it.

Cup of Job is a Christian coffee shop. The outside of this coffee shop is so cute.

There were several coffee shops we didn’t get to that I would love to try on another visit.

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Where to Stay in Jacksonville

I got overwhelmed researching the best places to stay in Jacksonville. There are so many areas and we weren’t sure which was best. A lot of what we wanted to explore was in the opposite direction of the beach. Plus, we were visiting over a holiday weekend with a baby + dog, so we were worried about the noise level of a beach hotel during the busy weekend. I’d read that downtown doesn’t have much to do on the weekends, so that led us to the Holiday Inn Hotel Indigo in the Deerwood area.

Hotel Indigo seemed centrally located to everything we wanted to do. The hotel itself is fine, but we ended up doing more driving than we would have preferred. Even though we didn’t want a beach vacation, we love our visit to Jacksonville Beach and wanted to return (the waves are a fun change of scenery from Florida’s gulf coast!) But the beach was 30 minutes from the hotel, making it somewhat inconvenient. Also, maybe it was because the weather was chilly and cloudy, but the beach wasn’t busy when we went, so I think we would have been fine with the noise levels. A lot of the other things to do in Jacksonville were also 30 minutes from Hotel Indigo. So if we’d just stayed at the beach to begin with, our commute would have been about the same in the end.

Where I would have stayed instead:

Best beachfront hotel in Jacksonville Beach: Four Points by Sheraton Jacksonville Beachfront
Atlantic Beach beachfront hotel: One Ocean Resort & Spa
Best downtown Jacksonville hotel: Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront
The Omni Amelia Island Resort isn’t in Jacksonville but is a short drive away and is a great luxury hotel.

Things to do in Jacksonville Florida

Jacksonville has so much to do. And now that you’ve figured out where to stay, you can focus on everything you have to look forward to on your visit! From arts to nature trails, here are some of the best places to go in Jacksonville, Florida.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

To visit the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, you’ll need to purchase tickets in advance. They have a general admission ticket as well as a total experience ticket which includes feeding of string rays, birds, and giraffes as well as unlimited train rides and the 4D theatre experience. When we visited, they also had a special dinosaur exhibit that was only available to experience via the total experience ticket. Overall, it’s a nice zoo with a good layout, making it easy to navigate. Admission is a bit pricey in my opinion, but most zoo prices are. I’d say it’s pretty standard for what you might expect to visit a zoo.

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The Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary

The Catty Shack is a wildlife refuge and rescue for exotic animals. It serves as their forever home once they arrive. On Sundays, they do enrichment activities which is entertaining to watch.

Museum Of Contemporary Art 

If you like contemporary art, you’ll enjoy this museum. Otherwise, this may be one for you to skip. There is a large scale atrium piece which changes. There are also several smaller pieces. It’s a fairly small museum that is easy to see in a short amount of time. Admission is free on Sundays.

Southbank Riverwalk

The Southbank Riverwalk will give you beautiful views of St. Johns River, the city, some of the bridges, the stadium, and sailor’s memorial. Since you’ll be walking along the river, you may even see some wildlife. You can get on the water taxi there as well.

Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

The art displays at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens are very diverse, ranging from paintings, sculptures, and ancient artifacts. The artwork is organized based on style and time periods. Some of the artwork even goes back to 2100 BC! There is also an interactive section for kids.

The gardens were my favorite part. Sitting on the bank of St. John’s River, they are absolutely beautiful and very well maintained. When we visited, they had a temporary flamingo exhibit as well, which I loved. Do note that in inclement weather, they’ll close the gardens.

Pro tip: The museum is free on the second and third Tuesdays of the month from 4pm to 9 pm as well as the fourth Friday of the month from 4 pm to 9 pm. There is also free admission on the first Saturday of the month from 10am-4pm. If you have a bank account with Bank of America, admission is also free the first full weekend of the month through the Museums on Us program.

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Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve

A visit to the Timucuan Preserve will bring you back in history while connecting with nature. There are unspoiled coastal wetlands on site as well as several different areas to explore as noted below. Perhaps the most popular areas on the preserve are Fort Caroline and the Kingsley Plantation. The Timucuan Preserve is named after the indigenous Timucua people; they lived there for thousands of years.

Kingsley Plantation has a lot of information on the plantation itself and what life was like then. You’ll learn about the history of the Kingsley Plantation and that the slave master married a slave. They then had children and ran the plantation together. Note that some of the pictures are graphic. There is an audio tour you can listen to online as you visit as well.

Fort Caroline tells a story about the little-known origins of European settlement in America. French Protestants settled on the Florida Coast before being wiped out in battle with the Spanish Catholics in the 16th Century. There is not much left from the time period, and the fort you’ll see is a replica of what would have been at the time. The visitor’s center has a lot of information to help you grasp the history of this time period.

American Beach During the period of racial segregation, African Americans were barred from most of the beaches in Florida. American Beach was founded in 1935 to provide African Americans with beach access.

Theodore Roosevelt Area has hiking trails and consists of 600 acres of hardwood forest and wetlands. The land in the Theodore Roosevelt area was donated to Jacksonville by Willie Brown. He’d lived on the land his entire life, moving there at 6 months old with his family. His dad signed the land over to him at 16 years of age with the agreement that Willie would keep hunters off the land. He kept that promise and continues to keep that promise today, even after his death. The land is still protected just as Willie’s father wanted.

Cedar Point has trails where you can hike, bike, or horseback ride. You’ll have beautiful views of the marsh and creeks.

Museum of Science and History (MOSH)

This is a really interesting museum with tons of interactive exhibits. There are exhibits on Florida history, dragons, an outdoor area with turtles, and a traveling museum as well (it was dinosaurs when we visited). There is also a planetarium which costs a fee in addition to the admission price. This is a great activity in Jacksonville for kids.

Little Talbot State Park

Little Talbot is an undeveloped barrier island with over 5 miles of beaches and 3 miles of biking trails. It’s also a great spot to go camping in Florida and also a great place for beachcombing, surfing, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, and kayaking.

Riverside Arts Market

The Riverside Arts Market happens every Saturday morning from 10 am – 3 pm. You’ll find local vendors for eating, drinking, shopping, and more. I like that they have a vendor list. The location is under the Fuller Warren Bridge located at 715 Riverside Avenue, Jacksonville, Florida 32204.

Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens

The Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens have trails to walk that are all beginner to slightly intermediate. There are many trails to choose from. The trails are shaded and well marked. There is a pond and a lot of mature trees. The park is dog friendly. Admission is on a good faith deposit for $3 at the entrance.

The Beach

One of the most popular things to do in Jacksonville is heading to the beach. There are over 22 miles of beach in Jacksonville! Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beach are all great options. There is a fishing pier at Jacksonville Beach that’s almost a quarter mile long!

beaches in jacksonville beach

Restaurants in Jacksonville

I didn’t fully realize that Jacksonville would be such a foodie’s paradise. There are so many amazing restaurants for every budget and my bucket list of places to eat in Jacksonville is a mile long. Here are the places we ate at, but there are many, many more. I’d love to revisit and eat at all of them so I can do a full blog post on where to eat in Jacksonville! But for now, here’s the food we ate.

Purple Roots was located close to our hotel, which made it a really easy stop on our first night in town. You order food from a kiosk and they bring it to you. They have a lot of tapa style options, all of which were very good. We loved their cake. It is called halo halo cake, which translates to mix mix because you’re supposed to mix it. It was so unique and delicious!

Insomnia Cookies is right next door to Purple Roots, so we got some cookies for the room. They were pretty good.

Mini Bar Donuts & Coffee is a great spot to grab some mini donuts in the morning. They have some great, unique flavors. I loved that they were mini donuts so I could try a few different flavors without committing to a whole donut and feeling too full after.

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Tikka Bowls and Tacos is a newer Indian restaurant that was close to our hotel. It was kind of like Chipotle for Indian food; I got a bowl to go and was delicious.

Julington Creek Fish Camp was phenomenal. It’s located on the river with great views of the water both inside and out. We got a watermelon feta salad and ceviche that I’ll be dreaming about until our return.

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Cities Close to Jacksonville Florida

If you’re looking for some short day trips from Jacksonville, Florida, Amelia Island and St. Augustine are both closeby.

If you’ve been wondering how to spend a weekend in Jacksonville, Florida, hopefully this blog post was helpful. There is so much to do in Jacksonville that you could easily spend longer than a weekend depending how much you want to fit into your days. With a little something for everyone, you’ll definitely find something fun to do in Jacksonville!