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 staff at Barnett's has been conserving the artwork of others with custom-made frames since 1951. Using molding that ranges in intricacy from plain black borders to the gold-leaf-trimmed arabesques of a Louis XIII–style frame, framers cut enclosures to fit paintings, family treasures, valuable artwork, jerseys, and flags. Then they choose from an inventory of acid-free mats and conservation glass to sandwich art into its hermetic new home. Owner Drew Derrick-Bisbee's traditional art training, meanwhile, helps him when he’s restoring damaged frames and art, undoing destruction caused by water, fire, or a gaggle of teething babies. Barnett's showroom is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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.
Somehow, Hands on Children's Museum has managed to fit an entire town into its 8,500-square-foot space. Servers pour pretend milkshakes at a '50s-themed cafe, tellers work at the Kids Mini Bank, and all sorts of townsfolk stock up on the essentials at the Winn-Dixie Lil' Grocery. Here, working cash registers, conveyer belts, and miniature carts give kids the feeling that they're really shopping for their families. There's even a spaceship, just like in every small American town.
In total, 20 main exhibits let kids take on the roles of grownup workers or use costumes and puppets to enter a world of complete fantasy. Hands on Children's Museum also hosts special events, such as story time, face painting, and the opportunity to pet a live chicken.
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.