Often eclipsed by neighbors such as Orlando and Miami, many people have no idea just how amazing Jacksonville is. It’s one of the best places to visit in Florida. There’s so much to do in this beautiful city, and what’s more, there are many fun, free things to do in Jacksonville that are great for couples, families, or even solo travelers.
The tourist attractions in Jacksonville are almost endless, and after living here for a year, I was surprised to find out how many don’t cost a dime. So, if you’re traveling on a budget or just want to save a buck or two, this is the city for you.
Best Free Things To Do in Jacksonville
Not only have I been a resident of Jax for a while, but I visited the area for five years before moving here. There are times when finances have been tight, and I’ve had to get creative with ideas for places to go in Jacksonville. I was delightfully impressed to discover that there are dozens of things to do that are completely free in the city.
These are my favorite recommendations for free things to do and places to go in Jacksonville, Florida. Who doesn’t like a free and fun day out?
1. Head to the Beach
There are almost endless things to do in Jax, but one of Jacksonville’s most obvious (and best) free things to do is to head east to the beach. This city has some of the most glorious beaches I’ve ever seen, and I never get tired of going.
The beach towns in Jacksonville include Ponte Vedra Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beach. Each one has something unique to offer, including a choice of restaurants and the vibe; however, when it comes to free activities, sunbathing doesn’t get any better than on these wide stretches of soft, white sand.
Packing a beach towel and relaxing with your favorite book doesn’t cost a thing, (and you’re sure to get a nice little tan!).
2. Riverside Arts Market
Another fun, free thing to do in Jacksonville is to enjoy a day by the river with food, music, and local crafts at the Riverside Arts Market. Happening every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., come rain or shine, it’s the perfect way to save a buck while still having fun.
Located on the north bank of the St. Johns River, under the Fuller Warren Bridge, the market is home to plenty of local vendors, live music, and tasty food. Of course, any purchases will cost money, but it certainly doesn’t cost anything to admire art, people-watch, and enjoy the atmosphere.
I try to make it up to this market every Saturday; I find something unique and cool every time I visit. It’s also a great outing for families.
3. Go Hiking
Even though Jacksonville doesn’t have any mountains, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some great hiking. One of the best free things to do in Jacksonville is to head out to the 46,000-acre Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve.
I’m originally from Oregon, so hiking is basically in my blood. When first I moved to Florida, I thought I’d be leaving my hiking days behind. I was over the moon to find this gorgeous, sprawling natural wonderland.
Walk the trails as you explore the stunning marshland, surrounded by giant oak trees with hanging Spanish moss. There’s also an observation tower with a beautiful view of the estuaries – keep an eye out for native wildlife.
4. Visit the Kingsley Plantation
Plan a stop at the Kingsley Plantation on the same day as hiking in the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve. It’s a living history exhibit located in the oldest intact plantation house in the state of Florida.
Admission is totally free, and the exhibit includes the plantation house, plantation gardens, a kitchen, a barn, and 20 perfectly preserved tabby slave cabins. There’s also an audio tour that provides you with the entire history of the plantation for those looking to find out more information.
It’s a humbling look back into the past and is a great way to learn about the culture of Jacksonville.
5. Wander Through a Garden
A must-see attraction in Jacksonville is the Jacksonville Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Whenever I visit a big city, I always love walking through an arboretum, and Jacksonville has one of the most gorgeous grounds I’ve ever stepped foot in.
Called the “hidden jewel” of Northeast Florida, these gardens cover over 120 acres and offer 7 trails through 13 distinct ecosystems. You’ll walk through forest and marshland, stroll around lakes, and enjoy being dwarfed by massive oak trees.
This spot is ideal for those times when you’re looking for a bit of peace and tranquility amongst nature. It’s one of my favorite spots in all of Jacksonville.
6. Go to a Free Festival
The sunny and warm weather of Jacksonville makes it the perfect location for outdoor festivals – and many of them are free to attend. I have a calendar at home of the most fun festivals happening around the city, and these are my favorites:
The Jacksonville Jazz Festival is held annually during Memorial Day Weekend, and it’s completely free! The four-day festival hosts some of the most talented jazz artists in the world. Other free festivals include PorchFest, Springing the Blues, Jax Pride, and more. Be sure to search for events held during your stay.
Address: Various locations
7. Visit the Beaches Museum
Located in the heart of Jacksonville Beach, the Beaches Museum is always free to visit, and I go here every time I have visitors. They have events, exhibits, and archives that take you through the vibrant history and culture of the beautiful beach cities.
The thing I love most about this museum is that it’s perfect for people of all ages, and you’re right by the beach, so you can go for a swim after your visit. My favorite exhibits in the museum include “Tourism at the World’s Finest Beach” and “Coastal Forest”.
8. Stroll Along the River
The St. Johns River is the heart of Jacksonville, and it’s absolutely beautiful. I never get tired of driving over all of the gorgeous bridges and taking in the views of the city. Walking along the banks of the river is a fantastic way to see Bold City.
While walking along the south bank, make sure to stop at the art installation called “Mirrored River: Where Do You See Yourself?”. It’s 64 feet of mirrors, tile, and pebbles that form a satellite image of the river. It’s absolutely stunning at sunset so I recommend heading here towards to end of the day.
When looking for free things to do in Jacksonville, this is always one of my favorite options.
Address: Varied locations – Art installation under the Main Street Bridge
9. Go for a Family Bike Ride
Lots of Jacksonville hotels offer free bike rentals, which is great because Jacksonville is home to tons of bikeable trails that are fun to explore with the family. The best trails, in my opinion, are out at Camp Milton Historic Preserve.
The blacktop path of the 14.5-mile Baldwin Trail is simply stunning. You’ll peddle down the trail while being sheltered by a tree canopy with the beautiful oak trees you find all around the south.
Pack a picnic because the park offers plenty of perfect spots to stop and enjoy a quick bite before continuing with explorations.
10. Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
Quite possibly the most popular museum in the entire city, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens is one of the top tourist attractions in Jacksonville. Both the art museum and gardens are equally impressive and are ideal for all ages.
Although they don’t offer free admission all the time, the museum has six free admission days a month. The second and third Tuesdays, fourth Fridays, first Saturdays, and first full weekends of each month are completely free.
The Cummer Museum is right near the north bank of the river, with over 5,000 works of art, and overlooks 2.5 acres of historic gardens. It’s truly a special experience and is definitely worth adding to your itinerary.
11. Go back in Time at Fort Caroline National Memorial
A visit to the Fort Caroline National Memorial is like traveling back in time. Memorializing the short-lived French presence here in Florida in the 16th century, there’s so much to learn and discover here. And, as it’s made it onto this list of free things in Jacksonville, of course, it’s completely free.
You’ll see stories of exploration, religious disputes, battles, and even the first contact between American Indians and Europeans. I was in awe the entire time during my first visit. I had no idea this part of Florida held so much history.
If you’d like to explore with an audio tour, that is available as well. Simply enquire upon arrival.
12. Enjoy Tranquility at the Castaway Island Preserve
When I first visited Jacksonville, I had no clue how nature-centric the city was. Now that I’ve lived here for a year, I’ve been lucky enough to explore all of the parks in the area, and the Castaway Island Preserve is one of my favorite spots to go for a peaceful walk with my pup.
Located along the Intercoastal Waterway, you can stroll along the boardwalk and have fun spotting the marshland wildlife. You can take in the glorious views from the observation deck, take the kids along the interpretive nature trail, or use the kayak launch to explore by water.
The park is free to enter and is open from sunrise to sunset.
13. St. John’s Cathedral
If visiting churches and cathedrals is something you like to do in new cities, then you can’t miss seeing St. John’s Cathedral. It will stop you in your tracks with its beauty, and it has a history that’s beyond interesting.
Holding its first service on Easter Sunday in 1877, this cathedral still has a strong congregation today. Sadly, it was destroyed by a devastating fire that leveled the city in 1901. But it was rebuilt by the community on the same foundation.
Today, it’s one of the most gorgeous buildings in all of downtown and is certainly worth a visit.
14. Visit the Jacksonville Library
There’s something about the smell of books that makes me feel better about everything. I love popping into the Jacksonville Library whenever I can for a few reasons: I can check out a new book, the architecture is beautiful, and it’s extremely peaceful inside.
Not only does the Main Jacksonville Library have multiple floors, full of every book you could possibly imagine, but they also host artwork and exhibits as well. Past exhibitions include The Jazz Jam Photography Collection, Observations of an Explorer, and Natural Narrative.
If you’re interested, the library also offers guided tours.
15. Admire art at MOCA
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is another popular museum in the heart of Jacksonville. It also happens to be right next door to the library, so it’s an excellent stop to check out before, or after, picking out some books.
This museum isn’t free all of the time, but they do offer free admission days throughout the month. There’s free entry available every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as the last Friday of each month with a valid library card.
MOCA is the second oldest contemporary art museum in the country and is home to thousands of works of art that can’t be seen anywhere else.
Free Things To Do in Jacksonville: FAQs
Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about the best free things to do in Jacksonville, Florida:
Yes! There are dozens of things to do in Jacksonville for free. From museums to parks, there are tons of fun options to choose from.
Overall, Jacksonville isn’t expensive. Of course, like any major city, you can find expensive restaurants and outings; however, there are plenty of budget-friendly activities as well. You can spend as much or as little as you’d like.
Some museums are free in Jacksonville, like the Beaches Museum. Many other museums offer free admission days throughout the month.
Jacksonville is most known for its beautiful beaches, fantastic museums, and vibrant culture.
The best time to visit Jacksonville depends on your preferences in temperature and activities. The summer months are hot and busy, while the winter months are chillier, and the shoulder months have mild temperatures with fewer crowds.
Absolutely! Jacksonville is definitely worth visiting. There’s so much to do for visitors of all ages.
You should spend a minimum of three days in Jacksonville; however, a week would be best.
Overall, Jacksonville is a safe city to visit. Like all other major cities, there are certain areas to avoid; however, no tourist attractions or activities are located in those areas.
The most popular free thing to do in Jacksonville is to head to one of the beautiful beaches for some sun, sand, and surf.
My favorite beach in Jacksonville is Neptune Beach. Other popular beaches include Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach.
Seafood is the most popular cuisine in Jacksonville. Located right near the ocean, fresh Mayport shrimp, grouper, and other seafood options are on most menus.
Yes! Three days would be the minimum stay I would recommend.
Jacksonville is only as expensive as you want to make it. There are lots of expensive restaurants and outings as well as many budget-friendly and free options as well.
You’ll find plenty of free things to do in Jacksonville if you’re trying to be budget-conscious on your trip to Florida. From beaches and parks to museums and festivals, having fun in Jax doesn’t have to break the bank. I hope this guide has helped inspire some pocket-friendly fun in my home city – enjoy your trip!