Located where the St. Johns River meets the Atlantic Ocean, the city of Jacksonville is home to a galaxy of attractions. There’s hardly anything a tourist wouldn’t find interesting or unique about this Florida city—a fact that justifies its nickname as the “First Coast.” Have a look at some of the fun on tap for anyone who ventures to this big city with small-town charm.
• The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens: Housed in buildings that open onto the St. Johns River, this fabulous museum includes a large section devoted to interactive displays that enables visitors to explore and understand the way art changes through time. The collection is particularly strong in American and European paintings, and includes more than 6,000 works of art dating from 2100 BC to the 21st century. There are also three flower gardens on the museum grounds to enjoy, the oldest dating back to 1903.
• Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary: The Sanctuary is a wonderful venue for the care and rehabilitation of wild cats. Once an animal is taken in, it is guaranteed they will have a loving home forever, as the Sanctuary does not breed or sell any of its animals. The residents range from tigers, lions and leopards to bobcats and cougars. Try to witness a night feeding, which starts with a guided tour, followed by the feeding, in which the keepers go in hands-first to feed these magnificent animals. It is obvious how much the volunteers love their work and all the animals.
• Museum of Science and History: The Museum is a must for everyone new to town. It showcases a main exhibit that changes quarterly, as well as three floors of permanent displays including the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium. The Museum’s exhibits teach all about the human body, the history of Jacksonville and how water works. There is a fascinating display all about the Great Fire of 1901, which was one of the worst disasters in Florida history, burning 146 city blocks and destroying more than 2,368 buildings in eight hours.
• Riverside/Avondale Historic District: To get a feel of really being in the south, visit Riverside, one of Jacksonville’s oldest neighborhoods, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. One of the neighborhood areas, Five Points, is now a lively bohemian neighborhood with funky cafes, antique shops, unique stores and something of interest for all, whether it’s simply just to admire the beautiful architecture or to enjoy a walk around the area. Just a two-mile drive along State Road 221, it’s not far from the city center. King Street boasts locally owned breweries including Intuition Ale Works.
• Timucuan Ecological Preserve: The Preserve is located on several parcels of land separated by the St. Johns River and consisting of 46,000 acres of coastal dunes and salt marshes, showcasing some of Florida’s key historical sites. It’s named after the Timucuan Indians who resided here until the French explorer Jean Ribault arrived in 1562; the 30-plus Timucuan-speaking tribes had inhabited central and north Florida and southeastern Georgia. When strolling through some of the nature trails, there is an excellent chance visitors will come across dolphins, manatees and some resident birds.
• Clark’s Fish Camp: This is certainly a fish restaurant with a difference! Besides marveling at the choice of food, there is also a good chance to see some live water life too, in the form of alligators leisurely cruising along the lily pads below the restaurant, as well as enjoying the large, jungle themed aquarium in the bar area. As for the menu: how does the choice of oysters, eel, exotic mahi mahi, shrimp and lots more sound? For those who don’t like fish, there are plenty of other tasty options too. One of the draws of the restaurant is the location, enabling visitors to have dinner while watching the sun set.
• Diamond D Ranch: For horse lovers, this ranch will certainly tick all the boxes for a lovely day out. Enjoy a trail ride with your guide telling you all about the ranch’s history, which dates back as far as the early 1800s. Part of the fun is seeing the variety of interesting animals such as water buffalo, American bison, deer, sheep, goats and the amusing looking emus and rheas! The two-hour trail ride extends into part of the 26,000-acre Jennings State Forest, where a variety of wildlife can be seen too. The ranch also offers options like summer horse camp and even weddings.
If there was any doubt that Jacksonville is one of the treasures of the American South, a vacation will reveal the truth: it’s an amazing place.
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