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Why You Should Visit the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Make a stop at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida to see more than 2,000 animals and 1,000 exotic plant species.

Kevin and I stopped at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens on the way back from on of our Caribbean cruises. I’m always on the lookout for nearby zoos with bears, and the Jacksonville Zoo came through!

Wondering if you’ll enjoy a visit to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens? Whether you’re here for the bears, jaguars, or elephants, I’ve got you covered with this guide!

Jacksonville Zoo, Jacksonville, Florida

A Trip to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens covers more than 100 acres and has more than 2,000 animals and 1,000 exotic plant species. They’re one of the top zoos in the country, and they support more than 45 plant and animal conservation programs.

Zoo Animals and Exhibits

There are a lot of animals at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens! Here’s a little overview of what you can expect to see:

  • African Forest — The main attraction here are the gorillas. They also have a ton of monkeys, primates, and lemurs.
  • Africa Loop — In this exhibit, you’ll find elephants, lions, snakes, tortoises, amphibians, birds, zebras, rhinos, warthogs, duiker, siamang, kudo, and the flamingos.
  • Amphibian Conservation Center — This is the spot to find all your frogs, toads, and newts.
  • Asian Gardens — The only animals to see here are the koi fish in the koi ponds.
  • Asia Loop — This loop has otters, the Komodo Dragon, babirusa, and hornbills.
  • Australia — See your favorite Australian animals like the emu, kookaburra, rainbow lorikeet, and other birds.
  • Emerald Forest Aviary — You’ll find all kinds of birds here, from ducks to macaws.
  • Giraffe Overlook — The only animals to see here are the giraffes!
  • Land of the Tigers — The Malayan Tigers are the main attraction here, but you can also see a warty pig and bluegill fish.
  • Play Park — This area isn’t just for kids! There’s a dwarf goat petting area, squirrel monkeys, and even penguins.
  • Range of the Jaguar — This award-winning exhibit has the jaguar as the main attraction, plus snakes, lizards, frogs, capybara, flamingos, tamarin, anteaters, otters, bats, howler monkeys, iguanas, and more.
  • River Valley Aviary — You’ll find plenty of birds here, from storks to herons to ducks.
  • Stingray Bay — This is where you’ll find different types of stingray and the Atlantic Guitarfish.
  • Wild Florida — Here, you’ll find the animals of Florida like alligators, snakes, black bears, bald eagles, coyote, manatees, tortoises, fish, and birds.

Our Experience at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Betsy the Black Bear

Black Bear, Jacksonville Zoo, Jacksonville, Florida

Of the thousands of animals at the Jacksonville Zoo, I’m not ashamed to admit I’m only really there for one: Betsy the Black Bear (don’t worry, I will tell you about the other zoo animals, but we’re starting with Betsy).

Betsy was found orphaned in Virginia and taken in by a human family before being taken to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. When the WCV tried to reintroduce her into the wild, she turned up looking for human friends at a local Dollar General Store.

Since she couldn’t be reintroduced to the wild, the Jacksonville Zoo took her in.

She now lives in the Wild Florida Exhibit where she has plenty of space to roam, a swimming pool to splash around in, and snacks to gnaw on, which is just what we found her doing when we got there.

African and South American Animals

Jaguar, Jacksonville Zoo, Jacksonville, Florida

The good thing is that the Jacksonville Zoo has plenty of big cats, which are also a lot of fun! First up were the leopards, who were taking their noonday cat nap.

Next were the lions. The zoo has 7 lions roaming about the Plains of East Africa. They were also looking sleepy.

We made our way toward the back of the zoo, passing by a ton of monkeys, and huge gorillas, to South America and the Range of the Jaguars. This two-time national award-winning exhibit is set against a replica of a Maya temple that houses inside it some truly terrifying giant snakes.

The jaguars were zonked out and camouflaged very well, but we managed to spot one asleep right by the glass window.

Australian and Asian Animals

Panda bear statue, Jacksonville Zoo, Jacksonville, Florida

Next we wandered through Australia and then Asia, where we walked through a Japanese garden and found a bamboo forest. I had some serious flashbacks to my spider-in-the-bamboo fiasco at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, but I persevered.

And it’s a good thing I did because I found a family of panda bears hiding in the bamboo! Well, a statue of panda bears, at least.

All the way at the very end of the Asia exhibit is the Land of the Tigers. This was a crowded exhibit as we got there just in time for a tiger trainer talk and demonstration. As the one tiger showed off in exchange for food, the other tigers lounged in the pool and waterfall to cool off in the summer heat.

Tigers, Jacksonville Zoo, Jacksonville, Florida

By then, we were as hot as the tigers, only we didn’t have a nice pool to cool off in. And we realized that we had missed most of the Africa exhibit, so we still had more to accomplish before we left!

We rushed back through the zoo, stopping to say goodbye to Betsy the bear of course, and took just enough time to appreciate the giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and cheetahs before finally getting back on the road for home.

Read next: How to Spend a Weekend in Gainesville, Florida

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens: Important Info

Location: 370 Zoo Pkwy, Jacksonville, FL 32218

Hours: The zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day)

Admission: Advanced general admission costs $29.95 for adults 13-64, $27.95 for seniors 65+, $24.95 for children 3-12, and free for children 2 and under. Tickets purchased the day-of cost $5 more. Tickets must be purchased online. You can also purchase Total Experience tickets, which include the 4D Theater, unlimited Train and Carousel Rides, Nature Agents adventure, and Animal Feedings.

Tips for Visiting the Jacksonville Zoo

My main issue with this zoo it’s layout. It’s basically a straight path with a bunch of loops off the main path.

One issue is, once you’ve reached the end, you have a long walk back past everything you’ve already seen; I prefer zoo paths that loop all the way back to the entrance by the time you’re done. Another issue is, the individual loops sometimes put you out past other exhibits, so you might miss some things.

I’d recommend using the map to plan out your visit. Maybe you see all the exhibits on one side on the way in, and all the exhibits on the other on the way out.

If you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to visit is early in the morning or later in the day. The zoo is more crowded in the summer months and on weekends.

The zoo is very accessible for both wheelchairs and strollers. They offer wheelchair and power chair rentals. You can also bring your trained service animal to the zoo.

Please keep in mind the zoo is fully cashless. You must have a credit or debit card for all purchases.

You are not allowed to bring coolers, outside food or beverages, roller skates, skateboards, wheelies, bicycles, or balloons into the zoo.

Professional cameras are permitted, but you’ll need prior approval for large equipment like reflectors.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens FAQ

How big is Jacksonville Zoo?

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens covers more than 100 acres.

How much does it cost to get into the Jacksonville Zoo?

Advanced general admission costs $29.95 for adults 13-64, $27.95 for seniors 65+, $24.95 for children 3-12, and free for children 2 and under. Tickets purchased the day-of cost $5 more. Tickets must be purchased online.

What animals are at the Jacksonville Zoo?

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has black bears, leopards, jaguars, lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos, birds, snakes, amphibians, and so much more.

How long does it take to walk through Jacksonville Zoo?

Most people will probably spend 3-4 hours at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Can you bring food into the Jacksonville Zoo?

No, you cannot bring outside food or drinks into the Jacksonville Zoo.

Is Jacksonville Zoo worth it?

A visit to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is definitely worth it! It might not be the biggest zoo around, but it has so many interesting animals.

Where to Stay in Jacksonville, Florida

Find the perfect place to rest your head on your visit to Jacksonville, from the top rated accommodations to unique stays you can’t get anywhere else.

Things to Do Nearby

Looking for great date activities in Jacksonville? Check out this list of top romantic locations all around the greater Jacksonville area!

If you’ve got some time to spare in Jacksonville, or if you’re driving the coast of Florida, be sure to check out Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island! Fernandina Beach is only an hour up the coast from Jacksonville, and the town has great restaurants, fun things to do, a thriving historic downtown district, and is a great place for a beach weekend.

Ready to visit Jacksonville, Florida? Plan your trip with these tips.



Visiting the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

What’s your favorite exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida? Let me know in the comments!

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