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Amelia Island is best known for its bluff-height dunes and white, wide beaches. The best way to get there is to travel north via Route A1A, which involves taking a car ferry across the mouth of the St. Johns River at the naval town of Mayport.
Before you reach Mayport, stop at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, where you can play in the ocean, picnic, kayak, go lake fishing and camp. Past Mayport, about two miles on Route A1A, turn off at Fort George Island to see Kingsley Plantation Historic Site. Learn how cotton was farmed and tabby houses were built.
Little Talbot Island State Park lies a few miles to the north, if you’re looking for a place on the beach away from the crowds. Be sure to check out the hiking trails previously traveled by early explorers and colonists.
Up A1A about six miles, cross the bridge to Amelia Island. Fort Clinch State Park, at the island’s north end along Route A1A, is a good place to visit the beach and experience some of the island’s history. Civil War soldier re-enactors bring history to life and weekend candlelight tours are a hit with visitors. From the fort’s embankments, you can see long sweeps of beach and Georgia’s Cumberland Island.
To reach downtown Fernandina Beach, head west on Atlantic Avenue, which turns into Centre Street, the heart of the historic district. This well-preserved pirate seaport and former playground of the rich showcases a Victorian influence and is known for its bed and breakfast inns. Learn the history on a visit or specialty tour from Amelia Island Museum of History in the old jail. Check out the Palace Saloon, shop in the unique boutiques and fill up on white shrimp, a local specialty. Hook up with a local kayak tour of the salt marshes on the islands leeward side or hire a fishing captain and see what you can catch.
Amelia Island is a beautiful piece of Old Florida that's managed to retain its charm and character over the years, without falling victim to the urban sprawl and franchise development that you'll see elsewhere in Northeast Florida. Many of the activities here are family-friendly (this is a resort destination, after all). Take your pick from one of these options to create memories you'll cherish forever:
1. Get out on the water. From fishing expeditions and kayak adventures to guided river cruises and scuba lessons, there's no shortage of ways to enjoy the bountiful water that surrounds this barrier island.
2. Be "art-rageous." On the second Saturday of each month, the island hosts its "Artrageous Art Walk" at the galleries and shops in Fernandina Beach. Sip wine and converse with artists while you keep an eye out for a unique masterpiece to bring home.
3. Eat, eat, eat. This island may be small, but its selection of independent restaurants and chef-driven bistros is quite impressive. Be sure to try locally-caught seafood at least once during your visit. The annual Amelia Island Restaurant Week (usually held in January) that allows visitors to enjoy a three-course, prix-fixe meal at several local restaurants. Make reservations early, as this popular event draws diners from all over Northeast Florida.
4. Listen and learn. Walking tours of historic Fernandina Beach are a fun way to learn more about the area's past while also soaking in that signature Florida sunshine. After the tour, head to the Amelia Island Museum of History to continue your quest for more knowledge about the area.
5. Enjoy one of the island's festivals. This active community sure knows how to throw a party; if your visit to Amelia Island coincides with the annual Concours d'Elegance antique car show, the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival or the Holiday Home Tour in Fernandina Beach, consider yourself very lucky.