"Amelia Island, Florida" Top 5 Page for this destination Amelia Island by HSC123
Amelia Island Travel Guide: 80 reviews and 223 photos
(See also my Amelia Island Photo Gallery on Flickr.)
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), the Civil War era's Fort Clinch, and a pair of renowned luxury 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.
Ft. Clinch State Park
The entrance to Fort Clinch State Park is just about a mile and a half east of the Historic District down Centre St./Atlantic Ave. The park, one of Florida?s lesser-known gems, includes a large, well preserved Civil War-era fort surrounded by a 3-mile strand of protected beaches and 1,400 acres of woods crossed by hiking and biking trails. The drive between the entrance and the fort itself is also quite scenic due to the dense canopy of trees that arc over the road. The fort, which was originally built as a defense against attacks from seafaring intruders, was briefly occupied by the Confederacy, who abandoned the site shortly before it was seized and greatly fortified by the Union. Later, Fort Clinch was utilized during the the Spanish-American War and served as a base for monitoring the coastal waters during WWII. The fort stands sentinel at the northern tip of Amelia Island, looking across the wide mouth of the St. Marys River that marks the state line. With its series of tunnels, chambers, and winding stairways made of brick and a backdrop of beautiful beach and water views, Fort Clinch is a must-see for a couple hours of fun exploration.
Elsewhere in the park is the half-mile long Ft. Clinch Fishing Pier paralleling the jetties that distinguish the Atlantic Ocean from the mouth of the St. Marys River. From the pier, one can see the natural landscape of the state park, the houses of Main Beach, and even a few of the distant luxury midrise condos that line the southern half of the island. Cumberland Island is also visible, though from a much more distant vantage point than from the fort itself. Camping facilities are also available at a few locations within the park. On a recent trip, we spent roughly four hours or so exploring the fort and strolling the length of the fishing pier.
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.
Main Beach & south along A1A
Just a couple blocks east of the entrance to Ft. Clinch State Park, Atlantic Ave. ends at Fernandina's Main Beach, a popular public beach with a park and miniature golf course. Here, Fletcher Avenue carries the A1A route number south past a beachfront of interesting bed & breakfast accommodations, rental cottages, and small hotels. Continuing south on A1A, one leaves the city limits of Fernandina Beach and enters an exclusive playground of the rich, replete 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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