My introduction to, and subsequent penchant for Amelia Island, Florida, began in late 2018 when we were staring into the angry eyes of Hurricane Florence. All predictions were that Florence was headed straight for Charleston, and we were busy scrambling to board up the house and pack every car with everything that meant something to us. Little did we know that at the last minute, and only after hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians had already evacuated inland, Florence, by now a category 4 storm, would trick everyone and make a last minute turn which would impact our neighbors just over the state line in North Carolina and northernmost South Carolina. Charleston would be spared…this time. My family and I watched the hourly models for a week before making the decision to evacuate. The irony; flee to the Florida coast during a named storm, but that’s just what we did. What had begun as a chaotic race to secure our home and get out of Dodge, resulted in a fondness for this sleepy tropical hamlet, and a proclivity to return again and again and again.
Located just off the coast of northeast Florida, Amelia Island is easy to reach, but hard to forget. A Southern jewel in the Sea Island chain of barrier islands, Amelia Island is the last (or first, depending on which end you start from!) in a chain of sea islands that start just above where I currently live in Charleston, South Carolina. The communities of Fernandina Beach, Amelia City, and American Beach are located on the island. While the ocean is a draw, I find the quaint town to be more my niche, boasting dozens of storefronts, each with unique vendors, B&Bs with modish Victorian charm, restaurants and eateries too numerous to count, and some absolutely fabulous real estate.
Docks along the Amelia River are great for dolphin spotting
Fernandina Beach closed to visitors as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast of the US
Where To Stay On Amelia Island
Our drive from Charleston took us approximately four hours. We were anxious when we arrived. As anyone who has evacuated for a storm knows or has ever felt, it’s like you are torn inside about all you know and left behind, and you are somewhere foreign, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Floridians get it. Of all the states along the southern and eastern borders in the United States, Floridians get it. And they welcomed the weary. They welcomed the anxiety-ridden pet toting haphazardly dressed evacuees with open hearts. I immediately felt wanted on Amelia Island and that feeling has never changed with ensuing visits. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Amelia Island Historic Harbor Front. This place was great – the proximity to, well, everything was as good as it gets. In addition to a gorgeous view of the Amelia River, something I was all to happy to be braving besides the Atlantic, the staff were wonderful. Every need in a 100% booked venue was met happily by the additional staff brought on to attend to evacuees. We parked once and walked everywhere from here.
Where To Eat On Amelia Island
Brett’s Waterway Cafe
Upon arrival, I could sense the angst in my Dad’s voice, but it was what he wasn’t saying, it was what I knew he was thinking; would their home or my home survive Florence? We were tired from the drive, so opted for light fare and a few cocktails. Across from Hampton Inn & Suites Amelia Island Historic Harbor Front was a spot directly on the water. Brett’s Waterway Cafe turned out to be a gem. I’d envisioned a shrimp cocktail and a Planters Punch before we’d even decided on a place to go, and Brett’s did not disappoint. Their Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail was the perfect size. My Mom and I ordered a carafe of Pirates Punch, Brett’s answer to Planters Punch that you’d typically order in Charleston. In fact, Brett’s made such an impression on us that we made two return trips during this stay for meals.
Espana Restaurant and Tapas
Another place we tried was Espana Restaurant and Tapas. This place came recommended by the gal at the hotel and it was walk-able. First round we had the Patatas Bravas which were absolute perfection; crispy outside and perfectly cooked inside with a great sauce. We also ordered the fried calamari which were positively amazing. In the end, and after eight or nine tapas plates shared, the Picadinho turned out to be our favorite, so much so that we ordered a second round. The sauce it came in was delicious and we used our bread to sop up every last bit.
Timoti’s Seafood Shak
A favorite option for lunch every time I visit Amelia Island now is Timoti’s Seafood Shak. It’s not far off the beaten path at all, but quietly tucked away on a side street. Don’t let the location lead you to think they won’t be busy – they’re BUSY. This has become one of my favorite stops on Amelia Island; the only downside is that everyone else has figured out how good it is, too! I’ve gotten many different things over the visits, but my favorite thing to get is probably the the lobster roll or the poke bowl because both are great bargains and the correct portion size without being ‘too much.’ The seafood is really fresh and every ingredient is flavorful.
Things To Do On Amelia Island
Shopping Centre Street
Centre Street boasts an eclectic range of independent shops in Historic Downtown which offer one-of-a-kind treasures for sure. The shops stretch from the harbor-front to down and around Centre Street and the surrounding avenues. If you can imagine it, it’s probably for sale here. From shell shops filled with sharks teeth to fine leather handbags to exquisite jewelry, Centre Street shopping is expansive enough to take up the better part of a day. For a break in the midst of it all, hop on the Amelia Island Trolley for a historical tour of the town. Or, if you just need something cold to refresh you, stop by the Palace Saloon for a drink; it’s Florida longest-operating saloon and was reportedly designed by Adolphus Busch of Anhesuer-Busch fame.
Sunset Cruises and Beach Combing
Set sail from Fernandina’s historic waterfront and cruise along salt marshes and secluded beaches. It’s not uncommon to spot dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and herons along the way. Some cruises offer incredible views of wild horses roaming free on Cumberland Island. The guides with Amelia River Cruises & Charters will enlighten you with local history as well as info about the eco-sytem. With a different eco-sytem than most of the Sunshine State, Amelia Island offers a combination of spacious white-sand beaches and natural green marshes. Stroll the sand along the Atlantic Ocean and search for seashell treasures like scallops, moon snail or whelk. Speaking of beaches, is there anything quite as romantic as a horseback ride with ocean views? We saw riders on horseback on the beach on a subsequent trip. I looked into it, and it would sure make date night unforgettable by booking a ride with Happy Trails Walking Horses or Amelia Island Horseback Riding.
The Amelia Island Farmers Market
We only happened on this by accident…and now love to stop by the Saturday morning Fernandina Beach Market Place to stock up on snacks and treats before heading to the beach. These local goods also make great take-home gifts and souvenirs!
Ferry to Cumberland Island, GA.
You can take a ferry from Fernandina Beach, FL to Cumberland Island, GA to see the wild horses in the national park. Bring your own bike or rent a bike at the Sea Camp Dock once you arrive. Wind your way around the island looking for sharks teeth on the beach, and the Dungeness Historic District, where the horses are often found grazing.
If you’re looking for a tranquil getaway, give a good look at Amelia Island, along Florida’s northeast coast. From acclaimed restaurants and romantic spots that will warm your heart, Amelia Island offers an escape from the everyday with experiences you won’t forget – on land and water. Come explore.