What to Do on Amelia Island, a Historic Florida Beach Haven

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Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - The main harbor in Amelia Island.
The main harbor in Amelia Island. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

As you step foot on Amelia Island, Florida, you can smell the scent of fresh seafood wafting in the air. The seagulls are squawking and you’ll hear the sounds of the sea captains blowing their horns. This is your warm welcome to Amelia Island and here are some of the fun things to do I discovered while visiting.

Read More: Best Beaches to Explore Near Orlando

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Old, withered live oaks at Boneyard Beach are something to see.
Old, withered live oaks at Boneyard Beach are something to see. Photo credit: Mira Temkin

Go Beyond in Boneyard Beach

Amelia Island is about a 30-minute drive from the Jacksonville, Florida airport. On my way out of Jacksonville to Amelia Island, I stopped to hike in Boneyard Beach. I’ve never seen anything quite like it with its weathered driftwood lying on the beach. You can see the trees from the viewing area or hike down half a mile to walk on the beach. It is eerily quiet. There is no swimming here, but it’s a good stop for a picnic. Remember, it’s a protected reserve. You can’t take anything from the beach.

Get Out There on the Water

Since Amelia Island is surrounded by water, the best way to get an overview of the island is to board one of the Amelia River Cruises & Charters from the main port on Fernandina Beach. There are a variety of different options for adults, families, and couples.

For kids, there’s the perfect Eco-Tour which brings up the catch and lets kids see what’s been collected in the net. It’s a wonderful learning experience.  I opted for the 10 a.m. cruise, slated for two and a half hours around Cumberland Island, Georgia, also known as the Cumberland Island National Seashore, only accessible by boat.

Here I discovered how the rich and famous really lived through the eyes of Lucy Carnegie, wife of Thomas Carnegie, (brother of Andrew Carnegie), where money was no object. Lucy and Thomas had nine children and she offered to build mansions on the island for all of them.  

I also learned that John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his bride, Carolyn Bessette got married on this island and spent part of their honeymoon at the Greyfield Inn, the only hotel on Cumberland Island. In fact, they bought out the hotel for their wedding guests. The whole event was very hush-hush and by the time the community got wind of it, everyone had already departed.  

On our Amelia River Cruises & Charters, we kept a lookout for dolphins, which we did see as well as manatees and pelicans. We really hoped to catch a glimpse of the wild horses on the beautiful beach that have inhabited the island for years.  We could only see them from a distance, but the wild horses were magnificent.  

She Buys Travel Tip: Feel free to take your pets along for the ride, plus your own food and drink. Check out the website and make your reservations for any of these cruises.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - The main harbor in Amelia Island.
Ice cream sandwich. Photo credit: Mira Temkin

Stroll Downtown Fernandina Beach

Geographically, the island is over 13 miles long. Just walking through the Old Town area, you’ll be mesmerized by the Victorian architecture, enchanting mansions, and live oak trees. The 50-block area of the historic downtown Fernandina Beach is listed on the National Register of Historic Districts.

Lining the streets of downtown Fernandina Beach are restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops, and the best retail therapy I’ve seen in a very long time. Don’t miss the Twisted Sisters boutique with its amazing collection of kitschy clothing, purses, and jewelry. Stop in the WataNut shop for a refreshing ice cream sandwich smack dab between two cookies. My personal favorite? Coconut ice cream and chocolate chip.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Notice the blue and white stars on the American flag.
Notice the blue and white stars on the American flag. Photo credit: Mira Temkin

Discover History at Fort Clinch State Park

Fort Clinch State Park is one of the best-preserved 19th-century forts in the U.S. The park offers a variety of things to do like nature trails and biking trails, see Florida’s biggest sand dunes, (no, not for climbing), and catch a sight of the Amelia Island Lighthouse.  The best place to see the Amelia Island Lighthouse House is from the Egans Creek Lookout.

I roamed around the fort and heard stories from costumed interpreters about the history of Fort Clinch. I watched a living history demonstration and explored the barracks at Fort Clinch State Park.

What was really unusual was the American flag waving in the breeze. It was the American flag from before the Civil War, including the Confederate states. The fort began as a Union stronghold, then became a Confederate fort, and a year later returned to the Yanks.

This is a great place to spend the day with your kids. They can collect shark teeth on the beach, explore the fort, and learn more about the Civil War.  There’s also a great playground right near Fort Clinch State Park.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Amelia Island Lighthouse.
Amelia Island Lighthouse. Photo credit: Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Amelia Island Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in Florida, built in 1838 and still used for navigation today. It’s also one of the shortest at only 64 feet tall.  Amelia Island Lighthouse tours are available on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Call 904-310-3350 or visit the Atlantic Recreation Center at 2500 Atlantic Avenue for tickets.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Main Beach Park on Amelia Island.
Main Beach Park on Amelia Island. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

Explore Beautiful Beaches and Parks

I headed towards the Main Beach Park for a walk in the morning and even early, it was filled with surfers and others out for a stroll. The water is intoxicating, with strong waves hitting the shore with a foamy finish. A Surfer School was taking place with lots of children in the class.  

Benches along the beautiful beach give you a front-and-center seat to the show as the sea foam rushes to the shore.

Read More: Florida’s Best Beaches for Families

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Near the beach is a mini-golf, snack shop, and beach shop for everything you need beach-wise.
Near the beach is a mini-golf, snack shop, and beach shop for everything you need beach-wise. Parking is free. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

For some history, head to the American Beach, founded by African-American millionaire Abraham Lincoln Lewis in response to laws that prohibited African Americans from visiting the beach. American Beach is the first stop on the Florida Black Heritage Trail and there is an American Beach Museum that will tell you about its history.

Go horseback riding on the beautiful beach at Amelia Island State Park or go kayaking.

I later drove down Fletcher Street and admired all of the lovely homes lining the oceanfront. It seemed to go on for miles. What a place to live.

Check out Two Talbot Island State Parks

When visitors talk about Talbot Island State Park, it’s sometimes confusing. Yes, there are two of them that offer a world of outdoor recreation. Little Talbot Island features undeveloped barrier islands in Florida with white sandy beaches, maritime forests, dunes, and salt marshes. Go biking on the beach or enjoy a beach campsite. Big Talbot State Park offers hiking and the amazing Boneyard Beach, famous for its remaining skeletons of live oak trees that grew near the shores. You can ride a bike or use your in-line skates along the almost-four-mile off-road paved trail.

Go Horseback Riding or Tee off on the Golf Course

Take to the saddles with Amelia Island Horseback Riding along the shoreline. Choose from sunrise, sunset, or daily horseback riding trails.  Take a nature tour of Amelia Island. Explore the natural wonderland of Amelia Island via a guided kayak tour, boat tour, or paddleboard tour through Amelia Adventures. You’ll also find world-class, championship golf courses to challenge you.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Doing a Paint Pour at Paisley Grace Makery.
Doing a Paint Pour at Paisley Grace Makery. Photo credit: Mira Temkin.

Get Creative at Paisley Grace Makery

If it’s raining or too hot, head to Paisley Grace Makery in Fernandina Beach for some creative fun. They’re open most days, but it’s better to make an appointment. Unleash your creativity by making your own Paint Pour project, take it and make it, or they’ll even do it for you. If you need a unique gift, come and explore their already-made gifts. Ideal for kids and adults, this place is so much fun. I went into the shop to make a turquoise turtle and voila, here it is.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Kids can be a pirate at the Amelia Island History Museum.
Kids can be a pirate at the Amelia Island History Museum. Photo credit: Mira Temkin

Learn More at the Amelia Island Museum of History

To learn more about the 4,000-year rich history of Amelia Island, the Amelia Island Museum of History is the perfect place to get the story, conveniently located in downtown Fernandina Beach. You’ll find exhibits about the first Native American tribe., the Timucuans as well as all the countries who owned the island. What I found fascinating was that the museum is located in the former Nassau County Jail.  You’ll see parts of the jail all over the Amelia Island Museum of History. Docent-led Eight Flags Tours are available daily and included with your admission.

The museum also offers a variety of Specialty Tours including Centre Street Tours, architecture, and Gilded Age tours.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - In homage to its original use as a jail. Note Pirate lurking inside.
In homage to its original use as a jail. Note Pirate lurking inside. Photo credit: Mira Temkin

Where To Dine on Amelia Island

Amelia Island is considered the birthplace of the shrimp boat industry. While that moniker has given way to paper manufacturing and tourism, you’re guaranteed the freshest shrimp, just caught on Amelia Island. Here are two of the restaurants I really enjoyed while visiting Amelia Island.

Enjoy Joe’s Second Street Bistro

Joe’s has been a staple on Amelia Island since 2012. The menu offers seafood, steak, pasta, and even sandwiches. I had an amazing salmon dish with lemon sauce, vegetables, and mashed potatoes, which was a great combination of flavors. For dessert, my server suggested the Cinnamon and Peach Bread Pudding with vanilla ice cream that truly topped off the meal. Desserts rotate with key lime pie, house-made cheesecake, and other sweet delicacies.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Exquisite salmon with mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Exquisite salmon with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Photo credit: Mira Temkin

Dine at the Crab Trap

In business since 1979, the Crab Trap is now under the direction of a new chef, Andrew Marx and he brings a world of culinary expertise to the restaurant. His philosophy is to blend traditional Northern Florida cooking with some of Florida’s southern influences. I started with the Fried Green Tomato Salad and it was fresh and flavorful.

Amazing Things to Do on Amelia Island, Florida - Main Course (Steak , Spinach and Asparagus, and Baked Potato)..
Main course- Steak , Spinach and Asparagus, and Baked Potato. Photo credit: Mira Temkin

For my main course, I decided on the steak, which was juicy and succulent, served with spinach and asparagus, and, wait for it, a fried baked potato.  This is one of Marx’s new additions to the menu and it is sensational. For dessert, I went with the Chocolate Bourbon Bread Pudding. One of the best parts of dining at The Crab Trap is tuxedo-clad John, who performs Broadway show tunes and other popular music. It was the soundtrack of my life!

Fun Facts About Amelia Island

One of Amelia Island’s claims to fame is that they’re the only destination in the world to have been under eight flags, starting with the French in 1562…Spain, Great Britain Mexico Rebel, and the US since 1821. You’ll see the Spanish and French influences on the island in street signs, cuisine, and in the shops in historic downtown Fernandina Beach. The island was named after Princess Amelia, in honor of George II of Great Britain’s daughter. They celebrate once a year with the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival which happens in May.

Where to Stay on Amelia Island

As far as accommodations, you’ll find everything from quaint B and B rentals to chain hotels like the Hampton Inn and Suites Amelia Island. For those seeking resort life, the Ritz Carlton and Omni Amelia Island Resort fit the bill for the lifestyle of the rich and famous. The Omni Amelia Island is also known for its outstanding kids’ programs.

How to Get to Amelia Island

There’s a lot to love about Amelia Island. It’s very pet-friendly, and family-friendly, and parking is free. You’ll feel very comfortable here. People I spoke to said they came down to Amelia Island on a whim. They loved it so much they never left. It’s that kind of place.

With more than 20 years of travel writing under her bling-y belt, Mira Temkin understands the expectations of the leisure traveler and writes to those expectations. From destinations to tours to cruises and luxury resorts, her articles cover the world: across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Central America, South America and Europe. She is a proud member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and past member of the International Food Wine Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). Mira always has her bags packed and is ready to go! You can read her other travel stories at miratemkintravel.com.
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