Tucked into the Florida coastline just as you pass the border in from Georgia you’ll find a great little spot for a nice, quiet, fun filled family vacation, it’s called Amelia Island. Amelia Island is the southernmost of the Sea Islands, which is a chain of barrier islands that stretches along the east coast from South Carolina to Florida. Because it is just inside the boarder from Georgia, Amelia Island still has some of that Southern charm, the streets are lined with oaks rather than palms and the businesses are more sedate meaning you’re more likely to find them advertised in wood block signs than neon. It’s a little more subtle than the rest of Florida; it’s very quaint and peaceful.
Amelia Island is just over 30 minutes north of Jacksonville and while I’d been to Jacksonville several times, and love the area, I had never been to Amelia Island. I knew I was going to like this place a lot even before I stepped foot there. You see one of the ways to get to the island is aboard the Mayport Ferry. The Ferry holds about 206 people and about 42 cars. It’s really cool because you can drive your car, park it and ride the mile over the St. Johns River. You’re dropped off at Fort George Island and then you take a left and head north on A1A to Amelia Island. I’d never been on a ferry before and although I know this one was a small one it was still a great experience.
Amelia Island is a lush beautiful island; it’s rather small at just 13 miles long and about 4 miles wide. It has two towns Fernandina Beach and Amelia City, two state parks Fort Clinch and Amelia Island State Park and two main beaches Summer Beach and American Beach. The island is very rich in history. Fernandina Beach is known as the “Isle of 8 Flags” because it’s the only municipality in the United States that has flown eight different national flags. American Beach is historic because during segregation and the Jim Crow era when African Americans weren’t allowed to swim at the Jacksonville beaches this is where they’d come it was the largest and most popular northeast Florida beach of it’s kind in the area.
Summer Beach is at the south end of Fernandina Beach and this is a seriously ritzy place, it’s an upscale resort development consisting of private homes, condos and the Ritz-Carlton Resort, like I said it’s fancy. This is where you’ll find some great golf courses, spectacular hotels and quaint bed and breakfast Inns with beautiful private beaches. Although access to these beaches is limited, there are some other public beaches on Amelia Island and you can even drive on some of them. If you ever get a chance to drive on the beach I highly recommend it. There’s nothing like driving along with sound of the waves and the birds and the smell of the ocean it’s a wonderful experience.
Another draw to Amelia Island is the two state parks Fort Clinch and Amelia Island State park. Fort Clinch State Park is on a peninsula near the northernmost point of Amelia Island, at the entrance to Cumberland Sound. It’s over 1,000 acres and includes Fort Clinch, which is one of the most well-reserved 19th century forts in the country. The Fort is great to explore, we took the guided tour and I was told they have actors that come in the first weekend of each month and do living history re-enactments of a Civil War soldier’s life in 1864 at Fort Clinch these include military drills.
After you explore the fort you can go relax on one of over 3 miles of beaches or go hiking along a six mile self-guided nature trail. We chose to go and fish from their 1/2 mile long fishing pier. I caught a sheepshead and a redfish but I had to throw the red back, it was too small. My friend asked if I wanted to spend the night there, they have to full facility camping grounds, but I’m not a roughing it sort of person so I opted out. The camping grounds were beautiful though, one was along the Amelia River and the other was on the Atlantic Ocean side.
We stopped by the visitor’s center on the way out and I was amazed at all the wild life they have in the park everything from deer to dolphin, you might even spot the rare Purple Sandpiper here.
Amelia Island State Park is a smaller park along the southern tip of Amelia Island. At just over 200 acres it has many of the same amenities as Fort Clinch, you can hike, bike, swim, surf and fish here too but one thing you can do here that you can only do at a few places on the East Coast is horseback ride on the beach and they offer riding tours along the shoreline. Now I’m not a big fan of horses but I couldn’t pass up the chance to do this. It was a little daunting at first but then I let myself relax and really enjoyed it.
As we were leaving Amelia Island, headed off the northern side, we passed a pedestrian-only fishing bridge across Nassau Sound. I asked my friend about it and was told that this was the George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier. It’s a mile long and is a popular local fishing spot; people catch jacks, drum, whiting and even the occasional tarpon, I made a mental note to stop there when I visit again.
Speaking of visiting again, Amelia Island hosts many festivals throughout the year. The first weekend in May there’s the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival in Fernandina Beach then at the end of May and in to June there’s the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, which is one of the largest chamber festivals in the southeastern U.S. If that’s a little high brow for you come back for the week in October that hosts the Les DeMerle Amelia Island Jazz Festival. This is the one I think I’m going to make plans to come back for, it’s more my style than chamber music, although I enjoy that too.
After we left I couldn’t help but reflect on the day and think to myself “What a great little place”, tucked quietly into the coastline of Florida. Packed with History, loads of outdoor fun great places to stay and one of Florida’s Best Beaches, what more could one ask for?