Family-Friendly Adventures in Jacksonville

This past weekend, we packed up the SUV and headed south to Jacksonville, Florida with a dog and baby in tow. We had an action-packed itinerary lined up thanks to the folks at Visit Jacksonville It gave us the opportunity to see and explore so much of what the area has to offer. Jacksonville is super dog friendly, much more than most beach towns we’ve ever visited. We had an absolute blast! Here’s a sneak peak into our adventurous weekend.

Four Points By Sheraton

We arrived in Jacksonville (lovingly referred to as “JAX” by the locals) on Friday afternoon and dove right in. The first thing we did was check into our hotel at Four Points By Sheraton. It was SO nice and right on the beach.

The ocean view from the balcony of our room was pretty incredible! It was such a soothing sight to come home to after busy days playing in the sun. Bootsie especially loved watching the dogs running up and down the beach with their humans. The beach right outside our hotel welcomes leashed dogs before 9 and after 5, so she had plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sand and sea with us. Plus, Atlantic Beach and the beach at Hanna Park are dog friendly at all hours of the day!

After we checked in, we headed to MShack for some burgers and shakes (veggie burgers for us). It’s a really cute locally owned spot and, like most places in the area, had a dog-friendly patio. The peanut butter shakes and sweet potato tots were definitely my favorite!

Kathryn Abby Hanna Park

After lunch, we headed to Kathryn Abby Hanna Park (most commonly referred to as just “Hanna Park”) to stretch our legs. Hanna Park is one of the many awesome city parks in Jacksonville, home of the largest urban park system in the country! With over 4 miles of hiking and 13 miles of mountain biking trails, plus a gorgeous beach and campground, there are endless possibilities for outdoor fun at this park.

We took this opportunity to check out some of the park’s hiking trails. They were so lush and green! After we hiked for a bit and the found a nice shady spot by the water to enjoy the scenery. It was so quiet and serene.

St. Johns River Taxi

Later in the day, we got a sitter for the little man and headed out for our sunset river cruise on the St. Johns River Taxi. From the water, we were treated to panoramic views of the Jacksonville skyline.

The river taxi is dog friendly too, so Bootsie got to come. It was her first boat ride (besides a kayak) and she was a little nervous, but she got LOTS of attention and ate it right up.

The ride was nice and relaxing and we had front row seats to a gorgeous sunset over the river. As the sun set below the horizon, everyone turned to watch, pulled out their cameras, and savored the moment.

Sunrise Beach Bike Ride

The next morning, we woke with the sun. Okay, before the sun actually. We picked up some bikes right in front of our hotel and took a ride down the the beach to watch the sunrise. We could see the warm glow from the hotel as we made our way down the boardwalk to the beach. When we arrived, we were treated to gorgeous views of the sun peeking out over the horizon.

The sand down towards the water is firm enough that you can ride on it. We had seen people do so the day before from our balcony. It was such a simple yet invigorating experience. Pedaling along, wind in your hair, with the sound of the waves crashing on the sand and the warm glow of the rising sun on your face. It may have been one of the simpler, less flashy parts of our trip, but it is by far one of our favorite memories.

Maple Street Biscuit Company

For breakfast on Saturday, we headed to the locally owned Maple Street Biscuit Company. They once again had a spacious pet-friendly patio for Bootsie. The staff was welcoming and helpful. After learning that we were vegetarian, they even offered to make us custom biscuits if we couldn’t find something on the menu that caught our eye.

I ordered “The Iron Goat,” a flaky biscuit with goat cheese and sautéed spinach. We also got a Hashbrown Cake to share, which is hashbrown potatoes stuffed with smoked gouda cheese topped with chives. SOOOO good! Between the friendly atmosphere and the delicious food, I could happily eat here everyday!

Jacksonville Arboretum

Next stop was the Jacksonville Arboretum to burn off some of those delicious biscuits. The 3 miles of trails here are flat and spacious, perfect for a casual stroll with the whole family.

After the Arboretum, we stopped by the Riverside Arts Market. Set up under a highway overpass in downtown Jax, it was a perfect reprieve from the mid-day sun. There were vendors selling an assortment of crafts, artwork, and homemade eats. We snacked on spicy popcorn and peanut butter brownies, washing it down with fresh squeezed lemonade. We even did some souvenir shopping and bought the little guy a new handmade hat.

Bootsie’s favorite part though was ALL the dogs. Most of the markets like this near us are not dog friendly, but the Riverside Art Market was FULL off happy, friendly dogs. Bootsie played and wrestled with dog after dog as we made our way through the market, getting tangled up in leashes and making lots of new friends.

Wicked Barley Brewing Company

If you’re into craft beers, you need to check out the Jax Ale Trail. It’s a self-guided brewery tour comprised of 14 awesome local breweries. One of our favorites on the trail was Wicked Barley Brewing Company. I love it because it’s so much more than a traditional brewery. The only thing better than the award-winning craft beer is the vibe! It has a full restaurant with a huge outdoor patio, but it’s the outdoor space that really sets it apart. The brewery is situated on the river with a large dock and a sandy kayak launch, making it accessible by boats of all sizes.

Wicked Barley’s setup makes it uniquely dog and kid friendly. They have a large dog-friendly lawn with green turf, picnic tables with colorful umbrellas that provide lots of shade, and bring out water bowls for each pup. The sandy beach of the kayak launch doubles as a sand castle building site for kids of all ages. The atmosphere here truly can’t be beat. It’s so relaxing and laid back, like you’re at a cookout at your friend’s house but with awesome beer! I would hang out here every weekend if I lived closer.

Boneyard Beach

As if that wasn’t already enough fun for one day, we still had one more amazing stop to make. We definitely saved the best for last! We hopped a car ferry from Mayport to Fort George Island, on our way to Big Talbot Island State Park. The park is primarily a nature preserve, ideal for birding and photography. We hiked along the trail through the lush, vibrant maritime hammock towards the shore.

The trail leads to the beautifully eerie Boneyard Beach. Over the years, the sea has eroded away the shoreline, causing trees to die and fall along the beach. As the sun and sea weathered the fallen trees, they turned into these amazing driftwood sculptures. The beach is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and was such a delight to explore.

Dogs are welcome on the trails at Big Talbot Island, but not on the beaches, in order to minimize environmental impact. Bootsie came along for the hike and then hung out along the tree-line at the beach, as to not disturb the nesting shorebirds and turtles who call this beach their home.

Saturday night was Cinco De Mayo, so weI headed out for some margaritas and Mexican cuisine. There are so many unique bars and restaurants in the area that there were plenty of places to pick from. Needless to say, the beach bars were full of energy and excitement with the holiday.

Sunday was the last day of our whirlwind trip to Jacksonville and yet there was still so much that we wanted to see and do. Bootsie and I started our day with a run along the beach. I swear the beach is her favorite place in the entire world. Something about the sand just makes her light up (and go a bit crazy)!

Dutton Island Preserve SUP Tour

After breakfast, the two of us left the kids at the hotel and made our way to Dutton Island Preserve for a private SUP tour with Jax Surf and Paddle. Bootsie was so excited that as soon as we got there, she ran to the water and hopped up on our guide’s paddle board. She was not waiting for an invitation! Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable. We traded stories of past paddling wildlife encounters as we made our way through the marshes.

Towards the end of the paddle, Bootsie and I jumped off our board and into the water to cool off. It was SO refreshing!

Whew, that was a lot right? I’m tired just reading about all that we did in Jacksonville. The best part though is that we barely scraped the surface of all that there is to do in the area. We headed home tired and happy, with memories that we are sure to cherish for a long time to come, and a list of things we want to do on our next trip to Jax.

If you’re looking for a super kid and dog-friendly, unique Florida vacation spot, look no further than Jacksonville! I know you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.

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