We recently had the chance to spend 48 hours on the east coast of Florida at a place called Amelia Island. It’s a small island about 30 miles north of Jacksonville. And it’s one of the places that regularly makes Condé Nast’s “Top 10 U.S Islands.” Keep reading to see our picks on the best things to do on Amelia Island. We’ve also got a few of our top spots for places to eat and drink while there!
Downtown Fernandina Beach is home to several buildings on the National Historic Register. You can walk or ride your bike in this cute little area that has a ton of independently-owned local shops and restaurants. It reminded us a little bit of Beaufort, South Carolina, but bigger with more streets and places to check out. Before you visit, be sure to check out Amelia Island’s online calendar as it often has several activities happening in the downtown area.
If you’ve ever wanted to ride a horse on the beach, now’s your chance! Picture yourself riding on top of a beautiful horse, sun on your face, and a sea breeze keeping you cool…If this sounds like you, Kelly Seahorse Ranch will help you cross this item off your bucket list. We think it’s one of the best things to do on Amelia Island. It’s certainly a unique experience. Your adventure will start at the ranch which is located in Amelia Island State Park and will wind through a beautiful maritime forest on a private trail until you get to the hard-packed sand beach where the majority of your ride will take place. And while you can’t take cell phones or cameras on the ride, the staff will make sure to snap several photos of you and your group that you can purchase for a small fee later. Kelly Seahorse Ranch is Florida’s only ranch on the beach so this is a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t want to miss out on while visiting Amelia Island!
Just behind the Residence Inn, you’ll find Egans Creek Greenway. It’s a wonderful spot for taking a walk or riding a bike. A few locals told us to keep an eye out for gators but we never saw one. This trail is great for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts as it’s flat and well-marked. There are also a bunch of interpretive signs along the way to help you learn about the ecosystem along Egans Creek. Bring your camera if you have one as the opportunities for spotting wildlife are numerous!
If you have your own bikes, this is one place you will want to bring them. But if you don’t, there are several places to rent. We had our own because we’d just finished up a 214-mile bike ride from Key Largo to Key West and back but Caroline’s rear brake was messed up. Still, we made a quick stop to see the team at Fernandina Beach Cycling and Fitness and they got us fixed up right there in the parking lot. We can’t say enough good things about this bike shop. While they don’t do rentals, they do make repairs and they have a big fleet of bikes for sale.
To be honest, we’d never heard of a CraigCat before. Turns out it’s a small catamaran with two surfboard-like hulls that makes adventuring on the water super fun. The CraigCat can get going to speeds up to 25 miles an hour and yet it’s stable and easy to maneuver. No prior experience is required. Note: You will have to have a boater’s license or complete an online temporary boaters’ safety course prior to the excursion. But it’s easy. We took it and both of us passed on the first try.
Each CraigCat can hold two people-a driver and a passenger. Drivers need to be at least 18 but it’s a great outdoor adventure for all ages.
And when you go with Riptide Watersports, you’ll have a guide. The tour lasts 2.5 hours and will take you, via boat, to some of the most beautiful spots on Amelia Island. If you’re lucky you may also make a stop like we did on Cumberland Island, Georgia where there’s a high chance of seeing wild horses. We saw numerous dolphins on our tour and learned a ton about the local history while out on the water. We’d do this trip again in a heartbeat.
Ride bikes on the water? Say what? Yep! The team at Amelia River Cycle has a bunch of bikes that will help you get a workout in while seeing some amazing scenery. Both single rider and double rider bikes are available and neither require experience or a boaters license. You just hop on, pedal, and away you go.
We thought the bikes were a solid workout. It’s a lot like pedaling a cruiser in the toughest gear but we loved every minute of it. For those of you, like me, who have a soundtrack for everything, you’ll be stoked to know the bikes come with Bluetooth speakers. We rented the bikes mid-morning but you can also opt to take them out at sunset for gorgeous photo ops.
By now y’all know that we love the outdoors so it was a no-brainer to go explore Fort Clinch State Park. You can hike, camp, cycle, picnic, and even kayak at this 1,400-acre park. But one of the most unique things to do at Fort Clinch State Park and on Amelia Island, in general, is to look for shark’s teeth. The best time to hunt for shark’s teeth is right after a storm but they are in abundance and can often be found even amid calm weather.
Van lifers will appreciate the two campgrounds at Fort Clinch. It’s a great spot to visit year-round but especially in the winter because the temperature is typically mild if not downright sunny and warm. (The average temps in December are a high of 66 and a low of 48. Not bad!) That said, sites fill up very quickly so if you want one, book well in advance!
Where to Eat and Drink on Amelia Island
When you’ve only got a limited amount of time in a place, you want to find all the best spots to eat and drink, yeah? It can’t be only us. To that end, we’re sharing our top picks for the best places to eat and drink on Amelia Island. Starting with…beer.
Y’all know we love beer. One of the first things we research when in a new-to-us place is the breweries. How many are there, what are they making, DO THEY HAVE IPA’S? As luck would have it, Amelia Island has a couple of breweries! But if you’ve only got time for one, we recommend Amelia Island Brewing Company. They’ve got two locations in Fernandina Beach and both have outdoor seating.
We’re big fans of their beers and as such brought home a bunch of big to-go cans aka crowlers. If you’re a fan of IPA’s you’re going to love AIBC because they have a large selection to choose from. And though their beers are constantly rotating and changing, when we were there they had 6 IPA’s on tap.
They have an Imperial IPA that clocks in at 8.5% but they also have some in the 4.9-5.2% range. The bartenders will help you pick out a tasty brew so if you’re undecided, just ask.
Timoti’s Seafood Shack | 21 North 3rd Street
Timoti’s has three locations but the one on Amelia Island is located in the downtown historic district. It’s just a block off Main Street and has outdoor dining and even a small playground area that’ll help keep kids entertained while the grown-ups enjoy food and a beverage or two. The vibe is casual and the food is delicious. We ordered an order of the lobster rolls (it automatically comes with two lobster rolls) and it was super fresh. The lobster itself was served chilled, tossed with mayonnaise, and came on a lightly toasted bun. We also ordered a rice box with grilled salmon that came with avocado, sesame seeds, pickled onion, fresh greens, and T’s poké sauce. Both dishes were excellent and we will definitely return the next time we are in town.
Pizza is one of our favorite things to eat so we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try it on Amelia Island. After scouring some of the online reviews and photos, we finally decided on V Pizza. And it was awesome. The dough is on the slightly sweet side, it’s thin with a thick and chewy crust. They use wood-fired grills to make the pizza and as a result, it has the flavor that only this kind of pizza can create: a little char on the bottom, some on the crust, and a smoky flavor that adds a layer of complexity to every mouthful. There are six other locations in Florida but this is the only one on Amelia Island so check it out if you’re craving some pizza goodness. While we typically don’t endorse chains, V Pizza gets the nod cause it’s that’s good.
Best Place to Stay on Amelia Island
There are numerous options when it comes to lodging on Amelia Island. We opted to stay in a hotel rather than the van for this trip because after a few weeks on the road we were ready for a proper shower and some creature comforts.
Residence Inn Amelia Island | 2301 Sadler Road
The Residence Inn Amelia Island was a great fit for us. It offered easy and free parking for the van, check-in was swift, and they didn’t mind that we brought our bikes into the room. They also offer a 24-hour fitness center, 55-inch flat-screen TVs, and free wi-fi. Plus, it’s pet-friendly!
The room itself was super clean. There was a full kitchen with a range, stove, sink, dishes, and silverware. It also had a super comfortable king-size bed that we were told upon check-in that the entire hotel just received new mattresses. And we can attest that they were wonderful.
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times: Location is key! And in this instance, the location of the Residence Inn Amelia Island was awesome. It’s within two blocks of the beach and there is a bike path called Egans Creek Greenway just off the hotel property (mentioned above). The hotel has bikes that you can rent for half a day or a full day. It’s also just a short drive from the downtown historic area.
But wait, it gets even better. The hotel is also a proud sponsor of Fernandina Beach Pride and is LGBTQ+ friendly.
For those of you wondering if Amelia Island is LGBTQ+ friendly, the answer is yes. Though it’s not a huge place, it does have a pride event! Fernandina Beach Pride is set to have its second annual Pride event in June of 2022. It was originally scheduled for October 2021 but organizers decided to postpone it due to COVID. To stay up to date with the latest information regarding the parade and festival, give them a follow on Instagram.
Best Things to Do Amelia Island Recap
If you’re looking for a great getaway, especially in the wintertime, point yourself towards Amelia Island. It’s a slower pace of life, the food is great, there are outdoor dining options, there’s awesome craft beer and there are tons of outdoor adventures just waiting to be had. We’re already looking forward to revisiting. Have you been to Amelia Island? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts! Please let us know in the comments below.
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