Popular Jacksonville Shore Excursions

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Jacksonville's riverfront. The St. John's River divides the city in two and along both edges are restaurants and hotels. Jacksonville Landing, on the riverfront, is full of boutiques and shops. Water taxis operate along the river so it's easy to access either side.

Key museums in Jacksonville include the Museum of Science & History, which has a planetarium and numerous hands-on displays (good choice for kids). Open Monday - Thursday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. - 6 p.m. (1025 Museum Circle; 904-396-6674)

Also visit Museum of Contemporary Art/Jacksonville where the collection mostly showcases post-1950s art. Its ArtExplorium Loft is an interactive spot families may enjoy. Open Tuesday - Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Thursdays until 8 p.m., Saturday - Sunday noon - 4 p.m. (333 North Laura Street; 904-366-6911)

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is a destination for casual as well as serious art lovers. It's located in a former estate and has an Old Masters and a German porcelain collection as well as beautiful gardens, right on the river, and a new and really fun interactive children's area where adults and kids can create take-home works of art. Open Tuesday 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Wednesday - Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sunday noon - 5 p.m. (829 Riverside Avenue; 904-356-6857)

Ritz Theatre and Museum teaches African American history and boasts both an art gallery and theatre for music, film and drama presentations. Box office hours are Monday - Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Museum open Tuesday - Friday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. (829 North Davis Street; 904-632-5555)

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is another terrific family destination. It's particularly known for its collection of rare waterfowl, though the African birds and mammals are pretty nifty too. The Range of the Jaguar features jaguars and other Central American creatures like tree sloths and poison arrow frogs, in an area done up to look like Mayan ruins. Open daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. (370 Zoo Parkway; 904-757-4463)

Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island is Florida's only existing cotton plantation. Visitors can tour the late-18th-century planter's house and slave quarters. To get there, take the St. Johns River ferry at Mayport; it leaves every half-hour. Open daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. (11676 Palmetto Avenue; 904-251-3537)

There are many, many golf courses in and around Jacksonville. Aficionados may want to check out the World Golf Hall of Fame -- which contains golf courses, an academy, an IMAX theater and golf-related exhibits. Open Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Sunday noon - 6 p.m. (One World Golf Place, St. Augustine; 904-940-4123)

Fort Caroline National Memorial is one of Jacksonville's classic historic sites, a park that commemorates the first French effort to establish a permanent colony in North America. The original fort was built in the 1560s; it's now a replica. Open daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. (12713 Fort Caroline Road, daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

The city's Riverside/Avondale is a historic neighborhood and a good place to find interesting shops, galleries and restaurants. Another good shopping option is the San Marco Square, designed to evoke Venice.

Nearby St. Augustine, about 30 miles from downtown Jacksonville, was founded sometime around 1565 by Spanish adventurers, and lays claim to being America's "oldest city." It's got quite a vital historic district -- much has been beautifully restored -- but does edge awfully close to downright touristy with a lot of trinket shops and t-shirt boutiques. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument dates to 1695 and is the best preserved example of a Spanish fort in the U.S. Beyond the history, St. Augustine has some interesting beaches and the Anastasia State Park, a protected bird sanctuary/park, is a great place to spend an afternoon.

Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, 35 miles northeast of Jacksonville, has a charming historic district, with Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Victorian and Italianate architectural eras well represented. Fernandina Beach also has lots of cute boutiques and restaurants. Other sites to see on the island itself include Fort Clinch State Park, built after the War of 1812. The park is more than just a historic attraction; it has a great beach and nature trails and lots of restored buildings. Horseback riding is available on Main Beach.

Beaches

Best active beach: Jacksonville Beach is the go-to beach for families and action-oriented folk. There's a boardwalk with all manner of beachy-type shops and food stalls and there are places to rent various types of water sports equipment.

Best quiet beach: Head to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island.

Best laid-back beach: Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Mayport is low-key, but still has facilities and snack bars.