I’m sure I could spend hours raving about this wonderful city in the very northeast of Florida. Fernandina Beach is on Amelia Island, which is the width of Cumberland Sound away from Georgia.
The city goes back deep into the 19th century, and the sound is watched by a Civil War-era fort. Fernandina Beach has an impossibly pretty downtown, opening onto the wide lower reaches of the Amelia River.
The marina here is a gateway to the marvelous estuarine habitats all around, and is a lovely place to watch the sun behind the marshes. On the island’s ocean side are the kind of wide open beaches everyone expects from the Atlantic shore.
There’s a choice of access points, while centrally-located Main Beach park is a self-contained paradise.
1. Centre Street
Fernandina Beach has a colorful main street, traced by beautiful Victorian-era storefronts, going back 150 years or more.
Centre Street is my kind of place, with tree-shaded sidewalks, lots of brick architecture, and a sizable directory of shops and eateries. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the sunsets are worth the trip alone.
For some eight blocks, ending at the marina with dreamy vistas of the Amelia River, there are galleries, antique stores, fashion boutiques, and adorable gift shops.
It’s hard to keep up with the sheer quantity of restaurants downtown. Safe to say there’s multiple things—not just something—for everyone. This might be southern-style seafood, tapas, Cuban, Mexican, Mediterranean, BBQ, Italian, Mexican, burgers, the list is a long one.
1. Fort Clinch State Park
Guarding the entrance to Cumberland Sound, at the northern tip of Amelia Island is the preserved Fort Clinch.
This location has been fortified since the 1730s, but the current complex is from the mid-19th century and became a haven for Confederate blockade runners in the Civil War.
Restored by the CCC in the Great Depression, the fort is the anchor for a 1,400-acre park. Within the ramparts, the historic buildings have museum exhibits, and costumed reenactors for some historical titbits.
While I think this historic site should be your priority, there’s a lot to love about the surroundings.
For instance, I adore the old-growth maritime hammocks here, with huge live oaks. On the water the scenery is no less magnificent, and you can comb the beaches for unique shells and sharks’ teeth.
2. Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival
Over the first weekend in May, the main annual event in Fernandina Beach has a history reaching back more than 60 years. Of course, seafood takes center-stage at the Isle Of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.
Non-profit and civic organizations serve up a mouthwatering array of shrimp plates, from popcorn shrimp to shrimp gumbo.
I love how none of the vendors at the Food Festival are commercial enterprises, so you know everything is going to a good cause.
All across downtown Fernandina Beach there’s live entertainment, arts and crafts, pageants, fireworks, and a parade. It’s a truly one-of-a-kind event that’s a big hit with those of nearly every age and interest.
3. Main Beach Park
There are several public access points all down Fernandina Beach oceanside. But none are more conveniently located, or better appointed, than Main Beach Park by the entrance to Fort Clinch State Park.
At the end of Atlantic Avenue, this place is somewhere I could spend an entire day, from dawn to dusk. The star is the long and wide band of soft white sand, swept by the Atlantic.
To make things more comfortable there’s a wealth of amenities. You’ve got mini golf, bike rentals, a skate park, and a mind-blowing array of eateries, considering this is a public park.
You can keep it casual at Salt Life Food Shack, or go for something a little fancier at The Sandbar & Kitchen, the only full-fledged restaurant on Amelia Island’s beachfront.
4. Sounds on Centre
Held at the corner of 2nd and Centre, this concert series is produced by the Fernandina Beach business and historic association.
Taking place on the first Fridays of every month April through October, the concerts are free and include a variety of genres.
Shows are accompanied by lots of great food and family-friendly activities, and often coincide with festivals and parades.
Generally, concerts start at 6 PM and end at around 8 PM. A portion of proceeds from food and arts and crafts sales go to support civic organizations and scholarships.
5. The Amelia Island Museum of History
This local history has the distinction of being housed in a historic Nassau County Jail (1938). It’s also unique in that it’s largely a spoken museum, and was the first of its kind in the state.
There are still exhibits and artifacts on display, though most information is garnered through the insights offered by the experienced docents that offer facility tours.
I found this to be a singular experience, and a nice change of pace from traditional history museums.
Most of what you’ll learn centers on the Timucua Native Americans who lived in the area, and the French and Spanish who first explored the region.
6. Peters Point Beachfront Park
Another fabulous public beach access nearby is this shorefront park, just past the municipal airport.
The first thing I noticed about Peters Point Park was its plentiful parking spaces. Vehicles are also allowed to access the beach, although non-residents will need a permit.
Over the dunes, you’re met by a wide swath of white sand, with low rolling breaking quite a long way out and leaving a large shallow area. The guarded area is several hundred feet long, and complemented by indoor/outdoor showers and a picnic area.
This stretch of beach is a good place to hunt for sharks’ teeth, while horseback riding tours set off from here, as I’ll explain later.
7. Egans Greek Greenway
East of the downtown area, Fernandina Beach has large parcels of nature along the banks of Ron Sapp Egans Creek. Mostly following the creek there’s several miles of multi-use trails that first opened in 2000.
At the north end, near Main Beach Park, these meander through hardwood hammock and salt marsh. Further south you’ll come across coastal hammock and resorted freshwater swamp.
There are lots of places where you can take a moment and appreciate the views. A downloadable trail map and brochure outlines some of the many wild species that you might see, including some of the area’s 200+ documented birds.
8. Amelia River Cruises
One of things I think everyone should consider in Fernandina Beach is a boat tour. First it’s the only way to get closer to the magical scenery on the Amelia River estuary, or across the sound at Cumberland Island.
Sailing from the Fernandina Harbor Marina, Amelia River Cruises knows every inch of these wild beaches, salt marshes, and historic riverbanks.
On professionally narrated tours you’ll catch glimpses of wildlife from manatees to wild horses, and will come away with a deeper knowledge of Amelia Island and its neighbors.
There’s a number of tours to pick from, including a short but sweet sunset cruise, a comprehensive tour of Cumberland Island.
9. Amelia Island Horseback Riding
This company has provided horseback tours in Amelia Island’s majestic coastal scenery since 1993. Amelia Island Horseback Riding caters to beginners, with easygoing horses and attentive guides.
There’s a big choice of public and private experiences available, but for a memory that will stay with you, I’d choose a sunset ride.
In the course of an hour you’ll see the sky in subtle tones from pink, to orange, and gold, reflected in the water by the beach.
In the same vein, you’ll see the sun come up over the Atlantic from Peters Point Beachfront Park on a sunrise ride. Your guide will point out unforgettable sights, like a dolphin breaching, or a nesting sea turtle shuffling onto the beach.
11. Fernandina Beach Market Place
Just off Centre Street downtown there’s a vibrant farmers’ market, open every Saturday, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, rain or shine.
Unusually for a farmers’ market, this is a private enterprise, and has been a regular event for more than a decade.
Browsing the vendors, I saw a bounty of fresh produce, as well as seasonings, jams, seafood, plants, salsas, fresh breads, pastries, honey, tapenades, and a wide choice of prepared foods.
These include tacos, Chicago-style pizza, Vegan specialties, and egg rolls, to name a small few. There’s live music pretty much every week, while there’s also an arts & crafts market on the second and fourth Saturday of the week.
12. Amelia Island Welcome Center
In my article I wonder if I’ve done justice to the true breadth of things you can get up to in Fernandina Beach. So perhaps the best way to begin your time in the city is with a visit to this handy welcome center.
The center has a special location, in Fernandina Beach’s historic passenger depot. A dignified reminder of the Gilded Age, this was built in 1899 after its predecessor was destroyed in a hurricane.
Inside you can learn a little about senator and railroad magnate, David Levy Yulee (1810-1886), and see the eight flags that have flown over Fernandina Beach.
Naturally, this is just the place to get up to speed on local attractions, tours, dining, lodging, events, and much more besides.
13. Green Turtle Tavern
Chiming with the city’s reputation as a chill, bohemian destination, the Green Turtle Tavern is a nightspot with a lot of personality.
Conveniently located in the historic downtown, this place is known for its variety of local and regional brews, as well as margaritas, mojitos, and other cocktails.
I loved the porch, which is a cozy place to be in the evening, as well as the games of offer, like ping pong and cornhole. But maybe best of all is the live music, drawing a crowd every night.
14. Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve
South of Amelia Island, this vast national preserve encompasses a vast region of salt marsh, estuary, dune, and hardwood hammock.
The preserve’s historic attractions include Kingsley Plantation (1798) and the lost settlement of Fort Caroline, both of which offer interesting and educational insights into the area’s history.
You’ll get to know all about the pioneers, soldiers, settlers, and enslaved people who lived here centuries ago.
With four different rivers and a chain of barrier islands, I reckon this is one of the best spots in Florida for saltwater paddling. There are many miles of creeks, ready to be explored. If you don’t have your own vessel, Kayak Amelia offers rentals or guided tours.
15. Fernandina Beach Golf Club
The city has a well-regarded municipal golf facility by the airport, with 27 holes. Each of three nine-hole courses measures more than 3,000 yards from the tips, and is ensconced in beautiful native vegetation.
When I played a round here, it was clear that a lot of care had gone into greens and fairways. Both were in excellent shape, and bordered by a mix of pines and oaks.
There’s also a full-service restaurant, and a practice facility that has recently been equipped with TopTracer technology. This gives you immediate shot feedback and allows you to compete against friends.