Named after the natural springs that perpetually bubble to the surface nearby, Green Cove Springs is a city of about 7,000 residents in northeast Florida’s Clay County.
Green Cove Springs is located along the central portion of the western shore of the St. Johns River. It is perfectly positioned for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts who’d rather experience the area’s natural attractions while avoiding the crowds often associated with more touristy destinations.
The city is close enough to Jacksonville and St. Augustine to make day-trips popular as well.
Below are 14 things to see and do in the area that rank highly on many visitor’s itineraries.
1. The Military Museum of North Florida
The Military Museum of North Florida is located on the grounds of a former World War II-era naval air station and is dedicated to honoring the service men and women who’ve served the country during times of peace and war.
The museum includes a fascinating array of exhibits that touch on nearly every war and conflict in the country’s history. Items on display include weapons, uniforms, aircraft, and first-hand accounts of those who’ve served.
The facility is located on Bunker Avenue in Green Cove Springs, and most guests show themselves around for an hour or two.
2. Spring Park
Green Cove Springs has a few small, charming parks, and Spring Park is one of the most popular.
One of its most used attractions is the spring-fed pool that’s replenished with a continuous stream of cool water bubbling to the surface, which makes it the perfect place to relax during the dog days of summer when the Florida weather is often downright oppressive.
The park’s location along the St. Johns River makes for stunning views as well, and you’ll find a playground, covered picnic areas, and plenty of swinging benches within sight of the water.
Admission is inexpensive and can be purchased on a per-day or long-term basis.
3. Northeast Florida Scottish Games & Festival
Though plaid kilts aren’t traditional Florida wear for most of the year, every February, the Florida countryside comes alive with traditional Scottish garb, food, and music as the Northeast Florida Scottish Games and Festival comes to town.
The Festival is a perennial favorite for those of Scottish descent, and it’s a big hit with those of other ethnicities as well.
As the name implies, the event features a variety of historic Scottish games, and there are always plenty of activities for little ones too.
It’s an all-day event, and many visitors end up staying longer than anticipated, so consider clearing your schedule.
4. Sweet Sensations
Unfortunately for many travelers, caffeine and sugar addictions don’t take vacations. For those who find themselves in Green Cove Springs in need of a fix, Sweet Sensations would be a great place to indulge.
Featuring a huge selection of sandwiches, soups, and salads, Sweet Sensations is probably most well-known for its coffee and fresh baked goods that keep many regulars coming back every week.
Rumor has it that their Cuban sandwiches are to die for, and there plenty of kid’s items on the menu as well.
They’re located on North Orange Avenue in town and offer reasonable prices and hearty portion sizes.
5. Fort Clinch State Park
Comprised of nearly 1,500 acres of pristine natural environments and historically significant attractions, Fort Clinch State Park is a magnet for campers, RV enthusiasts, history buffs, and nature lovers.
The park is located on Atlantic Avenue in nearby Fernandina Beach and includes a Civil War-era fort, miles of undeveloped beach, and a visitor’s center full of interactive exhibits.
Wildlife viewing is a popular activity, and a variety of animals are commonly seen from the network of trails that wind their way through the park.
Consider stopping at the visitor’s center to pick up a park map, peruse the exhibits, and get an overall idea of the layout and amenities before heading out to explore on your own.
6. Jacksonville Beaches Visitor Information Center
No matter where you find yourself, visitor information centers are usually free to visit, conveniently located and full of knowledgeable locals and travel-related maps, magazines, and coupon books that are free for the taking.
Located on Beach Boulevard, the Jacksonville Beaches Visitor Information Center is a great place to stop when arriving in the area, especially for those who haven’t visited before.
The center is open seven days a week, and travelers who take the time to visit typically end-up walking away with lots of ideas that they may not have been aware of otherwise.
It’s also common to find great deals on guided tours, lodging, and dining.
7. St. Johns River Paddling Trail
The St. Johns River is one of Florida’s recreation centerpieces, and paddling is a great way to experience and explore it.
Within an easy drive from Green Cove Springs, there are nearly a dozen entry points to the river. In addition to offering fit paddlers views of the area that others just won’t see, there are a number of significant historical and archaeological sites that are worth checking out as well.
The river and the surrounding areas are home to a huge variety of wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see foxes and bobcats, lots of bird, and even iconic Florida critters like manatees and gators.
8. St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
From north to south and from the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast, Florida is brimming with historic lighthouses; for those visiting Green Cove Springs, there’s none more convenient to visit than the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
The site’s history stretches back nearly a century and a half, and many previous guests agree that their time spent at the lighthouse and museum was some of the most memorable of their trip.
The museum section of the facility features a fascinating collection of shipwreck memorabilia, and the grounds include the lighthouse keeper’s house as well. There’s also a quaint little café, so consider staying for lunch or an afternoon coffee.
9. Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area
Tucked along the Atlantic Coast between the mainland and Intracoastal Waterway, Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area is comprised of almost 150 scenic acres that are most well-known as a nesting area for sea turtles.
The park is named after a native folk singer and is popular with beachgoers, fishermen, and hikers. For those who’d like to spend a night or two in the wild, there are nearly 70 campsites; some are near the ocean and others the river.
Kayak and bike rentals are available onsite, and the park features a network of multi-use trails that wind their way through varied environments.
10. Old City St. Augustine
It’s not widely known outside the Sunshine State, but St. Augustine is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the country. For lovers of history, culture, and old-world charm, there are few places like it.
Its cobblestone streets harken back to a different era, and the city’s attractions include historical landmarks, museums, galleries, shops, and plenty of dining options.
A number of guided walking tours are available, and for those looking for something extra special, there are horse and carriage and trolley options as well. Area lodging can be expensive, so consider a visit during the off-season if you’d like to save a few bucks.
11. Walter Jones Historical Park
Jacksonville’s Walter Jones Historical Park is located on a scenic stretch that fronts the St. Johns River and includes many historically significant attractions.
The park’s main attractions are the Mandarin House, barn, and one-room schoolhouse, all of which give guests an interesting look into the lives of residents in eras past.
Author and anti-slave crusader Harriet Beecher Stowe spent winters in the Mandarin House, and the home and grounds played significant roles in the Civil War and maritime history as well.
Guided tours are available and generally last between an hour and two depending on the ages and interests of the guests, but they must be booked in advance.
12. Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park
Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is one of Florida’s oldest parks and includes nearly 2,000 acres that were developed mainly during the Civilian Conservation Corps days of the ‘30s.
The Park is an easy drive from Green Cove Springs. Its inland location gives guests an alternative to the numerous coastal parks in the area.
The area in which the park resides is noted for its gently undulating sandhills and deep ravines, which are fun to explore and home to a variety of unique wildlife.
The park features extensive multi-use trails, and it’s common to see birds, snakes, turtles, and even foxes, especially in the lowlight morning and twilight hours.
13. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
In the early-16th century, Ponce de Leon landed in what’s now St. Augustine, making the quaint coastal town a true historic gem that really shouldn’t be passed-up when in the area.
The park’s attractions include fortifications and coastal batteries. Spread throughout the trails leading to and from each distinct area, visitors will have access to abundant seating areas and plenty of historic signs and exhibits describing the importance of the things they’re seeing.
Previous guests have noted that the park staff were knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and that with so much natural scenery, they decided to hang around and explore the grounds even after they’d seen all the historic attractions.
14. St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
For centuries, the waters off Florida’s coasts were crawling with pirates and other rough characters, who made life for mariners and coastal residents dangerous.
Located on South Castillo Drive, the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum is the Atlantic coast’s premier destination for those interested in learning about the area’s past, and how it was largely characterized by pirates, shipwrecks, and legends of lost treasure.
The museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of pirate artifacts and memorabilia, and its interactive exhibits are engaging, educational and big hits with the old and young alike. The staff offer a variety of special events and programs, so check their website before making the trip.