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Plan for a trip through North Central Florida soon. From Jacksonville, you'll make your way southwest into Crystal River. Enjoy stays in diverse and pleasant cities like Gainesville and Ocala along the way. Experience top attractions and a wealth of history and culture.
Kick off this North Central Florida drive tour in Jacksonville. Known by some at The River City, and by locals as Jax, Jacksonville is a metropolitan city with a wide range of enticing things to see and do.
Intersected by the St. Johns River, Jacksonville yields quick and easy trips to the beach – Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach are all just minutes to the east. Make the most of your time in Jacksonville before you head off on this tour.
Especially great during the summer months, Adventure Landing Amusement Park is one of the most exceptional attractions in the area. Check out the wave pool and its half-million gallons of water, take the kids over to Shipwreck Island Waterpark, or enjoy a game of laser tag and mini golf.
Adventure Landing Amusement Park in Jacksonville is open from March through the end of September.
Opened in 1941, the Main St. Bridge, originally known as the John T. Alsop Jr. Bridge, spans the width of the St. Johns River near downtown Jacksonville. The length of the Main Street Bridge is nearly 1,680 feet. Walk across on foot and enjoy the Florida sunshine, or cruise across in your car.
Encompassing 46,000 acres, the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is an ideal destination for an outdoor Jacksonville adventure. Established in 1988, the Timucuan Preserve is home to some of the best Florida must-sees.
Don’t miss Fort Caroline National Memorial, and the Kingsley Plantation. There are several wildlife observation platforms for you to climb, and you can also experience Florida up close when you kayak through the marshy wetlands of the Talbot Islands.
Your next destination on this North Central tour will be East Palatka. Before you make the drive south, though, stop off in nearby Starke for a quick side trip. Check out local history with a tour of the Old County Courthouse.
Enjoy a quick stop in Starke and check out the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park. 400 acres of private land is the setting for FIRM Park, with a 1.6-mile road course as the main attraction. There are also dirt tracks, and six rally course stages totaling 11 miles.
The RallyPro Performance Driving School is one of the most comprehensive training sessions you’ll find in Florida. For a slightly different day of fun, head for the Camp Blanding Museum and Memorial Park – ideal for WWII buffs.
Once you’ve made it into East Palatka – a short drive south on Highway 301, then east along the 20 – you’ll find a pleasant blend of small town charm and modernity. Neatly tucked away along the St. Johns River, East Palatka is just across the river from Palatka.
Check out the Horseshoe Point Conservation Area, or the Ravine Gardens State Park.
Plan your driving tour of North Central Florida for the spring and make sure experience the St. John’s River Catfish Festival. Held annually in early April – typically the first weekend – this catfish festival features a car show, a parade, and stage for live music.
Enjoy a blend of art and history on the Palatka Mural Tour. One of Putnam County’s most popular events, this mural tour takes you through a visual history of the Palatka and East Palatka area. See more than 30 impressive murals, each depicting cultural and historic aspects of the area.
Enjoy an adventurous day trip to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. Enjoy an authentic look back at life in the 1930s on this farm where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived and worked. Kinnan is known for her Pulitzer prize-winning book The Yearling.
This historic park west of downtown East Palatka is open year round, offering guided tours from the months of October through July.
After some time spent in the East Palatka area, continue this tour with a drive west into Gainesville. As a hub of business, culture, and tourism in North Central Florida, Gainesville features a long and impressive list of attractions.
Enjoy a host of top-ranked college sports teams as they compete within the Southeast Conference. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is home to the Florida Gators, while the Alfred A. McKethan Stadium is home to Gators baseball.
The Florida Museum of Natural History is truly a can’t-miss destination. Located on the campus of the University of Florida, the FLMNH was established in 1891, and is the official state-sponsored natural history museum.
Plan a tour of the FLMNH and check out the Butterfly Rainforest, Dickson Hall, Power Hall, and the Randell Research Center. The FLMNH also has the Seagle Building, which is located off campus in downtown Gainesville.
Whether you’re a fanatic and can name and sing all the Broadway classics, or if you’re simply hoping to inject a touch of culture to your trip, visit the Hippodrome State Theatre.
Known to locals as simply The Hipp, this theatre hosts an impressive array of live, staged performances throughout the year. With just 266 seats, though, ticketing is usually limited – book now to ensure your evening at the theatre is a success.
With a sprawling 6,504 acres, the Newnans Lake Conservation Area is a premier outdoor destination in North Central Florida. Before you end your stay in Gainesville, be sure to spend an afternoon exploring – it’s just six miles east of downtown.
Keep an eye out for the wildlife at Newnans Lake – you’ll see fox, white-tailed deer, plenty of snakes, and otters. Hunters head for the Hatchet Creek portion of Newnans, the only area where hunting is permitted. There is also a boat ramp located at the Owens-Illinois Park, which is very close to the South Tract at Newnans.
From Gainesville, you’ll motor on heading south along I-75 – it’s a quick drive into nearby Ocala. Filled with charm, pleasant residents, and wide range of things to see and do, Ocala is one of the most sterling examples of small town Florida.
Enjoy a summer cool-down with a visit to Wild Waters. As one of the premier water parks in North Central Florida, Wild Waters opened in 1978 in nearby Silver Springs. Across the six-acre park, discover some highlights like the Alligator Ambush water slide, the Silver Bullet, and The Hurricane.
Built in 1987, the Appleton Museum of Art houses an impressive array of paintings, sculptures, and antiques. Most of the art collection at the AMA is European, Asian, African, American, and pre-Columbian. The AMA in Ocala is closed on Mondays, but open the rest of the week.
Children under nine years old gain free admission in the AMA, as do active military members, and students who attend the College of Central Florida – the home of the Appleton Museum of Art.
When you’re looking for exceptional outdoor adventures in Ocala, be sure to visit and explore the Ocala National Forest. Massive in size, and just a quick drive to the east, the Ocala National Forest is the second largest U.S.-protected forest in the country. It covers more than 607 square miles.
You can boat and fish on Lake George, or enjoy any of the hundreds of nature and hiking trails. Bird watching enthusiasts will be in dreamland with a visit to the Ocala National Forest.
Your next, and final, destination on this North Central Florida drive tour is Crystal River. Less than 40 miles to the west from Ocala, Crystal River is nestled along the coast, sharing a border with Crystal River Preserve State Park and the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve.
You’ll find an eclectic blend of top Florida attractions in Crystal River. Enjoy your time in Crystal River as you wrap up this Jacksonville and North Central Florida drive tour.
As any local would have you know, a visit to Crystal River means some time spent at Three Sisters Springs. Found on the eastern ridge of Kings Bay, the Three Sisters Springs are a naturally formed inlet. Many visitors to the Three Sisters enjoy boardwalk tours – keep your camera at the ready, as you’ll have a slew of chances to snap a pic or two of some manatees.
In mid-January, Crystal Springs and the surrounding area celebrate the Florida Manatee Festival. Main Street in Downtown Crystal Springs is closed down, and the booths are set up – this two-day event features live entertainment, art, food, and plenty more fun for all members of the family.
Behind the Crystal River City Hall you’ll find the Creative Playground, ideal for the kids. There’s a beer and wine garden to help quench your thirst, and the Three Sisters Springs will also have some fun events along their boardwalk.
While some call it the Ellie Schiller State Park, and others prefer Homosassa Springs, one thing is certain – this is one of the most exceptional parks in all of North Central Florida.
Wind down this drive tour with some time spent at Ellie Schiller. Enjoy a boat tour on Pepper Creek, or embark on a journey through the 1.10-mile Homosassa Springs Hiking Nature Trail.