The pleasant weather, pristine Atlantic coastline, numerous lakes, and extensive system of public parks make Jacksonville, Florida an excellent getaway destination. Aside from its well-known attractions, Jacksonville also features a bounty of lesser-known wonders to discover. Located close to most Jacksonville vacation rentals are fascinating museums, unique restaurants, vibrant shopping venues, and lovely parks and gardens. Take a look at the most exciting hidden gems in the city of Jacksonville.

1. Little Talbot Island State Park

Tucked away in northeastern Jacksonville just south of Big Talbot Island State Park, Little Talbot Island State Park offers a wonderful long expanse of soft white sand beach for swimming and sunbathing. Fishing for redfish, flounder, trout, black drum, and other species is excellent right off the beach. Long Island Outfitters has a concession on site for renting canoes and kayaks to explore the waterways. The facility also provides guided excursions for birding and sightseeing. Enjoy hiking and cycling on miles of trails through marshes, dunes, and maritime forests.

2. Jacksonville Fire Museum

The Jacksonville Fire Museum lies in the Catherine Street Fire Station adjacent to Metropolitan Park near the St. Johns River. This family-friendly museum highlights the history of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department from its initiation in the 1850s through the first use of motorized vehicles in the 1920s, the establishment of a rescue division in the 1960s, and the creation of a hazardous materials team in the 1970s. Among the fascinating displays are photographs from the great Jacksonville fire of 1901, a fully operational 1926 American LaFrance fire engine, and a restored 1902 American LaFrance horse-drawn fire engine.

3. Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary

The Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is near vacation rentals in northern Jacksonville. The facility houses big cats such as tigers, lions, leopards, pumas, and lynx that have been rescued from dangerous situations. The ranch provides the cats with homes for life and does not sell or breed the residents. Guided tours allow you to observe these magnificent animals and learn about the dangers of the exotic animal pet trade.

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4. Clark’s Fish Camp Restaurant

Clark’s Fish Camp is a unique restaurant located on Julington Creek in southern Jacksonville. Its exotic decor includes one of the largest private taxidermy collections in the United States. Scattered throughout the restaurant are stuffed tigers, lions, bears, and many other species of wildlife. The restaurant also has an aquarium with a large live alligator as well as local fish and turtles. In these unique surroundings, feast on grouper, salmon, trout, shrimp, and other seafood dishes. If you prefer red meat, the restaurant also serves up steaks and baby back ribs.

5. Diamond D Ranch

Located near vacation rentals in southwestern Jacksonville, the Diamond D Ranch provides an opportunity for the whole family to partake in a variety of fun activities on a working horse and cattle ranch. One of the highlights is taking a trail ride on horseback around the vast ranch or into Jennings State Forest. Kids also love the lively bounce houses, the tractor-drawn wagon tour, the nature trail, and the petting zoo. Animals you can observe at the ranch include bison, deer, water buffaloes, sheep, and emus.

6. Chamblin’s Uptown

If you love books, don’t miss a trip to Chamblin’s Uptown in the middle of downtown Jacksonville. Get lost in the stacks as you peruse over 500,000 used and rare books in over 100 sections. Besides books, the shop also sells magazines, records, CDs, and DVDs. When you get thirsty, stop in at the cafe for a refreshing coffee and snack. If you still crave more book browsing after exploring this immense store, head on over to the shop’s other location called Chamblin’s Bookmine on Roosevelt Boulevard near the Ortega River.

7. Tree Hill Nature Center

Lovely Tree Hill Nature Center is just a few minutes east of downtown Jacksonville. The facility includes an interactive natural history museum with hands-on nature exhibits and displays of live animals such as alligators, snakes, turtles, opossums, and pygmy goats. Several nature trails take you past streams and through hardwood and broad-leafed evergreen forests. Don’t miss a visit to the beautifully flamboyant butterfly and hummingbird garden.

8. Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens lies along the St. Johns River on Riverside Avenue in Jacksonville. The museum houses over 5,000 pieces ranging from ancient artwork dating as far back as 2100 B.C. to modern painters such as Norman Rockwell and Winslow Homer. The museum also maintains a collection of rare books and archival material. The extensive gardens include oak trees, cypress trees, fountains, pools, and sculptures. Take a self-guided tour of the museum and grounds or a group tour guided by an expert docent.

9. Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

The beautiful Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is in northeastern Jacksonville amidst coastal dunes, salt marshes, and stands of hardwood trees. Stroll the nature trails through the various habitats, and observe manatees, dolphins, and various species of birds. Enjoy kayaking and canoeing on the waterways. Be sure to visit Fort Caroline National Memorial, which commemorates the French presence in the area in the 1500s, and the Kingsley Plantation, which includes the original owner’s mansion and slave quarters.

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