What are the best things to see and do in Jacksonville?

Natalie Wearstler

It may be hard to narrow down the best of countless activities at your disposal during a trip to Jacksonville. Lucky for you, we’ve whittled down the options and come up with the five best things to see and do:
1. Attend a First Wednesday Art Walk. Take in the city’s diverse arts scene at the monthly First Wednesday Art Walk. The free self-guided tour includes over two dozen galleries and cultural hotspots condensed within a 15-block radius. Be sure to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida that showcases established and up-and-coming artists; Southlight Gallery, a space where prominent local artists display their latest work; and Hemming Plaza, where one can find live music and vendors selling original paintings, jewelry and photography.

2. Go see a football game. Cheer on the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Jags are a source of deep local pride, and several season ticket holders brag that they’ve attended each game since the franchise first kicked off in 1995.

3. Stroll the Northbank Riverwalk. Dubbed the “River City” for its proximity to the St. Johns River, downtown Jacksonville is home to one of the prettiest riverfront skylines around. Take it all in on the Riverwalk, a paved walkway that stretches just under two miles along the water.

4. Get salty at the beach. Cast a line, catch a wave or simply build a sandcastle on Jacksonville Beach, a nearby city located just 20 minutes from downtown Jacksonville.
5. Stare in awe at the Blue Angels. The famous flight demonstration squadron of the United States Navy first took off from Naval Air Station Jacksonville in 1946. Although the Blue Angels perform in cities around the country each year, there’s something special about seeing those famous blue F/A-18 Hornets zip by in their hometown skies.

  • On June 28, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What are the best antique shops in Jacksonville?

    A few of the best antique stores in Jacksonville can be found in the Five Points neighborhood. I have spent countless hours perusing the wares of Fans and Stoves Antique Mall, a large retail store that anchors the corner of Park and Lomax Streets. In the past, I've scored quirky costume jewelry, dozens of lovely antique teacup sets and a few classic vintage clutches at this neighborhood landmark. There's a small selection of furniture in a back corner, but otherwise, this is a great spot to hunt for small treasures.

    Just across Park Street, you'll find Five Points Antiques. Though this shop is much smaller than Fans and Stoves, it delivers an impressive array of one-of-a-kind finds. The inventory leans a bit more heavily on home décor and knick-knacks here. Don't miss the often overlooked room in the very back of the store if you're a music fan — that's where all the good vinyl albums are hiding.

    For the serious antique shopper, there are few comparisons to Avonlea Antique Mall. This gigantic showroom is filled with enough beautiful antique furniture to fill an entire neighborhood. More than 200 dealers showcase their best finds here. If there's a certain product you're looking for — say, authentic Chinese porcelain or fine Oriental rugs — this is where you're most likely to find it. 

    If you don't mind the drive, head north to Amelia Island to peruse the finds at Eight Flags Antique Market. The stylish shop contains a bevy of finds for many decorating styles, from mid-century modern to cottage chic. 
  • On May 24, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What are the best places for dessert in Jacksonville?

    Sugar is a part of daily life in the South, and you'll find plenty of places to enjoy it in Jacksonville. Here are a few places that I recommend to satisfy a sweet tooth:

    Chocolate-covered popcorn from Peterbrooke Chocolatier is a Jacksonville tradition. It's the perfect combination of sweet and salty, and with locations in practically every neighborhood, you're never too far from the addictive treat. It's also worth popping into the shops every now and then to try samples, enjoy a scoop of ice cream and see what new chocolate-coated creations are in the works — last time I visited, chocolate-covered wine bottles were a hot new item.

    Sweet Pete's in Springfield was started by the son of the candy maven behind Peterbrooke. This brightly-colored mansion looks like it was pulled straight from the board game "Candyland." Inside, you'll find handmade lollipops, truffles, cotton candy and more. The candy-making classes are also a hit with kids and adults alike.

    The Dreamette is a Murray Hill landmark. The walk-up ice cream window has been serving banana splits, sundaes and milkshakes since 1948. On particularly hot days, the line may stretch around the corner. It's worth the wait. Bring cash, as the original location doesn't take credit cards; however, the second location in Mandarin will accept your plastic.

    The cake display at Biscottis in Avondale draws Jaxsons from all over Duval County to the quaint bistro. You could share a slice with a friend, but these treats may bring out possessive qualities in your dining companion — it's best to get one slice per person and mix up the flavors so you get twice the deliciousness.

    Just a few months before I left Jacksonville, I disocvered Threef(x) in Baymeadows — and even though I only went a few times, I crave the house-made ice cream on a weekly basis. The friendly shop employees will make ice cream right before your eyes on the anti-griddle, and you can choose any flavor add-ins that you'd like. Add a fresh taiyaki to your order, too. The whimsical fish-shaped waffles are stuffed with fillings like apples and cinnamon or nutella, and they're a perfect complement to the fresh ice cream treats.

  • On May 21, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What are the best free things to do in Jacksonville?

    There are plenty of ways to enjoy your time in Jacksonville without having to spend a penny. Here are my favorite cost-free activities:

    1. Walk (or jog) the Northbank Riverwalk. Located right on the beautiful St. Johns River, the Riverwalk is a paved walkway that's a favorite among walkers and joggers. It feeds right into the popular "Bridges Loop," a running route that crosses the Main Street and Acosta bridges. Swing by any evening around dusk, and you'll see runners of all ages and ability levels enjoying the pretty skyline views as they work up a sweat.

    2. Get your art fix. On the first Wednesday evening of each month, rain or shine, Downtown becomes an art-lover's dream as galleries offer free admission, artists sell their wares in Hemming Plaza and live music fills the air. It's a Jacksonville tradition that's gained tons of traction with the creative community in the past few years, and it's worth checking out if only for the free admission to the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Insider tip: you can also visit the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens every Tuesday evening, starting at 4 p.m., for free. The Riverside museum is a stunning community asset that features local and international artists from a wide range of time periods.)

    3. Build a sandcastle. Jacksonville Beach is only 20 minutes away from downtown. Simply hop on Beach Boulevard or Atlantic Boulevard and head east until you see the shore. Just don't try making this trip around rush hour.

    4. Reconnect with nature at the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens. I almost hate to share this tip, as it's one of the city's best-kept secrets! The Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens is a natural park filled with walking trails, hidden in the city's Arlington neighborhood. From the moment you set foot on the trail, you'll find yourself amidst creeks, trees and birds — and very little else. 

    5. Toss a frisbee at Memorial Park. Jaxsons are very proud of the St. Johns River, and one of the best places to see it is at Memorial Park in Riverside. Grab a coffee from nearby Starbucks or pick up a few picnic items from Publix (they're both located just across the street), bring along a book or magazine and sit back for an afternoon of sunbathing and people-watching.
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  • On May 17, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    Where can I go to watch sports in Jacksonville?

    EverBank Field is Jacksonville's top sports venue. On Jaguars game days, the stadium fills with fans decked out in their favorite black and teal outfits. The downtown stadium is also where the annual showdown between the University of Florida gators and the University of Georgia bulldogs, a SEC college football rivalry that's as much ingrained in Jacksonville's sports community as the college towns from which the teams hail. 

    The Jacksonville Suns, the city's minor league baseball team, take to the field at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Located just across the street from EverBank Field, this stadium is a popular spot during the summer months; tickets to Suns games are a bargain, and promotions like dollar beer night and fireworks after every Friday night home game make a trip to the ball game a fun experience for all ages.

    Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is where the Jacksonville Giants, an American Basketball Association team, and the Jacksonville Sharks, the city's Arena Football League team, hold their home games.

    It may not be in Jacksonville, but it's worth noting that TPC Sawgrass is just a 30-minute drive south. The famed golf course is home to THE PLAYERS Championship each spring. Even on non-tournament weekends, it's not uncommon to see professional golfers perfecting their swing on the course, as there are a number of pros who live in the nearby Ponte Vedra Beach or TPC Sawgrass neighborhoods.
  • On May 16, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What are the best places to hear live music in Jacksonville?

    Jacksonville is home to one of my favorite concert venues: the historic Florida Theatre. Since 1927, the stage has served as a temporary home to troubadors of all styles, from country music legend Kris Kristofferson to indie rock darlings Death Cab for Cutie. To me, the loge seats are the best in the house.

    Another great venue is Underbelly, a relatively new music hall and bar that's a short walk from the Florida Theatre. Local bands and independent bands come through regularly; in the months before I moved out of Jacksonville, I saw Lost in the Trees, an orchestral folk band, and Sunbears!, an indie-pop duo. The crowd here tends to be hip, but friendly. It's a favorite stop for the city's creative professionals.

    If the Florida Theatre and Underbelly draw an NPR crowd, then Veterans Memorial Arena takes care of the Top 40 fans. This is where big-name acts like Justin Bieber and Mary J. Blige book their shows. Concerts here are big, loud and bold. I saw Bob Seger here in 2012, and even in his aging state, he put on a fun and energetic show that kept the entire audience on their feet.

  • On May 15, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What are the best bookstores in Jacksonville?

    Jacksonville is home to the country's largest urban park system — with 80,000 of parks spread around the city, there are countless places to lay down a blanket and dig in to a good book. Before you set your plot of land aside for the afternoon, swing by one of these book stores to pick up a classic or that New York Times bestseller that's been on your reading list all year:

    Ron Chamblin is the city's literary hero. His labyrinthine bookstore, Chamblin Bookmine, is a maze of books in every genre that are piled high in stacks and bookshelves that practically reach the ceiling. Ask an employee at the front desk for assistance if there's a specific title you're looking for — but if you have time to spare, revel in the experience of getting lost in the bounty of new and used titles. It's a hobby that local book lovers have held since the store first opened in 1976. Chamblin's Uptown, the bookmine's sister store, is located just off of Hemming Plaza in Downtown. It doesn't have the volume of options that its older sibling carries, but it does feature a charming cafe with fresh coffee and great food. 

    Beachcombers in the know stop by The BookMark in Neptune Beach before walking over to the shore. Owner Rona Brinlee has a sharp eye for the best up-and-coming authors and established writers, and she carefully stocks her shop with their best work. Check the store's calendar during your visit — authors are always stopping by for lectures, book readings and book signing events.

    Rare first-editions are a specialty at San Marco Bookstore, a small shop that packs an impressive range of titles into its shelves. This is a particularly great place to read up on Jacksonville or Florida history, or pick up a military history volume (Jacksonville is a military town, after all). Kids' books and classics also get their fair share of real estate.
  • On May 15, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What are the best Jacksonville museums?

    Jacksonville is home to a rich variety of museums to explore. Take your pick from these five museums to gain a new perspective on the Bold New City of the South:

    The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the city's museum scene. Established in 1958 by longtime art collector and community advocate Ninah Cummer, the Cummer's permanent collection includes works by masters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Winslow Homer, Thomas Moran and Norman Rockwell, plus one of the world's top three collections of Early Meissen Porcelain. Rotating exhibits often highlight the work of local artists, photographers and students, and the museum's stunning gardens along the St. Johns River are used throughout the year for concerts, classes and special events.

    From the 1920s through the '60s, Jacksonville's La Villa neighborhood was considered the "Harlem of the South." The Ritz Theatre and Museum highlights the artistic contributions of the African American community with a permanent exhibit of photographs documenting this period. It's also a gathering spot for locals who come together for monthly spoken word nights and jazz concerts.

    The ever-changing exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art make it a regular favorite for River City residents. As the partner gallery for the University of North Florida, MOCA is a community learning place where free lectures and film screenings complement intriguing student artwork and thought-provoking temporary exhibits (past highlights have included folk art by Howard Finster and photography by Melanie Pullen). Admission fees to MOCA are waived for the monthly Art Walk held in Downtown Jacksonville on the first Wednesday of each month, rain or shine.

    The coast of North Florida has drawn explorers throughout history, from French and Spanish sailors to modern-day treasure hunters who flock to the shore in search of relics of the past. Learn about the history of Jacksonville Beach and its sister communities at the Beaches Museum and History Park, a family-friendly learning center that has hosted exhibits like "Mermaids of the First Coast" (an exploration of the women's surfing community) and "Lifeguard on Duty" (a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the American Red Cross Lifeguards Corps' presence in Jacksonville Beach). 

    Kids can't resist all the hands-on activities at the Museum of Science and History. The inner workings of the human body, the majestic world of marine biology and the nature of energy are displayed in fun, interactive exhibits that challenge young minds (and adults, too) to see the world around them with new eyes. Try to catch a show at the Bryan Gooding Planetarium during your stay — your kids will rave about it for weeks.

  • On September 28, 2012
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What’s the best way to get around Jacksonville?

    Traveling by car is the best way to get around Jacksonville’s many neighborhoods. Interstates 95 and 295 should connect you to most destinations, and busy thoroughfares like Butler Boulevard and Southside Boulevard cover quite a bit of ground, as well — just plan for congestion around lunch hour. When sightseeing in the city’s downtown area, park the car at a metered spot (they’re free on weekends and after 6:00 p.m. during the week) and take a ride on the Skyway. Its white cars run high along busy little one-ways, providing a fun way to see the city’s core while traveling quickly between its most popular points of interest. When the weather is nice, board the S.S. Marine Taxi for a short ride to various downtown destinations along the St. Johns River, including EverBank Field and the Jacksonville Landing.
  • On September 28, 2012
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What is the best thing to bring home from Jacksonville?

    The best thing to bring home from Jacksonville is an ode to the city’s favorite football team. Jaguars fans are fiercely loyal to their team, as well as its new owner, Shad Khan. Khan made headlines across the nation when he rolled into town in late 2011 to purchase the team from its original majority owner, Wayne Weaver. He didn’t look like any football executive that Jacksonville (or the NFL, for that matter) had ever seen; instantly, his perfectly-groomed mustache became a local icon. It wasn’t long before “The Jax Stache” started popping up on stickers, hats and t-shirts. At $4.50, the Euro sticker makes for a fun reminder of time spent in the River City.
  • On September 28, 2012
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What are the best Jacksonville food experiences?

    When thinking about the five best Jacksonville food experiences, start from the fact that the city’s food scene extends far past the typical restaurant dining room. Give your taste buds something to write home about at these River City originals.

    1. Open-air food court. Each Saturday between March and December, the Riverside Arts Market pops up under the Fuller Warren Bridge on the bank of the St. Johns River. Vendors sell everything from fresh produce to handmade gifts, but plenty of attendees come just to sample goods from the food court near the water. Sweet kettle corn, Maryland-style crabcakes, hot coffee, BBQ pork sliders, fusion tacos and fresh-squeezed lemonade are just a few of the options that keep regulars coming back each week.

    2. Quirky cinema kitchens. Dinner and a movie gets a whole new meaning at two historic theaters in Jacksonville. Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville’s Five Points district has gone through several name changes since it opened as the Park Street Theater in 1927. These days, the modern cinema offers a full menu of eclectic eats, including vegan-friendly pizza, hummus with chips or seasonal veggies and “knick knack sticks” (breadsticks served with marinara, hummus or queso). Across town, one can find the funky San Marco Theater in an Art Deco building that dates back to 1938. Luckily, the kitchen serves modern options like a turkey and guacamole panino and a barbecue chicken quesadilla. Both theaters offer beer and wine, too.

    3. Florida’s oldest farmers market. Farmers in Northeast Florida benefit from a generous year-round growing season, and shoppers at the Jacksonville Farmers Market reap all of the rewards. Fresh fruits and vegetables have been sold out of this massive outdoor market since 1938; on any given day, shoppers can select their goods from over 200 farmers and vendors. Prices are notoriously low, with most products ranging anywhere from 50 cents to a few dollars.

    4. Sugary sweets. Floridians love their sugar, as evidenced by one sip of authentic sweet tea. The region's sweet tooth is often satisfied by Peterbrooke Chocolatier, a Southern franchise with Jacksonville roots dating back to 1983. The chain’s chocolate-covered popcorn is a simple, yet addictive treat that has been a local favorite for decades.

    5. Southern fried chicken. No trip to the South is complete without sampling a plate of crispy, golden-fried chicken. When visiting Jacksonville with a large group, a stop at Beach Road Chicken Dinners is a must. The dining room may not look like much, but the home-style portions of biscuits, cream peas, coleslaw and mashed potatoes have kept families well fed since 1939.