When the Jacksonville Zoo first opened in 1914, it had only one attraction––a red fawn. Today, nearly a century later, it’s home to more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and 1,000 plant species, and welcomes an ever-changing lineup of visiting exhibits. Guests stroll along the boardwalk in a large, open environment called the Plains of East Africa, where cheetah, antelope, and warthogs roam in environs that simulate their native habitat. The African loop also includes Elephant Plaza, where elephants stir up tidal waves playing marco polo in a 275,000-gallon pool. Visitors can also pet and feed stingrays, stand eye-to-eye with a giraffe, and head to the award-winning Range of the Jaguar exhibit to roam a replica of an abandoned Mayan temple. During summer months, kids get wet at the Play Park and Splash Ground, where they can climb into a treehouse or peer through an underwater window to see penguins swimming overhead.
After guests explore the wildlife, rest and relaxation await within botanical gardens such as the Asian Bamboo garden, where patrons cross a traditional moon gate to see a tranquil waterfall, komodo dragons, and an interactive bamboo mist forest. The zoo also features a carousel, train rides, and several restaurants where humans can tap into their own wild instincts by hunting their natural prey—the sandwich.
The Amelia Island Museum of History is the fortuitous result of circumstance. In 1975, a committee from the Duncan Lamont Clinch Historical Society gathered to found a history museum for Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island. Meanwhile, local collector William Decker was studiously acquiring historical documents and artifacts from the area?a lot whose pieces numbered in the thousands. When Decker died, the collection passed on to his son, a noted altruist, and just like that the Amelia Island Museum had its bones.
Today, the museum's exhibits examine local culture of the Timucua Native American tribe, Spanish and French explorers, pirates, and Victorian-era residents.
Museum guides are not restricted to the grounds, and often helm tours of the island's haunted locales, historic Centre Street, and Fernandina Beach's north end?with a focus on history from the mid-18th to 19th centuries.
The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1949, and currently plays at the 1,800 seat Robert E. Jacoby Symphony Hall in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts downtown. Over the years, the orchestra has hosted renowned artists such as Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Luciano Pavarotti. It’s currently led by Music Director and Principal Conductor Fabio Mechetti, who has been in the position since 1999. He will be stepping down in May, but not until helming productions of The Marriage of Figaro and Verdi’s Requiem in the spring. The Jacksonville Symphony also partners with Duval County and three other public school systems to provide some 84,000 children the opportunity to both listen to and participate in youth-oriented symphony events. The orchestra’s charitable works, world-class facility and enduring star power have helped keep Jacksonville culture on the map for decades.
Established in early 2000 as a non-profit animal sanctuary, Northeast Florida’s oldest wildlife rescue began by saving and reintegrating large exotic cats that were originally kept as pets. Today, the sanctuary houses a slew of felines including Siberian tigers, lions, cougars, black leopards and bobcats, as well as coatimundis and arctic foxes. Most come from zoos that have shuttered, federal confiscation programs or private owners who can no longer care for the animals. Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary holds frequent events, tours, feedings and public school educational programs about these rescued animals as well. Tours of the facility are run in the afternoons and last approximately 45 minutes.
A piece of Spain separated from Europe and landed in Florida. Nestled in Saint Augustine’s historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the majestic Villa Zorayda contains architectural features that mirror those found in the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. Audio tours lead visitors through this restored Spanish villa’s halls and airy inner courtyard, pointing out hundreds of antiquities such as Arabic arches, glazed ceramics, bronze statues, and ancient charcoal burners. When not welcoming tours, the historic building and grounds also host weddings and private parties.
A not-for-profit initiative of the World Golf Foundation, The World Golf Hall of Fame pays homage to golf's most prolific players with a vast collection of historic artifacts and interactive exhibits. Audio tours narrate the intricacies of more than 175 points of interest, including a life-size replica of the Swilcan Bridge that highlights an exhibit honoring the sport's origins as an ancient Scottish frisbee game. A trip through golf's evolving history culminates in a Trophy Room at the pinnacle of a 110-foot tower, which provides rare glimpses at championship crowns and cups from tournaments such as the Ryder Cup. Outdoors, an 18-hole, natural-grass putting green invites visitors to test their swing in the shadow of golf's finest, complete with a challenge hole that mimics the famous 17th hole at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass and awards shots that land on the green with a special limited edition Induction Ceremony print. In its ongoing quest to treat guests to an immersive, larger-than-life experience, The World Golf Hall of Fame is also home to a six-story-tall IMAX screen that inundates the senses with digital surround sound and 3-D displays of full-length and documentary-style films.