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Jacksonville, NC is not only home to the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast, it is also a city that is dedicated to celebrating and honoring the hero in everyone. Besides a warm and friendly community, you’ll also find lots of recreation activities, delicious restaurants, unique shops and fun events here. There are also several must-see sites that represent the military heritage that runs deep in the coastal town.
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Honor Fallen Military Heroes
Jacksonville is a city that honors and recognizes military heroes and there are several must-see sites here that allow visitors to do the same. First, in the heart of Jacksonville, you’ll find Freedom Fountain – a fountain that was built using donations from the community, which honors all those who have made their way through Onslow County during their time of service. Symbolism runs deep in the design of the fountain, with fountain jets that represent federal, state and local governments, as well as water jets that represent each of the 50 states. Large medallions and flags also represent each of the five branches of the military. At Lejeune Memorial Gardens, located near downtown Jacksonville, you’ll find four other must-see memorials including the Beirut Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Montford Point Marine Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial, which features a beam from the Twin Towers.
Visit with the Animals at Lynwood Park Zoo
The Lynwood Park Zoo is the only animal exhibit in Onslow County and is home to over 80 different animal exhibits spread across 10 acres. In addition to reptiles like alligators and snakes, and birds like owls, vultures and hawks, you can also experience a variety of mammals up-close including zebra, wallabies, porcupines and miniature horses. The zoo is open four days a week (from Friday to Monday) and tours are available for groups of 20 or more.
Take a Tour Down the New River
If you love the water, you’ll want to check out Paddle NC and their kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) tours of the New River, where you’ll see plenty of deer, birds of prey and other wildlife at home in their natural habitat. Don’t worry if you are new to kayaking and paddling, they offer high quality rentals, tours and instruction with ACA-trained staff. You can also choose from several different tour options including the Eco Tour – a short trip through sheltered water which includes a basic lesson, the Sunset Tour – a two hour tour at twilight, Intro to Paddleboarding – an introductory lesson that will get you out on the water, or the Full Day River Tour, which lasts for approximately six to seven hours.
Drink a Little Moonshine at Walton's Distillery
Although Walton’s Distillery owner, Donald Walton Jr., is a native of Jacksonville, NC, he lived in Kentucky for a few years, where he developed an interest in and knowledge of distilleries. Several years later, he opened the doors to Walton’s Distillery – a small batch, craft distillery that combines traditional techniques with age-old practices. In addition to Corn Whiskey, they also offer a variety of flavors of moonshine including peach, pineapple, apple pie and salted caramel, all of which come in jars that feature the photographs of Walton’s ancestors. Tastings and tours are free and offered six days a week. During the warmer months, you’ll also want to check out one of their open house events that includes food and live bluegrass or country music.
Grab a Bite at One of Southern Living's 50 Undiscovered Places
Although the atmosphere at Jeff’s Burgers, Dogs and Shakes maybe on the simple side, you’ll be impressed by the attention and care they put into their menu. Not only is all food made to order, but they also hand-patty their burgers every day using silver ground chuck, cut their own steak and chicken and hand-mix their milkshakes. They offer up plenty of southern-style favorites like Fried Bologna Sandwiches and Carolina Cheese Burgers with chili, mustard, onions and slaw. Which may be why Southern Living Magazine named them one of their 50 Undiscovered Places You’ll Love in the South. Make sure you leave room for dessert when you stop in because you’ll want to try one of their hand-mixed milkshakes or an apple turnover.
Run With the Marines
The USAA Grand Prix Series is a series of running events that lasts all year and allows participants to run alongside active duty Marines at the Jacksonville-based Camp Lejeune. As part of this unique experience, you’ll be able to run on trails used by the Marines in their training, race at actual Marine Corps installations like Camp Lejeune and the Marine Corps Air Station New River and test your ability against some of the toughest in the country. Some of the available races include 5K’s, 10K’s, a Twilight Beach Run and the Marine Raiders Mud Sweat and Tears, which tests your endurance through dirt paths, forest terrain, fallen trees and of course, mud!