The southernmost of the Sea Island chain, Amelia Island attracts visitors because of its wide beaches lined with 40-foot, sea-oat-flecked dunes. But there’s more to do than just lay out on the sand.
Envision a nature lover’s retreat, a sportsman’s playground, and foodie’s paradise all coming together on one special barrier island. Here are 10 of the best things to see and do on a visit to Amelia Island.
Cruise the Amelia River
Head down to the dock at Fernandina Harbor Marina and catch a tour offered by Amelia River Cruises. Choose from a variety of cruises along salt marshes, wilderness beaches, and historic riverbanks. Discover wildlife—dolphins, sea turtles, and manatees—narrated by local history and nature experts or with live local musicians on board.
The 2.5-hour trip down the Amelia River and around Amelia and Cumberland Islands is entertaining and educational. Your guide will tell you 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. Look for wild horses and an array of seabirds as you cruise past beautiful shorelines and unique photo ops.
Visit the Amelia Island Nature Center
Nestled on 1,350 acres at the tip of Amelia Island, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort offers luxurious oceanfront accommodations with amazing views of the Atlantic, resort pools, championship golf, and a full-service spa.
Part of the resort, the Amelia Island Nature Center 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. Keep your eyes open for herons, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, osprey, eagles, and cormorants. During the summer you may also see dolphins and manatees in the marsh.
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. 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.
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. Head out as the tide begins to recede or just after a storm for the best finds. With five distinct beaches on the island, you’ll be sure to find your perfect toes-in-the-sand, sun-worshipping spot. Choose from Amelia Island State Park, American Beach, Main Beach Park, Peters Point, and Fort Clinch State Park Beach. Lifeguards staff the beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Amelia Island State Park
A sanctuary for fishing and bird-watching, Amelia Island State Park protects over 200 acres of unspoiled wilderness along the southern tip of Amelia Island. Beautiful beaches, salt marshes, and coastal maritime forests provide visitors a glimpse of Real Florida. Visitors can stroll along the beach, look for shells and sharks’ teeth, or watch the wildlife. Anglers can surf fish along the shoreline or wet their lines from the mile-long George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier. Amelia Island is the only Florida state park that offers horseback riding on its beaches!
George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park
A pedestrian-only fishing bridge, George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier spans Nassau Sound and provides access to one of the best fishing areas in Northeast Florida. Anglers catch a variety of fish, including whiting, jack, drum, and tarpon. The mile-long bridge is open from 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days a year. Access to the bridge is through Amelia Island State Park.
Explore Fort Clinch State Park
History meets nature at Fort Clinch State Park. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or a bit of both, enjoy exploring the natural and historic resources of this park. A row of cannons staring across the St. Mary’s River into Georgia are silent testimony to the strategic importance of Fort Clinch during the Civil War. Visitors can explore the fort’s many rooms, galleries, and grounds, and learn about the life of a Union soldier through living history programs.
The historic fort is only one aspect of this diverse 1,400-acre park. Maritime hammocks with massive arching live oaks provide a striking backdrop for hiking and biking on the park’s many trails. The park is known for its gopher tortoises, painted buntings, and other species of wildlife. Camping, fishing, shelling, and shark-tooth hunting are popular activities.
Walk the Willow Pond Nature Trail
After seeing historic Fort Clinch and the beautiful sand beaches, take the time to walk the serene Willow Pond Nature Trail. The mile-long trail provides a refreshing break from the warm Florida sunshine. As you start your stroll down the path, you will pass through a forest of historic live oaks with their aerial gardens of resurrection fern, orchids, and Spanish moss. Arriving at a series of breaks in the trees, you suddenly come upon Willow Pond which is actually a collection of coastal depression ponds. Crossing the bridge, you leave the lush green of the palm trees and saw palmettos, trekking the steep incline of the ancient sand dunes until you are surrounded by more live oaks, magnolias, and holly trees. Soon you will finish back where you started.
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is a 46,000-acre area with individual park sites to explore. Each park site is unique for an aspect of natural or cultural history. Trails in the Timucuan Preserve take you through shady hammocks and along pristine beaches. The Timucuan Preserve’s Boneyard Beach offers a stunning, stark backdrop for photographers with 30-foot bluffs and huge driftwood trees scattered along the shore. A historic Sea Island cotton plantation, Kingsley Plantation includes the oldest standing plantation house in Florida. Self-guiding, interpretive exhibits can be viewed throughout the grounds.
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. The island offers five golf courses including an 18-hole championship option at The Ritz-Carlton designed by PGA Tour veteran Mark McCumber and World Golf Hall of Famer Gene Littler. 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.
Be sure to venture over to Fernandina Beach, a city on the northern part of the island with a 50-block National Historic District. Stroll the charming downtown to see a mix of Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic Revival, and Victorian architecture and peruse mom-and-pop shops like Fantastic Fudge, popular for its ice cream and fudge with the latter making a sweet Amelia souvenir.
Amelia Island is located in northeastern Florida, 33 miles northeast of Jacksonville and 26 miles southeast of St. Marys, Georgia.
Life at the beach can be busy on Amelia Island if one so chooses. I’d rather swing on the porch with a book, take a nap, and go for a long barefoot walk at the water’s edge. Serious loafing.
—John Grisham, Ode to Amelia Island