Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
Envision a foodie’s paradise, a nature lover's retreat, and a sportsman’s playground all coming together on one special island. With its islandwide culture of Southern hospitality, Amelia Island is a mecca for those in search of the good life.
Here are the best things to do on a vacation to Amelia Island.
Cruise Down The Amelia River
Head down to the boatyard in Fernandina Beach, Florida, and catch the Cumberland Island Tour offered by Amelia River Cruises. The narrated 2.5-hour trip down the Amelia River and around Amelia and Cumberland Islands is entertaining and educational.
Your guide will tell you all about the history of the area, including how Amelia Island came under the governance of six different nations, and about the Carnegie family’s connection to Cumberland Island. You’ll also learn everything you ever wanted to know about life on the river. Look for dolphins, wild horses, and an array of seabirds as you cruise past beautiful shorelines and unique photo ops.
Amelia River Cruises offers several different cruise options along with private charters. Be sure to bring your binoculars.
Visit The Amelia Island Nature Center
The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is a community surrounded by the natural beauty of the barrier islands. The Amelia Island Nature Center, part of the resort, is open to the public. Once you enter the property, turn left just before the gate to find the nature center. Be sure to say hello to Buddy, the rescued tropical parrot and resident mascot.
The marsh around the resort is a haven for wildlife found in the dunes, grasses, and sandy shores. The nature center offers eco-biking, hiking, bass fishing, and birding adventures on which you can learn about the thriving ecology and delicate balance of the barrier islands.
If you are looking for an adventure tour, this is the place. The center offers kayak tours, stand-up paddleboard tours, and eclipse pedalboard (think elliptical with pontoons) tours. You can join a tour or rent equipment and explore on your own.
Keep your eyes open for herons, spoonbills, pelicans, osprey, eagles, and cormorants. During the summer, you may also see dolphins and manatees in the marsh.
Hit The Beach
Ever combed a beach for seashells? How about shark teeth? Searching for shark teeth will give your walk purpose as you stroll down some of the 13 miles of beautiful sandy beachfront on Amelia Island.
The island boasts five distinct beaches, so you’ll be sure to find your perfect toes-in-the-sand, sun-worshipping spot. Amelia Island State Park is a sanctuary for fishing and bird-watching. In the days of Jim Crow, American Beach was designated for African Americans. Main Beach Park is perfect for family vacations and includes a playground, comfort facilities, and an ADA Mobi-Mat for easy beach access. Peters Point and Fort Clinch State Park Beach round out the options.
Lifeguards staff the beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Explore Fort Clinch State Park
Walk down the cool, dappled roadway lined with live oaks draped with lacy Spanish moss on your way to lovely Fort Clinch State Park.
Many visitors come to enjoy the sunbathing, but you can also participate in more active beach adventures like surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, and shark-tooth hunting.
When you’re ready for a change of pace, stroll the serene Willow Pond Nature Trail. The mile-long trail provides a refreshing break from the warm Florida sunshine.
Explore the historic fort, where you can step into the soldiers’ barracks, walk through the long red-brick framed tunnels, and see precisely replicated cannons and the fort jail. Walk the ramparts to experience the lookout that both Confederate and Union troops used to monitor the coastline when they occupied the fort.
There are no rental outlets in the park, so you’ll need to bring your own bikes, paddleboards, etc. Rentals are available at Beach Rentals and More with delivery options around Amelia Island.
Admission to the park costs $6 per car, and touring the fort costs an additional $2.50 per person. It’s well worth it for a full day’s worth of fun in the Florida sunshine.
Hit The Links
Every golfer's dream is to enjoy glorious sunshine and gorgeous views while conquering challenging greens and fairways. The courses on Amelia Island offer all this and more.
Fernandina Beach Golf Club is a reasonably priced public golf course offering 27 holes.
The Golf Club of Amelia Island, designed by Mark McCumber and Gene Littler, offers 18 holes with beautiful vistas and challenging water hazards.
Amelia Island Omni Plantation Resort offers two 18-hole golf courses. The Oak Marsh Golf Course designed by Pete Dye is open to the public. The Long Point Golf Course was designed by Tom Fazio and is a members-only course that is also available to resort guests.
Amelia River Golf Club is a semi-private club that offers challenging holes for a reasonable fee.
Enjoy The Great Outdoors
Amelia Island offers so much outdoor fun that it’s hard to know where to start.
For bike tours that will give you a street view of the area, start with Rejen Retreats. The staff will plan a private bike tour for your group to all the best spots, including downtown Fernandina, Egan’s Creek, and Talbot Island State Park. They also offer private yoga classes on the beach where you can practice your Sun Salutation at sunrise
Horseback riding on the beach is a treat for any equestrian. The gentle 5-mile ride at Kelly Seahorse Ranch will work your core and provide a unique outdoor experience.
Eating On Amelia Island
Showcasing locally grown ingredients, the chefs of Amelia Island will delight and inspire you. From eclectic bistros to luxurious five-star restaurants, the island’s cuisine scene offers fresh, island-inspired flavors.
Here are some of my favorites.
Salt at the Ritz-Carlton is more than just dining -- it’s an experience. From the old-world, elegantly appointed dining room to the exciting new-world cuisine, Salt will treat your senses to a symphony of aromas, artistic plating, and tantalizing tastes.
Start with the bright flavors in the tuna tartare with dragon fruit, lotus root, pineapple sorbet, and tempura pears. Move on to the steak and eggs where the beef tenderloin is served on a Himalayan salt block. Finish with the citrus cheesecake mousse for a memorable meal.
While you are shopping in downtown Fernandina, stop by Cafe Karibo for lunch. This quintessential Florida Coast bistro offers relaxed dining frequented by locals. Casual indoor and patio seating coupled with cool, chic art set the tone for a tasty lunch.
You’ll love the bright flavors of the Karibo Burger made from Black Angus, short ribs, and brisket, or the Calypso Chicken Roll with jerk chicken, bacon, grilled pineapple, pepper Jack, and spicy aioli. Wash it all down with a house sangria while you rest up for more shopping.
Step into a dining oasis at POGO’s Kitchen, which offers intimate dining frequented by an in-the-know crowd. Share a few small plates with your table or dine on meticulously prepared entrees like salmon with truffle risotto or roasted chicken with potato pave. It’s the perfect end to your day.
Shopping On Amelia Island
Downtown Fernandina Beach is bursting with cute, one-of-a-kind shops. Boutiques like Amelia Linen and Wood, which carries a smattering of everything French country, or Cottonways, which offers gauzy women’s wear, can be found throughout the historic downtown shopping district.
Where To Stay On Amelia Island
Amelia Island natives are known for their Southern hospitality. They are charming, helpful, and friendly.
You’ll enjoy a stay at any of these properties.
Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort offers oceanfront guest rooms, golf, tennis, hiking, water sports, and on-site dining. Everything you need is right at your fingertips. While you are there, drive through the residential section -- you may discover that it’s your perfect retirement destination.
Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
Relax at the pool with a palm tree-framed ocean view, sip Champagne on your balcony or on a private spot on the beach, luxuriate in the world-class spa, and dine on globally inspired cuisine at the elegant Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island.
Home2 Suites By Hilton Fernandina Beach Amelia Island
If you are looking for a budget-friendly option, the Home2 Suites by Hilton Fernandina Beach Amelia Island is a great choice. It is centrally located and has spacious rooms with mini fridges and microwaves. There are full-size barbecue gas grills on the patio outside the pool where guests can enjoy a home-cooked poolside dinner. A breakfast spread is included with your stay, and pet-friendly rooms are available.
Pro Tip: Amelia Island has an extensive website, but if you prefer a book in hand, you can request a visitors guide prior to your trip. The guide is chock-full of dining, lodging, and entertainment options. The accompanying free app will allow you to organize all your vacation plans.