The westernmost barrier island off the northeast coast of Florida, Amelia Island is a marriage between small-town charm and laid-back island living. It’s an ideal destination for those longing for a beach getaway without gimmicky tourist traps or unbearable crowds. With 13 miles of pristine beaches and five area state parks, the natural beauty of this island is perhaps its greatest appeal, but the historic downtown district in Fernandina Beach is sure to add a dose of culture and entertainment to any visit.
Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
All 404 of the Omni’s well-appointed rooms and suites offer views of the 3 1/2 miles of private beachfront awaiting guests. The multi-tiered pool deck (the largest in northeast Florida) includes an infinity edge pool for adults only, a 10,000-square-foot family-friendly pool, Splash Park water playground, two hot tubs and oversized fire pits. Situated on 1,350 lush acres, the resort offers 54 holes of championship golf, 23 tennis courts, nine on-site restaurants, a fitness center, a full-service spa and activities ranging from youth camps to kayak tours. 39 Beach Lagoon Road, Fernandina Beach, omnihotels.com.
The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
World-renowned for their impeccable service and attention to detail, The Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island welcomes guests to enjoy dune-lined beaches and 446 spacious rooms, boasting traditional furnishings and private balconies. In addition to the 18-hole championship golf course, full-service spa, on-site tennis courts and 24-hour fitness club, the property features four restaurants, ranging from a poolside bar and grill to the AAA 5-Diamond Salt (more on Salt below). Every March, the hotel plays host to the Concours d’Elegance, a world-class luxury car show for collectors and automotive enthusiasts. 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Fernandina Beach, ritzcarlton.com.
Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro
An Amelia Island native, chef and owner Ricky Pigg spent 13 years in Nashville (as executive chef of Stoney River and the first general manager of MAFIAoZA’s) before returning to his hometown to take over Joe’s. He incorporates fresh seafood and local ingredients into classic Southern and low country cuisine, like the Fernandina Mac & Cheese, which pairs local shrimp and lobster with a three-cheese sauce, and the masterfully prepared Amelia Island Shrimp and Grits with a white vermouth tasso ham sauce that provides the perfect amount of spice. 14 S. Second St., Fernandina Beach, joesbistro.com.
Celebrate the island’s Spanish roots with traditional Spanish and Portuguese fare at this quaint downtown eatery, which includes a verdant garden terrace for secluded alfresco dining. The extensive menu includes hot and chilled tapas, filling salads, and decadent meat and seafood entrées, but it’s España’s paella that makes it a must-visit. The paella for one — served in a traditional paella pan and available with all meat, all seafood or a combination of the two — is large enough to share and will still allow room to sample the restaurant’s other culinary delights, including Gambas Mozambique (shrimp sautéed with spicy coconut milk and cilantro) or Solomillo con Cabrales (grilled beef tenderloin topped with a creamy Spanish blue cheese sauce). 22 S. Fourth St., Fernandina Beach, espanadowntown.com.
Located in The Ritz-Carlton and offering panoramic oceanfront views, Salt is the ultimate in fine dining. For a truly memorable culinary experience, treat yourself to the Chef’s Adventure Tasting Menu with sommelier-selected wine pairings. The Steak and Eggs — beef tenderloin served on a sizzling 250 million-year-old Himalayan salt block accompanied by fried quail eggs in a mini cast iron skillet — is a highlight on the menu, but with Rick Laughlin at the helm of this very capable kitchen staff, every dish is a palate pleaser. 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Amelia Island, ritzcarlton.com.
BARZIN Bistro & Wine Bar
The curated wine list, sake-tinis, craft beers and tapas-style starters make this cozy wine bar and bistro a great place to start — or end — an evening. Or, make a whole night of it by staying for dinner and sampling the seasonal menu of seafood. With options like bacon-wrapped scallops or pesto-crusted flounder, you can’t go wrong. 4924 First Coast Highway, Fernandina Beach, barzin-bistro-winebar.com.
The Salty Pelican
Dine like a local at this waterfront dive bar, easily the most highly recommended joint by island natives. The two-story deck is one of the best spots to enjoy sunset views, a cold beer or cocktail, and casual beach fare like fresh and fried oysters, fish tacos and peel-and-eat shrimp. Do yourself a favor and order the Seared Tuna Nachos, topped with seaweed salad, goat cheese and wasabi sesame seeds. 12 N. Front St., Fernandina Beach, thesaltypelicanamelia.com.
Amelia Island River Cruise
Set sail with Captain “Pajama Dave” — a personality known far and wide across the island — for a fascinating exploration of the area’s rich history and diverse wildlife. From the Civil War-era Fort Clinch to the wild horses on the shores of Cumberland Island, the 90-minute cruise is both educational and beautiful. (Insider tip: Feel free to bring a cooler with your own adult beverages; just be prepared to share one with the captain when you return to shore.) 1 N. Front St., Fernandina Beach, ameliarivercruises.com.
Amelia’s Wheels Segway Tour
Once you get over the embarrassment of riding a Segway — and learn how to balance — the two-wheeled electric scooters are actually quite a fun way to zip around the island. After a coached orientation, Amelia’s Wheels offers tours of the Amelia Island Plantation along paved bike paths. Glide under the soft sway of Spanish moss and admire spectacular beachfront views as you venture through the 1,350-acre maritime forest. 48 Amelia Village Circle, Fernandina Beach, omnihotels.com.
Kelly Seahorse Ranch
There’s no better way to appreciate Amelia Island’s quiet and uncrowded beaches than on horseback. Kelly Seahorse Ranch leads small groups down five miles of State Park-protected beaches during one-hour rides. Riders must be at least 13 years old, but no horseback riding experience is necessary.9500 First Coast Highway, Fernandina Beach, kellyranchinc.net.
Photos Courtesy of Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau
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