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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.

A Ritz-Carlton sunset on Amelia Island

Amelia Island’s eastern location makes it a good spot for sunrises, such as on the Ritz-Carlton patio. Image: Lisa Mowry

A view of the Omni Golf Course on Amelia Island

Live oak trees — with their majestic branches and romantic Spanish moss hanging down — are easy to spot everywhere, but they are particularly scenic at the Omni golf course. Image: Lisa Mowry

Day one:

Morning:

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.

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Afternoon:

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.

The Omni Spa courtyard and garden on Amelia Island

The relaxing wait area at the Omni spa features a lush courtyard garden. Image: Lisa Mowry

Fountain views at the Omni Amelia Island

Views off the lobby at the Omni Amelia Island will get anybody in a coastal frame of mind. Image: Lisa Mowry

Evening:

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.

An entree at Salt Restaurant on Amelia Island

Hearty entrees at Salt restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton include artfully arranged lobster tail, filet and quail eggs. Image: (C) Agnes Lopez Photography 2013/Marriott.

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island beachfront

The beachfront Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is surrounded by natural dunes and miles of quiet beaches. And there’s always those iconic blue umbrellas to provide a little shade. Image: Lisa Mowry

Happy hour at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island

Happy hours at the Ritz-Carlton are serious biz. Every afternoon at 5:45 in the Lobby Bar, a special batch of custom-infused liquor is introduced. For something beach-like, you can’t go wrong with the Sunset on Amelia cocktail, mixing blood-orange juice, vodka and a little sparkling wine on top. Image: Lisa Mowry

Day Two:

Morning:

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.

Horseback riding on the beach at Amelia Island

Leisurely horseback-riding on the beach is one way to traverse part of the island’s 18 square miles. Image: Deremer Studios Commercial Photography/Amelia Island

A Segway tour at the Omni Amelia Island

Guided Segway tours at the Omni are a good way to tour the marshes, shady paths and other natural treats. Image: Lisa Mowry

Afternoon:

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.

Timoti's on Amelia Island

Fresh seafood, anyone? Stop at Timoti’s in downtown Fernandina for a healthy lunch or dinner. Image: Lisa Mowry

Downtown Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island

Downtown Fernandina Beach has a variety of stores and restaurants in its historic buildings. Stop at the visitors’ center near the harbor and pick up a self-guided walking tour booklet to learn about the 100+-year-old buildings and houses along the way. Image: Lisa Mowry

Book Loft on Amelia Island

Book-lovers will want to stop in the charming Book Loft in downtown Fernandina Beach. It was the inspiration for the bookstore in John Grisham’s novel, Camino Island. The famed novelist has a house on the island. Image: Lisa Mowry

The Fairbanks House on Amelia Island

Fairbanks House, a circa-1885 Italianate villa in the historic district of Fernandina Beach, has a plethora of rooms and cottages on the property to please any history-lover who also loves a quaint coastal town. They’ve come up with a variety of packages to appeal to different sorts of vacations, such as the “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which includes social hours, chocolate chip cookies, complimentary bikes and other amenities. Image: Lisa Mowry

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Evening:

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.

Sunset on Amelia Island

Sunset cruises out of the harbor in Fernandina Beach are popular for all ages. Image: Lisa Mowry

The Sprouting Project at the Omni Amelia Island

Specialty experiences such as The Sprouting Project, a multi-course meal themed around one ingredient, are a chance for chefs at the Omni to show off their skills. Image: Lisa Mowry

Day Three:

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.

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