Amelia Island & Fernandina Beach: Florida's Best Kept Secret

Fernandina Beach

Clean, unspoiled, family-friendly beach
Clean, unspoiled, family-friendly beach

A beach is a beach, right?

Sure there's water, sand, and sun, but what makes a beach special? Do you go where everyone else goes? In Atlanta, where I live, most people vacation in the Florida pan handle in places like Destin or Panama City. I love the Gulf of Mexico with its clear blue water and powder-white sand. The last couple of times I ventured down there, I was confronted with nothing but crowds and traffic jams. Isn't that why I need a vacation in the first place? I need a serene place with beautiful views, good shopping and restaurants, and things to do.

A childhood friend of my husband's has a vacation home in Fernandina Beach and invited us there a couple of years ago. Fernan what? I'd never heard of that beach. But I'll tell you, ever since we went that first time, we were hooked. Here's why

Just across the border into Florida

The purple and white star shows the location of Amelia Island.
The purple and white star shows the location of Amelia Island. | Source
There is lots of public beach access all along Fletcher Ave.
There is lots of public beach access all along Fletcher Ave.

Places to stay

Think all beach rentals are alike? Not here. There's a wide variety of places and price-points for all budgets.

  • Chain hotels. On the island itself are big chains like Hampton Inn. In the nearby town of Yulee, prices drop and you can stay at a Holiday Inn Express or Clarion.
  • Single family homes. Again there is a huge variety from small ones to giant grand ones. Don't worry if the home you rent isn't right on the beach. There is lots of FREE parking and public beach access in numerous places.
  • Townhomes. Our first visit was in our friend's townhome and let me just say that the place was amazing! It had a rooftop deck with amazing views of the ocean (just a 2 minute walk away) and a community swimming pool.
  • High-end resorts. Both the Ritz Carlton and Amelia Island Plantation provide luxury accommodations with amazing golf and tennis. These are the only high-rise condos on the island and they are located way on the southern end.
  • Bed and Breakfast. The majority of B&Bs are located in downtown Fernandina. We ate lunch at the Florida House Inn (see photo). One of the most picturesque ones is the Addison Inn on Ash Street. Quaint and welcoming, this place has numerous buildings as well as garden courtyards.

Golf Course at the Amelia Island Ritz Carlton

So beautiful!
So beautiful!

So many things to do!

While the beach is a given, know that it is all very low key. There are a handful of places to rent water sports items. And no, you won't have to worry about college kids funneling beer on the beach.

  • Bicycle riding. No place is more bike friendly than Amelia Island! Bike lanes can be found on almost every road. And drivers are some of the most courteous around! And new for summer 2013 is an incredible Amelia Island Trail. My husband and I were some of the first to experience this amazing trail. It's wide, flat, safe, and picturesque! The Ritz Carlton photo was taken from the trail. Eventually this trail will take you across the entire state of Florida. Don't have a bike? Rent one for $10 an hour.
  • Shopping. Who doesn't love a good souvenir from their trip? There are many shops near the beach to choose from. But if you desire a little something more upscale, Amelia Island has specialty shops located in the historic section of Fernadina. This is a must see! Stroll along main street and see 150+ year old buildings and trees. At the very end of the street is the water. Beautiful! Closer to the bridge taking you to Yulee, there are other large retail chains as well such as Bealls, Kohls, Target, Talbots and more.
  • Dining. Downtown Fernandina offers indoor/outdoor dining in restored homes all with an artsy flair. It's also the place to go to listen to live music in the evening. For a more local, budget-friendly alternative, we discovered Murray's Grille. Call ahead and see what kind of all-you-can-eat daily special they are offering. The night we were there, it was Buffalo wings. We also enjoyed authentic NY style pizza at Tony's Brick Oven located next to Publix. Both places had friendly atmospheres, great service, and reasonable prices! Both had $1.50 draft beer. Love that!
  • History. For such a small island, there's a lot of history to be seen! Start with a self-guided walking tour through downtown Fernandina. You can pick up a map at the tourist center located right at the water's edge. The area has homes, churches, schools, and inn's dating back to the mid 1800s. Then there's Fort Clinch State Park. On the property is camping (books out a year in advance!) There's also a fort to tour as well as a nature preserve. The cost is $6 per car and $2 per person to tour the fort. A must see. Next time I plan on riding bikes through the fort.
  • Experience With the Amelia Island Museum of History, visitors can get the full taste of Fernandina's history. Every Friday is a ghost tour. Live events and re-enactments and festivals make this place one you won't soon forget. Check out the website for events. Go on Christmas for the Holiday Home Tour. For 2013, the dates are December 6th and 7th. This is one of your only opportunity to see the insides of these beautiful homes so check it out!

Downtown Fernandina

View of the street
View of the street
The Lesene House was built in 1860 and is made of hand-hewn timber and wooden pegs. It is located right on main street.
The Lesene House was built in 1860 and is made of hand-hewn timber and wooden pegs. It is located right on main street.
Oldest hotel in FL! We ate lunch here at the FL House Inn.
Oldest hotel in FL! We ate lunch here at the FL House Inn.
The Addison Inn B&B
The Addison Inn B&B
The Addison's side garden
The Addison's side garden
The Bailey House, built in 1895. Carousel horses are on the porch and is an example of the Queen Anne style.
The Bailey House, built in 1895. Carousel horses are on the porch and is an example of the Queen Anne style.
The Tabby House was built in 1885. The outside is made of crushed sea shells and poured Portland cement.
The Tabby House was built in 1885. The outside is made of crushed sea shells and poured Portland cement.

the Beautiful Trees

It might just be me, but I am in LOVE with the amazing trees that line the island! Where else can you see so many 150+ year-old trees. With moss hanging from their majestic branches, it gives these natural wonders and little extra drama. The developers have such respect for the trees, it's not uncommon to see roads built around the trees.

Majestic Trees

See how they build the road around the tree? Love it!
See how they build the road around the tree? Love it!

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