This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Visit Jacksonville. All opinions are 100% mine.
Jacksonville hasn’t always been thought of as a destination unto itself, but as the location of an airport you might use on your way to another destination like Amelia Island or St. Augustine. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s simply not the case anymore. Jacksonville is a city on the rise. It’s becoming a popular business hub, with many large financial services companies like Deutsche Bank now calling the city home. (In fact, when I told my friend at a large investment bank that I’d soon be vacationing in Jacksonville, she told me that many of her New York colleagues have been receiving offers to relocate there!) Luckily for visitors and residents alike, this new influx of professional talent brings fabulous new restaurants and attractions. Between the newcomers and the classic establishments, there’s no shortage of things to do with kids in Jacksonville, FL. From the ease of traveling in and out of the airport, to finding a spot on the beaches, to getting a same-day reservation at an award-winning restaurant; everything just feels easier in Jacksonville. Many thanks to Visit Jacksonville for hosting us on this trip. Jax: It’s Easier Here.
Here’s our travel vlog from the trip: During my family’s recent long weekend trip to Jacksonville, we were really impressed with the spirit of partnership and community we saw throughout the city. From small businesses partnering to cross-promote their brands, to stores leveraging their customer base to help fundraise for the city’s less fortunate, the spirit of camaraderie was evident. While it’s actually the largest city in the state, Jacksonville has a small town feel; everyone seems to know each other by name! Overall, the city provides a great mix of urban energy, laid-back beach vibes, and a welcoming sense of southern hospitality. There’s no shortage of Jacksonville FL attractions that families will love. The city is easy to visit both by car and by plane. Jacksonville sits at the intersection of I-95 and I-10, and their airport has been voted Best in Customer Service two years in a row by Airports Council International! The city is also remarkably affordable. Jacksonville was ranked by Lonely Planet as one of the Top 10 Value Places in the World for 2018 and one of the 15 Best Budget Travel Vacations by the Beach by TripAdvisor. Wondering what to do in Jacksonville, FL? Here’s how I’d suggest setting up your family’s 48-hour itinerary:
Day 1: Half Day
Grab lunch at Candy Apple Café
400 N. Hogan Street, Jacksonville, FL 32202 Website A visit to this restaurant is one of the quintessential things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL. This nostalgic and whimsical café is great for families because you’ll get an upscale meal while inside a giant candy shop (Sweet Pete’s, a staple Jacksonville attraction in its own right)!
It’s got fun artwork, bright colors, and big, beautiful windows, so the ambiance is fabulous. They serve up an imaginative menu of French-inspired Southern fare.
Order the House Chips as an appetizer. These hand-cut potato chips are served with a smoked bacon dip that is so addictive!
From there, move onto the Short Rib Meatloaf, the Country Fried Chicken, and Cornmeal Dusted Salmon (served with brown butter whipped potatoes- yum!).
The café also serves creative cocktails, if you’re up for some day drinking. Once you’ve got some food in your system, explore the rest of Sweet Pete’s.
Take a candy making class at Sweet Pete’s
400 N. Hogan Street, Jacksonville, FL 32202 Website Even if you don’t have lunch at the restaurant, browsing Sweet Pete’s should top your list of things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL.
If you aren’t familiar with it, Sweet Pete’s is a gorgeous candy emporium with floor after floor and room after room of different specialties (think chocolates, caramels, vintage candies, and even an ice cream parlor).
During our visit, we took a lollipop making class, where the instructor made the candy from scratch, pulling it the old-fashioned way on a big metal hook, and then twisting together two colors of candy, which we then took to twist onto lollipop sticks.
After appearing on the CNBC hit reality series The Profit (which Serge and I are huge fans of), Sweet Pete’s opened this new location in the historic Seminole Club building in an effort to help revitalize the downtown area.
We were thrilled the meet Pete in person during our visit. He even gave us a personal tour of the entire candy factory! I especially loved hearing that Sweet Pete’s employs formerly homeless individuals as part of a partnership with a local non-profit.
Sweet Pete’s has also partnered with Farrell’s ice cream parlor, another business featured on The Profit, so that both businesses thrive and guests have the most fun, too!
Take a walk on Southbank Riverwalk
After the kids are full of sugar, you’ll want to take them somewhere they can run around.
One of many things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL is to stroll the Southbank Riverwalk, a beautiful spot to take in the skyline and river at sunset. Our hotel was conveniently located steps from the Riverwalk.
The path is just over a mile and is home to shops, restaurants, a marina, and the Museum of Science and History (known as MOSH, a venue you can read more about at the end of this article).
Often you’ll hear live music near Friendship Fountain, which is pretty cool in and of itself. The fountain is huge and is illuminated at night.
Catch a Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp baseball game
Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville 301 A Philip Randolph Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32202 Website This minor league team plays at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, where there’s tons of affordable family fun, even for people who aren’t the biggest baseball fans!
We fall into this category, but we left the experience feeling like it was one of the most enjoyable things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL.
Locals remember the team as the Jacksonville Suns, but a new owner made changes meant to re-energize the business, and has actually been wildly successful.
The mascot is now a fighting jumbo shrimp, which is pretty funny, but it certainly fits with the city’s ties to seafood.
Tickets to the games are now just $5, and the food is inexpensive as well. A lot of the beers on tap are locally brewed (like Intuition and Aardwolf), and kids can now hang out in a play zone.
This is no small operation, however, and is actually set up like Major League park. There’s a wide variety of concession food, a team store, a huge video board, and really fun activities between each inning. Our girls especially like the silly, inflatable characters that danced in between innings.
Day 2: Full Day
Have breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company
2004 San Marco Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32207 Website Don’t plan on avoiding carbs while visiting this trendy Jacksonville attraction because everything is made out of biscuits! It’s more than just another breakfast joint, though.
Instead of asking for your name when you place your order, for example, the friendly staff will ask something like, “What scent would you love turned into a candle?” or “What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?”
There are a few locations around Jacksonville, but we went to the one on San Marco.
We ordered the Five & Dime (fried chicken served on a biscuit with a fried egg, smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and sausage gravy), the Sticky Maple (a fried chicken sandwich covered with real maple syrup) and The Farmer (topped with homemade apple butter).
Take surfing lessons from Jax Surf and Paddle
222 1st St. Neptune Beach, FL. 32233 Website This was one of my favorite things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL.
Jax Surf and Paddle will work with anyone, at any experience level, but the instructors are especially passionate about working with kids. They run kids classes and a surfing summer camp, where kids get to hang at the beach all summer long!
Our instructor, Elle, was very patient and great at explaining the basic mechanics of surfing.
The conditions at Atlantic Beach really are perfect for a beginner surfer, too. The waves are substantial enough to surf, but the conditions are mild enough that you don’t have to deal with any choppiness.
Also, the water is pretty shallow, but surfers don’t have to worry about hitting any reefs.
Afterward, soak up rays on Neptune Beach
When planning things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL, make sure you plan a trip to Neptune Beach. It’s an entire city unto itself, situated between Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach.
The actual beach is great because the water is so calm and safe to play in.
The hard-packed sand is great for cycling, too.
It’s very pedestrian friendly, with boutiques, fitness centers, restaurants, and two oceanfront hotels nearby.
While Neptune Beach is super laid-back, it’s also got plenty to do, like paddle-boarding, fishing, kayaking, and there’s even award-winning golfing, if you’re into that.
Have lunch at North Beach Fish Camp
100 1st Street Neptune Beach, FL 32266 Website While hanging at the beach, you’re bound to want some seafood, and this restaurant’s got some of the best, just steps from the shore.
Order the fried gator tail because it’s one of those things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL they’ll love to tell their friends about! And it’s really good: It’s light, crispy, and not at all greasy.
From there, try the seared yellow fin with toasted sesame salad, the shrimp roll, and the fish tacos.
North Beach Fish Camp has an industrial, beach house-chic aesthetic. The dark hardwood flooring and exposed ceiling beams are complemented by light-colored painted wooden booths.
It’s got large windows and tons of natural light. Head upstairs for a more lounge-like atmosphere.
Grab an afternoon snack at The Mini Bar
1300 Beach Blvd. Jacksonville Beach Fl. 32250 Website This newly opened (and super cute) donut shop is as delicious as it is unique. It makes the list of memorable things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL for sure!
The donuts are about a third of the size of traditional donuts, so you can sample more than one flavor, and with options like Samoa, Fruity Pebbles, and Pop Tart, you won’t want to pick just one! They’re always made fresh and served hot, too.
The Mini Bar is another one of many Jacksonville establishments that partners with other local businesses to help each other thrive.
For example, they use Sweet Pete’s caramel recipe on their caramel donuts; all the coffee they serve is from Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, a Jacksonville-based company; and they sell beer from local breweries Southern Swells Brewing Co. and Intuition Ale Works.
The Mini Bar has already partnered with Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry (BEAM) to help feed low-income families in the community, too, so it’s proven to be a good neighbor to the community.
Have dinner at The Bearded Pig
1224 Kings Avenue, Jacksonville, FL 32207 Website Be sure to add this restaurant to your list of things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL.
This family-friendly barbecue joint has a great outdoor area for kids, which includes a chalkboard painted on the fence, so kids can draw on it, run around, and play.
Expect Austin-style barbecue fare and friendly service.
The side dishes were our favorite things on the menu, and we especially liked the baked beans.
Bonus: the side dishes are all exclusively vegetarian, which is rare when it comes to Southern food.
If you’re a family of four, order The San Marco combo, which includes four meats and two sides for $22.
Grab a beer at Intuition Ale Works
929 E Bay St, Jacksonville, FL 32202 Website You might not normally add “going to a bar” to a list of things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL, but I promise you, breweries there are very family-friendly!
Not only will you find plenty of other families hanging out at Intuition Ale Works, but you’ll often find local events happening in the huge space next door to the tap room.
During our visit, there were tons of local artisans selling their wares. The girls had fun looking through the unique items for sale, which ranged from scented candles packed in beer cans to massive, Viking-style, iron hammers!
At the bar, Serge and I ordered a flight so we could sample different beers. I especially liked that they write the names of the beers on a chalkboard on the flight so you can easily distinguish which is which.
If you’re a big fan of breweries, make time to explore the Jacksonville Ale Trail. Be on the lookout for Aardwolf and Engine 15 Downtown specifically, since they’re especially family-friendly.
Day 3: Half Day
Have breakfast at the famous Metro Diner
3302 Hendricks Avenue Jacksonville, FL 32207 Website We loved this place, but so does everyone else, so expect to wait, even if you get there at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday!
There are 50 locations across 11 states, primarily because Metro Diner was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, but it was a local favorite long before then.
The comfort food served in a classic diner-style atmosphere is exactly what you would expect, but with one twist: the menu items are served in massive portions. The good news is that almost everything can be ordered in half-sizes.
Try the chicken and waffles (served with a signature sweet and spicy sauce that’s mixed right there at your table); the biscuits and sausage gravy; or the Yo Hala on the Square (made up of two thick slices of challah French toast stuffed with bananas, brown sugar, cream cheese, and hazelnut syrup, topped with berry compote and powdered sugar).
The meals are excellent and the service is, too, making Metro Diner one of the best foodie things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL!
Spend the morning at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
370 Zoo Parkway Jacksonville, FL 32218 Website The zoo director, Tony Veccio, gave us a personal tour of the zoo, making it a really special experience for us. We were able to experience two animal encounters, and to go behind the scenes and meet the animal keepers.
First, we fed and learned about the giraffes. Did you know that giraffes are one of the only animals that have a prehensile tongue, meaning that it can curl up and twist around like a monkey’s tail? The tongue actually wraps around each individual leaf and pulls it off the branch, which was really cool to see up-close.
Then, we got a little closer than usual to one of the elephants. The keeper demonstrated how he trains the elephant to obey his directions . This is not for entertainment, but for medical procedures and health checks, without having to sedate or restrain the animal.
Even if you don’t get these personalized experiences, a visit to this zoo is absolutely one of the best things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL. Pack a bathing suit and towel so kids can cool off at the Play Park and Splash Ground after checking out the animals.
The Wildlife Carousel is also a lot of fun because kids get to “ride” gorillas and tigers instead of typical carousel horses. There’s also a Discovery Building full of hands-on activities, a 4-D theater, the Butterfly Hollow, and a train that spans the entire park. The zoo even takes nursing mothers into consideration with special comfort stations just for this purpose.
Have lunch at Palm Plaza Café inside the zoo
There are five different restaurants at the zoo, but you’ll definitely want to dine here. Palm Plaza Café is part of the Range of the Jaguar exhibit, and the window at the back overlooks the jaguar exhibit. This means you can dine right next to a jaguar!
(You have to wonder, are you getting dinner and a show or is he? Who is really watching whom?!) Our girls were totally thrilled by this experience.
As for the food, expect salads, sandwiches, burritos, tacos, and nachos. Since you’ll work up an appetite at the zoo anyway, add this to your list of things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL.
Where to Stay
1201 Riverplace Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32207 Website While you’re checking out all the great things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL, you’ll need a place to lay your head each night. I’d recommend DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Jacksonville Riverfront for that.
Conveniently located at the foot of the Main Street Bridge, it’s got Instagram-worthy views of the waterfront and a nice outdoor pool to lounge at.
We stayed in a junior suite with a king bed for us, and pull-out couch for the girls. It was extremely spacious, making it a great option for vacationing families.
We especially loved the view from the balcony, and the great service we received from the friendly and attentive staff.
There were even more fabulous things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL, but our time was limited. We weren’t able to squeeze these Jacksonville attractions in, but if you have the time, definitely check them out.
Museum of Science and History (MOSH)
Spend the day exploring MOSH, which has an area for children 5 and under that features a tree house and other hands-on, science-themed activities.
Burrito Gallery in Brooklyn
Head to this funky eatery for fresh, handmade, all natural tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and salads. Upstairs you’ll find skyline views, live entertainment, and local art, as well as a full liquor and wine bar.
Adventure Landing Shipwreck Waterpark
This park near the beach has something for everyone, from a lazy river, to rollercoasters, to mini golf. While there’s plenty of waterpark fun to be had, there’s also laser tag, go-carts, batting cages, and an arcade.
Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
Here you’ll find world-class art and stunning historic gardens (with the showpiece being a 200-year-old oak). Be sure to visit the Gallery Under Five, which allows little ones to interact with famous works of art in a really fun way.
As one of the most historic in the area, the Florida Theater hosts over 200 cultural and entertainment events yearly, and it’s surrounded by tons of spectacular dining options.
Sunset cruise with St. Johns River Taxi
This boat taxi provides half hour sunset tours around the downtown area to the sounds of live, local music.
Engine 15 Brewing Company Tap Room & Biergarten
On the weekends, check out this downtown taproom for craft brews (and order meals from a variety of food trucks onsite). The kids will love the life-sized, pirate ship playground in the beer garden, the grassy area for picnics, and family board games.
There’s no shortage of things to do with kids in Jacksonville FL
From amazing dining establishments that have even caught the national media’s attention, to minor league baseball fun that rivals the major leagues, to thoughtful animal conservation there are so many great Jacksonville attractions. The amount of revitalization and community partnership happening downtown is really impressive. The big city with a small town feel has turned itself into a great destination for vacationing families. Whether you want live music, outdoor excursions, or just downtime at the beach, you’ll be surprised by the variety of fun things to do in Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville is the getaway that leaves you feeling refreshed yet accomplished. There’s plenty to do, but there’s never any rush to get it done. We received compensation, as well as complimentary travel, accommodations, meals and activities from Visit Jacksonville for the purposes of this article. All opinions are our own.
About Carmen Sognonvi
Carmen Sognonvi is a luxury family travel content creator at Top Flight Family, named a top 10 family travel Instagram account by Time Out New York and Brit + Co. Her insights on travel have been featured in The Washington Post, INSIDER, Huffington Post, Wanderlust Travel Magazine, TravelPulse, HOTELS Magazine, and more. Carmen firmly believes that you can (and should) travel with your kids from a young age. She offers families practical solutions for travel, as well as tips on how to travel in luxury for less. She lives in New York City with her multiracial and multicultural family of four. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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