Jacksonville, Florida is a coastal city in the northeastern part of the state where the St. John’s River feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.
Many visitors to Florida stay multiple days and Jacksonville is in a prime location near the northern part of the state that is within just a few hours of some of the best attractions in northern, eastern, and central Florida.
The enchanting Amelia Island is just a few miles off the northeast coast of Florida and easy to reach by boat or road as it is connected to the mainland by two bridges. Amelia Island features pristine beaches stretching for 13 miles, sparkling blue waters, and is a barrier island that is home to hundreds of wildlife species on land and in the water. The downtown area of the island is vibrant and centered around the 50 block National Historic District where there is always something to do.
Visitors to Amelia island can eat and drink at more than 90 local restaurants where the fresh catch of the day is the hottest item on most menus. The real gem of the island is its maritime forests, which is a very rare ecosystem. Naturalists and conservationists spend much time on the island studying the wildlife and visitors can explore trails by horse, foot, or bicycle. Water activities are also abundant.
2.Anastasia State Park
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The oldest city in the United States is St. Augustine, Florida, with continuous inhabitants since the Spanish explorers settled there in 1565. One of St. Augustine’s great attractions is Anastasia State Park which spans 1,600 acres and features four miles of beautiful white-sand beaches. Natural trails allow visitors to explore the dunes and access the beaches where they can surf, swim, kayak, boat, paddleboard, or any number of other water recreation.
Anastasia State Park also has a full campground with modern shower house amenities and a beachside camp store. Anastasia State Park is not pet-friendly, and no dogs are allowed on beaches or public spaces in the park.
300 Anastasia Park Road, St. Augustine, Florida, 32080, Phone: 904-461-2033
3.Big Talbot Island State Park
Visitors to Big Talbot State Park can enjoy access to the park every day of the year from 8 am to sunset although the boat ramp is open 24 hours a day. The state park is a unique sea island in northeast Florida and is a natural preserve that is home to dozens of different bird species. Many island visitors rent kayaks and explore the salt marsh or fish in the ocean waters. Guided kayaking tours are available.
A 2.9-mile paved road is available for handicap visitors, inline skaters, and cyclists that features educational points about the park and island resources. Geo-seeking, birding, hiking, shelling, and picnicking are also fun activities to enjoy.
State Road A1A North, Jacksonville, Florida, 32226, Phone: 904-251-2320
4.Blue Springs State Park
If you have ever wanted to see manatees up close and personal, Blue Springs State Park is the place you should go. This park reaches capacity almost daily, so visitors are encouraged to arrive early, even in winter months. The park is known for its warm waters that are consistently 72 degrees and a breeding ground for manatees. In 1970 Blue Spring had 14 manatees, by 2018 there was 485.
Visitors come to Blue Springs State Park for more than just the manatees, however. There are several birds of prey that nest in the park, including eagles, kingfishers, and ospreys. Visitors can choose two different trails to explore or take a guided boat or kayak tour. The park is open each day of the year from 8 am until sunset and also include the historic Thursby House.
2100 W French Ave, Orange City, Florida, 32763
People looking for a quiet, old fashioned Florida getaway with quaint beaches and lush natural preserves will enjoy visiting Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico. In this tiny enclave houses sit on stilts, fishing is everyone’s favorite hobby, and fresh seafood is abundant.
Visitors to Cedar Key can enjoy the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, Cedar Key Museum State Park, and The Island Hotel & Restaurant. A shell mound is located in the wildlife refuge that is a popular attraction for families to visit. The shell mound is said to be up to 1,800 years old and was constructed by indigenous peoples.
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Families interested in space and science will enjoy visiting Cocoa Beach on Florida’s Space Coast. Cocoa Beach is also home to the largest surf shop in the world, Ron Jon’s, and amazing surfing spots along with the famous Cocoa Beach Pier. The Kennedy Space Center is nearby, and launches can be viewed from the beach. The Space Center serves as the headquarters of NASA and also has areas accessible to the public for tours of the facilities and launch pads, meeting astronauts, and getting up close to space rockets.
Cocoa Village is a historic riverside community with more than 50 boutique and local shops, restaurants, and galleries. There are many resorts in the area that serves the beach and outer Orlando area.
You’ll have to leave Jacksonville and head into Georgia to visit Cumberland Island National Seashore. This island is the most significant barrier island in Georgia and is mostly undeveloped. The ecosystem is continually changing as wind, and wildfires alter the landscape.
Visitors to the island will need to start at the Mainland Visitor’s Center where they can check-in for the ferry and get their permits for camping if they plan to stay overnight on the island. There is also a Mainland Museum at the center with limited operational hours.
8.Daytona International Speedway
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Racecar and Nascar fans will enjoy spending the day at Daytona International Speedway which is referred to as “World Center of Racing” and home to the world-famous Daytona 500. The International Speedway completed a $400 million renovation project in 2016 and now features 101,500 states of the art stadium seats and three levels that stretch along the stretch front which is a mile long with concession stands.
The Speedway is also used for concerts, civic and social events, corporate events, photoshoots, car shows, and vehicle testing as well as motorcycle training for police officers. 30 minute guided Speedway tours, 90 minutes All Access Tours, and 3 hour VIP tours are available for ticketed guests.
One Daytona Boulevard, Daytona Beach, FL, 32114, Phone: 800-PITSHOP
Gainesville is a blend of outdoor adventure seekers, artists, and craft brewers who appreciate nature and beautiful north-central Florida living. The University of Florida calls Gainesville home, but the city embodies an ambiance of old southern charm with trees dripping in Spanish Moss and refined boutiques and restaurants.
Visitors to Gainesville are surrounded by state parks full of natural attractions such as sinkholes, waterfalls, and lush forests. When you aren’t spending time on the water or hiking the trails, you can go antiquing, visit museums, peruse art galleries, or hang out at the hip breweries with live music and great beer on tap.
Visitors Bureau 33 N. Main Street, Gainesville FL, 32061, Phone: 352-374-52601
, Michigan beaches
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Ginnie Springs is an outdoor recreation center with seven springs that stay at a consistent 72 degrees year-round, even during winter months! Visitors to Ginnie Springs enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, canoeing, and hiking. Camping is allowed, and tent sites on the river are available as well as RV hookup sites with water. The campsites are surrounded by 200 acres of woods.
There are three dive sites available for freshwater diving in the springs, including Devil’s Spring System, Ginnie Ballroom, and Santa Fe River. There is no light allowed in the Devil’s Springs system, and all divers must be certified to carry dive lights.
7300 Ginnie Springs Road, High Springs, FL, 32643, Phone: 386-454-7188
11.Green Cove Springs
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Green Cove Springs is a historic town that was founded in the mid-1800s along the St. John’s River. One of the most beautiful and most exciting times to visit the small town just south of Jacksonville is over Memorial Day weekend when the annual RiverFest is held to honor the military and veterans. Visit in October to join in the annual Soul Food Festival and dance competition with family-friendly games and entertainment. Visitors particularly interested in history can also stop by the Military Museum of North Florida or the North Florida Railway Museum.
Ichetucknee Springs is a relaxing river oasis fed by springs and covered by lush forest canopy where visitors enjoy tubing down the calm rivers all year round. Tubers can bring their own or rent tube from the park. There is also a general store with shuttle service up and down the river. Birding, paddling, geo-seeking, hiking, scuba diving, and picnicking.
Some of the amenities at Ichetucknee Springs include a full-service concession stand, playground, shower house, and handicap access to the trails and springs. There is also a Visitor’s Center with exhibits and interactive educational opportunities.
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27, Fort White FL, 32038, Phone: 386-497-4690
Jekyll Island was named after Sir. Joseph Jekyll, an English financier, in 1733. The island was first used as a hunting club for exclusive guests only in the late 1800s. The retreat is part of one of the most significant preservation projects in the southeastern United States, and the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District was deemed a state park in 1947.
Visitors to the island can explore the island by foot or trolley on guided tours that include the Jekyll Island Museum and historic sites. There are also special events and program throughout the year related to the history and culture of the island.
901 Downing Musgrove Parkway, Jekyll Island, GA, 31527, Phone: 912-635-3636
People who love horses should visit Ocala, otherwise known as horse country, in north-central Florida. Ocala has been the backdrop for several Hollywood movies due to its Spanish moss-covered trees, old Southern homes. Silver Springs, a national landmark, is near Ocala and was considered the state’s first attraction.
Visitors to Ocala can explore the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, go golfing, and enjoy other outdoor recreation activities including paddling or ziplining in the canyon. Grand Oaks Resort and Museum is another great place to stay that is also a special events venue.
15.Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Folkston, Georgia is a historical nature preserve that includes Swamp Island Drive, Chesser Island Homestead/Boardwalk, Billy’s Island, Wilderness Canoe Trails, and Upland Discovery Trail. These points of interest provide visitors with the chance to visit the Wildlife Refuge by foot, car, or bike. Boats are available to transport to Billy’s Island, and canoes can be rented to explore more than 120 miles of water trails. The Upland Discovery Trail is excellent for birding and includes 9 miles for hiking. There are three separate entrances to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge however the Richard S. Bolt Visitors Center is found at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area Main Entrance.
2700 Suwannee Canal Road, Folkston, GA, 31537, Phone: 912-496-7836
Palatka is a family town in north-central Florida with a vibrant downtown with excellent dining and boutique shops, a golf course, and several public parks. Tours of the Bronson-Mulholland House, the historic home of Judge Isaac Bronson, that’s over a century old and furnished with period pieces and antiques. Other historic places of interest include the Historic Tilghman House, Putnam Historic Museum, and David Browning Railroad Museum & Railroad. Visitors who are interested in outdoor recreation can explore Ravine State Gardens Parks.
Palatka is also the host to several special events throughout the year that draw visitors from around the state and country including the Bostwick Blueberry Festival, Blue Crab Festival, Rock N Blues BBQ Bash, and the oldest festival in the state, Florida Azalea Festival.
900 St. Johns Avenue, Palatka, Florida, Phone: 386-328-0909
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Surf, sand, and sun are what the Ponce Inlet is all about just a few miles south of Daytona Beach. Ponce Inlet is known for having the tallest lighthouse in Florida that stands 175 feet and has just over 200 steps to traverse before reaching the top. Visitors to the Ponce Inlet can make the climb to see fantastic ocean views then explore the Marine Science Center where interactive exhibits teach families about the local history and ecosystem. Tours are available to take people deep sea fishing, manatee spotting, and more. Jet skis, canoes, and other boats can be rented from the marina or Ponce Inlet Watersports.
Savannah, Georgia is the heart of the south, where charm and elegance still reign supreme amongst history and revitalization. The southern city is known for its soul food restaurant, historic homes and landmarks, botanical gardens, and Ghost Coast Distillery. Outdoor adventurers will enjoy the McQueens Island Historic Trail which runs along the Savannah River where river dolphins are frequently seen. Less than 20 minutes from the Downtown Historic District visitors can find the beach at Tybee Island where there’s an annual Pirate Fest. Theater fans should make sure to stop at The Savannah Theatr, which is the oldest running theater in the U.S.
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Silver Springs has been a favorite Florida attraction since the 19th century and is home to one of the most significant artesian springs anywhere in the world. Silver Springs offers unique,glass-bottom boat tours, and guided kayaking and canoeing so that visitors can experience the natural beauty of the springs, which is open 365 days a year from 8 am to sunset.
There are two dining options at Silver Springs—Spring Side Café, a counter-service style restaurant, and Paradise Treats, an ice cream, and desserts parlor. Catering is also available for private events such as weddings which are frequently hosted in the state park. Visitors also have the chance to rent cabins or campsites at Silver Springs State Park.
1425 NE 58th Avenue, Ocala, FL, 34470, Phone: 352-236-7148
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St. Augustine was established in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles on behalf of Phillip II of Spain and is the oldest city in the United States. St. Augustine features some of the best living history museums in the country including the Castillo de San Marcos and hotels from the Gilded Age.
St. Augustine offers all sorts of marine recreation including pirate boat cruises, swimming with dolphins, and a variety of watercraft for rent from many different vendors. Visitors who love history will enjoy the dozens of museums and historical sites that St. Augustine has to explore.
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21.St Marys, GA
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St. Marys is the gateway to the Georgia Coast and a coastal community full of history and culture. While exploring the waterfront of Georgia, the visitor’s to St. Marys has the opportunity to see the National Historic District, St. Marys Submarine Museum, take train rides, and visit the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum.
A waterfront park hosts festivals and an array of events throughout the year including the annual Mardi Gras Celebration, Rock Shrimp Festival, and Fourth of July Bash. St Marys is also a great place to hop on the ferry to take a cruise over to Cumberland Island, the largest of the southern barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico.
400 Osborne Street, St. Marys, GA, Phone: 912-88-4000
Tampa Bay is the hip, trendy, and urban center of the Florida Gulf Coast where clear blue skies and lots of sunshine welcome visitors who love the beach, as much as they love excitement, fun, and adventure. One of the best attractions in the Tampa Bay area is Busch Gardens Theme Park, but visitors also enjoy The Florida Aquarium, Tampa’s Zooquarium, Adventure Island, Dinosaur World, and several cultural and history museums.
There are many delectable dining options or accommodations in Tampa Bay. There are many bars, craft beer breweries, distilleries, and cafes, as well as a vibrant downtown rich in Cuban culture and food.
201 N Franklin St. Suite 102, Tampa, FL, 33602, Phone: 813-223-2752
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23.Twelve Mile Swamp Conservation Area
Twelve Mile Swamp Conservation Area in St. Augustine features 2.8 miles of public hiking, biking, and birding trails. These trails include interpretive exhibits with five points of interest related to commercial timber. Trails are self-guided and open from sunrise to sunset daily.
The conservation also allows horseback riding but does not have camping facilities. Several swamps and planted pine and cypress forests make up the conservation area. There are currently 22,000 acres of the conservation being used for timber leasing, and public access is restricted for safety until 2025.
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Just one hour from Jacksonville visitors to White Springs can enjoy adrenaline-pumping whitewater rapids that are the biggest in the state within Big Shoals State Park. The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is home to a large annual folk music festival, and there are downtown walking tours that explore the history and culture of the town located on the Suwannee River. There are several other annual festivals that draw visitors to the area including the Wild Azalea Festival that happens on the third Saturday of every March. White Springs is also the gateway to the Florida Trails Association.
10363 Bridge Street, White Springs, FL, 32096, Phone: 386-397-2310
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Winter Park dates back to the 19th century when the area was owned by David Mizell Jr. and called Lakeview. By 1881, the town of Winter Park was being plotted, and the railroad depot installed the following year put the small settlement on the map and was chartered as a city in 1887. Today, the town is known for its lakes, cultural arts, galleries, and museums as well as performance arts. Winter Park is home to several amazing and renowned annual festivals that are nationally recognized by the arts community, including the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and the Bach Festival.
151 W. Lyman Ave, Winter Park, Fl, 32789, Phone: 407-644-8281
25 Best Weekend and Day Trips from Jacksonville
- Amelia Island, Photo: BeeRu/stock.adobe.com
- Anastasia State Park, Photo: Sean Board/stock.adobe.com
- Big Talbot Island State Park, Photo: Norm/stock.adobe.com
- Blue Springs State Park, Photo: Richard/stock.adobe.com
- Cedar Key, Photo: Idan/stock.adobe.com
- Cocoa Beach, Photo: DD Images/stock.adobe.com
- Cumberland Island, Photo: jctabb/stock.adobe.com
- Daytona International Speedway, Photo: Gabriele Maltinti/stock.adobe.com
- Gainesville, Photo: Kristina/stock.adobe.com
- Ginnie Springs, Photo: Adventures On Wheels/stock.adobe.com
- Green Cove Springs, Photo: Nejron Photo/stock.adobe.com
- Ichetucknee Springs, Photo: Mosto/stock.adobe.com
- Jekyll Island, Photo: GeniusMinus/stock.adobe.com
- Ocala, Photo: Bruce/stock.adobe.com
- Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: ronm/stock.adobe.com
- Palatka, Photo: David/stock.adobe.com
- Ponce Inlet, Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com
- Savannah, Photo: f11photo/stock.adobe.com
- Silver Springs, Photo: JEROME LABOUYRIE/stock.adobe.com
- St Augustine, Photo: efaah0/stock.adobe.com
- St Marys, GA, Photo: Sandra G Arts Photos/stock.adobe.com
- Tampa, Photo: Ramunas/stock.adobe.com
- Twelve Mile Swamp Conservation Area, Photo: Mihail/stock.adobe.com
- White Springs, Photo: J. Michael Jones/stock.adobe.com
- Winter Park, Photo: Photoman/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Ana/stock.adobe.com