7 things You Absolutely Must Do In Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville is a unique vacation spot. As I found out on a recent trip to the area, there is something for everyone to do no matter what their interests may be. Along with their burgeoning food and drink scene, the city is well known as an arts and culture hub. Additionally, this area of Northeast Florida is home numerous historic destinations that are worth exploring.
However, Jacksonville’s sweet spot lies in the region’s myriad of water activities. With miles of white sand beaches, salt marshes, ecological preserves, and waterways you’ll find yourself constantly surrounded by water. Take advantage of all the ways you can get out on it and enjoy yourself.
Learn to Surf
My family spent a great morning learning to surf with JAX Surf and Paddle. We met up with our instructor Carmel at their surf school location in Neptune Beach. She started by fitting each of us with the right length boards and offering us the use of optional wetsuits. There are also lockers are available to store your personal belongings. There is no need take anything but some water and your board to the beach.
With our boards on top of our heads, we walked a few short blocks to Atlantic Beach. Once there Carmel went over a few things on land before having us get into the water. She gave us a quick lesson on how to pop up, position our stance, paddle out and most importantly what to do if you get knocked off your board — always protect your face!
Carmel spent the whole time in the water helping us navigate how to get out over the waves and how to catch and ride them in. She is incredibly patient with beginner surfers. I thoroughly enjoyed our private group lesson, and my time in the ocean despite never quite getting all the way up on my board.
Be sure to check out their retail surf shop located around the corner. This cute boutique has surf style clothing for men and women, bathing suits, sunglass, sunblock and more. My daughter and I both purchased jewelry from a local artist they carry in the store.
Grab a bite to Eat in Neptune Beach
Nestled between Atlantic and Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach is an adorable little town. The area known as the Beaches Town Center has several local restaurants, quaint shops, and galleries. It is totally bike friendly and is a good place to grab a bite to eat. We had lunch on the outdoor patio at Southern Grounds. They have great salads, sandwiches, baked goods and amazing hot and cold artisan coffee.
Kayaking is a very relaxing way to spend time out on the water. It also requires little or no experience which makes it a great family activity. Taking a guided tour is an excellent choice for beginners or if you are unfamiliar with an area.
With that in mind, we went on a BarHopping tour with Kayak Amelia. There are no adult beverages involved, rather you hop between the sandbars in Little Talbot Island State Park. The tour begins just as the tide goes out revealing several sandbars and tidal pools that are perfect for exploring.
We paddled for three miles in a little under three hours. Along the way, we made several stops getting out onto the sandbars to check for marine life, collect sand dollars and go for a swim. Buddy, his wife, and the other guides are extremely knowledgeable and taught us about the oysters, marsh grasses, birds and sea anemone living in this natural habitat. At the mid-way point, the staff even shared homemade chocolate chip cookies for a much-needed snack. Paddling is a great sport that everyone can enjoy.
Visit Kingsley Plantation
Just down the road from where Kayak Amelia starts their tours is the Kingsley Planation. It is located along the Fort George River within the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. Dating back to 1798, Florida’s oldest plantation house, which dates back to 1798, has been preserved by the National Parks Service. On the weekends, limited small tours of the house are available by reservation only.
Seven days a week though you can take a free audio tour of the property. You’ll see the remains of the barn, the gardens, and the slaves’ cabins. As you listen to the tour you will gain insight to what life was like for slaves living on the Kingsley Plantation in the early 1800s.
Just north of St. Augustine, you will find the GTM Research Reserve. Encompassing over 74,000 acres of coastal land, this natural estuary has ample opportunities to learn about the environment and species that inhabit this area. There are guided hikes, eco tours, hands-on learning presentations and even summer camps for kids.
We participated in the family seining program, something we had never done before. After donning the provided booties and waders, we walked out into the Guana Lake to pull the large seine net through the water. We collected crabs, fish, shrimp and other marine life. Our naturalist helped us to identify the species and tell us why they are important to this ecosystem.
Tour the Castillo de San Marcos
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is the oldest masonry fort in North America. Completed in 1695 by the Spanish, this limestone fortress sits on the Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine. There is a moat, cannons, diamond-shaped bastions and even a covered drawbridge. Often times on the gun deck, you will find reenactors performing historic weapons demonstrations. There is plenty to explore on your own or with a National Parks Service Ranger. The expansive water views from the top of the fort are fantastic.
Go to Top Golf
You don’t have to love golf to have a great time at TopGolf. This multi-level entertainment complex is a great spot to go with family or a group of friends. Even as a non-golfer, I enjoyed the competitive nature of this high-tech driving range.
The open-air venue has over 100 climate-controlled hitting bays. Each has enough seating for six and some bigger ones even have couches that are great for large parties. You can order food and drinks to be delivered right to your bay while you tee-off. Choose from one of many computerized golf games that will have you taking aim at the large targets spread out over the range. All of the balls are micro-chipped to keep track of your score automatically.
Whether you like to swim, surf, paddle or golf, Jacksonville is a perfect place explore on your next vacation.
Disclosure: Thank you to Visit Florida, Visit Jacksonville and the Florida Historic Coast for hosting us. No other compensation was received for this review. As always, this post reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.