Clay County’s rich military history has played an important role in shaping this Northeast Florida community. Home to the Military Museum of North Florida and Camp Blanding Museum and Memorial Park, Clay County offers veterans and history buffs alike a chance to step back in time to when military troops and pilots trained for World War II right here in the Sunshine State. And while the county’s roots are deeply tied to its military history, this region also offers some of Florida’s best outdoor adventures, including 35 miles of trails and pristine freshwater lakes and rivers. From historic museums and events to gorgeous nature trails and state parks, Clay County combines outdoor and patriotic pursuits for the perfect Veterans Day weekend getaway.
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Friday, November 8
You’ve finally started your long weekend, and after checking into a local hotel like the historic River Park Inn or the River Suites at Club Continental, head out for a bite to eat. Whitey’s Fish Camp in Fleming Island has been a local favorite since 1963, featuring fresh fish and deep-fried fare. Set along the Swimming Pen Creek, there’s plenty of outdoor seating and water views, and most Friday nights feature live music so you can enjoy a night out before your big weekend plans begin tomorrow.
Saturday, November 9
Start your day with a freshly brewed cup of Joe at one of the many unique coffeehouses in Clay County, like Spring Park Coffee and Brass Tacks Roasting Room. This local coffee lounge offers flavorful coffee concoctions in a friendly atmosphere. Pair your cold brew or espresso-based drink (because a little extra caffeine is never a bad thing) with a breakfast biscuit or bagel and enjoy breakfast in this charming coffee house.
Once the caffeine kicks in, spice things up a bit and head over to the 10th annual Moosehaven Chili Cook Off, where the competition heats up and so will your palate! These cook teams travel from across the country to compete in the International Chili Society sanctioned event for the chance to win the People’s Choice and ICS awards — and bragging rights, of course. But this culinary showdown isn’t the only competition in town, as the chili cook off hosts the American Cornhole League championship. Between the chili and the cornhole, you can check out a classic car show or shop local craft vendors.
After a fun-filled day of tasty competition, end the day with an exciting performance by Southern Rock band .38 Special along with special guests The Curt Towne Band, Brett Myers and Pinto Graham. The concert kicks off at 6 p.m. at Thrasher-Horne Center and pays homage to Clay County’s Southern Rock roots. The region is the home of former Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant and his brother, Donnie, who went on to start .38 Special. It will be a night of classic rock hits and the proceeds from the concert will benefit St Michael’s Soldiers, The Homegrown Kindness Project, and Hoods for Heroes.
Sunday, November 10
Get an early start to your day with breakfast at Grumpy’s Restaurant, where you can fuel up for the day at this award-winning, family-owned eatery in Orange Park. Grumpy’s was started by a former US Navy cook, known as Chef Grumpy, and has become a local favorite, being voted best breakfast in Clay County by multiple local publications. This diner serves up American and Southern-style fare, along with some daring new diner dishes to please your palate. Whether you like the classic bacon, eggs and hash browns or prefer something sweet like S’mores or Fruity Pebble waffles, it’s the only time “grumpy” is an acceptable way to start the day.
After you’ve fueled up, head over to Camp Chowenwaw to explore the newly renovated Jungle Trail. The trail was an original feature of the historic camp when it first opened in 1933 and is among the 35 miles of trails within the county. The trail includes a 780-foot boardwalk and a new kayak launch, perfect for paddling out on to Black Creek. If cycling is more your style, head to Clay County’s new mountain bike trail on Fleming Island. While Florida doesn’t have any mountains, the terrain has enough variation and twists to get in a heart-pumping workout.
Once you’ve gotten your morning workout in, check out the annual Krawl’n For the Fallen event from 12:00 to 3:00. This off-road enthusiast event raises awareness and honors fallen police officers. All proceeds from the event will be donated to Concerns of Police Survivors, which provides resources for the families of fallen police officers. If you’re not an off-road aficionado, there’s still plenty to enjoy at this charitable event, including food, trail riding, demonstrations, raffles and specialty classes — plus a kid’s zone to keep the little ones entertained.
After a day of hiking, biking and off-roading, you’re sure to have worked up an appetite. So head back to your hotel to freshen up for dinner and experience Clay County’s variety of restaurants. If your tastebuds prefer global fare, Spice in Middleburg serves up American, German, Indian and Thai cuisine — even fusing some flavors together for an intercontinental experience. For more of a nightlife atmosphere, relax with a pint of local craft beer at Brewer’s Pizza, home to the award-winning Pinglehead Brewing Co.’s handcrafted beer.
Monday, November 11
It’s your last day of vacation, but luckily there’s still plenty to do before you head back to reality. Recharge after a fun-filled weekend at Urban Bean Coffeehouse Cafe is a popular coffee shop for your daily dose of caffeine, with its delicious beverages and fresh breakfast items like the gourmet baked donuts. The menu offers hand-brewed and specialty coffees, organic teas, espresso drinks and fresh smoothies. It’s a true neighborhood coffee shop that can’t be missed.
It’s Veterans Day, so be sure to take the time to honor those who fought for us. In the heart of Clay County’s historical triangle, you’ll find the TAPS Monument, which is dedicated to the 66 veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. The veterans whose names are memorialized at the TAPS Monument lived or are from Clay County dating back to the Civil War. This granite monument is from the same quarry as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the Historical Society of Orange Park and the Town of Orange Park hosts an annual Veterans Day Wreath Laying Ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Historic Magnolia Cemetery to honor the country’s veterans and acknowledge their sacrifices and those of their families. During the ceremony, Clay County students will read their award-winning Veterans Day essays.
Continue your Veterans Day tribute with a visit to the Military Museum of North Florida in Green Cove Springs or Camp Blanding Museum and Memorial Park in Starke. As you walk through the Military Museum of North Florida you’ll walk through the history of World War II pilots and heroes, as well as see displays of ship models, military vehicles, uniforms, weapons, equipment and more from major conflicts including World War I and the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Camp Blanding Museum houses a collection of weapons, photos, uniforms and other exhibits that tell the story of Blanding and the units that trained there.
Before you hit the road, be sure to grab a bite to eat — no one likes to travel on an empty stomach, and the local eats are definitely better than fast food. Opt for a local favorite like OP Fish House where the menu offers fresh fish sandwiches, raw oysters, seafood baskets and homemade key lime pie. On Mondays, this seafood joint offers a discount for military personnel too. If you’re looking for some Southern comfort with a twist, check out Farmhouse Chicken and Donuts for the unique donut chicken sandwich — yep, that’s a fried chicken breast on a glazed donut bun — because calories don’t count on vacation.