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Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Day Trip

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If you’re in need of a kid-friendly destination in Jacksonville, Florida, that does not involve the beach, the Jacksonville Zoo is a worthy destination that is approximately 35 miles from Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront, and an easy drive on I-95. The zoo is the perfect size for a day trip. We arrived in late morning and had seen almost every exhibit by closing time at 5 p.m.  Here are some of the reasons why we think the Jacksonville Zoo is a great family destination:

Reasonably Priced

This might be the most reasonably priced zoo we’ve ever visited! General admission for adults is only $15, and children ages three to twelve are only $10. We upgraded to the Value Tickets which were roughly nine dollars more, because we knew we would want to experience the extra attractions not included in the general price (Butterfly Hollow, Dinotrek, Stingray Bay, the train and the carousel).

Value Ticket Extras Are Worth It

Like many zoos, the Jacksonville Zoo is loosely organized by continents, and each major geographic region had its own aviary and reptile house.  There were several interactive exhibits that my kids loved, including Stingray Bay, Dinotrek and Butterfly Hollow that are accessible for an extra fee or with the Value Tickets.

Dinotrek exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo.

In addition, for one or two dollars extra (which we gladly paid), zoo guests can feed the giraffes and the lorikeets. If you anticipate that your kids will want to go to these interactive exhibits or ride the carousel more than once, then the Value Tickets are definitely worth it.

Jacksonville Zoo - Feed the Lorikeets

For a small fee, Jacksonville Zoo visitors can offer some nectar to the Lorikeets.

Very Family Friendly

Stroller-Friendly — Our family is past the stroller phase, but there were plenty of strollers around us! Many of the animal exhibits were stroller accessible, and those that weren’t had stroller parking outside.

Beat the Heat — Being a Florida native, I appreciated the fact that the zoo plan included plenty of shady areas and outdoor fans — zoos weren’t always so accommodating in the 70s! (“Cool Zones” are identified on the zoo map.)  What’s more, several of the animal exhibits include air-conditioned reptile houses which were cool, brief escapes from the humidity.

Not Just French Fries — Although fries were available for purchase, I was surprised to find some healthy food choices also available at the restaurants. My kids enjoyed rice and beans and salad, while my husband had a chicken wrap.

Play Time Options Abound — In addition to the ubiquitous carousel and train, I was amazed at the number of play areas scattered throughout the zoo. There was one main “Play Park” that included a kids’ maze, splash park, big play structure, and some low hanging monkey ropes right near the capuchins so older kids could imitate their primate friends. For especially hot days, bring your kids’ swim suits so they can cool off in Splash Ground.

Animal Care and Conservation Is a High Priority

For me, I can’t enjoy a zoo visit if it seems like the animals are being exploited or are stressed in any way.  This zoo has done an excellent job of providing spacious exhibits for the large animals and ensuring all creatures are in surroundings that mimic their habitats as closely as possible. There were “animal advocates” at each of the interactive exhibits to explain and enforce the rules. While we were there, construction of a hospitably large tiger enclosure was in progress.  I look forward to returning to see it upon its completion!

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Erin is a native Floridian who has resided in Atlanta since 1995. Her husband Mike and she have two funny, smart, active girls and two cats.

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