Although Florida is a massively popular vacation spot, there are still a few places that manage to stave off the tourist glut. Of course you need to be willing to go off-the-beaten-path just a little bit.
Amelia Island, a barrier island located just off Florida’s northeastern coast, boasts breathtaking scenery and plenty of active travel options. And you’ll mostly avoid the crowds typical of a Florida summer getaway.
If you only have a short time in this part of the world, guest contributor, Ariana Agrios, shares her tips on how to spend a weekend on Amelia Island.
A Weekend on Amelia Island
Whenever I introduce myself as a Floridian I get lots of questions about my state. Do you go to Disney World every weekend? Don’t you just love Miami? I bet you live at the beach, don’t you? Is Florida as crazy as it seems in the news?
And while, yes, I’ll be the first to admit Florida is a little odd (not every state has free roaming alligators,) I often have to remind people that our state isn’t just Orlando and Miami surrounded by ocean.
One of my favorite places in the state is actually polar opposite in location from South Beach. Amelia Island, a barrier island off the northeast coast of Florida, boasts delicious food, stunning scenery, kind locals, and innumerable outdoor activities without the crowds and oppressive heat of South Florida. If you only have a weekend in the sunshine state, this is how I recommend you spend it.
Where to stay on Amelia Island
Though the best food is located in Fernandina Beach on the island’s north side, if you’re looking for hotels on Amelia Island, I highly recommend staying along the southern stretch of coast on American Beach. This Atlantic Ocean facing beach remains largely untouched except for the few resorts placed sparingly along it.
You can easily walk a mile down the beach without seeing another person. This area is perfect if you want a quieter weekend getaway than the hustle and bustle of Daytona or Tampa.
If you’re opting for fancier lodging, the Ritz Carlton has waterfront property. They have several pools and all the beach equipment you could ever want included in your stay. Call down in the morning and the Ritz will set up beach chairs and umbrellas for you before you’ve even put on your swimsuit.
The Omni is another resort located on the southern end offering similar amenities. They also set up fire pits along beach at night for marshmallow roasting. You can rent apartments there for longer stays as well.
And renting a condo or villa is always a convenient option. You’ll find a large selection at VRBO.
What to Do on Amelia Island
For the outdoor adventurers, the island has many hiking and biking paths that weave over dunes and through the green woods filled with bird and cicada songs. Rental shops like Bike-Scoot-Or-Yak Rentals will drop off and pick up equipment at your door so you can enjoy these activities without any extra hassle.
Segway tours are also popular in the area. I once went with my 87-year-old Grandfather (who handled it much more gracefully than I did, by the way) so they really are for everyone!
I feel obligated to mention that there are several famous golf courses on the island as well, though I’ve never personally used them. Whether you’re a pro or you just want to learn how to tee off properly, these courses offer lessons and equipment for all.
Since Amelia is a barrier island, the ocean around it is fairly calm, making sea kayaking and jet skiing popular year-round. Companies offer tours and rentals along the pier in Fernandina Beach.
The natural landscape of the area creates wandering channels through marshes and sea grass with many picnic appropriate stops. You might even find some sharks’ teeth if you stop along the coast.
While streaking along the northern side of the island via Jet Ski you might decide to make a quick visit to Georgia. Cumberland Island, a neighboring barrier island, rests at the southern tip of the state.
Also accessible by ferry and sail boat, this isle is famous for its wild horses. No one is quite sure how they got there, but legend has it they arrived as long ago as the 16th century with early Spanish forces.
North Florida was one of the earliest sites of European exploration in the Western Hemisphere, giving the area a unique history. The Timucua tribe originally inhabited Amelia Island and the surrounding area, but during the 14th-19th centuries the French, Spanish, and English took turns laying claim to the island multiple times each.
If history is your thing check out Fort Clinch to learn more about the incredibly complicated military backstory of the area. The Fort has ties with the Civil War, Spanish invasions, and the Battle of Amelia Island.
Prefer a less combat oriented historical experience? Take one of the horse drawn carriages for a ride around Fernandina Beach. The drivers know everything about the area and can tell you about antebellum life in Florida or show you where films like Pippi Longstocking were taped.
Visit in May for parades, great music, and seafood when the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival occurs.
Or come back in March if you’re an appreciator of fine cars. Concours week kicks off during the month of March and brings in people from across the country to show off their vehicles.
Art walks occur periodically throughout the year, but even if you miss one there are still plenty of shops selling local watercolor and acrylic works to take home.
Where to Eat in Amelia Island
Though Amelia Island is unparalleled in its natural beauty, its food is what truly won this southern girl’s heart. I’m not sure if it’s the complicated invasion history that brought such varied and authentic cuisine to the island or just the appeal of the beaches bringing 5 star chefs in, but either way you can’t go wrong here.
A quick car ride away from any part of the Island, Fernandina Beach supplies delectable Italian, Spanish, French, and Southern food all within a 5-block radius.
España offers award-winning tapas and paella paired with earthy and spicy wines from Spain and Portugal.
Ciao prepares classic Italian with food even the pickiest of eaters couldn’t pass up.
Le Clos combines fresh, local seafood with all the delicacies native to France. Never eaten escargots? Le Clos is the place to try it.
Finally, you can’t take a trip to the south without some good old-fashioned soul food. 29 South Eats makes farm-to-table meals you wish your Granny could cook. It’s not a vacation without a little indulgence so try the mac and cheese or shrimp and grits.
So explore, grab a bite, feel the breeze coming off the Atlantic, and enjoy the easygoing attitude of North Florida. I guarantee an authentic Floridian experience worth returning for.
Looking for active travel options in Florida? Check out our tips for road tripping through the Florida Keys.