The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach houses free art exhibitions, lectures, and events for the edification of the local public, and membership in its hallowed halls allows a household reduced prices on classes, retail discounts, and invitations to openings and events. Seven-week classes and one-time workshops for kids (member prices $72–$120) and adults (member prices $65–$260) instruct the artistically inclined in electives such as acrylic and oil painting, watercolor, and digital imaging. For those who prefer to work in a fleshier medium, yoga and dance classes whittle muscles into works of art worthy of permanently encasing in glass or spandex.
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.
As the foremost bead store on Amelia Island, Beadlemania stocks everything necessary to craft an artful piece of jewelry. The inventory runs the gamut from simple, average beads ($0.10 each) to opulent strands ($90). Ambitious designers can peruse string-able treasures fashioned from gold, silver, and glass to make their creations stand out from body ornaments made of stale bagels. Aside from exotic coral and crystal beads and strands of petite gems and pearls ($10–$28), customers can also pick up clasps and tools ($0.50–$20) or Swarovski heart pendants ($40–$50). A soft juxtaposition to jewelry-making trinkets, the shop's selection of yarn caters to motivated needle enthusiasts or those looking to entertain bored kittens.
Captain Brooks Mitchell has devoted his life to exploring the U.S. coastline's natural splendor. His 35-foot pontoon cruises the Intracoastal Waterway, indulging guests with 360-degree views of manatees, dolphins, and eagles. Captain Mitchell fosters a congenial atmosphere, stocking his pontoon with beverages and snacks, and, on some cruises, even inviting local musicians aboard to serenade passengers and drown out the mating call of passing tugboats.
In addition to a 10-acre hiking trail and one-arce swimming lake, Dog Wood Park offers a 25-acre enclosed field that lets pooches free to shirk their leashes and gambol with other dogs. Here, a sand pit invites unchecked digging, trees offer ample shade, and two swimming ponds help canines cool off. Though the atmosphere is playful, the park does have a few rules to maintain a safe space for dogs, owners, and mailmen. Male dogs must be neutered, for instance, and all owners must show proof of their pooch’s rabies vaccination. To ensure clean coats and picturesque scenery, bag stations, trash cans, and bathing stations abound.
Known locally as MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville boasts a collection of almost 800 works of art in media ranging from paintings and prints to sculpture and photography, spanning the decades from 1960 to the present. Members of MOCA enjoy free admission to the museum as well as previews of temporary exhibitions and special promotions from interest groups, and more than 200 North American museums reciprocate benefits, offering members free admission and teaching them their unique secret handshakes. The curators of the museum harness their artistic expertise to help educate kids on the pros and cons of finger-painting on dogs, and infuse local classrooms with art-education programs with the help of a long list of volunteers and docents.