Planning a family vacation? My family and I recently had the chance to visit Jacksonville, Florida and found that there’s a lot more to it than just beautiful beaches. Discover out what makes Jacksonville such a perfect family friendly vacation destination!
Thanks so much to Visit Jacksonville for hosting us on this fun filled trip. All opinions are 100% my own.
When I was offered the chance to travel to Jacksonville, Florida recently, I immediately jumped on board. I knew that Jacksonville had become a great family vacation destination so I was sure my family and I would have a good time. Plus, I’d lived there as a child so I thought it would be fun to see how it had changed. We’re always looking for new vacation spots within driving distance and this was perfect.
Can you really go wrong with a place that has 22 miles of beaches and averages 270 days of sunshine per year? Not only that, it’s one of the top 20 cities for art in the U.S. and 15 Jacksonville chefs are on the America’s Best Chef’s List. If you like food, art and sunshine, it sounds like a pretty good destination to me.
Want to know how to have the perfect family vacation in Jacksonville? It’s not hard…
Stay on the beach
If you’re looking for a family friendly hotel on the beach, you can’t go wrong with the Four Points by Sheraton Jacksonville Beachfront. For starters, the view is amazing! This is what we woke up to in the mornings. Not bad, right?
The room was nice and plenty big enough for our family of four. We didn’t have much time for the beach on this trip but I did love that you could walk right out the back door and be on the sand. No crossing streets trying to hold on to kids with one hand while carrying all your beach supplies in the other.
There was a small dining area downstairs with a bar, making it easy to end your day at the beach with a nice glass of wine.
There’s even a cozy patio outside so you can sit and enjoy the Florida sunshine.
Of course, we didn’t want to spend all our time at the hotel, even if our view was to die for. There are so many things to do in Jacksonville and it was time to explore…
Play some rounds at TopGolf
This was our first visit to TopGolf and we had a blast. If you’ve never been, it’s basically a giant golf range where you try to hit the ball into a target (or if you’re like me, just try to hit the ball at all). Their state of the art technology tracks your ball and awards points every time you hit a good shot. The girls couldn’t wait to get started!
My hubby doesn’t get much time for golf these days so he loved getting the chance to practice his swing.
The food was delicious and they even had doughnut holes that you could inject with your own flavors. I liked hitting a few balls around but I also kind of enjoyed relaxing with a beer while golf kept the rest of the family occupied. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would definitely do this again.
Admire the artwork at the Cummer Museum Of Art & Gardens
The Cummer Museum was great for our family because they had something for everyone. Their extensive art collection includes a range of artists from Peter Paul Rubens to Andy Warhol.
My girls have a limited attention span when it comes to museums and I was happy to see that there was an interactive area for kids too. Keira entertained herself with the books and toys and Ashling took the time to learn more about pottery making.
Because we were there after dark, we weren’t able to tour the 2.5 acres of gardens. They sure sound beautiful though, with reflecting pools, fountains, arbors, antique ornaments and sculptures. If you happen to be there during the day, be sure to check them out.
Share a Marshmallow Brulee Milkshake at M Shack
Next up was M Shack, described as a place that fuses the old fashioned burger joint with style and fresh ingredients.
The thing that struck me first was the decor. It had a very hip, urban look that gave it a fun feel.
We ate outside on the patio which didn’t make for the best food pictures but everything was delicious. The Sweet Tot Brulee was right up my alley…sweet potato tots with bruleed marshmallows, maple bacon drizzle and pecans. They would have made a great dessert.
Next I ordered the turkey burger with gouda, avocado and cranberry relish and it was every bit as good as it sounds. It was so big that I couldn’t even finish it (though maybe that was because I filled up on tots).
The food might have been good but it was nothing like the milkshakes. Ashling ordered Vanilla and Keira went for the Marshmallow Brulee milkshake. I asked Keira if I could try hers (for editorial purposes, of course) and it was so amazingly good that I drank almost half of it. Luckily, she’s pretty good about sharing!
Try the Five & Dime at Maple Street Biscuit Company
If you like good old fashioned southern food, you’ll want to hit the Maple Street Biscuit Company for breakfast. Their signature biscuit is The Five and Dime, a flaky biscuit with fried chicken, fried egg, pecan wood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and smothered in sausage gravy.
Since I love goat cheese on everything, I gave The Squawking Goat a try. This biscuit with fried chicken, fried goat cheese and pepper jelly was a little different from my usual breakfast but I did like the combination of goat cheese with fried chicken.
Explore The Museum Of Science and History (MOSH)
I was most excited about visiting the MOSH because I remembered going here for field trips as a kid. It has definitely changed since then, though they still have the dinosaur that I always loved so much. The funny thing was, it wasn’t nearly as big as I remembered. My 10 year old self remembered a towering dinosaur that was about 50 feet tall. In real life, it was more like 9-10 feet.
The MOSH is one of the top family attractions in Jacksonville, with hands-on displays, live animal exhibits, historical artifacts and a planetarium. This is such a great place for kids and mine loved exploring the museum.
There was so much to see that we could have stayed all day. This is the type of museum that appeals to kids of all ages, so it’s no surprise that it’s such a popular place to visit.
Take a ride aboard a water taxi
Taking a boat tour from the St. John’s River Taxi is a beautiful way to spend the afternoon. While we learned lots of interesting tidbits about the city, the girls just loved that they were going on a boat ride.
It was fun checking out the city from the water and next time we may hop aboard a sunset cruise.
Take a candy making class & stay for lunch at Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop
Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop was so much fun! It was all decked out for Christmas when we were there and looked absolutely beautiful. I think the decor was probably my favorite thing about this place…or maybe it was the chocolate. Hmm…so hard to decide!
Keira in a candy shop? This could be trouble!
The highlight of our visit was Sweet Pete’s Candy Making Class. We were fascinated as he demonstrated how they make their deliciously swirly lollipops (hint: lots of sugar).
The candy making kept my girls completely entertained and all the kids were focused on creating the perfect lollipop.
Here’s my finished product…
We also got the chance to design our own chocolate bars. We started by choosing the type of chocolate we wanted, then listed the ingredients that we wanted. I wasn’t too sure about the gummy bears but Keira thought it was a great idea! After that, we took a tour of the factory to learn more about the candy making process.
More than just candy…
When we finished our tour, it was time to have lunch at their restaurant, The Candy Apple Cafe. If you really want to start your meal off right, I recommend ordering the Mimosa Popsicle.
It turns out Sweet Pete’s knows how to do more than just make mouthwatering candy. Their food was delicious too, especially the appetizers! We started with Sweet Potato Frites with an Orange Sesame Cream.
Next up were the Petit Corn Dogs.
This Candy Cherrywood Bacon was cooked to perfection and bacon lovers will be in heaven!
As good as bacon for lunch sounded, I decided I’d better switch to something a little healthier and ordered the baby arugula salad with chicken. It was simple but delicious, especially since it included my favorite ingredient…goat cheese!
Get up close and personal with tigers at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens
Ranked as one of the top animal attractions nationwide, the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens was a big hit with the little ones. With over 2,000 animals, there’s plenty to see. Check out the award winning Range Of The Jaguar exhibit, The Plains Of East Africa, the Australian Outback and The Land Of The Tiger. I couldn’t believe we were able to get so close to the tigers.
We took a train ride around the zoo where we were able to view the giraffes, elephants, lions and other animals.
We love flamingos and had a little flamingo fun of our own.
How adorable are these baby gorillas? My girls and I could have watched them all day and now they want a pet gorilla…as long as it’s a baby of course.
There’s even a place to pet stingrays and my four year old proved that she was much braver than I am.
The grand finale was a spin on the carousel. Now that’s a happy kid!
Dine on the water at Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant
There’s nothing like a seafood restaurant overlooking the water and Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant was just that. It’s a casual, order at the counter kind of place that serves locally sourced, fresh seafood.
How can you not love a view like this?
Keira ordered her traditional grilled cheese from the kids menu. Ashling and Jon went straight for the peel & eat shrimp…these two could eat shrimp for every meal and never get tired of it.
While the shrimp sounded tempting, I couldn’t pass up the seared tuna. It was prepared to perfection and tasted every bit as good as it looked!
We enjoyed this restaurant because it was casual and a great place to take the kids. I’m not too sure how the fish liked it though. It looks like they were in disguise to avoid being eaten…wonder if it worked.
Order the Yo Hala On The Square at Metro Diner
Breakfast at the popular Metro Diner was an experience. Featured on Diners, Drivins & Dives, this restaurant has locations across six states. I had a hard time trying to narrow down my choices…everything on the menu looked so good! Since there were quite a few of us, we all ordered something different so we could share.
The Yo Hala On The Square was one of my favorites! Oh my gosh…this was sooo good! Challah bread is prepared like french toast then stuffed with bananas, brown sugar, cream cheese and hazelnut syrup. As if that’s not enough, they top it with a blueberry strawberry compote. There’s no such thing as a diet when you’re on vacation…or at least that’s what I kept telling myself!
Then there was the breakfast pizza! This was my hubby’s favorite and a very close second for me. I never thought I’d want fried jalapenos for breakfast but I couldn’t get enough of them. This probably disappeared faster than any of the other entrees at the table.
If you’re a fan of the traditional chicken with waffles, Metro Diner has that too. They even top it with a big scoop of strawberry butter. The kids also found plenty of things to choose from, which is nice when you have picky eaters.
That’s not all…
These were just the places we actually had time to visit but there are so many more family friendly things to do. There’s outdoor exploration at Big Talbot Island, biking and fishing at Hanna Park, the weekly Riverside Arts Market and Adventure Landing for go-karts and mini-golf.
We had a great time in Jacksonville. It’s affordable, family friendly and on the beach…what more could you ask for?
You can find out more about what Jacksonville, Florida has to offer at VisitJacksonville.com.