Beautiful Beaches, Intriguing History, Gorgeous Inns, Divine Food, Good Shopping – Wow What A Great Vacation Spot! I’ve just spent a completely magical long weekend on Amelia Island in Florida. If you’ve never visited this beautiful and fascinating island just off the coast of Jacksonville Florida, you’re missing a lot. When I think of what makes a great island getaway destination, a few musts come to mind – long stretches of soft sand beach, awesome restaurants in varying price categories, friendly pubs with quirky personalities, interesting accommodation choices, great walks, a bit of history to learn about, excursions out on the water, and oh yes… artsy boutique shopping. Amelia Island has all these in SPADES! Let me tell you about our 3 days of fun on Amelia Island.
Getting to Amelia Island – We stopped by on our (end of winter) drive north from Florida back to Boston. Amelia Island is located along the Jacksonville coast, making it a quick detour off Route 95 to Route 17 then over the bridge onto A1A. If you’re flying there’s more good news – JetBlue often has reasonably priced nonstop flights to Jacksonville from many of the cities they serve. You should be able to find a good array of flight choices into Jacksonville (JAX) airport.
Where To Stay – There are two areas that I would highly recommend; #1 Downtown Fernandina Beach – an historic Victorian era seaport village filled with charming turn of the century inns, a walkable town with interesting architecture and an abundance of restaurants or #2 the quiet southern end of the island where you’ll find famed Amelia Island Plantation Resort (including upscale shops and restaurants) and the lovely Ritz Carlton (as well as other condo style accommodations). I would steer clear of the Sandler Road area with its half dozen mass-market inn style chain hotels – budget friendly perhaps but no soul.
We stayed at a WONDERFUL Victorian Inn – The Williams House Bed and Breakfast. This property delivered everything you would ever hope for in a B&B Inn. The owners Byron and Deborah exuded southern charm and couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful with touring and restaurant suggestions. The inn is within easy walking distance to downtown Fernandina activities while being tucked away on a side street away from any noise. It is elegant, relaxing and luxurious without being stuffy. The decor is executed to perfection – complete attention to every little detail. I loved the formal dining-room set with crystal stemware, antique serving pieces and fine silver for our (yummy) 2 course breakfasts. Our very large room (Catherine’s Chamber) was furnished in period French style fit for a queen (and her king). The bathroom was a real treat (complete with chandelier) a large jet tub for two, multiple candles, scented bubble bath, luxury lotions and towels, and even the candle lighter was provided. The shower had two opposite shower heads with excellent water pressure – can I get one of those at home??? Have a look at some of the reviews on TripAdvisor, there are obviously many, many happy guests at this inn.
Dining Options – There are lots of excellent restaurants and refreshment venues on Amelia Island serving seafood fare as well as varied culinary options. I would suggest patronizing locally owned establishments with chefs who cook with regional ingredients – there are many. Peer down an alleyway in Fernandina and you’re likely to find a cozy courtyard restaurant serving carefully crafted food. Two places in particular stand out in our memory for offering great food and a good time:
The Beech Street Grill (corner of Beech & 8th St). I just love it when I open a menu and there are so many wonderful choices that it takes forever to decide what’s for dinner – such is the case at The Beech Street Grill. Take a peek at their online menu and your mouth will be watering! Cudos for having the Bruschetta appetizer available at $1 a piece – great idea. The food was as delicious as the menu promised.
The Green Turtle Tavern (on 3rd Street). As we were walking down 3rd St on our way to the History Museum, we passed a cute sunny yellow house with a delightful wrap around porch. After our history lesson, we returned to that very porch and joined a jovial group of locals and visitors all sharing a beverage and lots of good cheer. Jeffrey, the manager, makes you feel instantly at home (like a regular) and augments the conversations swirling around the porch. On most occasions there will even be a friendly pooch hanging out on the porch to greet you. Now this is southern living, a wide sunny porch filled with good conversation and cold beer and wine!
Things To Do – Wow, so many choices! After you’ve spent a day strolling through the historic downtown of Fernandina and stopped by the History Museum for an entertaining and interesting docents tour that introduce you to the important role Amelia harbor played throughout history, and spent another day frolicking at the beach, you’ll be ready for some physical activity. Here are some prime suggestions:
Kayak Amelia – There’s nothing more glorious than gliding along tidal rivers and tranquil inland marshes, sun shining, water glistening, birds soaring over head – magical! We went paddling with the fun folks at Kayak Amelia on a 3 hour morning excursion. Our cheery group of about 20 adventurers gathered for a quick introduction to kayaking and safety instruction and then we were off. This excursion is appropriate for beginner or experienced kayakers (not too strenuous) and you can reserve a single or tandem kayak. The picture is of our stop on a long secluded beach where our guide surprised us with an offering of huge delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies – sure we can burn those calories off on the paddle back to home base!
Horseback Riding On The Beach – There are very few locations left in the United States where you can gallop your stallion along the beach. Amelia Island has two companies that offer horseback riding opportunities – Kelly Seahorse Ranch and Ride The Beaches of Amelia. If you’ve always pictured yourself on horseback with hair flying in the wind trotting down the beach, don’t miss this opportunity.
Float away to a remote offshore island – Amelia Island Cruises operates daily boat trips out of the Fernandina waterfront to a number of interesting locations. We took the two hour journey to Cumberland Island see the famed wild horses, ruins of the Carnegie mansion, Greyfield Inn (where John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette), and learn fascinating details of life in and around Amelia Island.
Visit Fort Clinch State Park – This 19th century fort garrisoned troops during the civil and Spanish American wars. Character performers portray life within the fort and once a month there is a full military re-enactment. There is a 6 mile walking and biking trail through the park where you can view the biggest sand dunes in Florida.
Go For the Greens – With six championship golf courses located around the island, Amelia is a golfer’s dream spot. You’ll find both public and private courses as well as golf schools all designed to take advantage of the dramatic coastal settings.
And I could go on and on with great activity ideas. Suffice to say Amelia Island is a wonderful destination whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a friendly natural setting for a family vacation. Check in on the Amelia Island Tourism site for more in-depth information and be sure to note the Events Calendar which is full of interesting and entertaining events throughout the year.