Amelia Island is 3 hours north-east of Walt Disney World, a pretty drive up the Atlantic coast that feels a million miles away. Here you’ll find the warm welcome of ‘hometown America’, Florida’s natural beauty by the boatload, and our Top 5 Reasons you need it in your life.
1) It isn’t difficult to tell T-Ray’s Burger Station was once a gas station. That’s because nothing about the exterior has exchanged since it gave up pumping petrol in favour of flipping burgers. The pumps are still there and it’s every bit as dilapidated as it was in the 1970s. Looking at it, you’re going to say, “Nope, I’m not eating there.” But go anyway. It’s a genuine ‘locals’ place, and an authentic slice of Americana; the kind of family-owned joint straight out of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives television show, with 1950s laminate tables, kitschy advertising signs all over the walls (witness, “Eat Here and Get Gas”), and the kind of burgers that drip juice down your arm when you eat them. Glorious! Go for their famous breakfasts if you can’t make it for lunch. You’ll thank us, we promise.
2) Work off the calories at Fort Clinch State Park, which sits comfortably on the northernmost end of Amelia Island, with camping, fishing, swimming and self-guided tours around the grounds and buildings of Fort Clinch, completed in 1864 by Union soldiers to protect the waterway during America’s Civil War. Pass through a long avenue of live oaks, whose canopy provides a beautiful introduction to the park, and head to the end of the road, where the fort is located. It’s just $2.50 admission, and along with interesting insights into the fort’s history, you’ll get spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. Visit on the first weekend of the month, when reenactors demonstrate skills the soldiers would have used during the war.
Campgrounds and beach access are clearly marked, and you may even find a shark tooth if you scour the beach just after the tide goes out.
3) The beaches along the island are superb, with wide stretches of sand and blissfully uncrowded conditions. The western side of the island is graced with rivers and sea grass, ideal for kayaking or stand-up paddle-boarding. But one of the best ways to enjoy the beach if you’ve had enough sunbathing is with a horse riding tour at Kelly Seahorse Ranch, on the southern end of the island. The horses are gentle, the guides are friendly and knowledgeable, and the route is a pleasing mix of shaded forest and seaside beach. There are few outdoor experiences more enjoyable than meandering on horseback along the water’s edge, and a tour with these ‘sea horses’ takes the pace down to ‘happy contentment’.
4) End your day with a sunset tour with Amelia River Cruises out of historic downtown Fernandina Beach, where the two-hour narrated cruise offers water views of Fort Clinch, the wild horses on Cumberland Island, and such oddities as the house whose exterior was used in the movie The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking. We won’t mention the origin of nearby Lady Street—but your guide will!
You may see deer, shore birds, dolphins, sea turtles, and possibly even a manatee or two, and you’ll also be able to tell your friends you cruised into northern-neighbour Georgia’s home waters when you return home (we think that counts as having visited another U.S. state—sort of). If you want to visit Georgia on land, the cruise company has three tours that will get you there.
There are two sunset tours—a ‘family friendly’ version that all ages can enjoy, and an ‘adults only’ Twilight BYOB for ages 21 and up. The adults-only includes live music, and all tours allow you to bring your favourite beverages and snacks on board.
You can also hire jet skis, boats, fishing charters, or the zippy little CraigCat two-person craft that sit low in the water and make you feel like you’re flying. Or choose a bicycle or motor scooter for a land-based tour. There are dozens of ways to experience the island’s natural assets, whatever degree of ‘adventure’ you’re comfortable with.
5) Amelia Island is well worth an overnight stay, and we can happily recommend the elegant Blue Heron Inn bed and breakfast in Fernandina Beach, with just six exclusive, beautifully appointed rooms. All rooms have private baths, and some have whirlpool tubs, a real boon if you’ve gone horse riding and need to sooth those muscles you never knew you had. Pretty gardens and a swimming pool – an unusual addition for a guest house – are just right for a lazy morning or evening. The Inn is within easy walking distance to the historic downtown and its boutique shops and interesting restaurants.
Now, this isn’t the sort of B&B you may be thinking of if you’ve stayed in B&Bs in other places. This is the real five-star-treatment kind of B&B, with luxury touches—try the fresh, home-make cookies always available in the lobby, and don’t hesitate to ask David and Julie, the owners, to recommend a restaurant for dinner or the ideal location to view the sunset; they know all the best places.
And Julie is an absolute whiz in the kitchen. Our morning started with a sparkling cranberry spritzer, a beautiful fruit ensemble with toasted coconut, fluffy home-made quiche, bacon with candied pecans and Julie’s own fresh-made lemon poppy seed bread with citrus glaze. If that doesn’t start you off right, nothing will. Julie and Dave also invite guests to enjoy a daily pre-dinner Social Hour, with appetisers, wine and beer. Their wrap-around porch with convivial seating is just the place to ‘socialise’ on evenings when the weather is pleasant.
There is so much to experience in Florida beyond the theme parks, and Amelia Island earns the designation of an ‘undiscovered gem’ that offers visitors a real taste of what makes the Sunshine State such a magical destination.
Ready to explore more of Amelia Island? Check out our Veness Travel Media Facebook album, with loads more pictures, and be sure to join us on Attraction Ticket Direct’s discussion forumswith your questions or comments about holidays in Orlando.
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