Yah yah we've heard it all before. Jacksonville is just a city on I-95 that slows you down in traffic as you head into or out of Florida. Oh, and something about the beach. But, ah contraire, mon frere! Jacksonville is much more than a congested highway that's been under construction since we were in elementary school (and I think we're done with the construction, right?) - Jacksonville has plenty of fun for locals and tourists alike! It's up and coming in terms of local, farm to table restaurants and shopping and frequently listed in top 10 lists as one of the top places to move. And that goes for families, too!
Whereas there are tons of neighborhoods with family fun (we are the largest city in land base in the country for goodness sake), we'll concentrate here on Downtown Jacksonville. And we'll one up you by presenting all of the FREE activities! So, without further ado, us two Jacksonville native moms present you with 7 ideas for FREE family fun for kids in Downtown Jacksonville!
1. Jacksonville Public Library Main Library
The Jacksonville Public Library won best library system in 2018! The Main Library is in the heart of Downtown Jax right at Hemming Park on Laura St. It boasts an award winning Teen Room with the largest magazine collection in the city, a children's section with a long alligator seating area, a boat to climb in, a theatre with frequent free shows, and free story times and classes with art and music. Bring in lunch to eat on the rooftop courtyard next to the fountain on the second floor. Don't forget to visit the first floor Maker's Space! They have various stations with STEM activities, sewing fun, Legos, and a green screen where you can film yourself and add a back drop on your app! Hours of FREE fun for families! Check out our Fun4FirstCoastKids.com family calendar for the complete schedule of classes, which includes themed fun during holidays! Plus, listen to our podcast with the Jacksonville Public Library about FREE summer fun!
2. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Also on Laura Street on Hemming Park, MOCA Jax is the local contemporary art museum managed by the University of North Florida. It has traveling exhibits as well as exhibits curated from their archives on three floors. NOLA MOCA Cafe is on the first floor so you can enjoy lunch and brunch after viewing the exhibits. Families can enter the MOCA Creator's Space in the gift shop on the first floor for FREE any time. Enter the entire museum at no charge on the first Wednesdays of each month during the FREE Downtown Art Walk Jax! Or, pay to enter any time and enjoy the secret 5th Floor kids area. There they host many stations of hands on, art based fun for families!
3. Hemming Park Kid's Zone
Known as the heart of Jacksonville, Hemming Park is located on Laura Street and framed by Duval St., Hogan St., and Monroe Street. Walk through and enjoy music in the center of downtown, try out one of Jacksonville's many food trucks, enjoy a free concert or festival, and everyday of the week, enjoy the Hemming Park Kids Zone! A turf grass section bordered by a white picket fence and draped with ancient live oak trees, the area is the perfect shady space to enjoy a book or build robots with the blue imagination station blocks. Watch downtown workers pass by or locals playing chess next to the fountains.
4. Sweet Pete's Candy and Over The Top Toy Shop
Who can resist homemade candy, chocolate, or the largest candy apples - adult or children alike?!! The largest candy store in the southeast, Sweet Pete's Candy, is on the corner of Hemming Park on Hogan Street, right on the Hemming Park Skyway stop! Located in the newly restored Seminole Club building, funding for the remodel was provided by Marcus Lemonis after Sweet Pete himself competed and won a season of The Profit. Now, families can enter for free and roam through the building whimsically decorated for each season and watch staffers make candy overlooking the factory, play board games on Pete's Parlor on the second floor or play in the third floor Over the Top Toy Shop with puppets and a miniature Ferris wheel filled with toy riders! Families can also enjoy paid candy classes where you can learn to make chocolate, taffy, key lime pie, or candy canes and during the holiday months, you can register for pumpkin smashing class and candy apple class in the winter, or adults can make truffles paired with alcoholic beverages! Be sure to bring some dollar bills and try the all you can fill boxes of candy! Don't forget to ride the Skyway from Sweet Pete's and head over to San Marco for fun the kids will love. It's free Monday - Friday and closed on weekends unless there is a downtown festival.
5. Jacksonville Landing
The orange semicircle building right on the north bank of the St. Johns River is a Jacksonville icon. Located on Laura St., the building hosts shopping, free concerts, and free festivals. It is home base for the Florida Georgia football game during October (the game formerly known as the largest cocktail party in the south) as well as 4th of July and New Year's Eve fireworks. Kids enjoy running through the center fountain overlooking the river to stay cool during the hot summer months, or walking on the north bank boardwalk to look for dolphins, all with free entry.
6. Friendship Fountain
Friendship Fountain is located between the Museum of Science and History and the St. Johns River on the southbank, just across the blue Main Street Bridge from downtown Jax's north bank of the river. Have a picnic, stroll around the circular fountain, or take the iconic blue Main Street Bridge back across the river to The Landing. While you're there, Museum of Science and History is a must visit. The temporary traveling exhibits are fun for families and the native animal exhibits, the outdoor garden with native plants, and the Jacksonville history exhibit tell the natural history of Jacksonville. Become a member and you enter FREE all year long!
7. Treaty Oak at Jessie Ball Dupont Park
Treaty Oak at Jessie Ball Dupont Park is a must see location in Jacksonville. The 250 year old tree has a trunk the thickness of 5 elephant's legs and the branches reach up to the sky and so far wide they touch the ground. It may be the oldest living thing in Jacksonville and is the perfect place to have a shady picnic lunch on a hot Florida day. Kids can run under the tree, but climbing on the branches is not allowed to preserve the tree. There is limited parking available at the front of this FREE park.
During your visit to downtown Jacksonville, you may hear a strange call sounding like... "DUUUVVVAAAALLLL!" Don't be alarmed, just answer back with the same, as loud and as long as you can make it. It's just local parents and downtown employees communicating with each other on the pride of their city, which makes up the entire County of Duval. You see, us locals have a big secret. We love our city and have a ton of pride in it and in our Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team. And we hope that once you stop on your trip up I95 and head downtown, you'll enjoy our town as much as we do! We hope you have fun with your family in Downtown Jacksonville! Show your fun by tagging us on social media with #Fun4FirstCoastKids and #Fun4FirstCoastKidsDoesDTJax!
Have more ideas for FREE fun in Jacksonville with kids? Leave them in the comments below!