Amelia Island tops Florida’s northeastern-most point like a crown jewel. Picture sand beaches, a spectacular State Park, preserved dunes and nature walks, protected inlets for paddleboard and kayak excursions, intracoastal and Atlantic boating, and a charming historic downtown of Fernandina Beach with fabulous restaurants and lodging.
Amelia is “amiable” in size, 18 sq miles (13 long and 4 wide), with a population of about 30,000. Amelia’s eastern Atlantic coast stretches the entire 13 miles with quartz beach sand and dunes, North Beach to American Beach to the south (more on that later).
Amelia is famous for scenery, sand, shore, and shrimping too. Delicious local shrimp, caught daily on local boats! There’s also a strong Spanish influence particularly in Fernandina, named for Spanish King Ferdinand VII, interesting Amelia was the last Spanish settlement on the continent, 1881, while St Augustine 60 miles south was the first Spanish occupation in 1565. Amelia is referred to as the home of 8 Flags honoring its various occupations over the centuries.
There is so much to see and do on Amelia Island, here are our top tips!
Explore the 50 block National Historic District of Fernandina Beach, to the north west, stroll this beautiful brick seaside village. Sidewalks are draped with grand trees. Victorian mansions are now boutiques, cafés, and pubs lining Centre Street, and the perfectly planned grid of avenues from Front Street on the waterfront, ascending up to 10th. Take an Historic Walking Tour to truly appreciate Amelia’s architecture, legends and lore. Even Fernandina’s municipal offices are spectacular, the 1909 Post Office is Florence Medici Palace inspired, Nassau County’s Court House is 1891 revival style, and the 1878 County Jail is now Eight Flags Museum. Walking Fernandina’s shaded streets brings you to beautiful homes constructed of tabby (crushed seashell concrete) or those featuring gingerbread detail woodwork, look for the horse carousel balcony. The 1884 City Mart is a centerpiece, now home to Fernandina’s Fantastic Fudge – twice worth your stop.
See Florida’s first sunrise, from North Beach or Fort Clinch. Amelia’s early morning ritual is akin to driving up Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia Park to greet the sun first, magical! End your day as the glowing orange ball sets in Fernandina across the ICW.
SUP with Riptide Watersports to paddleboard amid lush salt marsh estuary in the shadows of Florida’s oldest Lighthouse, 1839 Amelia Island Light, flocks of native birds and gorgeous moss-draped trees. You may even spot manatee on your guided tour around serene pristine Egan’s Creek.
Rent bikes, also from Riptide, to bike Fort Clinch Park, Florida’s northernmost state park. Fort Clinch is 2,000 acres of protected sand dunes, beach, nature walks and bike paths, campgrounds, and the historic 1847 fort. The 3-mile park drive is magical, canopied with live oak draped in Spanish moss (its actually epiphyte). Perched at the northern tip is the Civil War fort with outstanding views of St Mary’s Georgia. Fort fanatics will find this monument incredibly well-preserved and fascinating.
Discover the broad Atlantic Beach which extends 13 miles, the entire eastern side of Amelia Island. Main Beach and North Beach offer tremendous walking, sunning, swimming and surf. The fine sand is delightfully white and light and sparkly in most spots, thanks to crushed quartz.
Go to American Beach on the south eastern coast of Amelia, this Atlantic beach was established in 1935 as the first racially diverse beach for “recreation & relaxation without humiliation” by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, President of Afro American Life Insurance, as a place where African American families could finally go and enjoy the sand and surf without discrimination, represented in The Green Book, as depicted in the award winning motion picture.
Visit the Old Town and waterfront park, including The Captain’s House – also known as Pippi Longstocking’s home featured in the film of the pig-tailed ginger’s adventures! If you dig graveyards, Bosque Bello Old Cemetery, which means beautiful woods, is nearby in the Old Town with super old tombstones made from tabby oyster shells, dating to the 1700s, beautifully creepy I might add.
Get out on the water, take a tour boat out of the harbor to learn of Amelia’s pirate and plundering days, to today’s shrimping and fishing heritage. Amelia River Cruises and Charters go out daily, see the wild horses on Cumberland Island, manatees, dolphins, eagles, and view the Fort and Amelia lighthouse from the water.
Eat Amelia! Fernandina is known for its fresh local seafood, so you must dive in. In fact they host an annual Shrimp Fest every May. Be “shore” to taste your way around the eclectic restaurants in Fernandina and Amelia, indulge in indigenous oysters, shrimp, freshly-caught grouper, snapper, halibut, flounder, served with southern flair and spice. See our faves below!
Our next adventure to Amelia, we promise to take the Historical Tour to learn more fascinating facts and fun legends of pirates, captains, millionaires, and shrimpers that settled here. We also vow to play some championship golf at Amelia’s oceanfront courses at Ritz Carlton and Omni, spend more R&R time at the beautiful sand beaches, and bike more of the rec paths around the island.
Where to Dine on Amelia
Fernandina Beach Downtown Restaurants
Salty Pelican on Front Street is THE place! Head to the top deck overlooking the water for an ICW view of the yachts coming and going, the occasional train passing through that shakes the ice cubes in your cocktail, and spectacular sunsets. Happy hour daily deals are fabulous, and the people are fun at the Pelican. The roasted oysters with bacon and blue cheese – yes please! Just try The Seafood Pie –oh my – loaded with lobster, shrimp, crab – spicy, fabulous and filling topped with flaky pastry! If you went fishing today, inquire about The Pelican’s “you hook it, we cook it” Chef’s deal. Casual, scenic, fun & yum!
España for authentic Portuguese Spanish flavors! Sitting in their beautiful backyard courtyard under heat lamps is heavenly. Savor tapas of calamari and shrimp paired with house-made sangria, and the best patatas bravas I’ve tasted outside of Barcelona! Superb Paella, and fresh catch seafood served creatively.
PJD’s Wine & Beer Garden often rocks with live music and locals in a cool garden patio bar.
Palace Saloon on Centre Street is Florida’s oldest operating saloon, since 1903. Its loaded with character, artifacts and pirate swagger, in an old brick corner stone haberdashery. Palace also sells specialty wines by the bottle to go.
Salt Life Food Shack on Fernandina Beach offers Atlantic views and a hip beachy vibe at the Main Beach area. Enjoy drinks and apps at this salty seaside hangout.
The Sandbar on Amelia is perfectly named, right on the sand of Main Beach, serving casual seafoody fare, and a daily happy hour with unbelievable Atlantic views!
POGO’s Kitchen central island is a modern chic restaurant serving delicious southern fare with a flair. Shrimp, octopus, she crab soup, delicious seafood entrees and fresh made pasta, even duck! “Speshul” meals like your southern mum would make, if she’d gone to culinary school.
Where to Stay on Amelia Island
In Town in Fernandina
The Hampton Inn and Suites at Amelia Island in Fernandina Beach is a modern, convenient property, just steps to everything. Ask for a 3rd or 4th floor room with a view of the ICW, the marina, and sunsets. Complimentary breakfast is served on the 2nd, where you will also find an outdoor waterview pool at this Hilton hotel.
The Florida House is the state’s oldest operating hotel, since 1857, built by David Yulee. This charming Victorian inn harkens back to a more genteel time, on 3rd. FYI: Yulee was Florida’s cross-state railroad visionary, see his replica at the 1899 Train Depot by the waterfront.
Down Island Resorts
Omni Amelia Island Plantation on beachfront Lagoon Road offers a luxe golf, spa and beach resort on 1,300 acres including private beach access, and 36 holes of Championship golf, on the southeastern tip of Amelia Island, nine miles to town.
Ritz Carlton Amelia Island is mid-island on the eastern beach side, six miles to Fernandina, with luxury accommodations, spa, indoor and outdoor pools, ocean and beach access, and golf among its 5-star resort amenities.
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