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Free New Year's Eve Events In Northeast Florida

champagne toast
Toni Blay via Flickr

Maybe you’re waiting until New Year’s to bust out that fancy new outfit Santa brought you and party like a jolly elf all night long. Or maybe you want to be in bed by 8 while the rest of the world cheers for a falling ball. Either way, the First Coast has a free event to help you ring in 2016. Here’s a sampling:

Downtown Jacksonville

The River City’s annual New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza is a classic: Fireworks bursting in air above the St. Johns while music and food trucks keep it festive down on the ground.

Credit City of Jacksonville
City of Jacksonville
The city of Jacksonville released this map of New Year's celebration locations.

Fireworks are launched at midnight from the Acosta Bridge and a barge near the Hyatt. Watch parties are at the Landing, Friendship Fountain, under the Fuller Warren Bridge in Riverside, and at the newly opened Unity Plaza in Brooklyn.

And no need to fight the crowds for a parking space downtown; free Skyway rides are available until 2 a.m. on Jan. 1.

The Jacksonville Zoo

For those of us with earlier bedtimes, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens offers New Year’s at the stroke of 12 — 12 noon, that is. An apple juice toast, puppet show, face painting and musical performances by Dalton Cyr and Tyanna Jones round out the festivities. The celebration, which starts at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 31, is free with zoo admission.

St. Augustine Beach

St. Johns County likes its New Year’s celebration sandy. Its free Beach Blast Off party starts at 5 p.m. at the St. Augustine Beach Pier Park. Food trucks, music and, of course, fireworks, round out this family-friendly event. Fireworks go off at 8:30, and the festivities continue until 1 a.m. with an “after party.”

Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island

The home of the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is ringing in the new year in the shrimpiest way possible. Instead of dropping a lighted ball, Fernandina Beach is lowering an oversized, LED-lighted shrimp. Admission to the waterfront party is free, but giant buckets of cocktail sauce are extra. The family-friendly shrimptacular kicks off at 5 p.m., with the shrimp’s descent at 7.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP