Author: Susan Finch
Tags : Cheap Vacation, Florida, North America, USA
Spend a week touring Jacksonville: see historical ships and concerts, indulge in chocolates, and play outdoors -- without spending a dime.
Most families look to beach resorts, Disney World, Miami's bustling city, or Key West's historic charm for a traditional Florida getaway. But for family-fun without the expensive price tag, Jacksonville provides endless free events and attractions to choose from. Looking for beaches, culture, food, art, special kid activities, music and more? There's something for everyone in this coastal city.
Shouldn't a priceless family vacation truly be price-less? We certainly think so.
Art, Culture & More
Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
829 Riverside Avenue
Jacksonville, Florida 32204
The museum's special program, "Art Connections," offers both low-tech and high-tech learning stations ranging from collage tables to a state-of-the art virtual canvas. These learning areas combine art, music, literature, history, dance and poetry for hands-on learning. There's even an under five gallery exhibit for children 18-months to 5-years old. Kids get involved in art on a smaller scale where it's easier for them to see and enjoy. Tuesdays from 4:00pm to 9:00pm.
100 N. Laura on the corner of Forsyth
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Even if your little ones aren't all that enthusiastic about art, they'll still love playing outside, running in the fresh air, listening to live music, and exploring the Art Walk in downtown Jacksonville. The self-guided tour takes visitors through dozens of art galleries, restaurants and local hotspots all featuring work from local artists. Past kid-friendly stops included Firehouse Subs with tasty sandwiches and historical fire-fighting artwork, and Shugar Shack Chocolatier with free samples. First Wednesday of each month, rain or shine, from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.
Museum of Contemporary Art
333 North Laura Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
The museum's Sunday "ArtFusion" program is designed especially with families in mind. A helpful museum educator assists groups with hands-on activities including painting, playing musical instruments, tree drawing, mask making, ramen noodle sculptures, printmaking, and more. The rotating activities reflect the museum's current exhibits and themes, where families can explore the galleries together and learn. Sundays 12:00pm to 4:00pm.
Peterbrooke Chocolatier Production Center
1470 San Marco Boulevard
Jacksonville, FL 32205
It won't be hard to talk your entire family into a free tour of this chocolatier center. Learn about the process of creating fine chocolates and taste an array of heavenly samples. Founded in 1983, the center prides itself on blending European chocolate traditions with an American flair, all in a welcoming setting. Use the money you saved from our list of free attractions and spend it on treats from the gift shop. Monday through Friday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, closed major holidays.
111 Busch Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32218
Parents looking for their own brand of free fun, or families with grown 'kids', can check out the Budweiser Brewery tour. Take a step-by-step look at Budweiser's all-natural brewing process, bottling and canning operations. Although kids under 21 can attend the tour with their parents, guests of age are treated to popular beer samples in the Hospitality Room. Monday through Saturday 10:00am to 4:00pm, tours based on availability.
The Jacksonville Suns
301 A. Phillip Randolph Boulevard
Jacksonville, FL 32202
You've probably heard of the Jaguars, Jacksonville's professional football team, but have you heard of the Suns? If you visit during baseball season, catching a reasonably-priced minor league game might be just the way to get some local Jacksonville flavor. The Suns play in the red brick Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, one of the newest and nicest minor league stadiums in the country. During the game, kids may have a run-in with Southpaw, the team's canine mascot, and events for children and families (like Reading Day and Southpaw's Birthday Party) occur at games throughout the season.
Step Back in Time in Jacksonville
Jacksonville Maritime Museum
1015 Museum Circle, Unit 2
Jacksonville, Florida 32207
Entice your kids with visions from Pirates of the Caribbean before visiting the Jacksonville Maritime Museum. There are currently a dozen models on display ranging from the USS Porter Submarine, Chinese Junk, Mayflower, and a 16-foot model of the Saratoga. The museum also houses local artifacts and manuscripts in an effort to preserve Jacksonville's history. Weekdays 10:30am to 3:00pm and weekends 1:00pm-4:00pm.
Fort Caroline National Memorial
12713 Fort Caroline Road
Jacksonville, Florida 32225
This outdoor memorial represents the brief influence of the French in Florida during the 16th century. Visitors learn about the history of survival, religious disputes, territorial battles, and first contact between American Indians and Europeans. It's also a great place for kids to stretch their legs and spend some time playing outdoors. The memorial and surrounding grounds are open from 9:00am - 5:00pm daily.
11964 Mandarin Road
Jacksonville, FL 32241
In the 1800's, Mandarin was a small farming village that shipped fresh grapefruit, lemons, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables. In 1864, the Union steamship, the Maple Leaf, hit a Confederate mine and sank just off Mandarin Point. It was also the winter home of Harriet Beecher Stowe from 1867 to 1884. Visitors can spend the day exploring the Walter Jones Historical Park, the first of Jacksonville’s historical parks. The park's riverfront represents a typical 1800s Mandarin homestead and features a restored 1875 farmhouse, an 1876 barn and sawmill, and historical museum. Other sites of interest include the Mandarin Store, Post Office, and Webb Farmhouse. The Store and Post Office is open on the 1st and 3rd Sundays from 1:00pm to 3 pm and for tours by request.
11676 Palmetto Avenue
Jacksonville, FL 32226
A trip down South isn't complete without a visit to an authentic plantation and a lesson in African American history. From 1814 to 1837, Zephaniah Kingsley owned slaves on Fort George Island and grew Sea Island cotton and Indigo cash crops on his plantation. Although the house at Kingsley Plantation is currently closed to the public for structural work, you can still explore the slave quarters, barn, waterfront, and interpretive garden. Weekly from 9:00am to 5:00pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
Tree Hill Nature Center
7152 Lone Star Rd
Jacksonville, FL 32211
The Center's focus on families introduces a new topic relating to nature and the environment in the "outdoor classroom." Its free "Family Saturdays" hopes to foster families looking for a creative way to spend time together in a natural setting, increase their knowledge of Florida's native flora and fauna, and learn of ways to help our environment. Past events included learning about butterflies, bird themes, guided tours, and more. Saturdays at 10:00am.
1410 Gator Blvd.
Kids Kampus isn't just a playground, but a place to stir the imagination with solar power activities, playscapes, water jets and slides. Kids can also skip down the Yellowbrick Road and explore their very own mini-downtown Jacksonville, complete with landmarks. Special events include the Kids Kampus Winter Festival with games, crafts, candy cane hunts and appearances by Santa and Mrs. Clause. Monday through Saturday 8:00am to 8:00pm, Sundays 10:00am to 8:00pm.
Ride downtown in style with a free trolley from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. It's an ideal way to see the city and make stops to all your favorite attractions including Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, City Hall, Ritz Theater, Amsterdam Cafe and more. The Magnolia and Sunflower lines run from 5:43am. to 7:23pm on weekdays and 8am to 6pm on Saturdays. The Sunflower Trolley runs from 6:20am to 7pm. There is no trolley service on Sundays.
Jacksonville, FL 32250
A trip to Florida isn't complete without a day at the beach. Dip your feet, go swimming in the surf, build sand castles, and play beach games along 22-miles of sand. You can also window shop at the many boutiques for free, browse the galleries, and take in a free concert or festival. Past beach events included the Great Atlantic Seafood Festival and a competitive sandcastle contest.
The Ribault Club
11241 Fort George Road
Fort George Island, Florida 32226
Pack a picnic lunch and dine on the grounds of the Ribault Club on Fort George Island. This refurbished clubhouse, built in 1928, was once a playground for the elite and affluent. There's also a 4-mile long nature trail along the island for plenty of opportunities for insect chasing, bird watching, and playing. The island has a rich history of Native American and colonial influence, so parents can also sneak in an educational lesson in this free activity.
Every Friday and Saturday, enjoy live music and dancing along the St. Johns River at Jacksonville Landing. It's a lively place for the kids to let off some energy and catch the energy of the city. There's also a bustling calendar of events ranging from gumbo cook-offs, ecology fairs, Baby Does Disco, automobile shows, and more. Event hours vary, see schedule of events at www.jacksonvillelanding.com.
For more information Jacksonville's free activities, or to learn more about this family-friendly city, call 800/ 733-2668 or visit www.visitjacksonville.com.