In southwestern Clay County, Keystone Heights is a quiet incorporated town with a rich history. Florahome, Hawthorne, Middleburg and Starke are neighboring towns. Keystone Heights is about 1 square mile with a population of about 1500, overlooking Lake Geneva. It’s about 44 miles to big cities like Jacksonville and a 3-hour drive to the state capital Tallahassee.
Keystone Heights follows Florida’s long and hot summers while winters are short, cool and partly cloudy. Property developer John J. Lawrence visited Lake Brooklyn with his family, and decided to built a home in the area. Despite its small size, Keystone Heights drew crowds in the 1920s thanks to the construction of the Keystone Inn, where the University of Florida Gator football team used to stay before games. But the fun didn’t stop there. The small community boasted a public beach with a pavilion, picnic grounds and a nine-hole golf course. Tourists visiting the inn would often also frequent the Chautauqua, a large open pit that effectively served as an amphitheater the Chautauqua served as a beacon for various musicians, artists, and speakers. Sadly the inn burned down in 1954 and was never rebuilt.
Brooklyn was later renamed Keystone in 1924 after Lawrence’s home state of Pennsylvania’s nickname, the “Keystone” state.
Things to Do in Keystone Heights, Florida
Let’s explore Keystone Heights!
Gold Head Branch State Park
6239 State Road 21 Keystone Heights, FL 32656 352-473-4701
One of Florida’s first state parks, Gold Head Branch was developed on a 600-acre site by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. One of the last remaining old-growth longleaf pines can be seen at Gold Head, on rolling sandhills on Florida’s North Central Ridge. Hiking and wildlife viewing are available along the park’s nature trails and a 5.44-mile stretch of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Visitors can swim, fish in Little Lake Johnson, or enjoy a relaxing afternoon canoeing. There’s a large picnic area with tables and grills, pavilions and a playground. There are three campgrounds spread throughout the trees, with water and electricity available. Gold Head is open from 8 a.m. to sundown with an Admission fee of $5
Keystone Beach/Geneva Jungle
565 S Lawrence Blvd Keystone Heights, FL 32656 (352) 473-4807
Try the Geneva jungle for an immaculate park to enjoy quality time with your kiddos. Recently renovated, the park has a great playground, plenty of picnic tables, grills, public restrooms, beach volleyball, unique trees, a spacious community center and a deck all overlooking beautiful Lake Geneva. While you’re there, be careful to stay within the designated areas as fishing and kayaking are permitted outside of the designated swim area. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Lake Santa Fe
Lake Santa Fe is a 5,850-acre lake fed by seepage from the Floridan Aquifer in northeastern Alachua County, Florida. It serves as the headwaters for the Santa Fe River, which eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. This is a large, picturesque recreation area has many boat ramps and a lake stocked with bass. This lake is excellent for water activities such as fishing, sailing, waterskiing, paddle boarding, canoeing, jet skis and swimming. Lake Santa Fe is one of the clearest lakes in Florida.
Best Restaurants in Keystone Heights, Florida
Now that you’ve enjoyed the rides, it’s time to eat.
205 NE Commercial Cir, Keystone Heights, FL 32656
Initially established in Lake City, Brooklyn Boys is a restaurant with a rich Italian background. Come here for the best and most affordable pizzas, subs, seafood, calzones, strombolis and more. Try some of their unique hot hero recipes, chicken parmesan, a tender breaded chicken breast smothered in marinara and mozzarella lightly toasted on a homemade roll or their pasta dishes such as lasagna. They also have meals dedicated for kids, all below $5. When you want to wind down, sit at their beach bar and enjoy a cold beer. Explore Brooklyn Boys between 11 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. from Wednesdays to Sundays.
Laredo Mexican Village
7380 State Rte 100, Keystone Heights, FL 32656
Located in Keystone Village Square, this Mexican-themed restaurant is one to crave. This is one place where you can get good food and good service, all at a bargain price. Try out some of their quesadillas, a tortilla stuffed with cheese and served with a Mexican salad or their amazing street tacos with cilantro, onions and soft corn tortillas. Laredo is open all week between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m., except on Sundays.
Johnny’s Bar-B-Q & Catering
7411 State Rd 21, Keystone Heights, FL 32656
This list wouldn’t be complete without a great barbecue restaurant. Johnny’s BBQ, which is locally owned, has been a community fixture at Keystone Heights since it opened its doors in 1988. What began as a small, 15-table restaurant has since grown to become the most iconic and beloved restaurant in town, serving over a million pounds of BBQ since its inception. Their pork nachos are delicious! They make their sauces and ranch dressing. Johnny’s BBQ is open daily between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Where to Stay in Keystone Heights, Fla.
After an excellent meal, you can rest your head in these places.
Best Western Waldo Inn & Suites
17230 NE US Hwy 301, Waldo, FL 3269
Set off Highway 301, this straightforward budget hotel is 6 miles from the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation and 17 miles from the University of Florida. Relaxed rooms feature free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, minifridges and microwaves, and tea and coffeemaking equipment. Suites add living areas with sofabeds. Breakfast is complimentary, as is parking. Additional amenities include a bright lobby lounge, a fitness center and an outdoor pool with sunloungers. Nights cost $118.
Charming House in Beautiful North Florida, Keystone Heights
Located in Keystone Heights, this vacation home is in the city center as guests appreciate the property’s quiet location. This charming three-bedroom, two-bath home is perfect for relaxing getaways, family gatherings, and warm winter retreats. The interior is tastefully decorated with a modern mix of shabby chic and Florida charm. Bedrooms feature plush, high-quality linens and comfortable bedding. All modern conveniences, such as cable, phone and wireless high-speed internet, are included. The kitchen is also fully-equipped. Check it out here.
Best time to Visit Keystone Heights
Keystone Heights has many local events, ranging from fundraising to community events. Be sure to check online or ask a local guide when you visit.
How to Get Around Keystone Heights
Two Clay transit public transportation services the Keystone Heights area and operates Monday through Friday from 5:30 am until 7:30. You can also order a ride-hailing service such as Uber and Lyft, but they are unlikely to be plentiful. Your best bet is a rental car!
Keystone Heights proves that vacation can be anywhere, no matter how small the place. Adequately equipped to match your needs, try Keystone Height for your next vacation.