Experience Jacksonville Like a Local in Downtown's Hemming Park

With creative dining, fine arts and cultural experiences, Hemming Park is a hip gathering place in the heart of downtown.

Known as Jacksonville’s first and oldest park, dating back to 1866, Hemming Park in the heart of downtown was known as the center of the city for over a century. Today, it's back with more bustling activity than ever before.

Current efforts from community members and the local Friends of Hemming Park nonprofit have created a growing movement to revitalize the park with outdoor dining, weekly yoga meet-ups, First Wednesday Art Walk, Jaxsons Night Market every third Thursday of the month and community-based activities throughout the week.

Hemming Park in Jacksonville, FL

This 1.5-acre park is at the core of revitalizing Downtown Jacksonville, serving as a community landmark for weekly gatherings and special events all while surrounded by historic landmarks of Northeast Florida. The park also features two performance stages, a cafe, reading room, a lively kids zone and public art such as the Terrarium Mural by local artist Shaun Thurston.

Hemming Park public art

Grab a bite to eat at Vagabond, serving up treats and coffee from their on-site van. Park-goers can also enjoy live music and food trucks at lunchtime during the week.

Located steps away from the park sits MOCA Jacksonville, the city’s museum of contemporary art, home to nearly 1,000 works of art, including paintings, printmaking, sculpture and photography. As part of a cultural resource of the University of North Florida, the museum is one of the largest contemporary art institutions in the Southeast. The Art Explorium, located on the museum’s fifth floor, features hands-on learning for children and families. With 16 interactive stations, visitors can learn about visual-art principles all while having fun.

The museum offers free admission on the first Wednesday of each month for Art Walk, and Bank of America cardholders receive free admission on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month. While at MOCA Jacksonville, stop in for a bite to eat at the museum’s NOLA MOCA featuring a seasonal menu with daily crafted grilled cheeses, quiche, soup and flatbreads. This dining hotspot stays open for dinner each Thursday evening and is also open for dinner during Art Walk.

Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville

For a whimsical dining experience, visit the popular Candy Apple Café & Cocktails, found adjacent to Hemming Park in the restored, historic Seminole Club Building. Featuring French and Southern cuisine, this local hotspot serves daily brunch and lunch as well as dinner service Tuesday through Saturday. With dishes such as handmade, petite corn dogs paired with a cheddar ale fondue, buttermilk fried chicken, sautéed escargot and rock-shrimp crepes, remember to save room for one of the delicious, signature candy apples for dessert. Featured cocktails include the Pop Rockadopolis made with Tito’s Vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, cranberry and Pop Rocks. 

Candy Apple Cafe & Cocktails

Visitors familiar with CNBC’s “The Profit,” will instantly recognize Jacksonville’s own Sweet Pete’s Gourmet Candy Store, which shares a building with Candy Apple Café & Cocktails. The gourmet shop features two stories of treats, including a look inside the factory where chocolate creations and more come to life. Enjoy ice cream, desserts and even a glass of wine in the upstairs parlor while admiring views of Hemming Park. For a unique, hands-on experience, sign up for one of Sweet Pete’s candy-making classes ranging from pulled taffy, truffles, chocolate bars, marshmallows and more.

At 300,000 square feet, Jacksonville’s main library is the largest public library in the state of Florida, and officials say it has the capacity to hold 1 million books. Adjacent to Hemming Park, the library hosts activities for families, toddlers, teens and a large children’s theater. The library’s open-air courtyard provides a quiet retreat for reading, catching up on e-mail or just admiring the sights and sounds of downtown.

Jacksonville’s Skyway Express, an above-the-street transportation system, stops at Hemming Park, making the area accessible from across the St. Johns River and the city’s Southbank-area hotels. For accessing the park by car, metered parking is available throughout downtown. Metered spots are free every weekday evening after 6 pm and on weekends and holidays.

While you’re in the area, stop by Visit Jacksonville’s office, just off of Hemming Park on Laura Street to learn more about additional activities, dining options and accommodations within Northeast Florida.  

Hemming Park in Jacksonville, FL

Carrie McLaren
About the author