My Home Beach
Amelia Island home away from home
Do you have a beach that you consider your home beach? I don’t mean one where you actually live. I’m talking about a beach you’ve been going to for so many years that it practically feels like home – your home beach, if you will.
I have a home beach. It’s Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida. It’s the state’s northernmost Atlantic beach, and I’ve been going there since I was a little kid. It’s only about two and a half hours away, so we can get there in no time at all! I guess I often feel like calling Amelia Island home - or at least my home away from home.
I’ve watched my home beach grow from a little fishing village to a sprawling resort town, with numerous Amelia Island vacation rentals. I remember when I was a child, there were only two hotels at Fernandina Beach, and only one of those, the Ocean Terrace, was actually a beachfront hotel. That’s where we almost always stayed. Actually, I guess it was more of a motel. It had a pool in front, and across the back, on the ocean side, there was a huge cement deck with grills, picnic tables, and lounge chairs. I can close my eyes and picture it still – a turquoise cinderblock building with a neon sign in front.
Once in a while, if there were a bunch of us going, we'd rent one of the Fernandina Beach houses or check out other rentals on Amelia Island. most of my memories, however, are of the Ocean Terrace.
My family and I used to make the trip at least once every summer, sometimes more. Often, my extended family members like aunts, uncles, and cousins would join us there. I guess it was their home beach, too.
We spent our days on the wide beach swimming, searching for shells, building sandcastles, playing ball, snorkeling, and riding the waves on boogie boards – only we didn’t call them that back then. Every day, just after lunch, we’d hear the jingle of the ice cream man. This was a real novelty to us – we didn’t have such in our hometown. We’d rush out to the truck with our nickels and dimes to purchase frozen treats, and then we’d try to eat them before they melted in the hot summer sun and dribbled down the front of our swimsuits.
In the evenings, my dad and uncles would usually cook dinner on the grill, and after eating, my brother, my cousin, and I would spend a couple of hours in the motel pool. The water was always so warm and inviting, I always hated getting out. In knew that when I stepped into our motel room I would be freezing. My dad took full advantage of the “free” air conditioning!
After the Ritz Carlton and Amelia Island Plantation came to town, the influx of tourists increased exponentially. When Chris Evert Lloyd was in her prime, she lived at the Plantation, and many top-notch tennis tournaments were held there. This brought in even more visitors. I almost felt as if these strangers were intruding on “my” home beach turf. And worst of all, the Ocean Terrace was torn down.
I know that sounds silly, but that’s how I felt. Fortunately, much of the “urban touristy sprawl” has kept to the Plantation part of the island. The northern part of Amelia that I loved so as a kid is much the same as it was in the sixties. There are some new oceanfront condos, but they’re only seven stories tall, due to local codes.
Some of the very same stores and restaurants have been there for years. Some of the old beach houses haven’t changed much, either. This part of the island still has that small beach town feel. It’s hard to explain unless you have your own home beach.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite things about FernandinaBeach was the long wooden public fishing pier. It had a bait shop and a restaurant on it. A hurricane took part of it, and a fire took another section or two. When Amelia-by-the-Sea purchased the land around the pier for their oceanfront condos, the pier was no longer open to the public. Only those who purchased one of the condos or rented one for vacation were allowed on the shortened pier. When I learned of this, I felt that I had lost an old friend.
As luck would have it, I became reunited with the pier. In 1980, our good friends, Beth and Randy Godwin, rented one of the oceanfront condos at Amelia-by-the-Sea for the entire month of September and invited us down for a week. It was great! Walking on the pier brought back so many childhood memories of happy family vacations and long hot days in the glorious Florida sun, I truly felt that I was home again, back at my home beach.
Since that reunion in 1980, we’ve gone to FernandinaBeach and AmeliaIsland many times, and we always stay at the oceanfront condos at the pier – not just for the memories, but also for the great fishing. My husband and I are both avid saltwater anglers, as are several of our family members. Sometimes we go for a few days, sometimes for a week, and sometimes for two weeks at the time. When I cross the Shave Bridge that connects the island to the mainland, I feel like I’ve been transported into another world – one without cares, without stress, where nothing bad can happen, there in my Amelia Island home.
Many vacationers enjoy going new places every year, and we do this sometimes, too. But we keep returning to our home beach, where we know where the fish are, where to catch bait with our nets, where to shop, and where the best restaurants are. We never have to ask for directions – we know where everything is. My three children always loved Fernandina, and to them, it was the only beach they knew when they were young. “Beach” meant Fernandina in our family. It’s comfortable and familiar, much like re-reading a favorite book or poem.
In all honesty, we now have a second home beach. We’ve fallen in love with Florida’s Redneck Riviera and have been renting a big beach house there every year. We usually get one between MexicoBeach and St. Joe Beach. I’ll admit, the beach and the water here is much prettier than those on AmeliaIsland, but somehow, part of me always feels like I’m betraying my original home beach a little – like I should be on AmeliaIsland instead of on the gulf coast. But I haven’t forgotten FernandinaBeach. We still try to squeeze in a trip or two there every year, also.
I think I’ve decided that MexicoBeach – St. Joe Beach is the best beach for the grandkids. The water is shallow, with no drop-offs, and the waves are gentle. There’s also no undertow, and the sand is soft and dazzling white. The water is almost always as clear as glass, too. It’s not nearly as “touristy” as AmeliaIsland, either, which is another plus. So why does my heart keep tugging me back to FernandinaBeach? The sand isn’t as white, the beach is eroded, the water isn’t always clear, and the waves and undertow are sometimes powerful. Why do I feel the urge to keep returning to AmeliaIsland year after year? Because it’s my home beach. My memories, my childhood days are buried there in the sand, and no amount of spring tides can wash them away.