Amelia Island is approximately the size and shape of Manhattan, but this northern Florida town couldn’t be more different. The coastal getaway excels at relaxation and rejuvenation, with miles of unspoiled beaches, award-winning restaurants and spas, and shady live oak trees dripping in Spanish moss. There’s as much or as little as you want to do. Speaking of topography, Amelia Island resembles the Golden Isles of Georgia — St. Simons, Sea Island and Jekyll Island, just to the north — more than it resembles the tropical Florida towns to the south.
Getting there is easy. Its location off of I-95, about two hours south of Savannah and a three-hour drive from Orlando, works well for car trips to the area. Amelia Island is 30 minutes north of Jacksonville Airport, so a lot of people fly in and rent a car or take a shuttle. Once you’re on the island, it’s a nice mix of natural activities coupled with touring a quaint downtown. Downtown Fernandina Beach is a 50-block area on the north end, recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Here, you’ll find turn-of-the-century Victorian houses (some of which serve as bed and breakfasts), as well as charming stores to explore, Florida’s oldest saloon and plenty of great restaurants.
Stash your bags at your hotel of choice and hit the beach. Two big resorts draw visitors with their variety of options. You can’t go wrong with the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, a staple for families, with its 400+ oceanfront rooms and private villas to rent. Another popular option is the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, which is appealing because it’s a luxury resort — but with a relaxed vibe. As you explore the wide beaches along the Atlantic, be on the lookout for shark’s teeth and unusual seashells, but be mindful of turtle nests.
Escape the sun with a body-pampering spa treatment at one of the two resorts. The spa at the Ritz has tranquil facilities — including a steam shower and saltwater pool — as well as wellness-oriented treatments. Have you ever heard of “Heaven in a Hammock?” No? Well, now you have! It’s touch therapy in a zero-gravity scenario, rocking in a hammock to mimic the ocean’s tide. At the Omni’s spa, enjoy custom facials (and ask about the special of the day for a 20% savings) among the lush greenery of a courtyard garden.
Head to the award-winning Salt restaurant in the Ritz for dinner, but go a few minutes early so you can shop its specialty store, which is devoted to 40 unique salts from around the world. Inspired by the salty sea, the fine-dining restaurant also uses these unique salts at every meal, which may be one reason it was recognized with a AAA Five Diamond award — not easy to acquire and maintain. Elegant starter dishes such as tuna tartare with dragon fruit and yucca ($18) or heirloom tomatoes with fried pimento cheese are just starters. A fun splurge: the steak and eggs dish served with a 250 million-year-old Himalayan salt block (yes, really!), on which you can sear your meat for an extra sizzle.
Get moving, with one of several ways to explore the island. Horseback riding on the beach is one romantic idea. Another option is a Segway tour on the Omni’s property, where the 1.5 hour guided outings weave in and out of canopied trails and along the marsh.
It’s time to explore charming downtown Fernandina Beach. Grab lunch at the popular Timoti’s Seafood Shak … it’s not fancy — you order at the counter, then snag a picnic table where they bring out your food — but the offerings are fresh and current. Think Baja bowls with wild-caught seafood, lobster rolls or shrimp tacos. Wander the downtown stores and consider taking a bike tour of the historic district.
Don’t miss a sunset cruise through Amelia River Cruises (either the family-friendly or music-and-booze versions), where local captains tell stories about the island while cruising the waterway. They’ll take the group to see wild horses on nearby Cumberland island, and then — with any luck — you’ll spot a few dolphins and take in a stunning sunset. Grab a bite afterward at Salt Life Food Shack and enjoy the breezy al fresco seating while trying all sorts of delicious choices on the menu.
There’s so much more to see! History lovers may enjoy wandering Fort Clinch, one of the most well-kept forts in the U.S. (spoiler alert: it was built for the Civil War but never actually used in combat), in a picturesque setting along St. Mary’s River. Elsewhere on the island, there are kayaking trips, sky-diving, golf courses and cooking classes at the Ritz … truly something for everyone.
Check out the calendar of events for Amelia island to find special events, such as their Charles Dickens’-themed holiday activities, a jazz festival and all sorts of food weekends.
Find more great Southern destinations for your next vacation. Click HERE.