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(2015 - Winter/Spring Issue)


Rocking to the calm breezes filtering through the spindles on the second-storey porch of the circa 1857 Florida House Inn, I couldn’t resist closing my eyes and imagining the days when Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island was a thriving seaport town, entertaining the likes of the Vanderbilts and Carnegies.  

History runs deep in these parts, as my wife and I discovered on a weekend getaway to this barrier island paradise on Florida’s Atlantic coast. At the Amelia Island Museum of History, located in what used to be the county jail and loaded with artifacts from days gone by, you can sign up for a narrated, 90-minute walking tour through the historic streets of Fernandina Beach.

On Amelia Island, it’s hard not to be charmed by the Palace Saloon—the oldest bar in Florida, which opened in 1903­—the Civil War-era Fort Clinch, or the 400-plus years of history under eight flags, but we were also here to make our own lasting memories. Strolling Fernandina’s Centre Street, gathering treasures at its boutiques and relaxing with a cold drink and local fare set the mood. 

Situated just off the coast in Northeast Florida, Amelia Island is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway, Nassau Sound and one of the east coast’s largest and deepest inlets, Cumberland Sound, which separates Florida from its northern neighbour, Georgia. Outlined by natural Appalachian quartz beaches and framed by sand dunes as high as 12 metres, you will feel far away from reality, although Amelia Island is only 15 minutes from Interstate 95 and just 30 minutes from Jacksonville International Airport.

Named among the top 10 North American islands by CondéNast Traveler’s Readers’Choice Awards for seven consecutive years and a top 25 Island in the World in 2013, Amelia Island is renowned for its long stretches of quiet beaches, superb golf courses and fantastic weather. Mild temperatures and cool sea breezes keep the island’s temperature pleasant year-round, and offer the coolest summer-month temperatures in Florida.

Aside from the Florida House Inn, a variety of reasonably priced charming bed-and-breakfast inns, upscale resorts and comfortable hotels provide the perfect accommodation for everyone. With more than 20 properties housing 2,500 rooms, visitors are able to choose lodgings located directly along the Atlantic Ocean or within walking distance of the historic district. There are also two campgrounds, both at Fort Clinch State Park—one oceanside and one under a canopy of majestic live oaks. A number of vacation home rentals are also available for those wishing to enjoy the conveniences of home. And the island is über-pet-friendly. On a prior getaway, we brought our yellow Labrador retriever, Kali, who made fast friends with shopkeepers and dog-lovers island-wide.

Activities Galore

To truly take advantage of Amelia Island’s gorgeous weather and natural surroundings, we brought our bicycles to traverse the island. After all, it’s only 21 kilometres long by three kilometres wide. You can also rent bicycles or scooters to explore its state parks, the trails at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, and Egans Creek Greenway. Equipped with a biking guide from the local convention and visitors bureau, cyclists can easily determine the best path for a leisurely or advanced ride. We opted to travel on our own, stopping along the way to take in the raw beauty that only Amelia Island can offer. Segway tours courtesy of Kayak Amelia or Amelia’s Wheels at Omni Amelia Island Plantation are also available. 

Swimmers and anglers of all ages love Fort Clinch State Park, and hikers and bikers are welcome to explore its 9.5-kilometre trail. The park’s centrepiece, Fort Clinch, one of the best-preserved 19th-century forts in the country, took us back in time with re-enactments, which bring the fort to life.

Since water is such a key attribute on Amelia Island, we made sure to include a chartered sunset cruise with Windward Sailing in our plans. You can also opt to tour the island via Amelia River Cruises and Charters. Angling is also king in these parts and fishing guides are readily available to give fishermen the opportunity to land red bass, trout, flounder and tarpon. The Amelia Island Charter Boat Association arranges fishing charters to suit every angler’s needs.

Prefer to command your own boat? Kayak Amelia or Amelia Island Kayak Excursions invite you to paddle your way to close encounters with egrets, herons, sea turtles and manatees. Kayak Amelia also offers guided stand-up paddleboard tours.

There is nothing like a horseback ride along the shore to soothe the soul. Kelly Seahorse Ranch, located on an 80-hectare preserve where you can observe dolphins, shorebirds and other wildlife, is the only state-endorsed horse ranch located on the beach. Happy Trails Walking Horses, Ride the Beaches of Amelia and Stay’N Country Ranch also lead private horseback riding excursions along the beach from Peter’s Point Park.

A Duffer’s Paradise

As countless golfers have discovered, Amelia Island is home to 117 holes of stunning, world-class golf. A few of the world’s greatest golf architects—Pete Dye, Tom Fazio and Arnold Palmer—have carved some of the region’s best golf courses from the island’s natural landscape. Ranging from oceanfront holes and oak-lined fairways to Intracoastal marsh preserves teeming with wildlife, the links of Amelia Island offer play for golfers at every skill level. Many of the island’s hotels have golf packages available year-round.

Omni Amelia Island Plantation, a 546-hectare sanctuary nestled on the southern tip of the island, is surrounded by the ocean and green salt marshes, and boasts 54 championship holes, each course recognized as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Ocean Links winds along the coastal Atlantic dune ridge and features five breathtaking oceanfront holes.

At the Golf Club of Amelia Island, 6,696 yards of challenging, beautifully landscaped links weave through marshes and lakes. The club includes a golf academy, which offers individual private lessons for all ages and skill levels, video analysis, clinics, junior camps and a complimentary swing analysis.

Fernandina Beach Golf Club is widely considered one of the most popular municipal golf facilities in the U.S. The club offers a driving range as well as a full-service restaurant, snack bar and pro shop.

Amelia River is an 18-hole, 6,808-yard Tom Jackson design that features the signature 17th hole, a par three surrounded by water, with the 18th hole at the river’s expansive tidal marsh. The semi-private course is open to the public and offers an on-site restaurant, River Café.

Year-round Events

If you happen to be on the island during a festival, you are in for a treat. Family-friendly events are scheduled year-round to celebrate the island’s colourful past and present.

The Concours d’Elegance in March highlights rare vintage automobiles. The Wild Amelia Nature Festival in May provides an entertaining, educational look into the island’s biodiversity. In May, the famous Shrimp Festival is an all-out street party and pirate celebration, which honours the island’s shrimping heritage.

Later this year, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival in May/June, the Amelia Island Blues Festival in September and Amelia Island Jazz Festival in October provide a salty soundtrack to a great vacation you’ll never forget.

Travel Planner

For visitor information and online planning, visit ameliaisland.com.

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