Family Vacations to Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville Zoo Carousel, Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville Zoo Carousel (courtesy, Jacksonville CVB)

Jacksonville Family Travel Tips

  • Build sandcastles and fish from the pier at Jacksonville Beach.
  • Get soaked at Adventure Landing water park.
  • Explore the galaxies at the Museum of Science & History's planetarium.
  • Fish, swim, and stroll at Little Talbot Island State Park.
  • Let little ones romp at Kids Zone, the Jacksonville Zoo's new children's play area.

Water defines Jacksonville, a major commercial center for northeastern Florida and southern Georgia. One of the nation's few north-flowing rivers, the wide St. Johns snakes through the city, and boating on the Intracoastal Waterway and swimming off Atlantic beaches beckon just 20 minutes away. Add to the mix Jacksonville's cultural attractions, and the city is worth a stop, especially for families traveling to Orlando or other Florida playgrounds further down the coast.

The region's summer season officially kicks off at the end of April each year with the Annual Beaches Sand Castle Contest on Jacksonville Beach, a strand also favored by fishing enthusiasts because the pier extends nearly a quarter-mile into the ocean. At the nearby Adventure Landing water park, kids spray and squirt each other at the pirate-themed Shipwreck Island, which is equipped with 200 nozzles for watery shenanigans. Tube riders catch some thrills by zipping down the Hydro Half Pipe, whose near-vertical 40-foot drop ends with a splash.

At the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens' Kids Zone play area, little ones can ride the carousel, climb inside a child-sized squirrel habitat, and swing from "vines" like monkeys. You can also lunch next to the jaguar habitat, a popular animal given the city's home team is the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars.

Learn about stars and galaxies at the Museum of Science & History's planetarium. In the museum's Kidspace, ages five and younger can float boats at the Water Table and build with blocks. The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens gets kids involved by enabling them to walk through a painting, make collages, and create their own masterpieces with a virtual paintbrush at the Cummer's newly renovated Art Connections exhibit.

Take advantage of Jacksonville's outdoor prospects. Little Talbot Island State Park, 20 miles from downtown Jacksonville, is one of the last undeveloped barrier islands in northeastern Florida. Along with five miles of beach, the park offers surf-fishing, swimming, canoeing, and hiking. Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park also draws fishing enthusiasts to its 60-acre freshwater lake.

At the National Park Service's Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, explore a near-exact replica of the original 16th-century fort, examine a dugout canoe, and go on ranger-led tours of the salt marshes and dunes.

More historical sites can be found 40 miles away in St. Augustine, America's oldest continually inhabited European community. A pass on the St. Augustine Sightseeing Train affords you access to 20 stops for up to three days. Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, 33 miles north of Jacksonville, is known for its Victorian buildings. Learn about some of the town's more elusive inhabitants on the 90-minute Ghost Tours of Amelia Island, a good-humored look at spooks, ghouls, and other supernatural characters.

Tip: Zip around town on the 2.5-mile-long Skyway Express monorail. It costs only 35 cents to ride.

Recommended Side Trips: St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach, Orlando's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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