Whether you are a long-time resident looking for excitement or a visitor planning a weekend getaway, there are many fun options in Jacksonville, Florida.  Based on the opinions of real people who have visited Jacksonville and rated their favorite attractions, these are the TripAdvisor.com top ten.


10. Baldwin Rail Trail

The Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail is part of a nationwide system of former railroad lines that have been converted into trails for biking, hiking and skating.  Formerly part of the CSX railway line, the Baldwin Rail Trail is now a 14.5 mile paved path with a canopy of trees.  Located just west of downtown Jacksonville, you can access the Brady Branch trail head from I-10 at exit 343.


9. The Florida Theatre

A Jacksonville landmark since 1927, The Florida Theatre hosts over 200 cultural and entertainment events each year.  It has been restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  When it first opened in the Roaring Twenties, it featured Vaudeville acts and silent movies.  These days, you can see national recording artists, dance, and live theater when the heavy velvet curtains open.  Take time to read the signs in the lobby describing the building’s rich history.  If you’d rather not spring for a concert ticket, you can also enjoy the venue on Sunday afternoons during the Summer Movie Classic Series.


8. Atlantic Beach

Reviewers on Trip Advisor seem to define Atlantic Beach solely on the basis of the actual beach.  They describe it as “small but pleasant,” a “beautiful flat beach with soft sand” and “good for a quiet time.”  One reviewer from Tulsa said it’s “the best East Coast beach [he’s] been to so far!”  Tourists and locals alike also enjoy the shops and restaurants at Beaches Town Center.


7. Riverside Arts Market

The Riverside Arts Market is located under the Fuller Warren Bridge at 715 Riverside Avenue.  Open every Saturday from 10 am to 4pm, the RAM has something for everyone.  Fresh produce from local growers, a variety of creations from artists, many food options and live performances by musicians and street performers can be found here weekly.


6. Alhambra Theatre & Dining

Built in 1967, the Alhambra Theatre and Dining is one of the few remaining dinner theatres in America. It is nationally known, and actors come from all around the country to audition.  The 2013-2014 season marks the 46th season of the Alhambra.


5. Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens welcomes thousands of visitors every year, and is constantly expanding and adding new exhibits.  The zoo occupies around 110 acres and has over 2000 animals in its collection.  In 2012, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens received a Top Honors Award for International Conservation.


4. Big Talbot Island State Park

With fallen, sun bleached trees littering the shoreline like ancient mammoth bones, Big Talbot Island is a stunning sight.  Big and Little Talbot State Parks are located northeast of the city on A1A, just before you reach Amelia Island.  Accessible from the parking lot with only a short walk and a scramble down a sandy bank, this is a photo opportunity you won’t want to miss.  A small ranger station and camping is available just up the road at Little Talbot Island.


3. Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra is on a short list of American symphony orchestras with their own concert hall.  The JSO performs dozens of concerts every year from September to May in Jacoby Hall, part of the Times Union Center.  Conducted by Fabio Mechetti since 1999, the orchestra boasts of a commitment to “superior quality and commitment to Florida composers” on their website.


2. The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

The land on which the Cummer Museum now stands was bequeathed along with 60 works of art by Nina Cummer for the purpose of developing a fine art museum.  The Cummer now houses a permanent collection of nearly 5000 works of art and welcomes over 110,000 visitors annually.  The recently restored gardens provide a stunning viewpoint of the Saint Johns River and the city skyline.


1. Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary

Catty Shack Wildlife Sanctuary is a privately-owned sanctuary for endangered big cats including Siberian tigers, lions, cougars and black leopards.  Almost 300 people reviewed this attraction on TripAdvisor, and many commented positively about how close you could get to the animals.  Catty Shack is only open to the public on selected days however.  You might enjoy one of their evening events, where you can watch feeding time.  See their website for information about hours and tours.

Most of the reviewers on Trip Advisor are visitors from out of town.  As a local, what do you think of their choices?  What would be your top ten? Write your suggestions in the comment section below.


Author’s Note: For more ideas on fun places to explore in Jacksonville as well as Saint Augustine and Amelia Island, check out my book Fifty First Coast Dates.