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.
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.
Wanting to fly to the beat of a different drummer, a couple of flight instructors decided in 2009 to start their own training center and teach the skills their unique way. They laid the groundwork for their new business with cutting-edge safety features such as aircrafts boasting airbags and innovative weather and traffic advisories. Additionally, the duo acknowledges that cost often keeps those with sky-bound ambitions grounded, so they work with individuals to find an affordable training plan. Besides their pilot programs, the owners make their Cessnas and bundles of helium-filled balloons available for rent.
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 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.
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.