Ride a camel at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and discover how much water your body contains at the Museum of Science & History. Cool off at Adventure Landing's Shipwreck Island Waterpark and catch some rays on the area's sandy beaches.
On land or in water, it's a cinch to find activities that fascinate the whole family in Jacksonville. Here, you'll find big-city attractions and beautiful beaches just miles apart.
The miles of laidback beach, lined with small but picturesque sand dunes, are perfect for swimming, relaxing or wildlife watching (porpoise can be sighted year 'round and northern right whales can sometimes be seen off the coast in winter). You can stroll the boardwalk, go boating or catch a concert at the Sea Walk Pavilion.
Kick up your activity a notch at Adventure Landing, located right in Jacksonville Beach. The park has all the trappings of a kid's fantasy world – you can play a round of miniature golf, race go-karts, take a swing in the batting cages or play video games galore (and more). We explored Shipwreck Island Waterpark, Adventure Landing's separate seasonal park, where you zip down waterslides and bobbed in the wave pool.
Nature-lovers should also check out Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, where you can kayak through tranquil salt marsh and look for egrets, dolphin and manatees.
Once you find yourselef famished after a busy, fun-filled day, Joe's Crab Shack is your next stop, which offers tasty seafood along with a spectacular view of the ocean. For dessert, order a tongue-tingling creation from Rita's Italian Ice. The cold treats, made fresh daily, come in more than 50 flavors and are the perfect summertime refreshment.
The next day, we made the short trip into downtown Jacksonville to visit the Museum of Science & History. If you think of yourself as not one to enjoy museums, just step inside. Your mind will be changed instantly.
For hours, the hands-on exhibits captivates. In the kid-centered JEA Science Theater & Aqua Expo, you can step on a scale that tells you how much water is in your body. In the traveling Dinosaurs exhibit, a pack of animatronic dinosaurs comes to life before your eyes.
Other educational hotspots include the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, which features interactive learning stations for children in its ArtExplorium Loft. At The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, kids can experiment with art processes in "Drop In Art" classes every Tuesday.
After admiring Friendship Fountain, one of the world's highest spraying fountains, you can hit Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, which has more than 1,400 animals and 1,000 species of plants. There are zebras and jaguars, warthogs and rhinos. You can even feed the giraffes!
The zoo has a 2.5-acre Play Park, where kids can cool off in the 4,000-square-foot Splash Ground, and kids can also take a ride on the Wildlife Carousel.
For dinner, you can take off to The Jacksonville Landing, a focal point of downtown on the St. Johns River that is teeming with restaurants. No matter what you're craving, you can find it here – along with excellent views of the city. Try gourmet pizza at The American Café or pan-seared red snapper at Benny's Steak & Seafood.
And because everyone loves a sweet ending, visit the heavenly-smelling shop, Peterbrooke Chocolatier Production Center, not far from The Landing. On a tour, you'll find yourself pressing your face to a glass window to watch men and women in white jackets chocolate-coat everything from pretzels to popcorn.