Spring Break is just around the corner, which means thousands of people will soon descend upon Orlando and its many theme parks. I don’t know about you, but the thought of sitting in traffic and waiting in long lines is not my idea of fun. Thankfully, there are many of other fun things to do on Spring Break that are just a short drive from Jacksonville.
If you have a soft spot for animals, there are several nearby day trips you should consider. These parks are all family-friendly and less than three hours away from Jacksonville, Florida.
Catty Shack Ranch
Located in Jacksonville, this wildlife sanctuary is home to several big cat species, such as bobcats, tigers, leopards and lions. Other residents include horses, foxes and coatimundis. As an established 501 (c)3, Catty Shack Ranch provides a loving, forever home to animals who have been rescued from dire situations. They do not sell, breed or buy animals. Day tours are available on Thursdays between 1p.m. and 3 p.m., and tickets are only $10 for adults and $5 for children (3-11). I highly recommend attending one of the night feedings (6 p.m. until 7 p.m.) where you can see these majestic creatures come to life. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit Cattyshack.org.
Cumberland Island was closed for several months after Hurricane Irma ravaged this diverse barrier island, but it is once again welcoming visitors back to its shores. For nature and animal lovers, this national park has plenty to offer, including 18 miles of sea turtle nesting, hiking trails, camping, excellent bird watching, and the highlight of the island – the Cumberland horses. The National Park Service estimates there may be as many as 200 horses on the island. They are the only feral (wild) herd on the Atlantic Coast that receives no interference from man (no food, water, population control or medical care). Although the horses are free roaming, visitors are not encouraged to pet or feed them, as this may make them dependent on people. There are, however, plenty of opportunities for pictures. The park is less than a mile for Jacksonville and is only accessible by ferry. To learn more, visit the National Park Service website.
Three Sisters Spring
Spring Break is the perfect time to visit Three Sisters Spring in Crystal River, Florida. Between November and late March, manatees flock to the area in large numbers to enjoy the warm water (a constant 72 degrees!). It’s the largest winter refuge in the Gulf Coast for these gentle sea cows. Visitors may view the manatees from the boardwalk or swim with them in certain areas. Trolley tours are available daily and depart from the Visitor Center every 30 minutes. The spring is just under three hours from Jacksonville, so plan for a full day of travel. For more information about tickets and nearby activities, visit their website.
For those who enjoy getting outside and feeling the warm Florida sunshine, there are also many wonderful day trips that provide plenty of adventure. Just be sure to pack the sunscreen and wear comfortable clothing for this fun Spring Break activities.
Little Talbot & Big Talbot Island
Jacksonville is home to one of the few remaining, undeveloped barrier islands in Northeast Florida – Little Talbot Island. With more than five miles of sandy, white beaches, visitors can enjoy a host of activities, including: fishing, surfing, kayaking, hiking, camping and more! The island is home to river otters, marsh rabbits and a wide variety of birds. You can also book guided Segway and ecotours, or rent a bike for $20 a day.
Nearby, you can also explore Big Talbot Island. This nature preserve is one of the best locations in Northeast Florida for nature study and bird watching. Amateur and professional photographers should visit Bone Yard Beach, which is home to salt-washed skeletons of live oak and cedar trees. Park visitors can also skate, bike or walk along the 2.9-mile Timucuan Trail that runs parallel to A1A, as well as enjoy a picnic at the beachside pavilions. Both Little Talbot Island and Big Talbot Island are open from 8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days a year.
Ichetucknee Springs may be only a 90-minute car ride from Jacksonville, but it will transport you to another world. This 6-mile, crystal-clear river winds through wetlands, and is a must-see for those who love to swim, canoe or snorkel. Of course, the top activity at Ichetucknee is tubing. Between May and September, the river is at peak capacity on most days. During Spring Break, however, visitors can blissfully float down the river and view herons, deer, wild turkeys, raccoons and other wildlife along the riverbanks. Tubes, snorkeling and diving equipment can all be rented within the park or from nearby vendors. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown each day.
Spring Break Festivals
Spring Break for Duval County starts the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day. There are several nearby celebrations worth the trip, as well as some other annual festivals you may want to check out.
St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Georgia
If you want to experience the ultimate St. Patrick’s party, add Savannah to your Spring Break adventure list. Host to the 3rd largest parade in the world, Savannah has something for all ages; from live music and parties on River Street and in City Market, to the traditional Irish ceremonies and family-friendly festivals. Thankfully, Savannah is just over two hours from Jacksonville, so you won’t need a hotel room, unless you consume one too many green beers! More than 300,000 people are expected to attend, so be sure to plan ahead.
St. Augustine Lions Seafood Festival
For a full day of fun and great food, it doesn’t get any better than the annual Seafood Festival in St. Augustine. Children and adults will enjoy the arts & craft vendors, as well as the ongoing entertainment. Additional activities (for a small fee) include rides, bungee jumping, slides and a fun house. Several contests and raffles are held throughout the event, too. The star of the festival is the plethora of seafood dishes available for purchase. You’re guaranteed to leave full and happy. The festival runs March 16 through March 18, and is located at Francis Field. The city provides free parking and shuttles during the weekend. Tickets are only $5 (kids under 16 are free) and active duty military may attend at no cost.
When it comes to finding something to do on Spring Break, Jacksonville and the surrounding Northeast area offers plenty of choices. Whether it’s spending a day at the Jacksonville Zoo, heading to a local beach or taking a scenic drive, there’s literally something for everyone and every budget.
About Kelly Perkins
Kelly lives in Northeast Florida and owns Kelly Perkins Real Estate. She has extensive experience in interior design and home renovation. As a Realtor®, she has helped many people make their dream of owning a piece of Florida paradise a reality.