FIELD GUIDE

OUR WEIRD LITTLE SUBURB

Orange Park and Fleming Island

Dennis Ho
Dennis Ho
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The first time I saw a pair of Truck Nutz was in Orange Park. But that makes sense, given the ratio of cars to trucks there. It was on Blanding Boulevard, heading north into Jacksonville’s Westside (I don’t get it either), near the then-bustling mall and the not-bustling-at-all cemetery where Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant was once buried (his coffin was relocated to an undisclosed site after vandals retrieved it from its mausoleum). The driver was blasting Planet Radio out his window, and he was eating a Checkers burger as he drove. 

“Ah,” I said. “This is Orange Park.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hating on Orange Park, not in the least. A man and his truck do not a city make. On the contrary, Orange Park is very much, in its own weird way, worth a visit. From its broken-dreams beginnings as a failed citrus-growing region (hence its name), through its weird phase as a pioneering center of major primate research (the groundskeeper’s house is a health food store now), Orange Park is a suburb with actual shades of character.

This is saying a lot compared to its homogenous, more sterile neighborhood to the south. Fleming Island, which isn’t even remotely an island, is unashamedly bland — beyond, that is, Whitey’s Fish Camp, which is an experience unto itself — having added little more than additional bedrooms for travelers to sleep in.

No, the OP isn’t a tightly concentrated grid of churches, suburban condos and family homes (ahem, Fleming not-an-Island), nor is it strictly rebel flags, fishing poles and shotguns (side eyes, Middleburg), but perhaps a comfortable and toned-down marriage of both, with a touch of oddball history just to make it unique. Indeed, Orange Park is simply a different city from Jacksonville, fueled by Naval retirees, a large Filipino population and community college students living with their parents. 

With its own theater, weekly newspaper and golf course, there’s a good chance you’ll be surprised. You might even see Truck Nutz.

 

A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE THINGS

EAT

Brewer’s Pizza (14B Blanding Blvd.)

Brick Oven Pizzeria & Gastropub (1811 Town Center Blvd.)

CamiCakes Cupcakes (1910 Wells Road)

Sorbellos Restaurant (195 Blanding Blvd.)

The Pig Bar-B-Q (1330 Blanding Blvd., Ste. 170)

 

DRINK

Cheers Park Ave. (1138 Park Ave.)

Prevatt’s Sports Bar (2620 Blanding Blvd.)

The Roadhouse (231 Blanding Blvd.)

Whitey’s Fish Camp (2032 C.R. 220)

 

SHOP

1st Place Sports Running (2186 Park Ave.)

Orange Park Mall (1910 Wells Road)

 

PLAY

AMC Theatre 24 (1910 Wells Road)

Clarke House & Park (1039 Kingsley Ave.)

Poochie’s Swim & Play Park (21 Fountain Drive)

 

GO 

Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts (283 College Drive)

Tags: jacksonville, jacksonville field guide, orange park, fleming island
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