A barrier island stretching along the northeast coast of Florida, Amelia Island is the perfect place for a relaxing romantic weekend during the chilly shoulder season. The island, named for Princess Amelia, daughter of George II of Great Britain, has a laid-back vibe, reminiscent of “old Florida.”
When we booked our discounted hotel stay at Seaside Amelia Inn for the last weekend in January, we did not expect to be sunbathing on the golden-sand beaches….but we also did not anticipate the uncharacteristic temperature plummet that occurred. Still, there are enough things to do on the island to make it a great weekend getaway. Here are my Top 11.
1. Sunrise stroll at Main Beach Park
It’s well worth dragging yourself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning for a stroll in the dunes and sands of Main Beach Park. It’s unbelievably brisk during the winter months, so be sure to bundle up in layers so you can enjoy the morning air.
2. Grab a snack at the farmer’s market
On Saturdays, rain or shine, a farmer’s market is on display to the public on North Seventh Street in the historic downtown area. The market is open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. The market sells everything from pasta to fresh produce to fresh baked goods.
3. Explore Centre Street in historic downtown
The historic downtown boasts over 400 historic structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The street also hosts a variety of art galleries, boutiques offering upscale designer clothing and shoes, and an eclectic variety of eateries from cozy cafes to fine dining. Glittering white lights make nighttime especially festive.
4. Take a carriage ride
Transport yourself back to the Victorian era with a ride in an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage. If you’re staying in a downtown hotel, you can be picked up right there. The horses trot past historic architecture and fine homes in and around downtown while the guides regale you on local folklore and ghost stories.
5. Explore Fort Clinch
Covering 1400 acres and three miles of coast, Fort Clinch State Park offers recreational activities such as swimming, fishing, bicycling, camping, nature walks, wildlife viewing, and living history interpretive programs. The fort itself is a 19th-century masonry fortification.
6. Go antiquing/flea markets
Treasure hunters will be in their glory on Amelia Island where they’ll find myriad of bargains running the gamut from valuable antiques, original paintings, furniture, jewelry, used fishing nets, treasure chests, quirky tchotchkes, and pretty much anything imaginable.
7. Sunset dinner at the marina
Brett’s Waterway Café is the best place to experience southern-style cuisine and a brilliant sunset on a scenic marina at the same time.
8. Fish from the pier at Fernandina Beach
Fernandina Beach has an exposed pier where locals and tourists can fish. The beach also has a fairly good break, making it popular with surfers in the summer, although it can be crowded at that time of year, and sharks, jellyfish, and riptide add a bit of danger.
9. Go kayaking or boating
Although it was too cold when we visited in January, I would love to go back to Amelia Island for kayaking. The rivers are uncontaminated, and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean have good conditions for surf kayaking. It’s common to spot wildlife such as heron and manatees while kayaking.
10. Discover Florida’s Oldest Lighthouse
The lighthouse is one of Amelia Island’s most historic landmarks and the oldest lighthouse in Florida, built in 1838. It stands sentry on the bluff over Egans Creek. The lighthouse and grounds can only be toured with a reservation through the Fernandina Beach Recreation Center.
11. Enjoy the nightlife
There is a variety of entertaining nightlife spots either downtown or at the beach. Strolling through the downtown streets and alleys, you’ll find no shortage of live music wafting out the establishments to draw you in. The Palace Saloon is the oldest drinking establishment in Florida, reportedly the hangout for pirates, and according to legend is haunted.
For a distinctly different but equally fun vibe, Sliders on the Beach is the coastal hot spot. Directly facing the ocean, there is a casual indoor restaurant with floor to ceiling windows for beautiful views of the sea, as well as a tiki bar in the sand for alfresco dining. The tiki bar features local bands and dancing at night – much to our surprise, they played music even though it was windy and chilly!
Although it was cold, we enjoyed our budget-friendly weekend without crowds on Amelia Island. To keep warm, we periodically ducked into friendly tiny establishments like Timoti’s Seafood Shak for a cup of thick, savory clam chowder and Hola Cafe for piping hot Cuban coffee.