Jacksonville with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

Jacksonville with Kids: A Family Vacation


Jacksonville, Fla., offers many things to do on a family vacation. Located in the northeastern part of the state, it's a sprawling metropolis that combines a tropical atmosphere and southern charm with a touch of urban sophistication. Here is our suggested itinerary for the perfect family vacation day in Jacksonville with kids.

Insider tip: Before you head off for your day, pack wipes for cleaning up any sticky situations and be sure to check the batteries in your kid's camera. Otherwise, you might be sharing. Bring some towels, the kids' swimsuits and a picnic blanket as well if you make your trip during the warm summer months.


There is often a wait to get into the Fox (3580 St. Johns Ave.; 904-387-2669). It's one of our favorite neighborhood places, with only 10 tables and a handful of seats at the bar. It's a weekend tradition for many, and the kids will meet other pint-sized locals all wondering what the holdup is about. While you wait outside, drink up the locally roasted coffee on the house; it will only be a few minutes. You will love the folk art strewn across the walls and crayon-drawn pictures created by the smallest patrons. My son never leaves before tacking up his own drawing, usually a fox eating pancakes. Sock hopping oldies are pumped through the stereo and Ian, the owner, can be seen every weekend dancing down the aisle as he delivers a piping hot platter to a table.

Try one of their omelets, each named after the local neighborhoods. The Ortega is my favorite, with the Tropical a close second that will have you mixing pineapple into your eggs when you get home. Order biscuits on the side; they are fluffy and great with honey. Bellies full, your family will be energized and ready for the first of your adventures.

The first destination during your family vacation with kids in Jacksonville is the Jacksonville Zoo (370 Zoo Parkway; 904-757-4463). Your kids will feel like they are entering a theme park when walking into the zoo's grand entrance. A series of enormous thatched houses leads to a walkway that begins your trek into the jungle.

The Jacksonville Zoo is one of the nation's largest, and your kids will feel like they are on a safari as they walk though the park which winds through a huge botanical garden. Travel into the African plain and see the white rhinos so close that you can nearly touch their thick, weathered hides. You'll also see lions parading about the huge rocks, striped zebras running playfully, and the intelligent elephants strutting their stuff.

The Wild Florida exhibit will show the kids which animals are native to this area. There are birds, fish, snakes, lizards and blunt nosed alligators. South America is my personal favorite, home to the surprisingly animated sloth and the pygmy marmosets who are little crowd-pleasers with their odd facial expressions and playful gymnastics.

The Jacksonville Zoo is one of my son's favorite places to spend time with animals. He loves the open air exhibits and the up-close views you get of the different creatures there. Many of the exhibits, like the giraffes or the stingrays, allow you to feed them for a $3 charge and touch them in their own environment. A 2.5-acre play park houses a large splash pool for the kids to take a break and cool off on hot summer days, and comfortable covered seating allows parents or babies to take a quick nap. The zoo is open daily 9AM - 5PM. Tickets are $13 for adults and $8 for children (3-12). Children under 3 are free.


Head over to lunch at Five Guys (3249 City Square Dr.; 904-751-9711). This place serves up burgers any way you like them, and though they are a chain, they don't taste like one with their fresh ground beef patties and hand cut fries. My husband is a big fan of their hot dogs, and we all agree that any place that lets kids eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor can't be bad.

Refreshed after lunch, the kids are ready to take on the rest of the day. The next stop is the Museum of Science and History (1025 Museum Circle; 904-396-MOSH), where the kids can take a walk back through time and learn about Jacksonville's great fire or explore the "ins" and "outs" of the human body. There are many exhibits your family will enjoy, but be sure not to miss a show at the brand new planetarium. With super resolution, it is four times sharper than any HDTV you have ever seen and is the first of its kind in Florida. Also a favorite with kids and parents alike is the Extreme Science Show, where everyone sits and enjoys demonstrations of explosions, electrical shocks and science experiments involving liquid hydrogen that promise to grab everyone's attention. Tickets are $11 for adults and $9 for children (3-12). Extreme Science Show and planetarium tickets are $2 per person, per show. The museum is open Monday-Thursday 10AM - 5PM, Friday 10 AM - 8PM, Saturday 10AM - 6PM, and Sunday 1PM - 6PM

Insider tip: Both the planetarium and science show fill up quickly, so purchase your tickets as soon as you arrive at the museum.


There is no better way to end a perfect day in Jacksonville with kids than with a box of Cracker Jack, a hot dog, and an evening baseball game. From April until September, the Jacksonville Suns (301 A Phillip Randolph Blvd; 904-358-2846) play lots of home games and always have a fun family night, fireworks, or special event for kids, like races with "SouthPaw," their canine mascot.

The stadium itself, which opened in 2003, is beautiful, and it is a pleasure to watch games here. But if you prefer to be out under the stars, the grassy knoll is the perfect place to spread your blanket and let the kids loose while you enjoy America's favorite pastime. For youngsters who don't take much interest in bats and balls, there's an on-site playground just steps away.

An assortment of food options can be found inside the stadium, including favorite local restaurant European Street, offering assorted sandwiches such as reubens, muffalettas and croissants stuffed with savory choices like brie and warm ham. Their famous monster German wieners are a big hit, and if there is a designated driver, you should try one of the imported beers they have on tap. The best part is that they offer all you can eat and drink for $15.

Tickets start at $6.50 each for bleachers/grass, and there is not a bad seat in the house. My son's favorite spot is down on the grass where he can find lots of other kids to interact with.

You will be glad you opted for the $10 stadium parking as you tote your sleepy crew back to car that is conveniently close. They have had a big day and just cannot take another bit of excitement -- that is, until tomorrow.

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