Jacksonville, North Carolina, has a proud history. It’s home to the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and the Marine Corps Air Station New River, so the local military pride runs deep. Due to such a significant military presence, the city has undergone a decades-long rapid growth. As of the 2020 census, the population was 72,723, making it the 14th-largest city in North Carolina – and it’s still growing.
Another notable aspect of Jacksonville’s population is how young it is. With an average age in the low 20s, it’s one of the youngest cities in the United States.
Due to the rapid growth of Jacksonville, there’s no shortage of things to do. The city has numerous military monuments to honor the members of the armed forces, plenty of public parks, and lots of small businesses catering to the young population. Within the larger area of the Carolinas, it has become known as a tourist city. It was even named an All-America City by the National Civic League back in 1992.
Overall, Jacksonville is an excellent place for families to find things to do. There’s good energy and lots of fun. We’ve compiled a list of the best family-friendly things to do in Jacksonville, NC. Here are 20 of the best.
Table of Contents:
- 1. The Freedom Fountain
- 2. Lynwood Park Zoo
- 3. Zing Zumm Children’s Museum of Jacksonville
- 4. Lejeune Memorial Gardens
- 5. Hammocks Beach State Park
- 6. Altitude Trampoline Park
- 7. African American Heritage Trail
- 8. Jacksonville Mall
- 9. North Topsail Beach
- 10. Swingin’ Things Miniature Golf
- 11. Montford Point Marine Museum
- 12. Bayonet Cruises
- 13. Cracked It Escape Games
- 14. Jacksonville’s Downtown Parks
- 15. Twice as Nice Flea Market
- 16. Just Got Reel Inshore Charter Trip
- 17. Showtime Rentals
- 18. Bowlarena Lanes
- 19. New River Dive Center
- 20. Jacksonville Commons Recreation Complex
1. The Freedom Fountain
The Freedom Fountain is a Jacksonville landmark. It’s considered the gateway to the downtown area and is there to symbolize the ideals of American freedom. The center fountain, or Freedom Jet, sprays high above the rest, signaling the independence of all people. Three smaller jets surround the center, representing the federal, state, and local governments.
Finally, 50 smaller bubbling fountains are around the edge of the monument– one for each of the United States. The fountain uniquely captures the spirit of Jacksonville, and it’s a perfect spot to take a selfie or a TikTok video!
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2. Lynwood Park Zoo
Anyone with children knows how excited they are for a zoo trip. Lynwood Park is one of the best in the region. They are unparalleled in their care, treating each animal as an individual with its background and story. Lots of their animals come from various places, such as the downsizing of other zoos or private ownership.
But the folks at Lynwood Park are always ready to take in more animals for their 50 various habitats. Families can see all types of mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects here. Make sure to pack a lunch and enjoy it in the picnic area, as concessions are unavailable here.
3. Zing Zumm Children’s Museum of Jacksonville
Zing Zumm is a 100% nonprofit museum designed as a learning center for children under ten. They provide hands-on educational activities to promote play, foster creativity, inspire imagination, and spark exploration.
Zing Zumm is a long-time dream of two local educators who sought to bring a facility like this to the community back in 2005. Their vision finally came to fruition in 2018 and became known around Jacksonville as one of the best places for kids to play and learn.
4. Lejeune Memorial Gardens
Jacksonville has a rich history of honoring the military, and they love to show it. The Lejeune Memorial Gardens is a solemn tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives serving tours with the armed forces. The site is home to four separate memorials, including the Beirut Memorial, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Montford Point Marine Memorial, and the 9/11 Beam Memorial.
- Plans for the next few years include a marine museum and a corpsman memorial dedicated primarily to the navy. The site has free parking and is connected to all the local greenways, connecting the public with the men and women in uniform.
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5. Hammocks Beach State Park
Hammocks Beach is just a short drive from Jacksonville but has all the amenities that families will love. The mainland area of the park stands on its own and is well worth the trip. There are 2.3 miles of trails for hikers and some peaceful scenery. A ferry regularly runs to the three barrier islands, which also have plenty to offer.
The islands have campgrounds with plenty of tent sites and clean showering facilities. Visitors can also bring their kayaks or canoes to more thoroughly explore the area and enjoy the water.
6. Altitude Trampoline Park
Places like Altitude have bounced to new heights recently because people love to soar! Parents know that this is especially true for children. Jacksonville’s trampoline park features over 26,000 square feet of trampolines, basketball nets, a dodgeball court, foam pits, and lots more.
Kids and parents will have a ball. An arcade is also available to keep the kids’ attention of course. Don’t forget to look out for their weekly specials for the best deal possible.
7. African American Heritage Trail
Spanning multiple communities including Jacksonville, this walking trail takes tourists to over 20 sites celebrating the African American community’s individual and collective achievements in and around North Carolina. Each site has commemorative plaques to educate visitors.
The best part is that you don’t have to do it all in one trip. Parents can feel good about exposing their children to such an essential but sometimes forgotten corner of history.
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8. Jacksonville Mall
These days, traditional malls tend to feel more like relics. However, malls like Jacksonville’s can still provide a nice productive day of shopping and socializing for those who need it.
Jacksonville Mall is the area’s leading shopping destination. Over 60 businesses operate out of the building, including retail stores, a children’s play area, a movie theater, and plenty of dining options both within and outside the food court. With consistent sales and deals, Jacksonville Mall is perfect for day-to-day needs or special occasions.
9. North Topsail Beach
North Topsail Beach is considered one of North Carolina’s most beautiful beaches. The 12 scenic miles of clear sand and shore are about a half-hour drive from Jacksonville but well worth the trip.
The best part? It’s seldom crowded! That makes it one of the more romantic areas to walk with a loved one or a perfect place to let the kids run around. The city does charge for parking, so be aware of that. Whether you like to tan in the sun all day or build sandcastles, North Topsail is a great destination.
10. Swingin’ Things Miniature Golf
Whether it’s golf clubs, putters, or baseball bats, this is the place to go for swinging things, just as the name suggests. The owners strive to promote a family-friendly atmosphere in a well-kept facility. Families flock here to play miniature golf, take a few swings in the batting cages, work on the long game at the driving range, or pick up a few supplies at the pro shop.
There’s a shaded pavilion for cookouts and picnics. So, whether it’s parents who want to work on their skills, or coaches looking to help their players improve, Swingin’ Things has it covered.
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11. Montford Point Marine Museum
Another Jacksonville attraction dedicated to the armed forces, Montford Point Marine Museum, helps educate the public about the branch’s history. Its mission is to “collect, record, preserve, and display” artifacts demonstrating the marines’ proud history. They have all types of artifacts here.
History buffs and military veterans will especially love to see all they have to offer. Just be aware: since the museum is located on Camp Johnson, visitors must obtain permission to come onto the property and view all the artifacts.
12. Bayonet Cruises
Founded by a retired marine who fell in love with the charm of Jacksonville, Bayonet Cruises serves the community by giving tours on the scenic New River. Since opening in 2007, the owners have built a reputation as being some of the friendliest hosts.
They will take guests out for sunset dinner cruises, private charters, and just everyday floats down the river. Families will bond while taking in the scenery and learning all of Jacksonville’s local marine history. It’s one of the most peaceful things to do in the city.
13. Cracked It Escape Games
For families with kids older than ten, Cracked It promotes problem-solving skills and having a blast! Their four escape experiences have thrilled and delighted customers for a few years. There’s a room about a murder mystery on a university campus, one about a haunted house, a 1920s-style mystery puzzle, and in true North Carolina fashion, a pirate-themed escape experience!
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14. Jacksonville’s Downtown Parks
Along the New River, the city maintains five public parks. Anyone can use these facilities to get some fresh air and sunshine. Mainly, people go there to enjoy water access, walking and biking paths, hiking trails, and playgrounds for the little ones.
The most popular of the parks is Willingham Park. It’s the site for many of Jacksonville’s annual festivals, including a national night out, Oktoberfest, and a stream of live free concerts at the stage area!
15. Twice as Nice Flea Market
Visitors to Jacksonville will especially want to try out Twice as Nice. This antique and consignment shop has a mammoth selection of classic antiques and trinkets. Treasure hunters will find some joy here buried among all the loot. Families can come here to discover some furniture, traditional decor, vintage pieces, and whatever else they might have on display. It’s a hidden Jacksonville gem.
16. Just Got Reel Inshore Charter Trip
What better way to bond with family than a day of fishing? Just Got Reel takes customers out for half-day or full-day trips, and they consider themselves especially child-friendly. When you show up, you’ll meet the friendly staff who will provide the boat, snacks, drinks, and fishing license– everything you’ll need for a great day on the water.
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17. Showtime Rentals
Thrill-seekers know that renting the open-air roadster known as the Polaris Slingshot can be one of the most fun ways to spend a sunny afternoon. Showtime Rentals is the local company with everything you need for that experience. Rentals start around $200 for three hours of driving, but go up quickly from there for longer sessions. Come on down for the ride of your life!
18. Bowlarena Lanes
Are you looking for a fun hobby that can also provide great exercise? Bowlarena was founded in the 1960s by a marine who wanted something fun to do with his buddies. Nowadays, it’s grown into a popular family-friendly business.
They have over 30 lanes for bowling, an arcade game room, party rooms for rent, and leagues for all ages of bowlers. For competitive families, it doesn’t get much better than Bowlarena.
19. New River Dive Center
Have you ever wondered what kinds of sights lie just beneath the surface of a body of water? The fine folks at New River Dive Center have everything you need to start that adventure. They specialize in teaching scuba courses, emergency care, open-water diving, and oxygen administration. New River Dive Center will rent out equipment as long as you are qualified to go out alone, but of course, they also host guided trips.
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20. Jacksonville Commons Recreation Complex
Everyone in Jacksonville knows the Commons as the city’s primary center for sporting events. It’s home to some award-winning facilities, including the tennis courts, baseball fields, basketball courts, amphitheater, and even their meditation labyrinth.
In addition to hosting many local sporting events, they also host many of the city’s annual attractions. There’s the Running with the Law 5K road race and Jacksonville’s spring Jamboree. It’s a favorite family event with festival rides, live music, food, vendors, children’s activities, and of course, live sports tournaments.
With a young, growing population and many community events, Jacksonville is an excellent place for families. With all there is to do for people of all ages, the bonding time you can find here is second to none. Whether stationed here as part of the military, relocating from your old city, or just visiting for a short time, Jacksonville, North Carolina, is an excellent place. You’ll find no shortage of things to do.
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