Every year around the end of October/beginning of November, thousands of college football fans descend upon Jacksonville, FL for the showdown between the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs. If you're not a football fan, this is at best a minor inconvenience and at worst a weekend-destroying excuse to stay inside. But if you refuse to let a football game neutralize your weekend, follow this guide for non-football things to do in Jacksonville, FL.
Despite their nickname, the closest thing to real alligators the Florida Gators travel with are made of fabric and wear sweaters. For the real thing, head to the Jacksonville Zoo! In addition to spying these armor-plated beasts, you can feed giraffes, stare at lions in awe, and share the sidewalk with exotic birds. The Jacksonville Zoo is a must-stop.
Some argue that football is an art form. They may be right, but if you're craving a more classic art experience, check out Jacksonville's Museum of Contemporary Art. Exhibitions regularly rotate, so you're sure to fall in love with new pieces with every visit.
Is mini-golf a sport? Does it matter? Not when it's this much fun. Both Adventure Landing locations offer challenging courses full of hazards and obstacles to overcome. And if you get tired of your golf ball bouncing off wooden blocks, you can race go-karts, play arcade games, or hit the batting cages.
The closest you can get to Germany's famous Autobahn highway without leaving Jacksonville is the indoor go-kart course named in its honor. Rip asphalt at speeds up to 50 MPH across multiple tracks for some of the best competitive racing this side of Daytona.
The Cummer Museum is home to a curated selection of art spanning centuries, a collection that's easily worth a visit on its own. But the gardens make their own argument for star of the show. After sustaining significant damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017, the gardens were reopened earlier in 2019 with restored versions of its historic garden stylings from the early 20th century.
A little more than a half dozen trails await eager hikers at the Jacksonville Arboretum. Each trail is a little different in both scenery and difficulty, making it easy to select a trail that's not too taxing for the younger members of your family.
Jacksonville has the largest urban park system in the nation, so you've got lots of options for where to spend your Saturday far away from TIAA Bank Field. There's gorgeous Memorial Park in Riverside and beachside destinations like Jarboe Park and Hanna Park. Or you can visit a 250-year-old oak tree at Jesse Ball duPont Park. If Jacksonville's park system were an iceberg, this list would be just the tip.
Instead of dining on overpriced stadium fare, you could feast on steak at Jacksonville's own Cowford Chophouse. Whether you're craving a rich filet mignon or the mighty 40 oz. porterhouse, all your steak dreams will be realized at Cowford.
Would you honestly choose a football game over a trip to a real-life version of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory? We didn't think so. Step inside Sweet Pete's and be transported to a fantastical world of candy, chocolate, and confections that taste too good to be true. The catch is there is no catch; feast to your sweet tooth's content.
Don't listen to the naysayers; gameday in Jacksonville is a special experience. For years, fans of the Teal and Gold have gathered on Thursdays, Sundays, and Mondays to cheer on the Jaguars. And if you've been to an NFL game before, you know it's an all-day event. So whether it's your first time supporting the home team in person or you're a fan of a visiting team, here's your guide to the ultimate Jaguars gameday experience.
Rise and shine! Kickoff may not be until 1:00 p.m. (for most home games), but gamedays start early here. And since you'll be going all day, you need some fuel to get you going. If you're staying near TIAA Bank Field, you'll have a few tasty breakfast options. The chicken biscuits at Maple Street Biscuit Company are life-changing. Seriously, take one bite of The Squawking Goat – fried chicken breast, fried goat cheese medallion, and house-made pepper jelly on a flaky biscuit – and try not to fall in love. Other nearby breakfast and brunch spots include Metro Diner and First Watch.
Now that you're fueled up for the big day ahead, it's time to head to the stadium. You'll find an abundance of parking in the lots surrounding the stadium, though many spots here require passes. Venture just a little farther outside those lots and more parking awaits, especially along the St. Johns River banks. Don't want to pay for parking? Many side streets about a mile outside the stadium offer ample free parking for the trade-off of a brief walk to the game. Or you could park on an opposite river bank and pay $10 for a water taxi ride to the stadium. Tailgaters rejoice: you'll have plenty of room to bust out the grills, coolers, tents, chairs, and any other essentials pretty much wherever you park.
TIAA Bank Field opens up three hours prior to kickoff for all ticket holders, allowing access to the many fun experiences inside the stadium. There's the Lycamobile Fan Entertainment Zone, which serves as a premiere pregame party area with food, fun, and football activities. You can also check out The Bud Light Zone in the south endzone. This social hotspot opens two hours prior to kickoff and offers food, drinks, and the ultimate place to chill before the game. Need a new Jaguars shirt or looking for a fun souvenir to bring home with you? Visit one of the multiple Jags Pro Shops in the stadium for a huge selection of Jaguars merchandise.
TIAA Bank Field is full of unique ways to watch the hometown team take the field. Upgrade your Jaguars gameday experience with climate-controlled lounges at midfield or take in incredible views of all the action behind the endzone in The Bud Light [Fri]End Zone. If the Jacksonville heat is beating you down, grab a suite ticket or splurge for the NFL's most unique way to watch a football game: poolside in the Axalta Spa Cabana. Whether you're on the sideline or in the nosebleeds, you can watch the on-field action on the massive video screens at each end of the stadium. These behemoths are 62 feet tall and 362 feet wide, providing a canvas of 22,000 square feet to broadcast a live feed of the game, replays, and more.
After (hopefully) witnessing the Jaguars conquer their opponents, it's time to celebrate! Feel free to stick around your tailgate where post-game parties will continue for a few hours (plus it gives traffic time to die down). Once you're ready to eat, you'll discover tons of great restaurants near the stadium. BBs makes a mean steak, while The Bearded Pig serves up some of the city's finest barbecue. Foodies will love Black Sheep's unique take on Southern classics or the casually upscale menu at Bellwether. The two outdoor patios at Jacksonville Sports Tavern provide a great spot to watch the rest of the afternoon's games and grab a bite to eat. And, in the unfortunate event of a Jags loss, redeem the night with friends and fun at Bold City, Intuition, or Hyperion. Now go out and have the ultimate Jaguars gameday experience this season!
233 days. That's how long it's been since the Florida Gators last played football. After an agonizingly long offseason, the Gators will finally don the orange and blue this Saturday for the first time in 2019. If you're a member of Gator Nation, this day couldn't have come soon enough. After all, Florida football isn't just a fun hobby – it's a way of life. If you subscribe to that idea, then you'll likely feel a deep connection with these seven things only true Florida Gators fans will understand.
Orange & Blue
They're more than just school colors – they're your very lifeblood. Bright, snappy, and vibrant, orange and blue perfectly capture the spirit of UF as well as the Gators' standout reputation on the field. Saturdays during football season see the entire town of Gainesville awash in orange and blue. The colors are even part of a call-and-response chant in the stadium on gamedays!
The Holy Trinity of Quarterbacks
Steve Spurrier. Danny Wuerffel. Tim Tebow. These guys are Gators legends. Each quarterback won the Heisman Trophy, college football's most coveted individual award, and two of them (Wuerffel and Tebow) led the Gators to a National Championship. Spurrier, meanwhile, cemented his own UF legacy by becoming the program's head coach and introducing an explosive offense that would dominate the SEC in the '90s (it was Spurrier at the helm when Wuerffel and the Gators won their first National Championship in 1996). You can find bronze statues of each icon standing outside the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Gamedays in The Swamp
Plenty of teams boast strong homefield advantage, but none can quite match Florida's. The Gators call Ben Hill Griffin Stadium home, or more intimidatingly: The Swamp. Pre-game festivities in the stadium are electric, amping up the home crowd with intensity until the team storms the field, heralded by the legendary call of "Heeeeeeeeeeeere come the Gators!" Between the deafening crowd and the oppressive heat, opposing teams rarely get comfortable. The hype video that plays before games puts it best: It's the Swamp, where only Gators get out alive.
Remember those pre-game festivities we talked about last paragraph? Two Bits is one of the most beloved. Way back in 1949, George E. Edmondson, Jr. spontaneously kicked off the chant to fire up the limp crowd. The team won and fans were so in love with the chant, Edmondson continued leading it during every game. Soon after, Edmondson would be asked by the university to lead the cheer from the field prior to kickoff. It's a simple chant: "Two bits! Four bits! Six bits! A dollar! All for the Gators, stand up and holler!" but it's mighty effective in pumping up the home crowd.
We are the Boys from Old Florida
Between the third and fourth quarter of every Florida home game, fans interlock their arms, sway back and forth, and sing this classic pep tune. The lyrics celebrate the camaraderie and unifying power of not just the Gator Nation, but the state of Florida itself. Even if you don't know the words, it's easy to sway and enjoy the tradition all the same!
The Gator Walk
Roughly two and a half hours before kickoff of every home game, fans can travel to the north end of the stadium to cheer on the team and coaches as they disembark from their buses and head to the locker room. It's an exciting pre-game tradition that you should experience at least once.
The Chomp is a great celebration move, to be sure. But it's also a unifying force, a communicative symbol that immediately says "We are the same," to other fans. The Chomp is simple: hold your arms in front of you, right over left, lock them at the elbows, and bring your hands together in a vertical clapping motion – just like the jaws of an alligator.