Jacksonville is quickly becoming a popular destination for locals and tourists alike and it's easy to see why. "The River City" packs a lot of fun with an eclectic mix of neighborhoods, miles of sandy beaches, vibrant museums, a wide-spread artist's community, and glorious state parks – there's truly something for everyone!
Jacksonville also happens to be ideally located in terms of its proximity to the various neighboring gems, including everything from national seashore beaches populated by wild horses to ancient natural springs. There are so many different places to visit within a short drive, which makes day trips a marvelous idea in your staycation or weekend itinerary. You'll find that it's easier (and cheaper) than ever to enjoy Northern Florida's stunning attractions within the space of a day.
Here are eight great daytrip excursions: all you have to do is pick a day, pack a small bag, and go!
1. Blue Springs State Park
One of the most beautiful stretches of the St. John's River, the turquoise waters of Blue Springs State Park span an impressive 2600-acres of sparkling, tranquil landscape. The springs are also home to West Indian manatees that are visible during manatee season. While the ocean waters turn cold in the winter, the springs maintain a steady 72° all year long, so as the air turns cold, hundreds of manatees seek the warm spring waters. So, if you want to see the manatees, wintertime is a great time to come. But no matter the season, Blue Springs is a great place to spend a day swimming or kayaking, walking the boardwalk, or embarking on a guided tour throughout the area.
Find more information here: Blue Springs State Park
2. Amelia Island | Fernandina Beach
A quick hop, skip, and a jump away from Jacksonville (more specifically, about 30 miles) lies the serenely beautiful Amelia Island – an Atlantic barrier island with white sand beaches and a lush, vibrant interior sprinkled with marshlands. The Fernandina Historic District area of the island offers art galleries, historic saloons, and a mellow, small-town atmosphere. The island also boasts a collection of beaches, upscale resorts, and great golf. You'll find popular festivals ranging from music to foodie throughout the year.
For more information, visit Amelia Island
For a fascinating insight into a historic Floridian settlement, make the one-hour journey to the city of Palatka, where you'll find old-town charm coupled with beautifully preserved and restored historic homes and churches dating back to the 1800's. A visit to Palatka feels like you've stepped back in time, and boasts a thriving art scene with galleries and street vendors alike. Enjoy a nice lunch followed by the Palatka Mural Tour or, for a more nature-focused outing, venture out to the Ravine Gardens State Park, home to two ravines and lush gardens galore!
For more information, visit City of Palatka
4. Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area, Ocala
Another pristinely beautiful escape from metropolitan life comes in the form of the sun-drenched region of Ocala, featuring mile after mile of untouched natural reserve – the most attractive of which is the Ocala National Forest. Here, you'll find a mixture of narrow valleys adorned by weeping willows, and tranquil springs of clear waters. Juniper Run and Silver Glen Springs are particularly popular for swimming and tubing routes, while the Silver Springs State Park offers land activities such as horseback riding and picnicking.
For more information, visit Explore Ocala
5. St. Augustine
We would be sorely remiss if we didn't include the infamous St. Augustine in the list as this is a major bucket-list Floridian destination. The oldest city in the United States, let alone Florida, is a delight for those with an interest in history, architecture, good food, interesting museums, or simply just appreciating a unique, old town. Spend hours walking the cobblestone streets, shopping in the cool boutiques and kitschy tourist shops, dining in some fabulous farm-to-table restaurants or visiting some of the tourist landmarks like the Alligator Farm, Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum, the Fountain of Youth, or the centuries-old Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest still-standing masonry fort in the United States. Take in some breath-taking views of the town, then climb atop the St. Augustine Lighthouse, where you'll take in a breathtaking view of the city in all its glory. But whatever you do, wear some comfy walking shoes, make sure you allot a good amount of time, and, most of all – enjoy!
For more information, visit City of St. Augustine
6. Ginnie Springs
Dubbing themselves "A Slice of Pure Florida," Ginnie Springs is known for the clarity of their waters, making them particularly popular with snorkelers and divers alike. From inner-tubing, kayaking, paddleboarding, or simply swimming, there are so many ways to enjoy these glorious springs. And just like Blue Springs, their crystal-clear water stays at a perfect 72° year-round, so come and dip your feet in January or February while wearing a cozy sweatshirt. Ginnie Springs also offers a large network of subterranean caverns under the surface that are exhilarating to explore… so grab your bathing suit and some towels and get ready to have a swimmingly good time!
For more information, visit Ginnie Springs Outdoors
7. Cumberland Island, South Georgia
Yes, you read that correctly: South Georgia! Jacksonville is 30 miles from the Georgia state line, so this excursion does indeed fall into the day-trip category and is a beautiful attraction. Board a ferry at St. Marys, GA to get to the island and be sure to have your phone or camera ready to capture Cumberland Island's most intriguing feature: its herds of wild horses roaming free along the beaches and tree-lined paths. Enjoy biking, take a guided tour, or simply hang out on the beach, but whatever you decide to do, don't forget to pack a water bottle, food, bug-spray, sunscreen, and an extra layer of clothing!
For more information, visit Cumberland Island
8. Big Talbot Island State Park | Blackrock Beach
On the Northeastern edge of Jacksonville, you'll find a surreal setting, one that features marshlands populated by wild birds and a boneyard of sorts full of sun-drenched, bleached tree "bones" that have been preserved by nature, aptly named Boneyard Beach. Enjoy a picnic in one of the pavilions on the water or avoid the crowds and come early to catch the sunrise and hike the half-mile trail through hammock forest and coastal scrub. Be sure and keep an eye out for turtles, beautiful birds, and bald eagles along your way and make the most out of your visit by packing plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, bug-spray, beach gear, towels, and $3.00 (cash only) for parking.
For more information, visit Florida State Parks Blackrock Beach
Well, there you have it! A list of some amazing daytrips that are a quick stones-throw away! So, whether you're in the mood for a tranquil getaway, a beautiful beach experience, or more of a shopping and dining excursion, you can't go wrong with any of these trips. Just remember to do a little research, pack accordingly, and most of all enjoy fun close to home!