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 specialists at Mr. Frame It take pride in preserving and enhancing memories in all of their physical embodiments—from artworks and photographs to prized sports souvenirs. They draw on more than 1,000 samples from brands such as Larson-Juhl to create custom frames that either serve as focal points or blend in with room decor. In addition to encasing children’s artwork and family portraits, the staff stretches canvases, mounts mirrors, and builds shadow boxes to house awards and first-edition time-share brochures.
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.
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.
Fresh Spirit Adventures offers hiking and kayaking excursions in five tranquil locations: Lofton Creek, Eagans Creek, Edwards Creek, Eagans Greenway, and Cumberland Island. Expert guides lead participants through watery channels and wetlands abounding with birds, fish, and even the occasional dolphin.
As one of the world’s largest beer brewers, this Jacksonville outpost of Anheuser Busch is surprisingly open about its process. The looming facility offers free tours on how they brew and package Budweiser, with guests catching glimpses of the state-of-the-art technology, giant tanks, carefully controlled temperature rooms and bottling and packaging facilities, all of which can be seen through glass viewing windows. There’s also information on the recycling program, energy recovery and conservation of wildlife in the surrounding Jacksonville wetlands. After the tour, stop in the hospitality room and sample some beer. For the truly curious, the more in-depth Beermaster Tour is for true connoisseurs and a one-off Beer School class introduces patrons to different beer styles, proper pouring and a variety of craft beer and food pairings. There’s also a gift shop on hand, and occasional events take place on the property.