Looking for things to do in Jacksonville with kids? This major metropolitan area is known for its sprawling urban parks and sunshine. Aside from those awesome things, it also has tons and tons of activities for the whole family.
As the locals would say, “Welcome to Jax!” We're sharing the top things to do in Jacksonville with kids (to be clear, that's Jacksonville FL, not Jackson MS). We've talked about our abundant love of Florida many times, and today I'm thrilled to be sharing about the state's – and the nation's – biggest city.
Jacksonville sits along the banks of St Johns River in northeast Florida. It was one of the earliest European settlements (originally inhabited by the Timucuan people) and was named after President Jackson, who served as the territory's first provisional governor but never actually set foot in the town! The area has a large military presence, and is also home to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
No article talking about things to do in Jacksonville with kids would ever be complete without mentioning the Jacksonville Zoo. Given numerous awards for its unique hands-on experiences and even voted one of the top zoos in the nation by TripAdvisor, big cats and impressive garden scenes abound at this astonishing park.
You can feed sting rays, giraffes, and lorikeets. You can even kayak through the zoo. No matter what you do, don't miss the epic giraffe overlook, or the sloth enclosure!
Our family has always considered the San Diego Zoo to be our “home zoo.” That said, I was absolutely bowled over by the accessibility, ease of navigation, and overall experience at the Jacksonville Zoo. Aside from all the incredible animal experiences, the boys were totally smitten with the carousel and the adorable train that goes around the zoo (perfect for getting tired preschoolers back to the entrance at the end of the day!).
Sandy Beaches in Jacksonville
Looking to stick your toes in the sand? Head on over to the coast. Jacksonville Florida is known for beaches with powdery sand, blue-green waters, and a totally laid-back vibe. This area is also teeming with wildlife, making it perfect for nature lovers who want to check out preserves or go shelling. The most popular beach in the region is Jacksonville Beach, which has the best waves in the state and an epic wooden pier.
Our family really loved Neptune Beach, which boasts pristine shores and lots to do nearby. There are tons of restaurants and boutiques within walking distance. While you're there, head on over to world-famous Lemon Bar for amazing seafood and vibrant-colored drinks, right on the sand.
Visit the Museum of Science and History
Time for your next adventure? Look no further than the Museum of Science and History, located on the famous Riverwalk. MOSH is a must-do if you're eager to weave some education into your family vacation.
Since we homeschool (and ‘road school' when we're working on projects), we were absolutely thrilled to see this museum's enormous collection of exhibits, ranging from space knowledge to hands-on play areas and tons of natural history. They have a whole live, up-close animal encounter area that's SO COOL.
MOSH's in-depth, larger-than-life information about the human body helped the boys connect some dots that just weren't quite making sense with our typical worksheets and streaming documentaries. There's nothing quite like jumping into a lesson with both feet!
Sweet Pete's and Downtown Murals
Downtown Jacksonville is a completely different vibe from the coast, which I love! With an area this expansive, it's like you're getting multiple vacations in one. I've noticed that general exploration of downtown Jacksonville doesn't seem to make the cut on a lot of lists of “things to do in Jacksonville with kids,” and to me that's a shame. It really is such a multifaceted area with SO much history around every corner!
The oh-so-trendy, bustling city boasts incredible public art and murals literally everywhere you look. Grab your camera, and get ready to get your ‘Gram on.
Looking for a little exercise? This area has over five-and-a-half miles of riverfront, all totally accessible and ready for exploration – whether you want to walk, jog or bike. Skyscrapers dot the horizon, and you can even see dolphins from a river taxi!
The real star attraction of downtown Jackson (in my sweet tooth-addled opinion) is Sweet Pete's. The shop appeared on The Profit in 2014 after experiencing wild success in the region, and was able to undergo massive expansion thanks to now-majority-partner Marcus Lemonis.
Founded by Pete Behringer (son of Phyllis Geiger, who founded Peterbrooke Chocolates), this adorable shop offers candy classes and factory tours throughout their 22,000 square foot mansion that's bedazzled with EVERY sort of treat and technicolor decoration you can imagine.
While you're downtown, hop on over to Desert Rider. This wildly popular sandwich shops serves straightforward deli fare – including cold cuts and special sauce – on homemade pita bread. The first location opened in 1969, and helped champion the resurgence of the downtown area.
The founder, Larry Hazouri, was actually in the kitchen when we visited – and treated all of my kids to extra cookies. Pro tip? They have a policy of giving out a-m-a-z-i-n-g cookies to first-timers, so let them know at the counter if you're a newbie!
Also near the city center – right across the bridge back toward MOSH – you absolutely need to go to Bearded Pig. Being on a road trip, I almost skipped this spot in favor of pressing on to the next city. That would have been a big mistake. HUGE.
This was some of the best barbecue I have ever had. And I've had a lot! Everything is good here, so get a little bit of alllll of it. And arrive early! We happened to walk in right when they opened so we breezed on through. Next thing we knew, we looked up and the line was wrapping around the block!
Outside of the city (and absolutely worth the drive, no matter where you're coming from), Congaree and Penn is another must-see spot. You can play with goats! I repeat: you can play with goats. We actually have our own pet goats, and even still, our kids were smitten with the variety and quirky personalities of their goats. And chickens. And other various farm animals.
Originally started in 2014 as a tiny rice farm hoping to serve the needs of local restaurants, Congaree and Penn's four acres of rice paddies have since exploded into a thriving business with massively-expansive orchards, you-pick produce and an incredible farm-to-table restaurant that serves their own cider in an elegant outdoor atmosphere. The destination also serves as host to weddings all throughout the year.
As we discovered when we visited Pensacola, National Parks are an amazing stop on a road trip – particularly one with an eye for educational opportunities! We spent an afternoon at Kingsley Plantation and Timucuan Ecological Preserve, where the kids learned more about the painful history of slavery. We've explained it to them repeatedly, but actually seeing the remains of 25 cabins where men, women and children were forced into servitude… it definitely made an impression.
While enslaved people were not allowed to read and write, stories have been passed down that tell of African Americans at this plantation. Some raised children who were fathered by their master, worked to buy their own sons and daughters at auction, were sold off and separated from loved ones, some led revolts and were hung – and some even managed to return to Africa.
There's a giant resident tortoise who roams the grounds, so keep an eye out for him. It's also well worth it to walk the long coastal path up to the dock where slave ships would enter and exit.
Where to Stay in Jacksonville
The Southbank Hotel at Jacksonville Riverwalk is the best place to stay in Jacksonville, hands down. It's recently undergone an extensive renovation and now features multiple onsite dining lounges as well as stylish connecting rooms and suites that are perfect for working (and playing!) on the road. We stayed in a king room with a spacious living room, kitchenette, and adjoining room with two queen beds.
Three bathrooms in total, not to brag or anything.
Oh, and our patio door led right to this epic pool!
Other Family Friendly Things to Do in Jacksonville
I could go on and on. If you're looking for more, check out Adventure Landing & Shipwreck Island Water Park. In the mood for some laser tag? Head to Bravoz.
Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary – voted the number one thing to do in Jacksonville by TripAdvisor – provides forever homes for endangered exotic cats. Big Talbot Island State Park, Amelia Island and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park all offer abundant nature study opportunities with abundant wildlife and nearly endless family-friendly exploration.
Do you have more tips for things to do in Jacksonville with kids? Send them our way!