Things to See and Do in Jacksonville, Florida

A vacation to Florida may not bring the city of Jacksonville to the top of everyone’s list. With Disney World, Universal Studios and the beaches of Miami as major attractions, it is easy to overlook the city with a population of over 800,000. However, Jacksonville has a lot to offer and is one of the cheapest places to retire. This list serves as a tide-turner or breakdown of pull factors that should drive anyone with a keen interest in culture, sports or the environment to the northeast-Florida location. As the biggest city in terms of area in the contiguous United States, Jacksonville is certainly hard to drive through once travelers know the items listed as the number of attractions dives well into the hundreds on most travel listings. Below are 10 of the best things to see and do when heading through the southern states on a long drive, multi-day stop-over or a tour of some of the nicest stadiums the United States has to offer.

11. Castaway Island Preserve

For nearly 50 years the Castaway Island Preserve has worked to create the largest urban park system in the United States. It acts to protect the most vulnerable of lands in North Florida. The Timucuan trail of public parks is the spawn of these lands.

Through a plethora of partnerships including conservancies, water management departments and the National Park Service the system of urban parks has grown from 30,000 acres to 80,000. With undeniable beauty and so much to see, the parks tell a historical and cultural story that is almost inconceivable. From forestry to ponds, the trails take any visitor on a walk through many different types of vegetation. Perfect for the environmentally savvy, Castaway Island Preserve is sure to impress anyone from hikers to families with little ones. The naturally preserved landscape provides a different look of continental America, one that is not seen in any areas surrounding other budding metropolis.

Castaway Island Preserve

10. Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

Close to the Jacksonville River Walk stands the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Somewhat of a hidden gem, the museum just south of downtown Jacksonville features regional artists that capture the imaginations of onlookers. Spring and summer at the gardens are breathtaking to all, just as is the surrounding area.

Statues, paths, ponds and more await visitors looking for a picturesque photo not too far from the city. The view overlooking the water is simply stunning and is worthy of the trip in itself. The gardens are well kept and are as interesting to walk around as any, leaving tourists wondering what is around each bend. The fountains and paths are of particular interests, showcasing different monuments and statues at every turn. This type of location is great for anyone looking to take in local history, or alternatively, those wanting to stare out at a view of the water not attainable anywhere else in Florida.

Photo by: Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
Photo by: Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

9. Little Talbot Island State Park

A smash hit with all its visitors, Little Talbot Island State Park borders a marsh as well as a phenomenally kept beach among other well-kept areas. The campgrounds are a fan favorite due to the immediate access to such vibrant vegetation. The peaceful setting is said to be one the cleanest campgrounds found anywhere, almost as if man never settled it.

The sandy beach includes starfish, horseshoe crabs and sharks when looking out into the water. A great location for bike rides or walks with relatives or friends; Little Talbot Island State Park is picturesque enough for a wedding or any important event that needs a great background to enhance the experience. The spacious park is said to be a little off the path, but this quaintness only adds to the ambiance. A small $5 fee is well worth the access to countless picnic tables and grilling areas making it ideal for a camping destination.

Little Talbot State Park

8. Big Talbot Island State Park

We wouldn’t want Little Talbot to get lonely, luckily Big Talbot Island State Park is there for those who may feel a little closed off by the trees of the smaller setting. Big Talbot will have visitors believing they just discovered America with the vast, seemingly unexplored grassland.

At a steal of just three dollars, visit in the summer months for the chance to see various species of birds throughout the park. Beautiful white pelicans, herons and wood storks should not be disturbed in this open space. Simply walk along the beach to get a first-hand look at species of birds rarely seen by urban residents. Virtually untouched, Boneyard Beach receives great reviews from those looking for a place to walk and reflect. It is no wonder it is ranked as one of the top attractions in all of Jacksonville. Consider a picnic, bike or fish, but unfortunately no overnight stays are permitted.

Big Talbot State Park

7. Veterans Memorial Wall

Adjacent to Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Veterans Memorial Wall is a quarter-million dollar monument that was dedicated to more than 1,500 war heroes in 1995. It is 65 feet long and made of black granite. Veterans from World War 1 all the way through to Operation Desert Storm and current middle-eastern conflicts are honored here.

An eternal flame stands in the front of the monument, where Jacksonville’s Memorial Day Ceremony takes place. At the ceremony, any fallen soldiers from the year past are honored by having their names added to the site. Since the monuments completion, tremendous measures were made to ensure its preservation when the destruction of the nearby Veterans Memorial Coliseum took place. This type of respect and dedication is the only reason needed to stop by this monument while en route to anywhere, really. Sadly, in 2005 additional panels were added to provide space for names of those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Photo by: US Department of Defense
Photo by: US Department of Defense

6. Museum of Science and History

The Jacksonville Museum of Science and History (or MOSH as the kids say) is full of unique and state-of-the-art exhibits. MOSH contains a rotation of traveling exhibits such as Shipwreck, which has over 500 artifacts excavated from famous shipwrecks through time.

Space and energy-centric exhibits dominate the core attractions along with local history. At prices between six and 10 dollars it is easy to see why so many are attracted to the wide-array of knowledge that MOSH provides. Year-round camps and Boy & Girl Scout workshops ensure that the kids will be interacting socially and learning at the same time. Local artists also have their works circled through the museum, providing local exposure to some of the areas better talents. Perhaps the most intrusive exhibit ever is “The Body Within”, where visitors walk in through a giant open mouth and exit through the digestive track of the human body.

Photo by: MOSH Jacksonville
Photo by: MOSH Jacksonville

5. Fort Caroline National Memorial

This fort memorializes a short presence of the French during the 16th century in Florida. Disputes over territory, religion, and arms are the central theme of the site’s history that landmarks the first contact between natives and Europeans.

Surrounded by greenery, the fort’s walls overlook the ocean that was meant to keep frequent visitors away but alas, this did not happen. French colonies that were after religious freedoms settled here before moving further toward the center of America, and were greeted by natives upon their arrival. A children’s program and museum is on the property to inform visitors of the full history of settlements, which often surprise tourists due to how far back in time the stories go. Take a stroll down the paths with overhanging trees and quickly see why the French chose to stay instead of hopping on their ships and heading back to their homeland.

Photo by: Lisa Jacobs
Photo by: Lisa Jacobs

4. Jacksonville Jazz Festival

Each spring during Memorial Day weekend, Jacksonville puts on a music show like no other. The Jacksonville Jazz festival brings world-renowned musicians to the city for performances on multiple stages over 4 days.

Music lovers should plan their stop Jacksonville to coincide with this festival which features big name Jazz act along with other event features like a piano competition, jazz brunch, outdoor art fair on the streets of downtown and the popular ‘Jazz After Dark’ which sees performances lasting until 2am.  Best of all, most festival events are actually free of charge! The Jazz Festival has long been one of the biggest festivals in the city of Jacksonville so join in the celebration and rhythm for a guaranteed good time.

360b / Shutterstock.com
360b / Shutterstock.com

3. Friendship Fountain

The recently remodeled Friendship Fountain should find its way onto everyone’s list of things to see when in Jacksonville. Situated on the St. Johns River, it beautifully overlooks the water from across the Jacksonville Landing. This site is a photographer’s dream when the sun is ready to set or rise.

The Main Street Bridge acts as a perfect background for the colorful display of water fountains to which the site gets its name. As there is seemingly no way to be angry when taking in this scenery, this is indeed a good spot to reflect by one’s self or with a partner. The tranquility and feeling of calm is rare in such a location that can be compared to a cleaner, friendlier setting than looking across from the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Of course, the lack of noise is a contributing factor to this location’s aura as well.

Friendship Fountain Jacksonville

2. EverBank Field

The home of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team since 1995 has undergone a whole lot of changes since it broke ground. At a cost of $121 million it is relatively cheap for an NFL stadium but that does not take away from the energy that can’t be found anywhere else in Jacksonville. The stadium was opened on the site of the old Gator Bowl Stadium that had been around since 1949. It still includes portions of the old stadium on the four hectares of land next to the St. Johns River.

With an original capacity of 73,000, expansions in the last decade have raised the seat total to just under 77,000 (about 10,000 seats more than the NFL minimum). The stadium hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, not to mention the countless other college football games and concerts. There is no atmosphere quite like an NFL football game in America, so this is a highly suggested spot for those who won’t necessarily get frequent chances to attend a game.

Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com
Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

1. Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary

This wildlife sanctuary is the home of many exotic cats that are rescued and taken care of on the location. Cougars, leopards, bobcats and foxes are just some of the species in the habitat. Additionally, 25 Siberian tigers (the majority of which are adorable cubs) are kept here along with a select few African lions.

Although it has been open for 30 years the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary became accredited to be open to the public in 2004. A medical facility on the property lends assistance to the care of the animals with a group of dedicated veterinarians and even dentists. Cat lovers are encouraged to participate in the adoption program; donations made to the sanctuary provide direct funding to the animals by way of food and medical care. The mantra of the facility is to educate children on the dangers of owning or attempting to domesticate wild cats, so it is safe to say Mike Tyson likely did not visit here as a youth.

Photo by: Catty Shack Ranch
Photo by: Catty Shack Ranch

10 Must See Sports Stadiums in North America

While travelling many people make sure to get to all of the biggest attractions and talked about places at their destination as these are often the deciding factors on choosing where to take their trip. While this is understandable, many people overlook the fact that some of the most amazing structures in modern society revolve around local sports teams, especially in North America. With sports being such a huge part of culture, teams are making more money than ever meaning they are building stadiums that are amazing to behold. So whether you’re a sports fan who likes to travel or a traveler who doesn’t mind taking in a sports game in order to experience the amazing features stadiums have to offer, here are the 10 Must-See Sports Stadiums in North America.

10. New Yankee Stadium, MLB

New Yankee Stadium is located in New York, New York and is home to the New York Yankees of the MLB and will be the future home of the New York City FC of Major League Soccer. This stadium is relatively new, as it opened in 2009 and cost 1.5 billion dollars to construct. One of the best things to see in this massive structure is the “Great Hall” which is located between the outside and inside walls and runs between gates 4 and 6. This huge space displays banners of Yankee star players as well as massive LED screens. If all of that is too modern for you, there’s also a New York Yankee Museum located at Gate 6 which features Yankee memorabilia and highlights major New York Yankees moments through the years. If you’re visiting New York, this stadium is clearly a spot you’d want to check out, with lots to see before even getting to the actual baseball game.

eddtoro / Shutterstock.com
eddtoro / Shutterstock.com

9. Fenway Park, MLB

If you are a traveler who loves to experience the true local vibe and feel of the place you are visiting then Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, is definitely somewhere to go while in Boston, Massachusetts. Unlike many of the stadiums on this list, Fenway is not new, in fact it is the oldest stadium in the MLB although it has undergone almost continuous upgrades and renovations to keep it in working order. It’s still a perfect place for those who enjoy the history of their travel destination as Fenway is now officially on the National Register of Historic Places. Make sure to check out the numerous activities that shut down the streets and bring everyone together before and after games to get a true Boston experience. As well, if you’re visiting the stadium you can’t miss the iconic “Green Monster” which is the left field wall and is one of the few manually operated scoreboards in the game today. If you’re not one who is easily impressed by the glitz and glam of big buildings and stadiums then Fenway’s historic charm and atmosphere is sure to be a great experience.

Joyce Vincent / Shutterstock.com
Joyce Vincent / Shutterstock.com

8. CenturyLink Field, NFL

This massive stadium located in Seattle, Washington opened in 2002 and is home to the NFL’s 2014 defending Super Bowl Champions the Seattle Seahawks as well as the Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer. Aside from the champions who play here, this complex also boasts the WaMu Theater, a public plaza and is a place of major concerts and trade shows aside from major sporting events. To get an all-around CenturyLink experience one can take the train from Seattle’s King Street Station right to the stadium. Of course what’s most talked about with this famous stadium is not something you can see, but something you can hear. If you’re checking out the stadium during a Seahawks game get ready to cheer or cover your ears as this stadium broke the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar which is amplified by the structure itself with the seating decks and roof trap resounding noise back to the field, giving a definite home-field advantage. This stadium is every travelling sports fan’s dream come true.

f11photo / Shutterstock.com
f11photo / Shutterstock.com

7. Bell Centre, NHL

The 270 million dollar Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada is a great stop while visiting beautiful Montreal due to its ease of access and proximity to many other places to visit. Best known as the home of the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL, this complex is also one of the world’s busiest for non-sporting events. With the old charm of Montreal mixed with the excitement of the world of sports and entertainment, it’s a great place to experience the NHL and even has a section of lower priced seating for children known as the Family Zone. The Bell Centre is connected to both major metro stations as well as to the underground city of Montreal and is across the street from the 1250 Rene-Levesque skyscraper, putting it right in the middle of many things you’d like to see so you can enjoy the best of the major attractions while also getting to see one of the best hockey stadiums in North America.

meunierd / Shutterstock.com
meunierd / Shutterstock.com

6. PNC Park, MLB

Like many other baseball stadiums, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a must-see not only because of the structure itself but because of the experience it offers as a whole. Home to the Pittsburgh Pirates, this baseball park has many features to make it a must see while in Pittsburgh. Its location alone is amazing, so even if you aren’t that into watching baseball, just go for the spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh premised by the Alleghany River; on a beautiful day of baseball, the view steals the show. There are also many great food experiences to be had with the “Tastes of Pittsburgh” that includes traditional baseball foods, Pittsburgh specialties and exotic choices, making sure to have something for everyone and anyone who wants to be adventurous while visiting a new city. While the park itself is great to visit, just getting there is also exciting for those wanting to see the city. You can take a water limo service on the Alleghany or take a walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge as vehicular traffic is prohibited on game days.

jessicakirsh / Shutterstock.com
jessicakirsh / Shutterstock.com

5. Lucas Oil Stadium, NFL

The still very new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana gives fans a great experience. Home to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Lucas Oil replaced the RCA Dome in 2008 and consequently utilizes the best modern technology and engineering techniques to create an amazing stadium. Some of the best features include two massive HD scoreboards, a retractable roof that divides in two, and the second largest movable glass window-wall which allows for light when closed and a great view of the Indianapolis downtown when open. Lucas Oil is a great experience and a great example of when the best of modern technology and the world of sports come together.

Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com
Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com

4. MetLife Stadium, NFL

New York is a tourist hot-spot so why not take a break from the main city and check out East Rutherford, New Jersey, the location of MetLife Stadium. What’s most distinguishable about MetLife is the fact it’s home to two NFL teams, the New York Giants and the New York Jets and has interior lighting that switches colors based on which team is playing. Along with changing lights, it also boasts twenty massive LED Pylons at the North and East entrances which play videos of whichever team is playing. In 2014 MetLife became a whole lot more popular when it was the first ever stadium with no dome, in a cold weather climate to host the Super Bowl.

Jai Agnish / Shutterstock.com
Jai Agnish / Shutterstock.com

3. EverBank Field, NFL

EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida is home to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and has had a long history since it opened in 1995. After poor attendance and issues due to age of the stadium, the location has recently underwent $63 million of improvements and renovations now making it a must-see stadium in North America. The new and improved Everbank is looking a little like a Las Vegas resort as it now includes two wading pools in what is known as the “Party Deck” at the stadium’s North end zone. Other features include two new scoreboards which are the largest of their kind, enhanced food and beverage options and numerous interactive activities. The grandeur of this stadium makes it a must-see, what could be better for a sports fan than playing in a pool in Florida while watching a live NFL game?

Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com
Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

2. AT&T Park, MLB

It’s obvious that many baseball parks are amazing to see, but AT&T Park in San Francisco, home to the San Francisco Giants of the MLB is a must see spot for sports fans visiting the spectacular city of San Francisco. Like PNC Park, this stadium’s location and the view it offers is one of its best features. With the backdrop of San Francisco Bay, overlooking McCovey Cove, named after former Giant Willie McCovey, the atmosphere is unrivaled. The park includes a giant Coca-Cola bottle with slides as well as bubbles and lights that go off when a home run occurs and next door sits an equally massive Four Fingered Baseball Glove. The park is perfect for the young and young at heart, with great food, great atmosphere and a great view that no one would want to miss while in San Francisco.

Eric Broder Van Dyke / Shutterstock.com
Eric Broder Van Dyke / Shutterstock.com

1. AT&T Stadium, NFL

Arlington, Texas may not be the first on your list for traveling destinations but if you’re a serious sports fan, it probably should be. Opened in 2009, AT&T Stadium is the proud home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and is a testament to what happens when enormous amounts of money and brand new technology collide, having also been called “Jerry World” playing off the grandeur vision Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones had for the stadium as an all-around entertainment mecca. The outstanding feature of this incredible stadium is its enormous HD television screen which was the largest in the world at the time of the stadium’s opening. For fan experience the stadium also includes a Party Pass section which is a series of platforms that offers standing room for 25,000 people in addition to the 80,000 seats in the stadium. There are also over 3,000 LCD TV screens to ensure no fan misses any play no matter where they are, as well as a retractable roof allowing for the best of conditions at all times. Stepping into this stadium is like stepping into a party in the future, which will amaze any visitor to Texas.

Katherine Welles / Shutterstock.com
Katherine Welles / Shutterstock.com