Twelve Tips for Visiting Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Florida

Elephant statues near giraffe exhibit

Where is it? The zoo is at 370 Zoo Parkway, Jacksonville, Florida.

1. Make reservations. During Covid, the zoo requires a reservation and prepayment for admission. When you arrive at the zoo, you must show your prepaid tickets at the parking lot entrance, and again at the gate. There will be no one at the zoo’s entrance to accept payment in person. To make reservations, go to the zoo web site at www.jacksonvillezoo.org. Click [Tickets], and then select your ticket options. Zoo members must also have a reservation. To access the member reservation screen, go to the home screen and click [Tickets]. Under [Admissions], you will see this sentence:  If you are a Member, please click here for your tickets.

2. Parking. As of this date (May 2021), parking is free. On sunny weekends and during special events, the parking lot fills quickly. During weekdays, it is much easier to find parking.

3. Credit cards only. On the zoo grounds, only credit and debit cards may be used. Cash is not accepted.

Gardens near giraffe exhibit

4. Take a daily walk. If you live close to the zoo, use the grounds for a daily or weekly walk. The gardens are beautiful, even if you don’t stop to watch the animals. Individual membership is roughly $68 after taxes and an online convenience fee. This equates to $1.30 a week, or $0.19 a day.

Look for these flowers just outside of the primate area.

5. Bring water. Bring bottles of water with you. Do not rely on the vending machines, since they are often out of order. Water and soft drinks may be purchased at the Trout Grill after 11:00 AM, but they are more expensive and you must wait in line.

6. No picnic lunches. Although there are picnic tables in the park, food is not allowed. However, the staff seems tolerant of small snacks stashed in handbags or strollers.

A.J., the zoo’s breeding male. Although giraffes seem like gentle giants, a kick can be lethal.

7. Keep animals and keepers safe. Be sure to throw your trash in the receptacles, since zoo animals often consume interesting items that fall into enclosures. If you drop a hat or small object into an enclosure, notify a keeper so they can retrieve it during cleaning. However, don’t expect the keeper to drop everything to get it back. Most of the animals are dangerous, and it is unfair to ask a keeper to risk injury over the loss of small items.

8. Restaurants. During weekdays, the Palm Plaza Restaurant in the Range of the Jaguar and the Play Park Cafe may be closed. The largest restaurant, Trout River Grill, is open daily for lunch.

9. Vegan options. There are few vegetarian/vegan options, but the Trout River Grill now offers a salad of Romaine lettuce, chickpeas, pickled red peppers, and feta cheese. The portion is large and, when I ate there, the lettuce was fresh. I have also eaten the veggie empanadas at the Palm Plaza Restaurant, but cannot recommend them. The empanadas are basically fried bread stuffed with rice and have little flavor. They are filling, but lay heavy in one’s stomach.

Greater Kudu

10. Where are the animals? Although I like to arrive at opening, many animals will be off display for an additional hour. Also, during the height of summer or the dead of winter, animals may be less active or off display.

A Wood Stork guards its chick.

11. Bring binoculars. Wild birds nest in the zoo’s established trees during the spring. Bring binoculars so that you can watch Wood Storks, Great Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Herons build nests. Look closely, and you may glimpse a chick. A natural waterway passes between the Bongo and Rhino exhibits. Sometimes, young alligators find their way in, so scan the embankments.. Binoculars are also useful for viewing the exhibited animals. When the animals are seen up-close, one can appreciate the beauty of their markings.

The two silverbacks at the zoo are brothers. They tolerate one another, but avoid conflict by staying far apart.

12. Communicate with the primates. There are large, glass windows through which you may watch bonobos or gorillas. If you want the animals to stay near the window, avoid marching straight towards them. From what I have seen, primates stand upright for three reasons—to get a better look at something, to walk briefly from one place to another, or to warn of oncoming aggression. Approach the window calmly, and squat with your shoulder toward the animals. Then glimpse them using short glances. In the animal world, stares are a sign of aggression, and often push the animals away. Some visitors beat their chests when they see a gorilla. They are saying, in effect, “I don’t like you!” Chest-beaters are  likely to receive the same message back, since they have made an extremely rude statement. I want the animals to come close and feel relaxed, so chest-beating is something I never do.

The primate area has multiple levels.

Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She is a [mostly] vegan, alcohol-free, [relatively] caffeine-free, Buddhist writer and day-hiker. Her novel, The Clones of Langston, was a Reader’s Favorite medalist and a New Century Writer Awards finalist. It tells the story of cloned workers who are abandoned to form their own society. As the facility housing them erodes, they discover a challenging new world—our own.

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