If you love long expanses of shoreline where miles of white caps turn into waves and hit the beach, and the ocean breeze and salty sea air tickle your nose, then Amelia Island, the last barrier island on Florida’s northeast coast (45 minutes from Jacksonville), has a spot for you right on the sand.
1 The Big Beach
There are beaches all up the east coast of Florida’s peninsula, but none compares to Amelia Island’s 13-mile stretch. It’s pristine, it’s water sport-friendly, it’s meant for long walks and it’s never crowded. Weathered walkovers preserve the sand dunes studded with sea oats that give this beach its natural beauty.
2 Get Outdoors
Kayaking the inland marshes is a good workout as well as a rendezvous with nature as you spot herons, egrets and other long-legged waterfowl. If you like the view from above, try a stand-up paddleboard for a different perspective on nature. Those eager for strenuous exercise can rent bicycles and tackle the mountain bike trails at Fort Clinch State Park.
3 Cast a Line
Fishermen need to look no further than the shore for good fishing. Grab a chair and a pole and try your luck at surf fishing, a daily pastime on Amelia Island’s sandy stretch. Or you can fish along the Cumberland Sound, where finger jetties provide excellent haven for game fish. There’s even a half-mile-long fishing pier that divides the Cumberland Sound from the Atlantic Ocean, where anglers reel in the catch of the day.
4 Go Old School
Not actually a beach, but a sweet little island town with a friendly vibe, historic Fernandina Beach boasts an old-fashioned main street that’s home to candy stores, book shops, clothing boutiques and even a year-round Christmas store. The old Palace Saloon, where Rockefellers and Carnegies celebrated their good fortune, still stands as one of the best watering holes on the block. Off of Centre Street are well-preserved Victorian homes with wraparound porches and gingerbread trim dating back to the turn of the 19th century.
5 Double Dose of Nature
If you didn’t encounter enough nature on the beach, head north to Fort Clinch State Park. A choir of cicadas greets visitors on the main road that passes through a tunnel formed by the branches of oak trees. Its northern point is wrapped by the Atlantic Ocean and Cumberland Sound so there’s more beach and a jetty. Besides six miles of nature trails lined with saw palmetto and sabal palms, the park has a Civil War-era fort where reenactments serve as history lessons.
6 Those Pink Crustaceans
A fun time to visit Amelia Island is the weekend of the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. The May event celebrates the town’s history as the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in the United States. Parades, arts-and-crafts exhibits, concerts and even the crowning of a “Miss Shrimp Festival” are reasons to come. But the best reason is to sample the local shrimp, prepared in more ways than you can count.
7 Room at the Inn
Fernandina Beach is known for its bed-and-breakfasts run by friendly innkeepers. Standouts include the Fairbanks House, an impressive 1885 Italianate home with blooming gardens; the Addison on Amelia Island, three antebellum-style buildings surrounding a courtyard; and the Hoyt House, an elegant 1905 Queen Anne-style 10-bedroom manse. The historic architecture and furnishings are amazing, but the gourmet breakfasts make for tough competition.
8 Big is Better
If you like sprawling resorts where you can find plenty to do without having to get in the car and drive, then the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is your destination. Its 1,350 acres is a sanctuary where flora and fauna thrive. A picturesque golf course plays through tidal marshes, the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Stroll the 3.5 miles of beach at dusk and then take your pick from restaurants serving everything from burgers and beer to fine Southern cuisine.
9 Giddy Up
Horseback riding on the beach, right along the water’s edge, is a signature thing to do on Amelia Island. Seriously, where else in Florida can you ride a horse with names like Porsche, Gem, Diamond and Coral and watch the sun come up or feel the ocean breeze cool your skin as you trot along the sands?
10 Eeriest Beach
Go search for one of Florida’s most mysterious beaches. South on Highway A1A, nestled between Amelia and Little Talbot islands is Big Talbot Island State Park. A ladder on a small bluff descends to a secret stretch where sun-bleached branches of fallen oaks and cedars, now giant driftwood relics, are scattered. The silver skeletons of trees covering the beach have a mystifying appeal that earned the area the eerie moniker: Boneyard Beach.