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 home shows produced by Marketplace Events connect homeowners and designers with trusted brands, independent businesses, innovators of new products, and local artisans. The vibrant and inspirational presentations showcase new aesthetic trends and functional designs in the realms of home decor, gardening, energy conservation, and living-space management. In addition to showcasing a range of products and concepts, the event hosts special-guest speakers, who educate audiences on home-remodeling projects from painting walls to adding a fourth dimension to a cramped kitchen.
Café Nola, located inside the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) downtown, is an upscale Southern-infused bistro that accommodates museum goers, downtown employees and a host of professional and personal lunchers. With a focus on the plentiful seafood located in Jacksonville, the menu’s Mediterranean style shines in its shrimp and fish dishes, while artisan breads and cheeses and fresh produce come to hand in a roasted chicken salad. With selections like gnocchi, quiche and a meatloaf po’boy, there’s something for every palate at Café Nola, where the contemporary-retro feel includes white linen table cloths, lime-colored chairs, eclectic art and pendant lighting.
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.
Formed as a volunteer-operated nonprofit in 1985, Jacksonville Maritime Heritage Center amasses literature, documents, and artifacts to construct a narrative of maritime history within the city and Florida's First Coast. Exhibits showcase models of significant ships such as U.S. Navy destroyers, a German World War II era submarine, the M/V Comanche, and the first boat sailed by a salmon. The center also houses a diorama of the ocean liner RMS Titanic, a 15-foot model of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, and a smattering of interactive features nestled within the kids' play area. Along with membership meetings, the Heritage Center hosts quarterly programming and presentations on varied oceanic subjects, such as advice for courting sea nymphs, in an audiovisual room furnished with 75 cushioned seats, and has a gift shop that offers a vast selection of maritime-themed clothing and books.
Culled from samples found in her own backyard, Madge Wallace exhibited her first small naturalist collection in her New Riverside School classroom in 1910. Her museum relocated to a Victorian mansion in the decades to follow before settling on its current location on the south bank of the St. Johns River. Known as Museum of Science & History since 1988, the facility currently hosts changing and core exhibits that feature towering marine skeletons and interactive stations strewn through a mock digestive tract where visitors learn about bodily functions. At Currents of Time, history buffs can amass nuggets of local knowledge as they trace Jacksonville's history to more than 12,000 years ago. Elsewhere, The Bryan-Gooding Planetarium's 35,000-watt sound system enthralls guests at Cosmic Concert laser shows every Friday night, and monthly MOSH After Dark sessions educate adults with hands-on workshops and scientific lectures.