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Happy, cool, and fun things to do in Jacksonville Florida include seeing some of USA’s oldest maps, enjoying incredible nature spots, exploring under downtown, and much more.
Jacksonville FL is the largest US city, based on land area (840 square miles). Since 1968, the city of Jacksonville encompasses all of Duval County and there is so much to do, see, and explore here.
Where is Jacksonville Florida
Jacksonville is located in the northeast corner of Florida. Interstate highways I-10 and I-95 intersect in downtown Jacksonville. See Jacksonville’s location on Google Maps.
Getting to Jacksonville Florida
Visiting Jacksonville is easy.
Arrive at JAX (Jacksonville airport) by plane from over 30 US cities.
Jacksonville is an easy day trip from Orlando (two hours), Savannah (90 minutes), and St. Augustine (45 minutes)
With the fourth largest port in the US, you might find yourself visiting Jacksonville as part of a cruise. Jacksonville is also along the main East coast Amtrak line.
Thank you to Visit Jacksonville for hosting McCool Travel.
Fun Things to Do in Jacksonville Florida
1. Treaty Oak
High on my list of things to do in Jacksonville was (and is) to see the Treaty Oak and it is a gorgeous, magnificent, and majestic tree. Jacksonville’s Treaty Oak is over 70 feet in height but the giant branches extend more than twice that.
Treaty Oak is over 250 years old (estimate) and is protected by a community park. It was saved from destruction and urban sprawl by the Garden Club of Jacksonville. The park is called Jessie Ball DuPont Park to honor the Garden Club member who purchased seven lots around the tree and donated it to the city.
The park has a few bus and handicapped parking spots but no official “regular” parking spots. San Marco and Riverplace are the nearest Jacksonville Metro stations. Doubletree is the nearest stop of the Jacksonville Water Taxi.
Another option is to walk there. It is about a mile and a quarter stroll from the Corkscrew Park section of the Riverwalk, across the St. John’s River. We suggest walking across the Alsop Bridge (highway 90) instead of the Acosta Bridge (highway 13).
2. Boneyard Beach
Sticking with the magnificent tree theme, the massive driftwood trees of Boneyard Beach must be seen and touched to be believed. There are plenty of classic Florida beaches to choose from nearby (including the gorgeous Amelia Island beaches) but Boneyard Beach is eerie, fascinating, and unforgettable.
Boneyard Beach is part of Big Talbot Island State Park and the daily use fee is $3. Pay at the honor box at The Bluffs parking lot entrance or buy a daily use pass online in advance. From the parking lot, a wooded, sandy trail (about 3/4 miles) ends at one of the best Florida spots for nature lovers.
While the main Boneyard Beach (The Bluffs) area is the most popular section (although it really is a Jacksonville hidden gem), the Boneyard Beach is three miles long. Also plan to spend time at the Blackrock area, about a half mile south on Florida scenic drive A1A. Another short, sandy trail leads to Boneyard Beach but here, the black rock lends even more brilliance to the scene.
On your way back to Jacksonville, stop for dinner or lunch at Palms Fish Camp (for superb steamed local Mayport shrimp), Chowder Ted’s (their chowder has olives!), or Sandollar Restaurant (excellent fresh seafood at this Florida waterfront restaurant).
3. Jacksonville Public Library Map Collection
Head to the top floor of the Jacksonville Public Library Main Branch downtown to see the incredible maps. The Lewis Ansbacher Map Collection includes 240 old and valuable maps, many of Northeast Florida.
The oldest map is from 1522. It shows Parias (land of golden honey) which predates the name Floride (from Ponce de Leon). Ask the librarian for a tour or to answer any questions.
Next door to the library is MOCA, Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville. Admission is free to MOCA on Saturdays.
McCool Travel tip: Parking is free for one hour in the nearby Library Garage. Remember to get your ticket validated at the library front desk.
4. Chamblin’s Uptown
It is not fair or adequate to call Chamblin’s Uptown in downtown Jacksonville just a bookstore. It IS a fantastic bookstore featuring 800,000 used, collectible, and new books, along with local art, LPs/vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and more.
Spending time browsing the organized chaos is delightful. Let me know if you find my book. Remember to go upstairs as that is where the interesting finds are.
Chamblin’s is popular with locals because of their trading policy. Bring your already read, no longer wanted, and ready to pass along books and media in exchange for credit to use at all their locations.
The attached Uptown Cafe offers breakfast, drinks, and lunch. Try their Sexy Grits and Jerk Tempeh Wrap.
McCool Travel tip: Chamblin’s Uptown is open on Sundays and street parking is free.
5. Jacksonville Riverwalk
The Jacksonville Riverwalk trails are popular for walking, bicycling, and watching events.
The Northbank Riverwalk runs along the downtown Jacksonville side of the St. Johns River. The path totals two miles and runs from I-95 east to Hyatt Regency. Parts of the Riverwalk are currently being added and renovated so the routing may change. One magnificent addition in Corkscrew Park, featuring exercise equipment and free weights.
Enjoy nice downtown Jacksonville views from the Southbank Riverwalk, across the river in the San Marco neighborhood. It goes by MOSH (Museum of Science and History), Friendship Fountain park, under the Alsop Bridge (look for the gorgeous mosaic), and then east along the St. John’s River.
6. Riverside Arts Market
Saturday means Riverside Arts Market, one of the most popular weekly Jacksonville events. Located under the I-95 overpass at the Riverfront, RAM features several aisles of artisans, food vendors, food trucks, bakeries, and more. Enjoy live music, yoga, and other performances throughout the day.
On the first Saturday of every month, head next door to the Cummer Museum because it is free admission day. Go to the museum if for no other reason than to see the magnificent Southern live oak tree and the waterfront gardens. But if you have time, do peruse the art collections. Come for the tree, stay for the art!
Within a half-mile walk of RAM are local favorites Taqueria Cinco (and other Five Points eateries), Plenti (fresh poke bowls), and Burlock and Barrel (hand crafted bourbon and spirits).
7. Explore UNDER Downtown Jacksonville
With over 1,000 miles of navigable waterways, Jacksonville has countless places to kayak. I asked a local expert, Dennis Thompson, about fun kayak adventures in downtown Jacksonville. He mentioned kayaking through a tunnel under downtown Jacksonville but had not personally done it.
He offered to check it out with me and let me tell you that kayaking UNDER downtown is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Jacksonville (or anywhere else). Dennis operates Adventure Kayak Florida and said he is swamped operating rentals and concessions at Hanna Park so he may not be available for guided paddles (but to ask).
But you can also experience this Jacksonville urban paddle on your own or check with Dennis to see if he is available (tip, try for early Sunday morning).
McCool Travel note: check the tide tables as the tunnel is not navigable most of the time. Go near low tide. Also this adventure is not recommended for anyone with anxiety about tight spaces. You will also have to go horizontal (lean way back or forward) for about 100 yards in both directions.
Using the official downtown Jacksonville Riverwalk boat launch is recommended. A slightly closer kayak launch might be available near the YMCA parking lot. Once in the water, head east (left) toward the Acosta Bridge.
McCool Travel tip: Check out the gorgeous Cowford Murals below the bridge before heading into the tunnel.
You will see the tunnel entrance a little before reaching Acosta Bridge. Use this Google Maps which shows between the kayak launch and the tunnel location. Note the distance between the red pinpoint and the canal above Riverside Avenue is the underground portion.
We hit the tunnel at a good time and did not have to duck down inside the tunnel. But, again a caution, if you are not paddling near low tide, the tunnel may be inaccessible.
But after a couple of hundred yards in the tunnels we encountered a series of low-hanging pipes. Here I had to lean way back, going almost horizontal, to fit under the pipes. Through this gauntlet, I used my hands to pull myself through. I do not want to know what is in those pipes but thank goodness there were no leaks.
After emerging from the tunnels and from under the pipes, it is clear paddling along McCoy Creek. It is a seldom visited waterway, as evidenced by the startled flocks of herons and other birds I surprised.
You can paddle about 2.5 miles (I estimate) until you must turn around. I decided to turn around between the Myrtle Avenue and I-95 bridges because the highlight was and will always be the under downtown tunnel passage.
As cool as that kayaking experience is, I have saved the most fun thing to do in Jacksonville for last.
After I toured Kickbacks Gastropub with owner Steve Flores and was walking out the door, a patron at the bar said, “did you see the leg?” “Um, what?,” I said. He directed me to what he said was the first ever prosthetic leg, encased in the wall near the restroom.
Is it the first? And how did Steve get possession of it? I was so overwhelmed by everything else I just saw in Kickbacks that the ancient leg was an afterthought.
Walk in to Kickbacks on a sunny afternoon and bask in the kitsch. Perhaps you notice that the walls are lined with pennies. There are over 1.1 million here. Ponder why. Or notice that the booths have steampunk metal sculptures in the walls. There are over 10,000 hand-crafted sculptures here. Again, ponder why. But enjoy!
Sit at the bar and order a beer. Notice the giant metal container with the tap lines. It was a copper coffee urn used during the Civil War. What? This place is so amazing! Now the urn has 120 beer tap lines to serve thirsty modern soldiers like yourself.
But, wait, there is more. So. Much. More. Hold my beer, as the kids say today.
But then there is the basement level. Transport yourself immediately to a roadside pub in the remote Belgian countryside.
Because you pretty much are. The Belgian bar is, well, from Belgium. And there are 24 separate tap lines for only Belgian beer not served upstairs. And if you are a beer collector or home brewer, you can rent one of the 239 basement lockers.
See the windows? They feature 14 stations of the cross art pieces from a medieval Belgian monastery.
Is your head spinning at all this coolness?
Perhaps now is a good time you really blow your mind and mention that the Kickbacks basement holds the largest vintage beer collection in the world. In. The. World. Over 100,000 bottles of rare, premium, vintage, antique, or just hard to find beer. It reminds me, and many visitors of Bern’s, the iconic Tampa restaurant (which has the largest wine collection in the world).
I mentioned to Steve that I will rent the basement for my lotto-winning celebration. Who wants to attend?
Thank you to Dennis for mentioning Kickbacks as the coolest place in Jacksonville. But I am going on a limb here but as a three-generation Floridian I think this might be the coolest place in Florida I have ever been to.
Six years ago, Kickbacks Gastropub acquired and expanded into the next door building, called Goozlepipe & Guttyworks. That is where the basement and most of the coolness is.
Where to Stay in Jacksonville
Residence Inn Jacksonville Downtown is a fantastic downtown Jacksonville hotel. I loved walking to Five Points, Riverside Arts Market, along Riverwalk, over the bridge to San Marco, and to nearby restaurants from here.
Just outside of downtown, we like the Holiday Inn Express Jacksonville near I-10 and I-295.
When driving to Florida from Virginia, we often stay at the Holiday Inn Express Jacksonville North. Located just off I-95 on highway 200, this north Jacksonville hotel
Jacksonville Annual Events
Some popular annual festivals and events in Jacksonville include:
- 904 Day. Celebrate local small businesses and all things Jacksonville and Northeast Florida on 904 Day (September 4th). Every year. #904Day
- PorchFest. Listen to over 20 performing artists and bands playing on residential porches during Jacksonville PorchFest. Join over 10,000 people in the Historic Springfield neighborhood, featuring dozens tons of food trucks and vendors every November. See my 2023 PorchFest photos.
- Springing the Blues. Every April brings the finest blues musicians and all the fun people to Jacksonville Beach. See you at Springing the Blues?
- Florida-Georgia Game. Unofficially known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the annual football game between the University of Florida and University of Georgia brings tens of thousands of fans to Jacksonville. If you cannot make the game, join the tailgating funness outside the stadium or join the crowds at local venues like Element Bistro and Myth Nightclub.
Jacksonville Florida Facts
- Burger King and Firehouse Subs started here.
- Elvis Presley first indoor concert was at the Florida Theater in Jacksonville, which completed its $8 renovation project in October 2023. Other hometown JAX musicians include Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, .38 Special, Derek Trucks, Limp Bizkit, Pat Boone, Mase, and Rick Dees (the longtime radio DJ)
- Other famous people from Jacksonville include Harriet Beecher Stowe, Tug McGraw, Harold Carmichael, Artis Gilmore, Jack Youngblood, David Duval, Chipper Jones, and Alice Nunn (Large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure).
- The first French settlement in America was Fort Caroline in current day Jacksonville.
- There are over 100 distinct neighborhoods in Jacksonville, truly offering something for everyone.
- Jacksonville is home to USA’s oldest skate park.
- JAX residents average 36 years of age, making it Florida’s youngest city.
- With over 80,000 acres, USA’s largest urban public park system is in Jacksonville.
- Jacksonville has over 1,000 miles of shoreline (most of any US city) including 22 miles of beaches.
- The six pack was (arguably) invented in Jacksonville.
Hope you enjoyed our look at some fun things to do in Jacksonville Florida. Whatever you do, whenever you go, not matter how long you stay, enjoy your trip to the Jewel of the First Coast.