One of Jacksonville, Florida’s little-known claims to fame is that it is the largest city in the contiguous United States. Having been settled by Europeans as early as the 16th century, Jacksonville has a rich and at time tumultuous history that is evident in its culture and design. In the early twentieth century, the city got a huge boost from the film industry, which was attracted to its warm, consistent climate and its varied scenery. Beginning with an iconic and beautiful downtown, Jacksonville sprawls out towards the wilderness of the salt marshes and the tranquil beauty of the beaches. Here are ten of the most interesting things to do in Jacksonville.
10. Eat Something Weird
Clark’s Fish Camp evolved from its humble beginnings as a bait and tackle shop into a restaurant with a menu that you will certainly spend some time pondering over. Also allegedly boasting the country’s largest private collection of taxidermies animals, the restaurant’s menu contains gator meat served in a wide variety of fashions: sausage, ribs, tail, and a few other preparations. They also have their own pet alligator Lilly, who they feed publicly each day. Other oddities on Clark’s Fish Camp menu are kangaroo sausage, fried camel, smoked eel, and friend snake.
9. Flounder Gigging
It might not sound very familiar, but the concept behind flounder gigging is pretty simple: it is fishing for flounder (and sheep head fish) without a rod or bait, and at nighttime. The secret is a large spear that is utilized to catch the fish that aggregate together for feeding. Captain Mc Daniel from Flounder Gigging Charters offers three nightly charters that will allow patrons to give gigging a shot for themselves aboard the Flounder Barge, a 24’ aluminum boat capable of floating in waters as shallow as 4 feet.
8. St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
Although it is roughly an hour away from downtown, St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm is not to be missed. In operation for over 100 years, this park is just as much about Florida’s history as it is about alligators. Open daily from 9 to 5, the Zoo has every single species of alligator represented in its exhibits, but is not simply limited to reptiles. Also included are displays showcasing exotic birds and lemurs. Of particular interest is a fun zip line course that goes over the alligator and crocodile sanctuaries (don’t worry, you’ll be harnessed in!). Tickets start at $22 for adults and $11 for children.
7. Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
Another sanctuary for large, potentially dangerous animals, Catty Shack Ranch focuses its attention and efforts on big cats and friends. Operating as a non-profit, the ranch takes in tigers, lions, cougars and more from situations in which they are being sick or injured and gives them a ‘forever home.’ The ranch is completely run by volunteers, so visitors will find the staff to be truly and deeply dedicated to their cause, and happy to help spread awareness. There are daytime tours and nighttime feedings – since most the cats are nocturnal, the nighttime feedings are highly recommended.
6. Little Talbot Island State Park
Having been protected land for over 60 years, Little Talbot Island is a refreshingly undeveloped portion of the shore, stretching for over 5 miles of beaches. As it is a relatively undisturbed park, visitors will have great success in seashell collecting, finding their own secluded area on the sand, or romantic strolls along the shore. There are also plenty of well-maintained campsites and the other end of the park explores the salt marshes. Additionally, there is tons of hiking available. There is a $4 entrance fee. Bring bug spray.
5. Friendship Fountain
Once the world’s tallest fountain upon its opening in 1965 is the Friendship Fountain that serves as a beautiful centerpiece for entering downtown. With pumps that can propel water over 100 feet in the air and a striking combination of 265 colored lights and refractions, the fountain is one of the more recognizable tourist attractions in Jacksonville. Periodically falling into disrepair, the fountain was just revitalized with over a million dollars in repairs. Today, the fountain is free and has daily schedules of music and programmed synchronizing.
4. Fort Caroline National Memorial
Desperate to set up a permanent settlement in the New World of America, French explorers sent over 300 settlers over to Florida in the 16th century. La Caroline was the first attempt at a permanent French settlement, but it barely lasted a year, thanks to poor relationships with Native Americans and nearby Spanish settlers alike. Today, visitors to the area can also experience the Timucuan Preserve Visitors Center, where they can learn about the unique ecological environment of the area, as well as visit the original location of the fort.
3. Museum of Science and Natural History
Located right next to Friendship Fountain, Jacksonville’s Museum of Science and Natural History (MoSH) is a world-class facility with scores of engaging and thought-provoking exhibits. Permanent installations explore topics such as: the human digestive system, Atlantic marine animals, alternative energy sources, area history, a native plant courtyard, the science of space gallery, and plenty more. MoSH is also a great destination for the family with kids. Open seven days a week, admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children.
2. Adventure Landing
One of the area’s greatest amusement parks, Adventure Landing hosts go-karts, miniature golfing, a large laser tag arena, a roller coaster, and plenty more. Kids between the ages of 6 and 14 should have a blast here. If it’s a particularly sweltering day and you are looking for a way to cool off, the park also has an attached Shipwreck Island Waterpark that features a wav pool, lazy rivers, and several water slides. The main park is open seven days a week.
1. JAX Beach
JAX beach is your quintessential summer vacation beach package. Jacksonville Beach includes a fishing pier, and cheap beach access ($1 access fee). Best of all is Jacksonville Beaches non-beach attractions. There are summer movie and music series, with a heavy influence of blues and jazz, especially during the weekend. With plenty of restaurants and bars, the good times at JAX Beach will continue long after the sun goes down. Also of interest is the Beaches Museum and History Center, which will provide you with a historical background of the area.
After seeing all of the available places to visit in Jacksonville, it is extremely apparent that it is a rich city with a background stemming from many different cultures. With a deep appreciation and respect for wildlife, the city is home to the largest urban park system in the country. With the beach only a short drive away, it isn’t difficult to escape the bustle of the city and immerse oneself in nature. One of the earliest European settlements in the contiguous United States, Jacksonville will continue to amaze and entertain for years to come.