Are you looking to get out of Gainesville for a few hours to experience something new? Within two hours of our beautiful town there are so many great parks, animal sanctuaries, museums and even a year-round skating rink. Below are a few of the lesser-known activities that may interest your adventure-seeking heart.
Amelia Island State Park
Florida State Parks
The park protects over 200 acres of unspoiled wilderness along the southern tip of Amelia Island. Beautiful beaches, salt marshes and coastal maritime forests provide visitors a glimpse of the Real Florida. Visitors can stroll along the beach, look for shells and sharks teeth, or watch the wildlife. Fishermen can surf fish along the shoreline or they can wet their lines from the mile-long George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier spanning Nassau Sound. Also, Amelia Island is the only Florida state park that offers horseback riding on its beaches!
The Camp Milton Historic Preserve is located in west Jacksonville, and acquired significance during the American Civil War that lasted from April 1861 to May 1865. Three miles of earth and timber fortifications were erected along the west bank of McGirts Creek in February/March 1864, as over 8,000 troops arrived at the site to provide the first line of defense against the Union forces in Jacksonville. The camp was named in honor of John Milton (1807-1865), Florida’s governor during most of the Civil War. After a portion of the remaining earthworks was discovered in 1973, efforts began to acquire the property. The State of Florida purchased the initial tract in 1981 and later leased it to the City, which acquired additional acreage through the work of Preservation Project Jacksonville and its non-profit partners. You can enjoy equestrian, biking & hiking trails.
Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary provides a safe, loving and forever home to endangered big cats and to educate the public about their plight in the wild and in captivity. Our primary focus is in the rescue of exotic animals from serious situations. Once an animal arrives at Catty Shack Ranch, they have a loving, forever home for life. We do not breed, trade, sell, or buy any of our residents. Our current residents include tigers, lions, pumas, leopards, lynx, foxes, and coatimundis (the last two species being “honorary cats”).
Art: The Cummer Museum holds one of the finest art collections in the Southeast, with more than 5,000 objects in its Permanent Collection. The Museum offers world-class art spanning from 2100 B.C. through the 21st century, features diverse special exhibits, and is home to the Wark Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain.
Gardens: The Museum’s 2.5 acres of historic gardens are unique examples of early 20th century garden design, featuring reflecting pools, fountains, arbors, antique ornaments, and sculptures. The majestic Cummer Oak has a canopy of more than 150 feet and is one of the oldest trees in Jacksonville.
Education: Art Connections, the Museum’s nationally recognized interactive education center, enhances the cultural learning of visitors of all ages by offering educational programs and interactive opportunities, both in and out of the Museum, allowing visitors to gain a better understanding of works in the Collection.
Fort Caroline memorializes the short-lived French presence in sixteenth century Florida. Here you will find stories of exploration, survival, religious disputes, territorial battles, and first contact between American Indians and Europeans. Fort Caroline National Memorial hosts the Timucuan Preserve Visitor Center. When visiting the park you can discover history, hike on nature trails, watch for dolphins in the St. Johns River, become a Junior Ranger and more.
The Hands On Children’s Museum promotes hands-on participatory learning for children of all ages. We encourage discovery through observation, inquiry, creative construction, role-playing, problem-solving and free play. The museum motivates children to develop their cognitive, physical and social skills while enjoying fruitful interaction with their peers and adults.
Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex is happy to offer regularly scheduled public ice skating year-round, seven days a week. Ice skating is the perfect family activity! Ice skating goes hand-in-hand with the holidays, and there’s no better way to cool off and have fun in the summer than gliding on our NHL regulation-sized rink. We welcome family and friends of all ages and skill levels. Also, enjoy youth & adult hockey, figure skating and hosting your party or event.
This 73-acre park is the only zoo in Florida’s northeast. You can enjoy animal and garden exhibits as well as a play park and splash ground for the kids. Be sure not to miss Stingray Bay, the train tour or the Wildlife carousel.
Enjoy a guided Insider’s Tour of Ocala’s working farms, and discover why Marion County is the “Horse Capital of the World!” On this farm tour, you see one of only four major thoroughbred centers in the world! Marion County produced American Pharoah, Triple Crown Winner of 2015, and Nyquist, winner of the 2016 Kentucky Derby, and more. Our tour guides are avid horse-people and long-time residents of Ocala’s Horse Country. Go behind the scenes of working farms, venues that get you up-close and personal with equine athletes and the professionals who train and care for them. You can chat with the professionals and share our guides’ enthusiasm and knowledge of the Marion Country horse scene.
Is it The Cliffs that make The Canyons the most sensational adventure park in Florida? Or maybe it’s the Zips at 155 feet high and 1,150 feet long. Or maybe it’s the kayaking on spring fed lakes? Or maybe it’s the mountain-like elevation changes on horseback, or soaking up the breathtaking scenery and wine on our historical tasting tours….or maybe it’s the fact that none of this should exist in Florida, but it does, and it’s ONLY HERE, at THE CANYONS ZIP LINE & ADVENTURE PARK!
Throughout its history, the stories of Fort Matanzas and the Matanzas area have been closely intertwined with that of the city of St. Augustine.
Located fifteen miles north of Fort Matanzas, St. Augustine and the Castillo de San Marcos serve as outstanding reminders of the might of the early Spanish empire and as reflections of European conflicts as countries battled for land and power in the New World.
Discover the oceanfront playground that has delighted visitors since 1938. Make an ocean of memories as you meet bottlenose dolphins up close, experience the wonder of marine life, explore 80 years of Florida history, and even swim with dolphins in our unique educational programs. Plan your adventure today.
The early Spanish and Portuguese explorers of the 1400’s and 1500s braved long stretches of the worlds’ oceans and did so by using navigational tools of their time, such as the astrolabe and the quadrant. With these tools and the expertise of their navigators, these intrepid explorers knew their latitude to a surprisingly exact degree. In our Navigators’ Planetarium, we demonstrate these techniques in a fascinating hourly show, then turn the night sky back to the way it appeared on April 2, 1513, the night before Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the shores of La Florida. You will be transfixed. As with all areas of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Parks, your leashed pet is most welcome, so sit back and enjoy the show!
The Alligator Farm Zoological Park features a variety animal species, including hundreds of native alligators. The allure of wild reptiles and their powerful presence entice thousands of vacationers to visit the park in St. Augustine each year. Exhibits include lemurs, Komodo dragons, toucans, and a brand new sloth exhibit. The park is the only place in the world to see all 24 species of crocodilians in one place.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum serves as a scenic and educational maritime museum. It stands 165 feet above sea level, overlooking the Matanzas Bay and the Atlantic Ocean from Anastasia Island. Visitors can climb the 219 steps to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse for a spectacular view of the city and ocean. Experience life at a Light Station through the many exhibits in the Keeper’s House, stroll the picturesque grounds, or enjoy a “Behind the Scenes” guided tour, included with admission.
The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum offers an exciting and educational museum experience that transports you and your family back in time over 300 years to Port Royal, Jamaica, at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Within the coquina walls of the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum is a vivid recreation of how people lived in the years after Florida became a new territory of the United States, and then a state. Our guides are experts on that colorful period in St. Augustine’s past. Travel back in time with them as you tour our rooms and learn about the intrepid, sophisticated women who owned the property and operated it as an exclusive inn, as well as the visitors who wintered with them from the 1830s through the 1850s.
This unique house museum is a dynamic learning project. As historical research, archaeological exploration and advanced structural analysis continue, it continues to provide new information about St. Augustine’s first tourism boom.