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Pirates, bootleggers, shrimpers, and Gilded Age millionaires have all wandered the streets of the downtown hub and historic core of Amelia Island, a delightful little slice of Old Florida in the Deep South. During your visit, you too can duck into a late-19th-century rail depot that now serves as the tourist welcome center, or stroll past fishing cottages and old Victorians with gabled roofs and verandas, many of which have been repurposed into eclectic shops, tasty restaurants, and lively bars.
More than 400 structures in Fernandina Beach are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Beyond the lovingly preserved 50-block historic district, the remainder of moss-draped, 13-mile-long Amelia Island is defined by its verdant parks, inland tropical forests, golf courses, tidal marshlands, and a shell-studded shoreline, along with the land and water adventures that have been drawing vacationers for the better part of three centuries.
If you’re driving into Fernandina Beach on I-95, you’ll take exit 373, from which Amelia Island is about 15 miles east. If you’re flying in, you’ll likely come through Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), which is located around 27 miles from the city.
You could rent a car or use rideshare services, but the local forms of transportation are more fun. They include boats, bikes, golf carts, and four-person buggies everybody refers to as “Island Hoppers.” The latter option doesn’t move very fast, so if you need to get across the island quickly, a bike or a golf cart will be more suitable. There’s also a shuttle bus called the Island Hopper, which makes the rounds every 15 minutes Thursday through Monday on the north part of the island, and charges a small fee to ride.
If you prefer to take your vacations with mild, warm weather, the best seasons for visiting Fernandina Beach are the spring and the fall. Of course, the destination is popular year-round and really goes off in the summer, when families from all over the Southern states converge on Amelia Island despite the rising heat, humidity, and rainfall. Temperatures dip in winter, but it’s fairly dry, with plenty of sun and optimal birdwatching, making this another great time of year to visit. Note that demand rises sharply over Christmas holidays, which are reminiscent of peak summer crowds.
If you’re interested in attending some of the area’s beloved events, the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival takes place in the spring, and celebrations of jazz and whales happen in the fall.
The Victorian-era architecture is a highlight of any trip to Fernandina Beach, with the only question being how you’ll explore these 50 historic blocks. Horse-drawn carriage or trolley will work, but if you’re hoping to gaze longingly at Florida’s oldest existing lighthouse or dip into the state’s oldest continually operated drinking establishment, do it on foot!
Centered on a 19th-century fort taken by a Confederate militia during the Civil War, this sprawling 1,400-acre park also offers shelling beaches, a half-mile fishing pier, and idyllic trails for hiking and bicycling. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
With a ticket booth at Fernandina’s downtown docks, this river cruise company offers daily boat trips to salt marshes, wilderness beaches, and riverbanks, all with engaging narration provided by local history and nature experts. Fishing charters are also easy to come by in these parts; after all, Fernandina is said to be the birthplace of America’s shrimping industry.