Unlike my dear friend Kammy, I don't have a regenerative need to go the beach. The beach is fine, don't get me wrong, but this Hoosier girl gets recharged hiking through wooded rolling hills. And the ocean is great (aside from being populated with creatures that would eat me, given the chance), but I also prefer the open expanses of farm fields. I wouldn't say I'm unhappy in Florida, but I definitely don't get as much out of the east coast as the midwest, despite having lived along it for about 13 years now.
Where am I going with this? I found a small slice of heaven when on a whim we took the kids to the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens. In vain our family had explored local state parks, only to be disappointed by the level, wide, sandy trails through palm scrubs and sand dunes. That's not hiking. In fact, 9 months of the year it's made miserable with mosquitoes and humidity. While this spring has been pretty pleasant, Florida is wearing on my nerves a bit, and I am weirded out by strawberries in February and blueberries in June. And while the Arboretum does have some palm trees and sandier ground, otherwise it's more like Indiana than anything I've come across down here.
Admission is free and gates close for the evening at 5 pm. They are building it up and have plans for a nature center and an outdoor amphitheater, but right now it's pretty basic. If the city changes the budget, it may continue to be serviced by just a port-a-potty and a water spigot, but that doesn't bother me. There's some picnic areas and none of the trails are more than 1.5 miles and most are far less, but with small kids that is definitely doable. Before the weather gets unbearable and the bugs come out, we fully intend to explore our little find and check out the Owl Prowl and Campfire or the upcoming Brush with Nature outdoor painting event.