Clay County Florida Cities

Discovering the Hidden Gems of Clay County

Clay County, Florida is a hidden gem that is just waiting to be discovered. While many people may be familiar with the popular tourist destinations in Florida, Clay County is a less traveled path that has so much to offer. The county is home to four unique towns: Green Cove Springs, Keystone Heights, Orange Park, and Penney Farms. Each town has its own charm and personality, and exploring each one is a great way to get a taste of the local culture and history. From historic landmarks to natural wonders, there is no shortage of things to see and do in Clay County.

Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park
Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park

In this blog post, we will take a deep dive into each of these towns, highlighting the hidden gems that make them special and worth a visit. Get ready to pack your bags and hit the road for an unforgettable journey through Clay County, Florida.

Why Clay County, Florida is a hidden gem

Clay County, Florida is a hidden gem simply because it’s one of the lesser-known areas in the state. Located just south of Jacksonville, it’s a perfect destination for those looking to explore a new area without the crowds and hustle and bustle of more popular tourist destinations.

Visitors will find a variety of unique attractions and activities that showcase the natural beauty and rich history of the area. From exploring the historic downtown area of Green Cove Springs to hiking through the lush forests of Keystone Heights, and kayaking on the St. Johns River in Orange Park, there’s no shortage of things to see and do.

In addition to the outdoor adventures, Clay County is home to a thriving arts and culture scene. Visitors can take in a show at the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts, or explore the many galleries and museums throughout the area.

And when it comes to dining and accommodations, Clay County has something for everyone. From cozy bed and breakfasts to luxury resorts, visitors will find a variety of options to fit their needs and budget.

Where is Clay County Florida?

Clay County, Florida is located in the northeastern part of the U.S. state of Florida, along the west bank of the St. Johns River. It lies southwest of the City of Jacksonville and west of historic St. Augustine. Clay County’s entire eastern border is nestled along the banks of the scenic St. Johns River, and miles of undeveloped woodlands dot its interior.  It has four neighbors: Bradford County, Duval County, Putnam County, and Saint Johns County.  The county seat is Green Cove Springs. Clay County was created on December 31, 1858, from a section of Duval County.

Green Cove Springs

Nestled along the banks of the historic St. Johns River, Green Cove Springs is a charming small town with a rich history that dates back to the early 19th century. The town is known for its natural sulfur springs, which were believed to have healing properties and attracted visitors from around the country in the late 1800s. Today, visitors can still enjoy the benefits of the sulfur springs at the Spring Park Pool, which is fed by the same artesian wells that have been flowing for over a century.

In addition to its natural beauty, Green Cove Springs also boasts a vibrant downtown area that is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries. Visitors can stroll along the tree-lined streets and admire the historic architecture, which includes the Old Clay County Courthouse and the Clay Theatre, a historic movie palace that has been beautifully restored.

For history buffs, the town also offers several museums and historic sites to explore, including the Military Museum of North Florida, which showcases the military history of the region, and the Clay County Historical Society Museum, which features exhibits on the area’s rich history and culture.

Keystone Heights

Keystone Heights is a quaint town located in Clay County, known for its beautiful lakes and peaceful atmosphere. If you’re looking for a quiet retreat away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Keystone Heights is the perfect destination.

One of the hidden treasures of Keystone Heights is the Keystone Heights Airport. This small airport offers visitors a unique experience by allowing them to take a scenic flight over the town and its beautiful lakes. The airport also has a restaurant where you can enjoy a delicious meal while watching planes take off and land.

Another hidden gem in Keystone Heights is Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park. This park is a nature lover’s paradise, with miles of hiking trails, a crystal clear lake for swimming and fishing, and campsites for overnight stays. The park also has an interesting history, dating back to the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and visitors can learn about the park’s history at the on-site museum.

Keystone Heights is also home to several locally-owned restaurants and shops. One of the most popular restaurants is Brooklyn Boys Italian Restaurant, which serves up delicious pizzas and pasta dishes. The town also has a farmer’s market on Saturdays, where locals sell fresh produce and homemade goods.

Orange Park

Orange Park, located in Clay County, Florida, is a true hidden gem that offers an eclectic mix of history, culture, and recreation. The town’s history dates back to the late 1700s when it was first settled by the English. Today, Orange Park is a thriving community that boasts a unique blend of modern amenities and old-world charm.

One of the town’s main attractions is the Orange Park Mall, which houses a wide range of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Visitors can also explore the historic Clarke House Park, which is home to several historic buildings including the 1877 Clarke House and the 1895 Schoolhouse.

For those looking for outdoor activities, Orange Park has plenty to offer. The town is situated on the banks of the St. Johns River, which provides ample opportunities for boating, fishing, and water sports. The nearby Doctors Lake is a popular spot for kayaking and paddleboarding.

Orange Park is also home to several parks and nature preserves, including the 425-acre Walter Jones Historical Park, which features a nature trail, a butterfly garden, and a restored 1875 farmhouse. The park also hosts several events throughout the year, including historical reenactments and art festivals.

Penney Farms

Penney Farms is a retirement community located in Clay County, Florida that is unlike any other. It was founded in 1926 by James Cash Penney, the founder of the department store chain J.C. Penney. Mr. Penney envisioned a community where retirees could live a peaceful and fulfilling life without worrying about financial burdens.

Today, Penney Farms is home to over 600 residents and is still owned and operated by the J.C. Penney Corporation. The community is situated on 800 acres of land and includes a variety of amenities such as a golf course, swimming pool, and fitness center.

What makes Penney Farms truly unique, however, is its commitment to sustainability and organic farming. The community has a working farm where residents can garden and grow their own produce. The farm also supplies fresh produce to the community’s dining hall, which serves delicious and healthy meals made from scratch.

In addition to its focus on sustainability, Penney Farms also offers a variety of activities and events for its residents. From art classes and book clubs to exercise classes and social events, there is always something fun and engaging happening in this vibrant community.

Exploring nature in Clay County, Florida.

Clay County, Florida offers a plethora of nature-related activities and attractions, making it the perfect destination for nature enthusiasts. Whether you enjoy hiking, fishing, bird watching, or just taking a leisurely stroll, Clay County has something for everyone.

Clay County, Florida
Whitey’s Fish Camp, Clay County, Florida

Gold Head Branch State Park

One of the most popular destinations for outdoor activities is the Gold Head Branch State Park, located in Keystone Heights. The park spans over 2,000 acres, with a large lake at its center that offers fishing, canoeing, and kayaking opportunities. The park also has several hiking trails, ranging from easy to challenging, that allow visitors to explore the natural beauty of the area. If you prefer camping, the park has over 70 campsites available for overnight stays.

Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area

Another must-visit destination for nature lovers is the Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area, which spans over 1,600 acres and is located in Middleburg. The conservation area offers several hiking trails that wind through the forests and ravines, providing breathtaking views of the natural landscape. Visitors can also enjoy bird watching, fishing, and picnicking in the area.

Moccasin Slough Wildlife Management Area

For those interested in wildlife, the Moccasin Slough Wildlife Management Area in Green Cove Springs is a great place to explore. The area spans over 8,000 acres and is home to a variety of wildlife, including alligators, deer, and various bird species. The management area offers several hiking trails and fishing opportunities, as well as seasonal hunting opportunities.

Jennings State Forest

Lastly, the Jennings State Forest in Middleburg is a great destination for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. The forest spans over 24,000 acres and offers several hiking trails, fishing opportunities, and even horseback riding trails. The forest is also home to several unique plant and animal species, making it a great destination for nature enthusiasts.

Best places to eat and drink in Clay County

Clay County is a hidden gem in Florida that offers a wide range of dining options. From quaint cafes to upscale restaurants, there is something for everyone. Here are some of the best places to eat and drink in Clay County:

  • Magnolia’s Pub – Located in Green Cove Springs, Magnolia’s Pub is a local favorite for craft beer and classic pub fare. Their menu features everything from burgers and wings to flatbread pizzas and fish and chips.
  • The Copper Monkey – The Copper Monkey in Keystone Heights is a great spot for a casual dining experience. They offer a variety of sandwiches, salads, and burgers, as well as a selection of craft beer and cocktails.
  • The Hilltop Restaurant – If you’re looking for a fine dining experience in Orange Park, The Hilltop Restaurant is the place to go. Their menu features a variety of seafood, steak, and pasta dishes, as well as an extensive wine list.
  • Magnolia’s Bakery – For those with a sweet tooth, Magnolia’s Bakery in Penney Farms is a must-visit. They offer a wide selection of baked goods, including cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and bread.
  • Whitey’s Fish Camp – Whitey’s Fish Camp is a local institution in Green Cove Springs, known for its fresh seafood and waterfront dining. They offer a variety of seafood dishes, as well as burgers and sandwiches.

Events and festivals in Clay County

Clay County, Florida is home to a variety of events and festivals throughout the year that showcase the unique culture and traditions of the area. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, there’s always something to do and see.

Clay County Agricultural Fair

One of the most popular events is the annual Clay County Agricultural Fair. Held in Green Cove Springs, this ten-day event is a celebration of the county’s agricultural heritage. Visitors can enjoy carnival rides, live music, livestock shows, and a variety of food vendors.

Orange Park Farmer’s and Arts Market

Another must-see event is the Orange Park Farmers and Arts Market. Held every Sunday, this outdoor market features local vendors selling fresh produce, handmade crafts, and unique gifts. Visitors can also enjoy live music and food trucks.

Annual Pioneer Days Festival

In Keystone Heights, the Annual Pioneer Days Festival is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. This three-day event features live music, craft vendors, and a car show. Visitors can also take a tour of the historic Keystone Heights Schoolhouse and the Keystone Heights Cemetery.

Penney Farms Fall Festival

For those interested in history, the Penney Farms Fall Festival is a great event to attend. This festival showcases the history of the Penney Farms community, a retirement community founded by J.C. Penney in the 1920s. Visitors can enjoy live music, arts and crafts vendors, and a parade.
No matter what time of year you visit Clay County, there’s always something to see and do. From agricultural fairs to outdoor markets, there’s an event for everyone to enjoy.

Where to stay in Clay County

Clay County, Florida offers visitors a variety of lodging options. Whether you’re looking for a luxurious resort, a charming bed, and breakfast, or a budget-friendly hotel, there’s something for everyone.

Club Continental

If you’re looking for a luxurious experience, the Club Continental in Orange Park is the perfect choice. This elegant hotel boasts stunning views of the St. Johns River and offers guests access to a private beach, tennis courts, and a swimming pool.

Keystone Heights Inn

For those who prefer a more rustic experience, the Keystone Heights Inn is a great option. Nestled in the heart of Keystone Heights, this charming bed and breakfast offers guests a cozy atmosphere and a homemade breakfast each morning.

Astoria Hotel Suites

If you’re traveling with a family or on a budget, the Astoria Hotel Suites in Green Cove Springs is a great option. This hotel offers comfortable rooms at an affordable price and is conveniently located near many of the area’s top attractions.

Southern Comfort Inn

Lastly, for those who prefer to stay in a more remote and peaceful setting, the Southern Comfort Inn in Penney Farms is a great choice. This cozy inn is surrounded by beautiful gardens and offers guests a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Why Clay County, Florida should be your next travel destination.

Clay County, Florida has much to offer for travelers seeking a unique and authentic experience. With its charming towns and natural beauty, this area of Florida is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

  • Green Cove Springs is a peaceful town with a rich history and stunning natural features, including the scenic spring park.
  • Keystone Heights is a quaint community nestled among lakes and forests, offering outdoor adventures and a thriving arts scene.
  • Orange Park is a bustling city with a variety of attractions, including great dining options and a wide range of recreational activities.
  • Penney Farms is a charming village with a strong sense of community and a fascinating history.

From exploring the local parks and lakes to indulging in delicious cuisine and experiencing the vibrant culture, Clay County has something for everyone. The area’s natural beauty and small-town charm make it a perfect destination for those seeking a peaceful and authentic travel experience.


We hope this article has inspired you to discover the hidden gems of Clay County, Florida. Exploring the small towns of Green Cove Springs, Keystone Heights, Orange Park, and Penney Farms is a unique experience that offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the area. From scenic parks to charming downtown areas, there is something for everyone to enjoy. We encourage you to take a trip and experience the beauty of Clay County for yourself. Don’t forget to tag us in your photos and share your experiences with us!

Share on: