The Jacksonville Zoo
Jacksonville Florida attractions
I love the Jacksonville Zoo! Jacksonville, Florida is located near the northeast corner of the state, on the Atlantic Ocean. The city is sprawling, and you’ll find lots of interesting Jacksonville attractions. Of course, the beaches are popular, as are the shopping malls, the restaurants, the museums, the team sports, and the vibrant nightlife. We often make the short drive to Jacksonville when we vacation on Amelia Island. One of my family members also lived in Jax for years, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time there, and we’ve taken advantage of many Jacksonville attractions. I’d have to say that my favorite Jacksonville, Florida attractions are the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and the planetarium. In this article, however, I’m going to concentrate on the Jacksonville, FL Zoo.
I really love critters, and that includes zoo animals. The Jacksonville Zoo, or Zoo Jacksonville, features more than 1,500 zoo animals, and even more plant species. The zoo animals at the Jacksonville Zoo include mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and birds. I’ll be more specific and name some of the species in each category:
Mammals – giant anteater, bats, sloths, lions, armadillos, black bear, giant otter, bobcat, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, wallaby, impala, African elephants, hyrax, rhinoceros, Florida panther, red wolf, kudu, whitetail deer, wart hog, okapi, giraffe, antelope, bongo, klipspringer, zebra, capybara, West African pygmy goats, kangaroo, tapir, gorilla, howler monkeys, bonobo, lemurs, tamarin, mandrill, squirrel monkeys, siamang
Fish – bluegill, koi, giant pacu, arapaima, stingray, goby, demonfish, peacock bass, tetras, mosquitofish, and several species of catfish
Reptiles – Nile crocodiles, alligators, lizards, anole, skink, python, anaconda, Komodo dragon, boas, ratsnakes, Eastern indigo snake, milksnake, kingsnake, cobras, puff adder, bushmaster, Gaboon viper, rattlesnakes, copperhead, green mamba, coral snake, cottonmouth, African bush viper, and several species of turtle and tortoise
Amphibians – mantellas, toads, tree frogs, salamanders, newts, sirens, waterdog, poison frogs, bullfrogs
Invertebrates – walkingstick, tarantulas, horseshoe crab
Birds – mynah, cranes, cardinals, cuckoo, ducks, geese, swans, bald eagle, harpy eagle, Cooper’s hawk, vultures, flamingos, storks, spoonbill, scarlet ibis, kingfisher, hornbill, rollers, owls, cormorants, macaws, pelicans, several lory species, peafowl, Guinea fowl, ostrich, toucan, oystercatcher, curassow, penguin
Jacksonville Zoo exhibits and layout
The Jacksonville Zoo is divided into different sections. The zoo animals in each section are grouped by type, habitat, and/or country of origin. Below are brief descriptions of each area:
Jaguar range – This is another amazing part of the Jacksonville Zoo. In fact, it has won two national awards. When you visit, you’ll see why. There’s an “ancient” temple to explore, where you’ll see tamarin, frogs, snakes, marmosets, sloths, and other animals from South America. Outdoors, you can view capybaras, giant anteaters, howler monkeys, tapirs, and the majestic jaguars. Unlike most cats, jaguars enjoy water, and there are several pools in the enclosure that are inhabited by pacu fish. If you’re lucky, you might get to see a jaguar catch a fish and eat it. Also in this area is the Emerald Forest Aviary, with birds, pudus, giant otters, freshwater stingrays, and arapaima, the largest freshwater fish in the world. The rainforest village includes a restaurant, restrooms, and a gift shop, so it’s a good place to take a break.
Aviary – The River Valley Aviary is a large two-story facility that houses beautiful birds. The birds are free to fly around inside the enclosure.
Giraffe overlook – This is one of my favorite parts of the Jacksonville, Florida Zoo. For one thing, the walkway is covered, so it provides shade. If you visit the zoo in the summer months, you’ll definitely appreciate this area. From the overlook, you can see giraffes and kudus, and you’ll be surprised to find out how friendly the long-necked critters are. For a real treat, feed the giraffes.
Africa – Here, visitors to Zoo Jacksonville walk on a raised wooden walkway over crocodiles, antelope, impala, warthogs, ground birds, colobus monkeys, cheetahs, zebra, kudu, lions, leopards, ostrich, okapi, and white rhino. The African Reptile Building and Elephant Plaza are also in this loop. Watching the elephants play in their swimming pool is especially enjoyable. Strolling the wooden boardwalk in this area really is like being on a walking safari!
Australia – This part of the zoo is sponsored by Outback Steakhouse and is home to kangaroos, wallabies, Guineafowl, and the cassowary, a very large flightless bird. Here, you can buy nectar and feed the colorful lorikeets (birds).
Amphibians – The Amphibian Conservation Center functions as an educational area and as an exhibit. You’ll learn about the vanishing frog populations and view frogs and other amphibians.
Great apes – This is the part of the zoo where you can watch the primates, including siamangs, gorillas, mandrills, lemurs, bonobos, and colobus monkeys.
Asia – Monsoon Asia is like a Japanese water garden, with pools, small waterfalls, rocky outcroppings, foliage, bamboo, and flowers. The large pool is full of colorful koi. The Komodo dragons are in a “village,” and they can often be seen sunning themselves on a large boulder.
Stingray Bay – This is an interactive tank area where guests can feed and touch the animals. Stingray Bay isn’t covered with a general admission ticket.
Play Park – Kids love the Splash Ground Play Park! It offers climbing vines, a rock wall, a tree house, and water play. There’s also a spot where kids can dig for artifacts. There’s a tunnel here with a window, where guests can watch penguins swimming above them. Guests can also help take care of the pygmy goats. The carousel and a café are located in this area, too.
Florida wildlife – These two+ acres recreate a typical Florida wetland area. Zoo animals that can be seen here are Florida panther, red wolves, alligators, bobcats, whitetail deer, otters, black bears, cranes, flamingos, and bald eagles. At the Florida Reptile House, guests can view numerous snake and amphibian species.
Zoo train – The open-air train encircles the entire zoo and includes two stops – one at Main Camp and the other at the Kids’ Shop. A tour guide provides a narrative during the ride. Once you purchase a ticket, you can ride the train as many times as you wish.
Trout River Plaza – This landscaped area is located right on the banks of the river and includes a fountain, flowering plants, shade trees, a patio, and benches. This is a nice place to take a rest and enjoy the views of the river. You might even get a surprise view of dolphins, schools of mullet, or the occasional manatee.
When you arrive at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, you’ll see two parking lots – main parking and handicap parking. You’ll enter the zoo at the Main Camp Safari Lodge, which resembles a rustic African lodge. Inside are a gift shop, a food court that offers fast foods, meeting rooms, and an area for guest relations.
As you leave the Main Camp building, you’ll find Stingray Bay, Plains of East Africa, and the snake house on your right. This is a loop, so you’ll end up back on the main pathway. Next, on your left, you’ll come to the Wild Florida Exhibit, the butterfly garden, and the River Valley Aviary. Across the path are the Savanna Blooms gardens and the Giraffe Overlook.
Next, on your left is the Great Apes exhibit. As you exit that, you’ll see the Range of the Jaguar across the way. Back on your left is the Splash Ground Play Park. The next area you’ll come to is the Amphibian Conservation Center, and then the Australia exhibit. The Asia section is on the banks of the St. Johns River.
Tips for visiting the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Every time I’ve visited the Jacksonville, Florida Zoo, I had kids in tow, so several of the tips I offer involve kids:
1. Dress appropriately. In summer, the climate of Jacksonville, Florida is very hot and humid. Spring and fall can be very pleasant. In winter, the weather is unpredictable. It might be almost 80 degrees one day, and a couple of days later the mercury might plunge into the 30s. Also, a day that begins with a chill might warm up considerably during the afternoon. For winter visits, it’s best to dress in layers. Wear comfy shoes!
2. As in most zoos and parks, the food inside is pretty expensive. No outside food is allowed into the zoo, but there’s a picnic area outside. I strongly suggest packing a lunch, snacks, and cold drinks. The picnic area is near the south end of the main parking lot. You can’t bring a grill, so don’t bring any foods that need to be cooked.
3. If you have kids in tow, buy a ticket that includes carousel and train rides.
4. If your kids are going to play in the water playground, you might want to bring along a change of clothes.
5. Bring along insect repellant that includes DEET.
6. Don’t forget your camera – you never know what you might see! We once got to see the elephants breed.
7. Bring your stroller, even for toddlers and pre-schoolers. If you have two small kids along, you can rent a double stroller at the zoo. Trust me – this is a great idea! When my two younger daughters were small, we alternated between letting them walk and letting them ride in the double stroller.
8. If someone in your party is handicapped or just has difficulty walking distances, rent a wheelchair. Electric and manual wheelchairs can be rented near the entrance to the zoo.
9. If you plan on eating at the zoo, foods available include ice cream, hot dogs, warm pretzels, hamburgers, salads, burritos, tacos, nachos, popcorn, sandwiches, coffee, and a variety of soft drinks.
10. Kids will be feeding and touching animals, which can get pretty messy. Bring along some wet wipes!
Jacksonville Zoo coupons – Jacksonville Zoo tickets
Everyone likes to save money, right? Save a few bucks on your visit to the zoo with Jacksonville Zoo coupons. You can usually find some online. Also, local newspapers sometimes include coupons for Jacksonville Zoo, so if you’re vacationing in the area, you might want to purchase a local paper. Sometimes tourist flyers might also include a Jacksonville Zoo coupon, so be sure to check those out.
Jacksonville Zoo tickets can be purchased at the zoo or online. AAA members, the military, and senior citizens get a discount. Kids two years old and younger are admitted free.
The zoo is open every day of the year except for Christmas Day. The gates open at 9:00 a.m. and close at 4:00 p.m. The zoo closes at 5:00 p.m. Free parking is provided.
How to get to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Zoo Jacksonville is located on Zoo Parkway/Heckscher Drive. From Interstate 95, take exit 358A and head east. The zoo will be on your right. If you’re traveling from Amelia Island, do yourself a favor and take the scenic route, down A1A, which runs into Heckscher Drive. Sure, it takes longer this way, but the scenery is awesome! You’ll cross the Nassau River, several tidal creeks, marshes, and beaches. You’ll pass islands, maritime forests, and wild sand dunes. Along the way, you’ll probably see people fishing, people pulling seine nets, anglers throwing cast nets, and lots of boats. After a day at the Jacksonville Zoo, you might want to return to Amelia Island via Interstate 95, so you can get back quickly for some much-deserved rest at your condo or hotel. The Jacksonville Zoo really is one of the best Jacksonville, Florida attractions.