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Amelia Island Travel Guide: 79 reviews and 217 photos

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Introducing Amelia Island

The northernmost island in Florida, Amelia Island is located along the Atlantic Ocean between the city of Jacksonville’s beach islands and Georgia's Cumberland Island. With broad beaches of white sand, scenic hammocks of Spanish moss-laden oak trees, and wetland areas teeming with wildlife, Amelia Island certainly has a lot of natural endowment. Adding to the island’s distinctive appeal is the historic town of Fernandina Beach (pop. about 12,000), which occupies most of the island’s northern half, a Civil War fort, and a pair of renowned oceanfront resorts.

Fernandina Beach Historic District

In earlier seafaring times, Fernandina Beach was a popular haven for pirates and the debauchery of their lifestyles. In stark contrast, today’s Fernandina Beach is one of the most charming and appealing small towns I have ever visited. Considered the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry, seafaring (without the piracy) is still a way of life for many here. Fernandina’s hub is a Historic District of late 1800’s-early 1900’s era buildings occupied by restaurants and unique “Mom and Pop” shops that stretch along Centre Street for six blocks near the Intracoastal Waterway. This makes for an awesome place to take an afternoon stroll or engage in a small-business shopping adventure with the family. There have even been a couple of “Black Fridays” when we left the abundant shopping options of Jacksonville behind to instead patronize the small shops of Fernandina Beach. Shops here include a two-story independent bookstore, a year-round Christmas store, a fudge and ice cream shop, an Irish-themed shop, a pirate-themed shop, and various other places selling clothing, jewelry, art, beachy accents, and even shark's teeth. A visitor center located a block from the Intracoastal waterfront provides a variety of free maps and literature for detailed information on Amelia Island and the Greater Jacksonville area. The Isle of 8 Flags Shrimp Festival, which features blocks of artists and food vendors, also draws crowds of visitors to Centre Street on the first weekend in May. In the blocks just off Centre Street, bed & breakfasts occupy a number of grand old Victorian homes. 

Main Beach & Ft. Clinch State Park

Heading eastward out of the Historic District, Centre Street becomes Atlantic Avenue before ending at Fernandina's Main Beach. Here, S. Fletcher Avenue carries the A1A route number south past a beachfront of interesting bed & breakfast accommodations, rental cottages, and small hotels. The Elizabeth Pointe Lodge is a large New England-style oceanfront cottage in this area that also looks to be a very intriguing place for those seeking an oceanfront bed & breakfast, though I have never actually been inside. The entrance to Fort Clinch State Park is just a couple blocks inland from the beach. The park includes a large, well preserved Civil War-era fort surrounded by a strand of protected beaches and acres of nature trails. It sits at the very northernmost tip of Amelia Island, looking across the wide harbor that marks the state line. Fort Clinch State Park also has a fishing pier that juts out into the Atlantic.

Amelia River Cruises

My favorite attraction in Fernandina Beach is to take an Amelia River Cruises sightseeing tour up to Cumberland Island and back. Amelia River Cruises offers two-hour guided tours of the Intracoastal Waterway and St. Mary’s Inlet, which depart from the marina in Fernandina Beach. The highlight of these trips is seeing Cumberland Island’s wild horses, but passengers will also see the ruins of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s Dungeness mansion on Cumberland Island, the beaches of Cumberland Island’s southern tip, the state line marker, Fort Clinch, a close-up of Fernandina’s port cranes and pulp mill, and any dolphins or other wildlife that happen to be out and about. Landmarks pointed out along the way are accompanied by interesting and amusing stories of local fact and lore as told by a knowledgeable guide.

South of Fernandina

A little further down the shore from Fernandina, much of the island's lower half is an exclusive playground of the rich lined with posh oceanfront resorts, midrise condos, and well respected golf courses. Posh Summer Beach is home to the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, one of the world's top rated hotels. Concours de Elegance, the largest antique, rare and celebrity-owned car show in the Eastern U.S., draws the rich and famous to the Ritz Carlton every year. The Omni Amelia Island Plantation is another large resort area a little farther south featuring its own village of shops, a spa, a golf course, and a nature trail.  In between these two upscale resort areas is the tiny community of American Beach. It is essentially a neighborhood fighting for survival that was originally founded by and for African-Americans in the days of segregation. Today, the community would likely go unnoticed by visitors if not for its historic designation.

Although the island's mid-section does a good job of balancing upscale development with its naturally dense woods and marshlands, 
Amelia Island State Park, at the southernmost tip of the island is all about nature. Often grouped with the Talbot Islands State Parks, across the bridge to the south in Jacksonville, Amelia Island State Park stands out as one of the few places in Florida where visitors can ride horseback along the seashore thanks to the Kelly Seahorse Ranch

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  • Last visit to Amelia Island: Nov 2015
  • Intro Updated May 25, 2016
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