Amelia Island is one of the best islands in the U.S., according to Condé Nast Traveler’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards. This beautiful, history-filled family destination was also recommended by Travel Channel host Samantha Brown in Make It Better’s popular article on hot new vacation destinations. If you’ve been craving a warm-weather getaway that’s close to home, yet feels like yesteryear, choose Amelia Island as your next destination. Make It Better is here to help you experience the best of what this alluring island has to offer.
With 13 miles of pristine, uncrowded beaches, abundant sunshine and mild temperatures year-round, Amelia Island is perfect for a spring getaway or a warm winter respite. This beautiful barrier island on Florida’s Atlantic coast is a quick 30-minute drive from the Jacksonville International Airport, but a complete escape from the bustle of everyday life. Reconnect with friends, family, and even yourself in the relaxed atmosphere, lush landscapes and peaceful quiet of this island, where the roaming wildlife and colorful history are just as much of a draw as the world-class golf, luxurious spas and distinctive restaurants.
Named after Princess Amelia, daughter of King George II, Amelia Island is the only territory in the United States to have been ruled under eight different flags. Once a haven for pirates and nobles, Fernandina Beach is now a charming 50-block district of elegant Victorian mansions, quaint restaurants and eclectic shops.
What to Do
A golfer’s paradise, Amelia Island is home to 117 holes of award-winning golf. Omni Amelia Island Plantation offers 54 championship golf holes, including courses designed by Pete Dye and Bobby Weed, with spectacular views of the natural terrain.
If you’ve dreamed of a gentle horseback gallop along sand and surf, Amelia Island is the perfect place for a beachfront ride. Soak in the sunshine and sounds of the ocean as your feet graze warm waters and saltwater air sweeps through your hair. Horses have a way of calming the soul.
However, if history by horse-drawn carriage is more appealing to you, count on Amelia Carriage Tours. Enjoy tales of the island’s rich history as you cruise the downtown district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The clip-clop of horse hooves makes a soothing melody as you ride in a restored Victorian carriage pulled by “gentle giant” Belgian draft horses.
Yet if you prefer more active, while still serene, activities, try Kayak Amelia. Informative and friendly guides assist with standup paddleboard yoga, kayak yoga or meditation paddles. If you can imagine doing yoga on a mat floating through crystal blue waters, you’ve captured the idea behind standup paddleboard yoga. Close encounters with herons, sea turtles and manatees may be included. Yoga on the sand or meditation under the full moon will rejuvenate your body and refresh your mind.
If you’re looking for a breathtaking view of Amelia Island or an amazing aerial adventure, check trike flying off your bucket list. Air Amelia offers this activity, also known as powered hang gliding. Fly effortlessly up to 2,000 feet while feeling the breeze on your skin and touching the clouds. The high will soar with you throughout the rest of your trip.
Perhaps you’re looking for a more low-key way to take in the sights and sounds on the water. On anAmelia river cruise, you’re likely to see wild horses, dolphins, sea turtles and manatees. Their Cumberland Island tour is highly recommended.
For nature lovers and history buffs, a visit to Fort Clinch State Park might be the ticket to a sensational vacation. Bike among Spanish moss-draped oaks, hike to the largest sand dunes in Florida or fish off the half-mile pier. Take a living history tour of the most well-preserved 19th century fort in the country or just enjoy the flora and fauna, including tortoises, bobcats and American alligators.
Where to Stay
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island is a new addition to the island, combining the Ritz’s upscale ambiance with dashes of southern charm. Revel in stunning coastal views from every private balcony. Relax by the courtyard fire pit, cocktail in hand, or bury your toes in the sand of the dune-lined beaches. Young guests can snuggle up with a special tuck-in from Princess Amelia.
The Omni Amelia Island Plantation recently underwent an $85 million re-imagination. This impressive 1,350-acre property is like a world unto itself, with luxurious beachfront accommodations, gorgeous pools, countless dining options and tons of family-friendly activities, including mini golf, biking and nature excursions, all seemingly effortlessly painted into the beautiful backdrop. They even offer a “Biggest Loser Resort” for people who want to take the first step toward getting fit.
Elizabeth Pointe Lodge is a charming oceanfront bed-and-breakfast with wide porches perfect for reading and reclining. Not only is their breakfast exceptional, but they also serve free wine and hors d’oeuvres every evening and complimentary cookies all day.
Many hotels on the island participate in a “Free Night Any Night” program, in which travelers can get their third or fourth night of qualifying stays at certain hotels for free.
Eating Well on the Island
Salt, Ritz-Carlton’s AAA Five Diamond Restaurant, serves artfully prepared dishes from land and sea, seasoned with salts from around the world. For a unique experience, try “Dine with the Chefs.” You’ll get a private seat in the kitchen with a customized menu and optional wine pairings.
Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro features casual elegance in an environment similar to dining in a chef’s abode. Located in a restored 1900s home in the historic heart of Fernandina Beach, the ideal spot is under the quaint, covered porch out back. Their creative pasta, seafood and steak dishes are delectable, but the desserts are to die for.
Not only does Amelia Island dining include fabulous French finds, like Le Clos, and tempting tapas atEspaña Restaurant and Tapas, but also several casual cafés that feature quality dishes. Dine at Pi Infinite Combinations for tasty pizza served in a cozy courtyard. Toppings range from spicy pepperoni to fresh local shrimp and black truffle oil. See why Timoti’s Seafood Shak was named one of America’s Best Seafood Dives by Coastal Living magazine in 2013. Their wild-caught fish, clams and shrimp are served in baskets, tacos and wraps. You’ll soon become a part of their fiercely loyal following.
Luxurious spas on Amelia Island offer unique and indulgent ways to rejuvenate. The Salon & Spa at Omni Amelia Island Plantation features signature services like the “Seaside Sensory Journey,” a three-step exfoliation under restorative waters, as well as yoga classes and retreats in their Spa Treehouse.
Let stress melt away as you experience the exclusive “Heaven in a Hammock” treatment created byThe Ritz-Carlton Spa®, Amelia Island. Cocooned in an exquisitely crafted hammock, you’ll experience the sense of weightless floatation combined with intuitive touch. Restore your mind and body with complete relaxation.
Shop Under the Sun
Explore the eclectic collection of local shops and galleries in the quaint downtown shopping district. You’ll be sure to notice a line out the door of Fantastic Fudge. If the sweet aroma of fudge and freshly-baked waffle cones doesn’t draw you in, you’ve got stronger willpower than most. Delight in the different fudge flavors crafted throughout the day, the old-fashioned way, on a thick marble slab table. And nothing says vacation like an ice cream cone by the beach.
Next to Fantastic Fudge, you’ll find a reader’s treasure trove at The Book Loft. Immerse yourself in stacks of rare and signed books, as well as pirate and historic collections.
Join the Party
Amelia Island loves to celebrate. Two festivals worth going for are the Shrimp Festival at the end of April and Jazz Festival in October. The Annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival features pirates, parades, arts and entertainment and, of course, shrimp. Hosted in historic downtown Fernandina Beach, the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry, it is one of the premier festivals in Southwest Florida.
World-renowned jazz artists, like Larry Coryell and Kevin Mahogany, headline the the Amelia Island Jazz Festival. Get jazzed by the energy and enthusiasm of this fabulous live music fest.