15 Best Things to Do in Jacksonville, NC

Jacksonville NC
Anya Douglas / shutterstock.com

An hour from Fayetteville, Wilmington, and Raleigh, Jacksonville is an ideal weekend destination in North Carolina.

It’s the county seat and most populous community of Onslow County.

With an average age of 22.8 years old, it is also one of the youngest cities in the US.

Jacksonville also serves as the gateway to the Croatan National Forest, so those exploring the forest can spend a day in the city.

Does it sound interesting?

Here’s a rundown of the 15 best things to do in Jacksonville, North Carolina!

Visit the Historic Pelletier House

Exterior of the Historic Pelletier House
Jdcollins13, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located along Old Bridge Street, the Pelletier House is the oldest standing structure in Jacksonville.

It was built in the 1850s by Rufus Ferrand Pelletier, the principal founder of the city.

The house features a simple yet timeless Greek Revival architecture and was possibly used as the town’s post office.

Facade of the Historic Pelletier House
Jdcollins13, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The house has been repaired despite being damaged by hurricanes, fires, and other disasters, making it one of Jacksonville’s historical symbols.

The Pelletier House was later included in the US National Register of Historic Places in 1989 for its significance to Jacksonville.

Visit the house from the outside, or take a guided tour (available upon request) to learn more about its history.

A pond at the Historic Pelletier House
Jdcollins13, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Start Your Day with the Kettle Diner

The Kettle Diner has been a Jacksonville staple since 2001, serving all-day breakfast meals in a homey setting.

This locally-owned and operated breakfast diner is famous for its well-portioned meals, excellent prices, and easygoing atmosphere where everyone feels at home.

Before exploring Jacksonville, drop by the Kettle Diner and fuel up with their hearty yet affordable breakfast meals.

Try the all-day breakfast specialties like the eggs benedict, breakfast burrito, quesadilla, ribeye breakfast, or an all-star sampler breakfast.

Customer favorites include chicken and waffles, pot roast, liver & onions, chicken tender platter, and pork chops.

Aside from breakfast dishes, the restaurant serves Italian classics like spaghetti, chicken parmesan, ravioli alfredo with grilled chicken, and homemade baked lasagna.

Pay Respects at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens

Across Jacksonville Cemetery, Lejeune Memorial Gardens is where one can learn history.

The memorial honors and commemorates those who have sacrificed their lives in the service of the US.

It also houses various memorials like the Beirut Memorial, the Montford Point Marine Memorial, the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the 9/11 Memorial Beam from the World Trade Center.

Take a few moments of silence and pay your respects at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens, thanking these brave heroes for their service and loyalty to the country.

You can also find short walking paths that connect these memorials.

Don’t miss the 9/11 Memorial Beam, an actual beam from the Twin Towers, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, one of the largest Vietnam memorials in the country.

Take Your Kids to Zing Zumm Children’s Museum

Let your kids have fun, discover new things, and satisfy their curiosity at Zing Zumm Children’s Museum, located along New Bridge St.

The non-profit children’s museum aims to engage children via interactive learning exhibits that promote and inspire imagination, creativity, and exploration in a safe and family-friendly environment.

Zing Zumm Children’s Museum opened in 2018.

It is the brainchild of two teachers who wanted to establish a children’s museum in Jacksonville and extend learning beyond the classroom.

Bring your kids to the museum and let them have fun with the hands-on exhibits and meet and play with fellow children.

Let them experience the great outdoors at Camp Zing Zumm, be a chef for a day at the Pizza Factory, play with trains at the Train Depot, and more.

See the Animals of Lynnwood Park Zoo

Lynnwood Park Zoo may be a relatively small zoo compared to the other zoos in the state, but it’s worth seeing.

The ten-acre park started as a veteran-owned and operated sanctuary that aims to bridge the gap between humans and wildlife through education.

Most zoo animals are rescued, surrendered, rehabilitated, relocated, and surrendered by private owners, giving them a second chance at a better life.

You can also ask a zookeeper or volunteer to know more about the story behind the animals, giving you a new sense of appreciation for them.

Explore the zoo and meet animals like zebras, donkeys, red-tailed hawks, American alligators, and turtles.

Walkways with rest stops weave between exhibits, making moving from one place to another easy.

Taste Delicious Yet Healthy Treats at Blend Cafe

Blend Cafe perfectly balances nutritious and delicious food, perfect for health-conscious travelers.

The locally-owned cafe serves fair-trade tea and coffee and works with local bakeries, helping local businesses while providing healthy options for its customers.

Whether you’re visiting for your morning coffee or looking for a guilt-free meal, drop by Blend Cafe and check out their offerings.

Try their avocado toast, acai bowls, crepes, or waffles, and pair them with refreshing smoothies, freshly-pressed juices, or tea.

The cafe also has free WiFi connection, so you can peacefully work and enjoy the food.

With its waterfront location, you can enjoy views of the New River as you sip on a hot cup of coffee or dig into your gourmet toast.

Hang Out by the Riverside at Wilson Bay Park

Bring the family to Wilson Bay Park for a relaxing picnic with a view.

Facing Wilson Bay, the park offers amenities like children’s playgrounds, restrooms, picnic shelters, and open spaces for outdoor activities.

You can have a relaxing picnic and enjoy some snacks and drinks, although alcoholic beverages are prohibited.

Wilson Bay Park also has a boardwalk where you can enjoy the views, stroll, and snap photos of the scenery.

The park is also near Sturgeon City Park, so that you can drive to the other park.

Celebrate Jacksonville Winterfest

If you stay in Jacksonville during the holidays, don’t miss their Jacksonville Winterfest.

Ring in the most wonderful time of the year with pony rides, train rides, ice skating, and other fun, family-friendly activities.

Shop for Christmas gifts, stocking stuffers, trinkets to hang on your Christmas tree, and other quirky finds at the Winterfest Artisan Market at Jacksonville Commons.

Enjoy winter activities like sledding, ice skating, holiday train rides, and snowball fights at the annual Jacksonville Winterfest.

As you sip on your hot cocoa and try different Yuletide treats, watch live entertainment provided by the Lejeune Dance Company.

If you’re traveling with kids, visit the Candy Shop and have them join Santa’s workshop for arts and crafts.

Surround Yourself With Nature at Onslow Pines Park

Enjoy various activities at Onslow Pines Park, a few minutes from downtown Jacksonville.

This park in Jacksonville has picnic areas, a pavilion, a children’s playground, and cooking stations for families wanting a picnic.

Fitness enthusiasts will also love the park’s soccer field, basketball court, tennis court, volleyball court, and baseball diamond.

Moreover, Onslow Pines Park has fitness trails and a nature trail with interpretive stations for those who want to relax and enjoy the scenery.

With all these amenities, you can easily spend half a day at the park to relax and spend time outside.

Admire the Freedom Fountain

Freedom Fountain near the Lejeune Memorial Gardens is one of Jacksonville’s prominent landmarks and the gateway to Downtown Jacksonville.

The fountain is one of the city’s most visual and tangible symbols of commitment, independence, and honor for those who served and are serving the US.

It features a vast pool with a disappearing edge, 50 bubblers around the edge representing each state of the union, and fountain jets representing the federal, state, and local governments.

Get a deeper appreciation of the city and those who protect the country as you walk around Freedom Fountain.

Visit the fountain in the evening and watch as the waters turn red, white, and blue.

Since it’s near the famous memorial gardens, you can visit the two sites in one trip.

Enjoy the Views from Riverwalk Park

Take a break from your busy routine and spend some downtime at Riverwalk Park, a grassy outdoor space with views of the New River.

Also called Riverwalk Crossing Park, the park hosts several annual events, including Oktoberfest, Winterfest, the New River Festival, and more.

The park also has a stage to watch concerts, live music, and other local performances.

Best of all, Riverwalk Park has walkways leading to the water where you can relax and enjoy charming riverside views.

Benches and seating areas are also available to sit back, unwind, read a book, or watch the boats cruising along the river.

Try Craft Spirits at Walton’s Distillery

Walton’s Distillery is a small craft distillery famous in the city for its Moonshine, bourbon, and whiskey.

Founded by Donald Walton, a Jacksonville native, the family-owned and operated distillery combines traditional techniques from distilleries in Kentucky with age-old practices.

It’s also a small-batch distillery, so customers are assured of its high quality despite the high demand for their spirits.

Take a free tour of Walton’s Distillery and discover how their award-winning bottles are made, from fermentation to bottling.

You can also sample some of their liquors, including E.M. Walton’s Corn Whiskey, Kitty Walton’s Apple Moonshine, and Junior Walton’s Authentic Carolina Moonshine, all named after Donald’s ancestors.

Take a Break at Northeast Creek Park

Northeast Creek Park is a landscaped green space teeming with outdoor recreational opportunities.

It has amenities like ball fields, a disc golf course, bathrooms, boat and trailer parking, and a splash pad.

The disc golf course is one of the best in Jacksonville and hosts an annual tournament where professionals and amateur players can show off their abilities.

It’s also one of the few parks in the city with an inclusive playground, where children of all abilities and ages can enjoy and meet new friends.

Beat the summer heat at Northeast Creek Park and enjoy the splash pad, open to the public from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Take a Day Trip to Hammocks Beach State Park

The waters of Hammocks Beach State Park
Ryan McGurl / Shutterstock.com

If you have more time to spare, go on a road trip to Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro, North Carolina, 24 minutes from Jacksonville.

The state park covers 1,611 acres and includes one main land with three smaller islands that provide visitors with a refreshing change of scenery.

With its vast area, there are plenty of activities to do at Hammocks Beach State Park, whether you want something action-packed or laid-back.

Hike the 2.3-mile wooded trail for some quiet time, take a ferry and see the crystal clear waters of Bear Island, or extend your stay by camping at the state park.

Paddleboat, kayak, and canoe rentals are also available to view the park from a different perspective.

Explore Mike’s Farm

From Jacksonville, take a 21-minute drive to Mike’s Farm, an agri-tourism farm in Beulaville, North Carolina.

The farm offers seasonal activities like hayrides, pumpkin, and strawberry picking, perfect for customers of all ages.

Visitors can also meet farm animals like chickens, turkeys, sheep, donkeys, and cows and feed the ducks and goldfish at the pond.

Go on a day trip to Mike’s Farm and pick the best and freshest strawberries from April to early May or walk through the pumpkin fields and find a pumpkin to bring home in October.

Drop by the restaurant for country-style home cuisine, or visit the gift shop and bakery for delicious baked goods and souvenirs.

Final Thoughts

Jacksonville has more to offer besides a gateway to the Croatan National Forest.

The city is a worthwhile weekend destination with plenty of parks and green spaces, must-try dining options, and lively small-town events.

If you’re looking for the next city to tick off your bucket list, consider this list of the best things to do in Jacksonville, North Carolina!

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