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Things to do in Jacksonville FL: Introducing Hidden Gems

Tired of the usual vacation spots? Looking for something different? Jacksonville may not have the thrill of Orlando, but if you look closely, you will find some hidden gems. Located in the northeastern part of the state, there are several things to do in Jacksonville FL. Home to University of North Florida, Jacksonville holds many cultural sites in addition to things to do in nature. While on a recent visit, we found that many of the parking garages were by permit only, but there was plenty of cheap metered parking along the streets. We were only there one day and visited on a weekday. However, we found that it was easy to get around and not crowded at all.

City street art

looking at street murals is one of the things to do in Jacksonville, FL This one shows building curving so that they look as if they are inside a globe.

One of the things that caught our eyes were the many buildings painted with murals. We had just come from a tour of the university where we learned that their arts department designs functional sculptures. Therefore, we were not surprised to find some of this colorful artwork in the heart of the city used for bicycle racks.

I almost missed the one on the right. At first, I mistook it for a closed down shop with some kind of notice on it. However, something made me look closer. It was this poem:

If I could be free

that’s all it would take

I’d roam this earth

to clear all of my mistakes.

If I could be free,

I’d flow like the wind.

I’d set sail on the water,

go to sleep, wake up,

and start over again.

If I could be free

I’d never leave home.

But I do realize

at this point

the word free is


Written by a teenage girl with felony charges at Pretrial Detention Facility

The sign on the side of the poem talks about how Firehouse Subs launched a poetry program in 2013 for girls at Pretrial Detention through Hope at Hand Inc. Not only that, but Hope at Hand uses poetry and art with therapeutic approaches to help at-risk children and adolescents heal. It is a non-profit organization.

Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville

Imagination squared is a must of things to do in Jacksonville fl. it is a huge wall display of individual squares created by locals of all ages at the museum of contemporary art.
Imagination Squared

Once we ate lunch, we walked around the corner to find the Museum of Contemporary Art which is part of the University of North Florida. However, we unfortunately were unable to view the 3rd floor as they were currently changing the rotating displays. The 2nd floor certainly had some unique art that definitely got us thinking outside the box, including a bizarre video entitled Left Side, Right Side. Not only that, but the main attraction for us were the three main walls covered with squares done by local school children and professionals. In short, we spent the majority of our time looking at these individual squares.

The project was open to community members in the Jacksonville area. To sum up, they were invited to contribute a response to current times on a 10″x10″ square.

Founded in 1924 at a Fine Arts Society, this museum has stood the test of time. It dedicates itself to educating and preserving local as well as international art work. Further, it houses a LGBTQ display on the first floor. However, I am not sure if this is part of its permanent collection. Moreover, you can visit the museum in person or on line.

see Andy Warhol's Ladies and Gentleman is a thing to do in Jacksonville FL
Andy Warhol Ladies and Gentlemen
Jimmy Desana Portrait of Jackie Curtis c. 1975
Lance Cloud Untitled 1974

I’m not a boy, not a girl…

not a drag queen…I’m

just me, Jackie

-Jackie Curtis


The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11am-5pm and Sunday from 12-5pm. Further, the cost for adults is only $8, Seniors,Military, Students, children 2-12 $5, kids under two are free. However, the museum is free to frontline workers, people on unemployment, MOCA Jacksonville members, UNF students, plus UNF employees and a guest. This is worth a visit and only takes about an hour or so to visit.

see art work by Steve Jones is something to do in Jacksonville FL
Steve Jones Fifties
See art work by Chuck close is a thing to do in Jacksonville FL
Chuck Close Lyle 2003

Walk through head and park

walking through the head sculpture is something you must do in Jacksonville FL

While planning our trip we came across this walk through head and decided we had to see it. It is conveniently located nearby the museum in the park. During our visit musicians were playing in a gazebo and there were several food trucks in the park. In addition, there were several more sculptures and a fountain in the park.

things to do in Jacksonville FL, view art in downtown park
things to do in jacksonville FL

Visit University of North Florida: a top thing to do in Jacksonville FL

the globe sculpture is a thing to do in Jacksonville FL
walking along acres of nature at UNF is a thing to do in Jacksonville FL

If you have a teenager, schedule a tour of University of North Florida. The campus has boardwalks meandering through subtropical groves of trees, numerous waterways, and lots of modern sculptures dotting the campus. However, visit during the spring or fall, summers are hot and humid.

See a Drag Show at Hamburger Mary’s: the coolest thing to do in Jacksonville FL

one of the things to do in Jacksonville FL is dee a drag show at Hamburger Marys

Hamburger Mary’s is a must see. Started in California as a dive bar/ hamburger joint, it is now a fun LGBTQ franchise with locations in many states all over the US. The menu has typical bar food, burgers, and sandwiches. However, the food is made from all natural ingredients and is very tasty. A full bar offers a wide selection of beers, wines, and specialty drinks with funny names such as the Karen Walker for a dirty martini.

The food is good, but the main attraction is the variety of drag shows. We went on a Thursday night, which I would not recommend for children. While the entertainers were amazing and works of art to look at, some of the song lyrics could be considered offensive and definitely not appropriate for young ears. On Fridays, they offer 2 shows, while still drag shows, they are not as risque as the Thursday performance.

Other things to do in Jacksonville FL

Jacksonville FL skyline

If you are a lover of the outdoors, check out the University of North Florida National Recreational Trails. There are 12 miles of jogging paths, tracks, and nature and wildlife areas.

Visit Memorial Park, located at 1620 Riverside Avenue. The park was designed about a century ago by the Olmsted brothers and honors the 1600 Florida men and women who died serving their country in WWI.

Then walk along the Riverwalk starting at 1000 Museum Circle to find beautiful views of the river. Stop in the Museum of Science and History and visit the Alexander Brest Planetarium. Then grab a bite to eat at River City Brewing Company while tasting some craft beers. Afterwards, visit the Friendship Fountain which currently is undergoing some transformations. In addition to the 3 fountain jets currently in use more will be added along with a light show and water shows. These shows will coordinate with the performing arts center across the river and the lighting on the Acosta bridge. A splash pad and botanical gardens will also be added to this area.

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Places to eat in Jacksonville

Where to stay in Jacksonville FL

There are numerous hotels and Airbnb locations to stay in while visiting Jacksonville. We prefer the hominess of an Airbnb, but we chose a hotel on our first visit.


I hope this brief recount of our trip wets your appetite for Jacksonville, FL. For additional resources check on Trip Advisor.

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Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

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4 thoughts on “Things to do in Jacksonville FL: Introducing Hidden Gems”

  1. Too bad I didn’t know that Jacksonville is so artsy when I visited Florida. If I knew I would have definitely visited. The street art looks just amazing, and I would have loved to see the Museum of Contemporary Art, too. Well, maybe one day, I’ll visit again and then I’ll make sure to put Jacksonville on my list.

  2. Wow those murals are huge and Jacksonville has so much of art influence. I was not aware of that. I am definitely visiting this place as I love street art and also visiting art museums. The museum of contemporary art looks a nice place to spend few hours.

  3. I absolutely love the art thriving in Jacksonville. Its gorgeous, and the museum seems to house some very cool portrayal of current times in the 10*10 square. I quite like the poetry peppered on the walls. So artsy and colorful!

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