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.
Two Tails Ranch shelters and cares for exotic animals across 20 acres of natural expanse, bolstered by the educational and awareness efforts of its nonprofit organization, All About Elephants. For more than 25 years, owner Patricia Zerbini has kept more than 100 elephants and exotic cats in her animal haven, where she trains, breeds, and provides medical care for these majestic creatures, in addition to building a comfortable place for them to retire from stressful careers as circus performers and stock traders. During tours, wildlife enthusiasts can gaze at giant elephants as they lumber throughout free-style enclosures and gain awareness as experts educate them about the plight of elephants in the modern world. The ranch also houses a variety of other domestic and exotic animals, along with a collection of fossils, artifacts, and elephant memorabilia, such as 500,000-hour audio books detailing each animal's memories.
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.
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.
Patrons descend upon Adventure Landing for a day of friendly racing, laser battling, swinging competition, and scares. Indulge that pesky need for speed when zooming through a twisting quarter-mile track aboard an Adventure Speedyway go-kart, or putt across a pair of 18-hole miniature golf courses studded with lush foliage, rushing waterfalls, and the holographic visage of Chi-Chi Rodriguez. More intense head-to-head interaction can be had with a black-lit battle inside laser-tag arenas, Jacksonville’s themed around ghostly pirate battles and Jacksonville Beach's themed around Area 51 alien encounters. Competitors can feel free to indulge in a playtime potpourri, blending rounds of favorite activities or putting them all toward a five-act laser-tag play. The freedom of choice applies to how patrons use the five attractions; however, they must all be used in a single visit, making it a convenient way to happily exhaust over-energized tweens and tots.
After a day of school, most students rush to sports practices or study sessions in the library. At Skydive Palatka, however, pupils wrap up their day at ground school by joining instructors in a jump from 13,500 feet. They take the leap from a Cessna Grand Caravan, traveling at upward of 120 mph during free fall as they descend over the St. Johns River, catching views of both coastlines before deploying their own parachutes and piloting safe landings.
At least 7 successful jumps are required to qualify students for free falls without instructor supervision, and at least 10 are needed before worried pelicans stop trying to catch them in their mouths. For guests uninterested in solo drops, Skydive Palatka offers tandem jumps, during which each visitor is harnessed to an experienced instructor who operates the parachute system and steers duos toward a safe landing.
The Oldest Wooden School House transports museum-goers to the early 18th century and allows them to meander through one of the oldest schoolhouses in the United States. Built more than 200 years ago out of red cedar, wooden pegs, handmade nails, and painstakingly carved Legos, the structure acted as a homestead before becoming one of the first co-ed schools in 1788. Animatronic children and schoolmaster describe a typical classroom day, and guest students examine copies of textbooks, artifacts, and cooking utensils used in the schoolhouse. After the tour, visitors stroll through the lush gardens that wind past the kitchen, privy, and well, and blossom with tropical plants and a 250-year-old pecan tree. Groupon holders can then head to the gift shop to receive 30% off any one item.