Amelia Island: Barefoot luxury on Florida's Northeast coast

Amelia Island, with its pristine beaches, extensive wildlife, eclectic downtown, historical backdrop and abundant activities, is an idyllic get-away.

Photo: Hayworth Creative

AMEILIA ISLAND, FL, November 6, 2011— Take a deep breath. Smile. Feel the tension leave your shoulders. You have escaped the ordinary and entered the exceptional world of Amelia Island. 

With its stunning natural beauty, extraordinary choices in activities and expansive bounty of lodging and dining choices, it is no wonder Amelia Island’s accolades include ranking in the top 10 of Conde Naste Traveler’s Readers Choice Awards for ten years.  While the island feels a million miles away from the mundane and the hustle of every day life, it is only 30 minutes from Jacksonville International Airport, making it highly accessible.  Amelia Island presents lucky visitors a true get-away to recharge, refresh, and rejuvenate. 

Amelia Island’s pristine beaches/LMR

While the wide, pristine beaches dominate the landscape, they are far from the only treasures on the two-mile-wide and 13-mile long island.  Its other gifts include championship golf courses, nature preserves and parks, historic museums, sailing adventures, world-class spas, horseback rides on the beach, kayak trips, and segway tours, boat tours, and bountiful shops.  Less active visitors find solace in sitting on the beach watching dolphins and sunrises, listening to the waves and the sound of children laughing. 

The beaches are, however, an excellent reason to visit Amelia Island.  The wide, white-sand beaches have been preserved and adored by the community for years.  The sand, which residents proudly explain is Natural Appalachian quartz sand, is soft and free of debris.  The shoreline also boasts natural, well preserved dunes, with native plants and grasses.  Amelia Island cherishes its beaches and its ocean, and goes to great lengths to ensure it is preserved and available for future generations.  Shells, including moon snail, scallop, whelks and others, dot the sand, making it a perfect destination for collectors.  Beach explorers also frequently find shark teeth on their hunts.  Even fossils, including prehistoric shark teeth, are not uncommon.  The wide sands invites all types of activity, including boogey-boarding, skim boarding, swimming, surfing, volleyball, football, jogging, yoga and anything else you can think of. 

 

But don’t forget, one of the best activities on Amelia Island beaches is just relaxing.  On Amelia Island, you have the magical opportunity to sit in the sand, feel the sun on your skin, and watch the shimmering water meet the shore.  Dig your toes in the sand and ignore your cell phone.  The quiet, calm of Amelia Island is one of its most precious attractions.

Perfect Beach Moments:  Wake up early to stroll on the beach at sunrise.  Walk with your family just before sunset and search for dolphins.  Sit quietly on the sand at night and watch the lights from boats offshore and listen to the sound of the waves. 

Hayworth Creative

 

Nature lovers can enjoy the beaches and ocean life as well as the five state parks on or near Amelia Island.  Both turtle and bird watching are popular on the island.  During nesting season, green and loggerhead turtles ascend the beach to lay their eggs.  Approximately 60 days later, hatchlings escape their nests and scurry toward the safety of the ocean.  Observers never forget the experience of seeing these little turtles fight their way to the water.  Cara, an 18-year-old visitor from Ohio explained, “We saw turtles hatch when we were here last year.  It was so beautiful, I couldn’t stop crying.  Really.”  Birdwatchers gush that Amelia Island is a birdwatchers paradise.  Watchers have recorded more than 400 bird species, and one of Amelia Island’s parks is the gateway of the East Florida Birding Trail.  The 2,000 mile trail lists sites with excellent bird watching opportunities winds through the entire state of Florida. 

Fishing is another fantastic option on the island.  You can catch tarpon, snook, redfish, sea trout, bass and many other Florida favorites.  Some excellent venues include Aury’s Island and Walkers Creek.  Or throw a line in the ocean for some surf fishing.  There are several companies that offer deep sea charters or local charters, with experienced captains to lead you to secret fishing holes.  Several tournaments take place on the Island every year.

The five state parks, Amelia Island State Park, Fort Clinch State Park, Big Talbot Island State Park, Fort George Island State Park and Cumberland Island National Seashore, let visitors hike, canoe, kayak, bike, camp and a myriad of other activities.  For example, Amelia Island is one of the few places in the United States where you can ride horses on the beach.  Its parks also are home to wild horses, alligators, deer and other animals.  Historic Fort Clinch State Park includes not only natural areas but also the historic Fort Clinch itself.    The restored Fort gives visitors a glimpse into the rich history Amelia Island.

 

Golfers love Amelia Island.  The Island boasts 117 holes of beautiful, professional golf courses for golfers of every ability.  At the Fernandina Beach Golf Club, guests enjoy three public courses.  Amelia Island Golf Club provides public/private play on the 18-hold course designed by famed golf architect Tom Jackson.  The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort and Summer Beach Resort have four extraordinary courses.  Each facility also offers lessons and special events.

Shopping downtown on Centre Street is perfect for the sight-seer or the beach shopper.  The historic, eclectic downtown has numerous one-of-a-kind shops for Amelia Island souvenirs and interesting items.  Shoppers will relish the unique opportunities, and observers will enjoy the people watching.  Don’t miss the shrimp sculptures spread throughout the area.

Shrimp sculptures are scattered throughout Amelia Island/LMR

 

There is always more to do on Amelia Island.  Our list of four “must dos”:

  • Segway tour at Amelia Island Plantation, Amelia’s Wheels.  Beautiful Amelia Island Plantation lets you experience the tours on a Segway.  There are three tour options, the Junior Segway Experience, the Safari Segway Experience, and the Family Segway Experience.  Guides lead guests to numerous interesting and beautiful locations around the facility.  No matter which tour you select, the Segway tour will definitely rank as one of your top experiences during your stay.  Amelia’s Wheels also rents bicycles and golf carts.  You can reach Amelia’s Wheels at 1-904-277-.5120. 
  • Segway tours at Amelia Island Plantation/LMR

     

 

  • Cumberland Island Tour, Amelia River Cruise and Charters.  If you do only one activity on your trip to Amelia Island, book the Amelia River Cruise and Charters Cumberland Island Tour.  We also strongly encourage you to take the tour on your first day at Amelia Island, as the excellent tour guides give you the context of Amelia Island’s history.  They also offer dining and activity suggestions as well as other insights.  If possible, ask for Pajama Dave for your tour guide.  The two-hour cruise departs at 10:30am and includes an ocean view of Fort Clinch, Cumberland Island and multitude of wildlife.  The guides give personal stories about their experiences and bring the Island to life.  The cost of tour is $26 for adults and $20 for children, and is well worth the price of admission.  Visit their web site at www.ameliarivercruises.com, or visit them at 1 North Front Street, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, Fax: 904-261-9972.

 

  • Fort Clinch State Park and the Amelia Island Museum of History.  To understand the rich history and culture of Amelia Island, visit Fort Clinch State Park and the Amelia Island Museum of History.  They are not co-located, but compliment each other.  Fort Clinch is a 19th century fort on the ocean that was a garrison in the Civil War and the Spanish American War.  Civil War reenactments and other special events bring the garrison to life.  There are also daily tours, or take a self-guided tour with the help of brochures and on-site historians.  The park also has a large nature area and beaches.  The park is open every day of the year from 8am to sunset.  Visit the park at 2601 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034.  (904) 277-7274.  The Amelia Island Museum of History at 233 S. Third Street, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32043,  (904) 261 – 7378 www.ameliamuseum.org is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm and Sunday from 1pm to 4pm.  The museum houses several interactive permanent exhibits explaining the history and context of Amelia Island as well as changing exhibits.  In addition to the displays inside the museum, they also host tours around the island, including the Pub Tour, the Centre Street Tour, Ghost Tour and Holiday Home Tour.  

After all that activity, visitors are bound to be hungry.  Luckily, Amelia Island offers a variety of interesting dining options, from quick and inexpensive to white table cloth and pricey, from eclectic to elegant and everything in between.  Definitely order something with shrimp, as it is harvested locally with no preservatives or artificial anythings.  (As Pajama Dave notes, if you have to read the ingredients in shrimp, you are in trouble.  The only ingredient that should be in shrimp is, well, shrimp.)

Dining guides divide the Island into historic downtown dining, central dining and south dining.  Each area has its own amazing options, so ask locals for recommendations.  Downtown, we like the Crab Trap for its comfortable, authentic feel and abundant servings, Jack and Diane’s for its amazing selection of mouth-watering options and cozy atmosphere and Café Karibo for homemade everything, dining on the patio and the welcoming ambiance.  

Outside seating at Cafe Karibo/LMR

 

Of all the choices of dining options, make sure you visit Sliders and the Happy Tomato Café. 

Sliders Seaside Grill 1998 South Fletcher Ave., Fernandina Beach, FL, www.slidersseaside.com offers excellent food in a comfortable atmosphere.  Dine inside or outside, or let the kids play on the playground while you enjoy the Tiki bar.  The menu is full of fresh seafood options, but you can also enjoy pasta, steaks, salads and sandwiches.  Our top recommendation is the crab cake, which is full of fresh, sweet crab meat and very little filler, and the blackened shrimp.  For appetizers, don’t miss the brandy scallops, fried mushrooms and the peel and eat shrimp. 

Scallop appetizers at Sliders Seafood Grill/LMR

 

The Happy Tomato Café

The Happy Tomato Cafe/LMR

 

http://www.thehappytomatocafe.com/ is tucked away at 7 South 3rd St, Fernandina Beach, FL.  This small courtyard café boasts the best barbeque in the area.  Chef and owner Richard Bolton smokes the barbeque on site and lets guests select from three different sauces, sweet, spicy or mustard.  Chef Richard, who previously worked at the Omni, has recruited a full staff of exceptional chefs who pour their knowledge into making mouth-watering barbeque.  We suggest the pulled pork sandwich with the sweet barbeque sauce.  Absolutely to die for!

Ribs at The Happy Tomato/LMR

 

Sated and tired, visitors return to their lodging for a relaxing evening.  You can choose from award winning resorts, seven historic and unique bed and breakfasts, private rentals or familiar hotel chains.  With such an array, you can find whatever you are looking for in your price-point.  We highly recommend the Summer Beach Resort at 5456 First Coast Highway, Amelia Island, Florida 32034, (904)277-0905 or (800)862-9297 (www.summerbeach.com).  The property offers luxury private, ocean front accommodations, including townhomes, condominiums, and villas.  Within the property, our favorite is the ocean front Ocean Place Condominiums.  The spacious, well appointed condos look out onto Amelia Island’s world-renowned beaches and the amazing ocean.  Each unit has a fully equipped kitchen, a large living room area, spacious bedrooms and a balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  There are also two private swimming pools and two tennis courts.  The Golf Club of Amelia Island is located on the property, so you can golf or enjoy the Beach Club Pool and Snack Bar.  Summer Beach Resorts Ocean Place Condominiums are the perfect retreat, with exceptional comfort and location.  It is an ideal place for your Amelia Island vacation.

Regardless of where you stay or eat or what you do while you visit Amelia Island, you will leave knowing you have experienced magic.  …and you will anxiously await your next opportunity to visit Amelia Island. 

 


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Lisa M. Ruth

Lisa M. Ruth started her career at the CIA, where she won several distinguished awards for her service and analysis.  After leaving the government, she joined a private intelligence firm in South Florida as President, where she oversaw all research, analysis and reporting.

Lisa joined CDN as a journalist in 2009 and writes extensively on intelligence, world affairs, and breaking news. She also provides investigative reporting and news analysis. Lisa continues to write both for her own columns and as a guest writer on a wide variety of subjects, and is now Executive Editor for CDN and edits the Global, Family and Health sections.  She is also a regular contributor to Newsmax and other publications.

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