Soft white sand beaches and an endearing southern feel are just some of the reasons why Jacksonville attracts so many visitors each year – to which you can add tons of cheap attractions.
One of the most popular vacation hotspots in the sunshine state of Florida, as well as having plenty of appeal of its own, Jacksonville is also a favoured jumping-off point for excursions to the nearby Amelia Islands. And while there are plenty of enticements in and around the city that aren’t particularly budget-friendly, you don’t have to look far to find things to see and do that won’t break the bank. Here are 10 of the best.
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
Spanning a vast area to the north of downtown Jacksonville, this historic coastal nature preserve is a veritable mecca for lovers of the great outdoors. Teeming with wetland, salt marshes and hardwood forests, huge numbers of visitors flock here throughout the year to partake in all kinds of recreational activities, ranging from simply enjoying the scenery while walking the various trails through to more energetic pursuits such as kayaking. For overnight visitors, there are also excellent camping facilities. The preserve is free to enter.
Ritz Theatre and Museum
With tickets available starting at around $30 for some shows, you can take in a performance at the Ritz Theatre and Museum in Jacksonville without getting hit too hard in the pocket. The 426-seater African-American oriented theatre in the city’s LaVilla neighbourhood is credited for breathing new life into Jacksonville’s cultural scene since opening back in 1999, playing host to a packed programme of music, dance, poetry, theatrical productions and movie screenings throughout the week.
Tree Hill Nature Center
Another of Jacksonville’s most popular outdoor attractions, this expansive wilderness preserve is home to more than 50 acres of walking trails, along with butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and a hands-on kids’ nature museum. There’s also an abundance of native animals living here, including skunks, pygmy goats, owls, alligators, turtles and snakes. Visitors can explore the centre independently or book on to guided tours. General admission is $5 for adults and $3 for those aged 17 and under.
Jacksonville Jazz Festival
An annual fixture on the city’s cultural calendar since 1981, this is one of the country’s largest free-to-enter jazz festivals. Importantly for a genre of music that has not always been considered inclusive, its policy of charging no admission fee is designed to help make Jazz accessible to everyone. Each year. the event attracts some of the biggest names in Jazz who come to perform in front of packed crowds on the streets of downtown Jacksonville over four full days that coincide with Memorial Day weekend. Notable musical figures to have appeared at previous editions include Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves.
Downtown Jacksonville / Memorial Day weekend each year
Riverside Arts Market
There’s no better way of getting to know a place than by taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a public market. Each Saturday, the large area located under the canopy of Jacksonville’s Fuller Warren Bridge gives itself over to a bustling street market featuring an array of local artists, food vendors and live music and dance performances. Visitors come in their droves to amble through the rows of stalls, browsing everything from home-grown food produce to jewellery, candles, plants, bath and body products, providing the perfect opportunity to pick up some gifts or souvenirs from your time in Jacksonville.
Haunted Walking Tour
Every city has its dark underbelly and Jacksonville is no different. From the local beach where the infamous pirate Blackbeard is said to have been spotted searching for his long-lost treasure, to the spot where Native Americans may have unleashed a demon to fight off Spanish invaders, to the murky waters where rumour has it the ghost of a murderous director from Jacksonville’s film era lies in wait, the city is sprinkled with spooky nooks and crannies steeped in centuries of twisted folklore. Not for the faint-hearted, this immersive 1-hour guided tour takes you to just a few of these spine-tingling sites with live commentary.
Book this tour at GetYourGuide
Stumpy’s Hatchet House
For a fun-filled Jacksonville activity for adults, Stumpy’s Hatchet House is hard to beat. Located about a mile north of downtown, the venue is an axe-throwing lounge with a wine bar attached. Needless to say, you won’t want to get too involved with the latter before giving the former a go, but combine them in a sensible way and you’re guaranteed an afternoon or evening you won’t forget in a hurry. For the axe-throwing, all guests are given a quick safety before the action commences. To play, axes are hurled towards wooden targets in fenced-in throwing pits, with points awarded depending on your accuracy levels. And if you lose, you’ve got all the excuse you need to drown your sorrows at the bar.
You can book sessions at Stumpy’s Hatchet House with Viator
Nestled alongside the Fort George River within the aforementioned Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (see above), this 60-acre National Park Service site is home to one of the most extensive collections of tabby slave quarters anywhere in America. A total of 25 out of an original 32 slave cabins are available for visitors to explore, while the historic site also features a ban, kitchen house, plantation house, and slave cemetery – all dating from Spanish Florida’s period of slavery and plantation agriculture. The plantation is free to visit.
Murray Hill Walking Mural Tour
There is no other neighbourhood in Jacksonville – or perhaps anywhere in the United States – that has the rich density of mosaics and murals by local artists as historic Murray Hill. Throughout the district, which is located around 5 miles west of downtown, you can find colourful and creative street art which can be discovered on foot both independently or as part of a guided tour. As an accompanying artsy activity, you can also head to Murray Hill Art Center which hosts regular art classes for all ages.
You can book on to a guided Murray Hill mural walking tour with Viator
Avondale Culinary Tour
A regular fixture on lists of America’s most charming neighbourhoods, Avondale boasts tree-lined streets, grand mansions and historic parks. In short, it’s a delight to explore and a must-see for any Jacksonville visitor. As well as its distinctive mix of history, culture, charm, and modern design, the district is also something of a culinary hot spot, with a buzzing local food scene, several exceptional restaurants, and independent cafes and coffee shops on every block. There are even guided food tours of the area, during which you get to visit several of local food outlets and try some of the home produce.
You can book on to an Avondale culinary tour at Viator
By Paul Joseph