Amelia Island

Florida’s best-kept secret

by Anthology
Images courtesy of Amelia Island CVB, Dreamer Studios

Situated on the Atlantic coast in north-east Florida, this small barrier island has been recognised as one of the most desirable holiday locations in the world. A bold claim certainly, but the island’s pristine waters, long beautiful beaches, shady trails, historic sites and southern charm combine to create an enchanting mix. 

In Florida, they say you must go north to go south, and the historic wooden buildings and live oaks draped in Spanish moss provide a timeless southern feel that has drawn discerning travellers back for over 400 years. Just 13 miles long by 2 miles wide – roughly the same size and shape as Manhattan Island – it is located in the northern part of Florida, close to the border with Georgia. 

Having been fought over by the Spanish, French and British and been under eight different dominions in its short history, the island is also known as the ‘Isle of 8 Flags’. This is the basis for its rich food culture and historical interest. Amelia Island’s natural beauty leaves a lasting impression; the absence of chain outlets, the island’s low-rise buildings and its white Appalachian quartz sand keep visitors coming back time and again.

The island’s main settlement is Fernandina Beach, home to an eclectic collection of local stores, shops, galleries and boutiques. The historic main street is a delightful example of the benefits of resisting the heavy hand of mass commercialisation. 

There is a blend of local flavour, modern convenience and Victorian elegance. The oldest bar in Florida and the last American tavern to close during Prohibition is located here. The Palace Saloon survived that era by becoming an ice cream parlour. A favoured haunt of the Carnegies, Rockefellers and other socialites, the bar retains the features of the original saloon. 

Captivating aerial perspective of Amelia Island lighthouse embraced by a serene forest setting
Amelia Island lighthouse
Cars parked along street in front of buildings at Fernandina Harbour Marina
Fernandina Harbour Marina
A beautiful sunset over the Amelia Island shoreline with colorful sky and calm ocean waves
One of the uncrowded Appalachian quartz sand beaches on Amelia Island

The island is festooned with many Victorian-style mansions and cottages, several of which are converted to sumptuous lodgings and bed-and-breakfast-style accommodations. These are complemented by more modern options of various sizes and styles throughout the island. The presence of two high-quality, luxury resort hotels, the Ritz Carlton and the Omni, allow for a true five-star experience and cater for those who want luxury at their fingertips, with spa experiences, wellness and therapeutic remedies on hand. 

In Florida, you are never far from world-class golf, and Amelia Island is no exception. The Omni boasts an impressive award-winning 36-hole championship facility; other courses to explore include the 27-hole Fernandina Beach Golf Club and the Golf Club of Amelia Island. 

For those who seek pleasure from the finest of food, the abundance of local high-quality produce is the perfect starting point to fire the imagination of some of the most talented chefs to be found anywhere. Amelia Island is known as the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry, and the waters that surround the island offer a treasure of high-quality seafood. Restaurants such as Salt and Lagniappe put that abundance to good use. Everywhere visitors will find their own special place to relax and enjoy fine wines and wonderful cuisine.

Getting to Amelia Island is a two-minute drive across the bridges from the mainland to the north or south of the island. The nearest major international airport is Orlando, a leisurely two-and-a-half-hour drive; there is a local airport at Jacksonville, about 30 minutes from downtown Fernandina Beach. The island’s geography means it’s also easily accessed via Atlanta, Georgia.

Two riders on horses at the beach at sunset, enjoying horse riding on Amelia Island's beaches
Horse riding is still possible on Amelia Island’s beaches
Fort Clinch surrounded by a large brick wall
Fort Clinch
Beautiful sunset view at Fernandina Beach Harbour Marina
Fernandina Beach Harbour Marina by sunset

The island’s history and natural resources are among its top attractions. At Fort Clinch, a wonderfully preserved 19th-century fort, you can discover living history with re-enactments, hikes and bike nature trails, or collect fossilised sharks’ teeth on the pristine and uncrowded beaches. If you want something a little more adventurous, you can paddleboard or kayak along the miles of inland waterways, take boat trips or ride horses on the beach. 

The island attracts families and those who just want to relax, but it’s also a haven for romance. It’s a popular spot to get married or have that honeymoon you’ve always dreamed of. 

Protecting the environment is not just a passing fad here; sharing the landscape with a diverse ecosystem means that the islanders are rightly focused on preserving their natural landscape. Working in harness with the rhythms of nature can be witnessed in the several schemes adopted by locals to recycle and reuse. A fine example of their approach is the respect and sensitivity shown to the nesting sea turtles that come onto the beaches to hatch and return to the sea. Their habitat is protected and sheltered from potential damage from, for example, light pollution and intrusive human intervention. 

Further information on Amelia Island can be found at www.ameliaisland.com.

For travel ideas to Amelia Island visit https://www.americaasyoulikeit.com

  • ‘Amelia Island’ is published in Anthology Volume 21. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
  • Browse more features in travel.
  • If you enjoyed this feature, we’d love it if you would share it!

KEEP READING