While Amelia Island might not technically be a hidden gem, it gets far fewer tourists than Florida hotspots like Orlando and Palm Beach.
This means that if you choose to visit Amelia Island, you’ll get to see a different side of Florida – one that is more culturally aligned with the Southern cities of Savannah and Charleston than Miami.
But of course, this is still Florida, so prepare for stunning sunsets, outdoor adventures, and, yes, pirates!
Below are my favorite reasons you need to plan a visit to Amelia Island, but if you have your own, leave it in the comments!
Note: We were guests of Amelia Island during our Big Southern USA Road Trip. As always, all opinions are my own.
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My Favorite Travel Booking Sites for 2022
These are my favorite companies that I use on my own travels.
Find cheap flights with CheapOair.
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For road trips and ground transportation, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find information and cruise reviews on Cruise Critic.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Get reliable travel insurance through World Nomads.
Store your luggage safely with Radical Storage.
The Top 6 Most Popular Amelia Island Tours & Attractions
Before you dig into all the island has to offer, you should know that these are the most popular guided tours, attractions, and day trips on Amelia Island.
Where to Stay on Amelia Island, Florida
Luckily there are lots of great places to stay (many of them beachfront!), so you have a lot of fabulous choices from which to choose. However, I do have some opinions about which are the best hotels on Amelia Island.
We stayed at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Amelia Island. This new three-star oceanside hotel has quickly become one of the best places to stay on Amelia Island.
Our room had stunning ocean views, a separate living area, and a great balcony.
The area around the hotel has great restaurants within walking distance, and the beach itself is just a five-minute walk.
You can check into your hotel room, drop your luggage off, and be at the beach or a beach bar before your car engine has even cooled.
If you want to go swimming in the evening, the hotel pool and hot tub stay open late and make for a wonderful way to unwind at the end of the day.
More Places to Stay on Amelia Island
If you are looking to stay at one of the best resorts on Amelia Island, the four-star Omni Amelia Island Resort has a full-service luxury spa and is one of the best resorts for someone looking for hotels with golf courses.
Another luxury option is The Ritz-Carlton, a five-star resort that also features a golf course and spa along with five restaurants.
This is also the resort that hosts the annual Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance. If you will be coming to the show, book a room here early as it sells out far in advance of the event.
There are many more options for Amelia Island accommodations, from bed and breakfasts to apartment rentals to budget motels.
The Best Reasons to Visit Amelia Island
Whether you’re trying to decide if an Amelia Island vacation is right for you, or if you’re trying to convince someone to come along, here are twenty-one reasons you should plan your visit…right now!
Amelia Island is the Southernmost of the Sea Islands
This chain of barrier islands of the coast of the Southern United States includes over one hundred islands between the mouths of the Santee and St. Johns Rivers in South Carolina, Georiga, and Florida along the Intercoastal Waterway.
Not every island is a travel destination as some are uninhabited and some are even used by the military.
Most have sandy beaches on their eastern coasts while inland the islands begin to look more like the rest of the South with live oak covered in Spanish Moss and marshes harboring alligators.
Besides Amelia Island, which is the southernmost in the three-hundred-mile island chain, famous Sea Islands include Hilton Head (a personal favorite), Tybee, Sapelo, St. Helena, Jekyll, Cumberland, and St. Simons.
If you’re trying to decide which Sea Island to visit, remember that you can easily take a day trip to Cumberland Island from Amelia Island, making this trip a twofer!
Amelia Island is Easy to Get to Compared to Other Florida Destinations
Florida is a big place, and many of the best travel destinations here are hard to get to. While you can fly into major airports like Miami and Orlando, you still might have to drive a while if you aren’t planning on staying in a city.
However, if you are planning a trip to Amelia Island, you can fly into Jacksonville International Airport in Nassau County and be on Amelia Island in less than forty-five minutes.
(You can also fly into Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport if flying private…but I don’t know many people who can afford that life).
But where Amelia Island’s location makes it easy is when it comes to road-tripping.
Because of its location in northeast Florida, it’s much easier to get to than say the Florida Keys or Disney World.
So while I do love Ernest Hemingway and Mickey Mouse, I have to say that Amelia Island is a much easier place for me to get to.
If you are looking for a slice of Florida life and you’re coming from somewhere on the East Coast or Southeast, then why spend an extra six or seven hours on the road (or more) to get to southern Florida when you can stop here and have a magical time instead?
Those precious vacation hours are better spent in a beach chair than behind the wheel!
Amelia Island is a Year-Round Destination
Because there is so much to do on Amelia Island beyond the beach, you can come and enjoy the island at any time of year.
Downtown Fernandina Beach is a great small beach town, but you can come and spend a few days here without even getting on the water if that’s what you want to do.
There are great restaurants, great shopping, and even fun winter celebrations!
Festivals and special events happen all year. Dickens on Centre is a holiday celebration in December, Concours d’Elegance is in March, and the Right Whale Festival is in November.
This means even when temperatures dip into the sixties, there’s still a great time to be had here.
So while the technical “tourist seasons” are Thanksgiving through April and the summertime, feel free to plan an Amelia Island weekend getaway any month you’d like.
The History of Amelia Island is WILD
Being the owner of a travel website with the name “history” in it, you can imagine that I’ve been on my fair share of history tours and visits to important historic places.
I’ve been on ghost tours, history walking tours, and walked the grounds of some of the most monumentally important places in the world (with many more to go).
I’ve been to ancient cemeteries, forgotten castles, and hidden churches.
I’ve seen locks of famous people’s hair, stood in the rooms where they were born, and toured churches and temples made out of human bones.
So I’ve seen a lot, and some of it was weird.
But the history of Amelia Island is, to put it lightly, insane.
I learned most of what I know about the absolutely batty history of the island during the Amelia Island Historic Tours: Eight Flags Road Tour and at the Amelia Island Museum of History.
We went on a guided tour (in a van) that took us to many of the most important historic sites on the island, while our tour guide told us the most raucous tales from the island’s past.
I do not have the storytelling skills to begin to go into what we learned (and you really need to experience these things for yourselves once you get here). So if you do come, make sure to book this tour.
But let’s just say that it changed my understanding of all of colonial history in the US, I had no idea parts of the US were ever controlled by Scottish pirates, and that there have been more flags over this small island than over Texas.
The American Beach Chapter of Amelia Island History is Incredibly Important
While you’ll learn some dark and some fun history of the island on the tour, one of the most incredible things about Amelia Island is how much of the history happened right on the beach.
The history of American Beach is a chapter of US history that I was completely unfamiliar with.
During the era of Jim Crow, Black Americans did not have access to most Southern resort towns or beaches, so communities and entrepreneurs worked to create their own.
A. L. Lewis was an entrepreneur and millionaire who created American Beach. His purpose was to have a place that gave African Americans “Recreation And Relaxation Without Humiliation.”
American Beach is now part of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, one of Florida’s national parks.
You can visit the beach and see the few buildings that remain here in the American Beach Historic District, as well as spend some time in the American Beach Museum.
Check the American Beach Museum website for their hours before you plan your visit.
Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach is So Much More than a Beach Town
I love a good beach town, don’t get me wrong! But Fernandina Beach is more than a beach town!
It has a true downtown area complete with beautiful Victorian houses, hotels, shops, and restaurants.
It’s a place you can spend an entire day – or weekend – exploring without even heading to the beach!
Centre Street is where much of the action happens, and there are blocks and blocks to see here.
However, there are galleries, restaurants, and shops all over downtown, so don’t stick to just one street!
And of course, there are iconic bars, parks, and coffee shops. Don’t miss a stop at the Palace Saloon, the oldest bar in Florida!
The Island’s Architecture is Inspired
There are so many charming houses in Downtown Fernandina Beach that it’s easy to overlook how beautiful the architecture is all over the island.
Yes, the Victorian Houses downtown and in Old Fernandina are wonderful.
But there are also beautiful landmark buildings like the courthouse and area churches, oceanfront family homes and hotels, and even the old jail (now the Amelia Island Museum of History) has been lovingly restored into something much more beautiful than its utilitarian origins would suggest.
Amelia Island Lighthouse is the Oldest in Florida
Dating back to 1838, the Amelia Island Lighthouse is the oldest in the state, and one of the few from the territorial period to survive to today.
The chance to go on a tour of the lighthouse is very limited, but you can still drive out to see it.
Views of this magnificent structure can be seen up close outside the lighthouse gate or across Egan’s Creek in Fort Clinch State Park.
Since it’s one of the most beautiful lighthouses on the east coast,
Fort Clinch State Park Offers Civil War History – and So Much More!
Of course, Fort Clinch State Park was on this history lover’s itinerary for Amelia Island, but there are at least five reasons that I can come up with off the top of my head that you need to visit this Amelia Island landmark.
First, yes, the fort. Fort Clinch is a pre-Civil War military base. The earliest colonial fortifications began in 1736, making this nearly three-hundred-year-old site one of the oldest military sites in the US.
The fort buildings you see today were erected beginning in 1847, though by the beginning of the Civil War, only two-thirds of the fort was complete.
The South controlled the fort until Robert E. Lee ordered its evacuation in 1862.
Union soldiers came in to control the fort for the rest of the war, and it’s these Union troops that you’ll find today’s park rangers dressed as today, though both sides are present during official Civil War reenactments.
Second, the live oak and Spanish Moss-covered roads are some of the prettiest on the island – or in the South, really!
You get to experience some of the best natural beauty in Florida just by driving into the park!
Third, as I mentioned earlier, there’s an overlook with an amazing view of the Amelia Island Lighthouse.
Just bring a better zoom lens. I was using my iPhone 12 Pro and it didn’t quite get as close as I’d like.
Fourth, you can enjoy the beach! I don’t know many (any?) state parks that boast a Civil War fort and museum where you can also bike or walk right along the beach!
We saw some of the area’s famous deer playing in the sand.
Finally, there are six miles of hiking trails here for those who want to experience the nature of the island on foot!
You can even hike to the most northern point in Florida and look out across the Cumberland Sound to Georgia!
For even more ideas about how to enjoy this magical state park, check out the Fort Clinch State Park website.
There are Three Florida State Parks to Play In on Just One Tiny Island
You would think an island that’s thirteen miles long and just four miles wide would be proud to boast one state park – but Amelia Island has three!
We’ve discussed Fort Clinch State Park in detail, but there’s still Amelia Island State Park and Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park (the smallest Florida state park!).
Plus, many tours will take you to Big Talbot Island State Park and Little Talbot Island State Park, both of which are just across the Nassau Sound.
Amelia Island is a Foodie Paradise
The island is famous for kicking off the commercial shrimping industry, something that is celebrated annually at the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.
However, you can find great seafood even when there’s no festival in town.
In North Florida, you’ll find the local cuisine is a mix of Southern food along with Spanish food. There’s a seafood-first mentality here, but so many different ways to cook it!
Amelia Island restaurants offer a bit of everything, but they do what they do well.
There’s international cuisine, Southern and Southern-inspired food, and lots of great options for cheap eats.
Some of the best restaurants in Fernandina Beach, like Timoti’s Seafood Shak, aren’t expensive and have a great casual atmosphere.
For fun and festive, check out Espana, an award-winning tapas restaurant specializing in Spanish and Portuguese food.
Or you can opt for a fancy night out at the French restaurant Le Clos or Salt, an elegant seafood restaurant with ocean views.
For breakfast, you can check out Amelia Island Coffee or Hola! Cuban Cafe. Neither will break the bank, and both offer different takes on what makes a great grab-and-go breakfast.
You’ll Find a Lot More Shopping than Just Beachwear & Kitschy Souvenirs
From a fabulous bookstore to sea-inspired jewelry to local art galleries, if you’re in the mood to treat yourself or buy a gift from Amelia Island for someone back home, the possibilities are endless.
So yes, you’ll find t-shirts, shark teeth, seashells, and other traditional beach town souvenirs in some of the shops (and I love kitschy souvenirs, I really do).
But you’ll also find things that are elegant, stylish, modern, classic, etc. There’s a store here for everyone.
While some of my favorite shops are right on Centre Street, there are antique stores and local artisan shops in the surrounding area as well.
The Island has 13 Miles of Pristine Beaches
You’ve come to the Sunshine State to get in a little bit of sunshine, I imagine.
And, thanks to serious conservation efforts, the island has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country.
I haven’t seen a single piece of litter here (they’ve worked very hard to eliminate it).
Because loggerhead sea turtles and other important and endangered animals make their home on the island, there are strict rules in place to help protect the wildlife here.
This means you need to refill any holes you dig, watch for turtles and tortoises crossing the road, and generally be a good citizen of planet Earth.
These regulations, while easy to follow during your visit, help ensure that the island is home to more than just Floridians.
They also give you a special place to come and visit, since seeing sea turtles, tortoises, and even manatees and whales during your time here will make your visit even more special.
There are forty public beach access points, including some that are ADA compliant and accessible.
With that many places to choose from, it’s much more likely you’ll get lucky and find uncrowded beaches, especially if you come out for a magnificent sunrise photo walk.
Some of the most popular beaches on Amelia Island include Main Beach, American Beach, and Little Talbot State Park.
You Can Experience Florida Wildlife Up Close
Many of the tours mentioned here will bring you face-to-face with some of Florida’s wildlife.
We’ve seen dolphins, rays, tortoises, deer, seabirds, and wild horses, and there are also alligators, otters, and even bobcats.
While you expect to see some wildlife at the beach, many of these can be seen from boat tours on the Amelia River or kayaking tours of the Greenway.
It’s the Perfect Spot for Horseback Riding on the Beach
If you want a truly memorable vacation, book something special for you and your travel companions.
You Can Try Out a Few Aquatic Adventure & Water Sports
The island touches the Atlantic Ocean on the east, while the west is salt marshes along the Amelia River.
This means that there are so many different options for getting out on the water!
In the Atlantic, you can go surfing, sailing, parasailing, paddleboarding, and any other ocean sport you can think of.
While on the river and in the salt marshes, you can go on a guided kayak and get to see the quieter side of the island.
At the End of the Day, You Get to Experience Magical Island Sunsets
Sightseeing in Amelia Island doesn’t end when the day does! You can enjoy an Amelia River Cruise and see an amazing sunset right on the water!
The Amelia River Cruises Family Friendly Sunset Tour will show you Old Fernandina, Cumberland Island, and Fort Clinch…from the water!
But you’ll also get to see the colors of the water and sky change as the sun starts to set for the evening.
This is a great time to see dolphins playing, shrimp boats come in for the night, and even rays jumping in the wake!
You Love Seafood, So Why Not Catch Your Own on a Fishing Charter?
My husband loves to fish. Thankfully, he’s a chef so he also loves to cook what he catches.
If you don’t want to bring your own boat, you can go on a local fishing charter to try your hand at getting your own catch of the day.
You Can Stay at Some of the East Coast’s Most Beautiful Hotels and Resorts
I first heard of Amelia Island in 2009, when it was the prize destination for a company sales contest.
In fact, you get to enjoy the fantastic accommodations without the throngs of people that can make more well-known places too crowded.
We stayed at the stunning three-star SpringHill Suites by Marriott Amelia Island, which is new and has amazing oceanfront views within walking distance of the beach.
There are also charming vacation rentals if you want a bit more privacy, like this stand-alone holiday beach house just 150 feet from the beach!
It’s One of the Best Golf Island in the World
There are five (5!) different golf courses on Amelia Island, so even if you come for a week you will have a new golf course to try out nearly every day (plus a minigolf course downtown to get the whole family putting around).
Links magazine named Amelia Island one of the top twenty-five golf islands in the world alongside places like Ireland and another Sea Islands vacation spot, Hilton Head.
The Special Events are Another Level
From Concours Week to the Shrimp Festival to the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, it seems like there’s always something going on.
And these aren’t little local events, these are big, filled with glamour and grandeur and the occasional celebrity.
While the Concour d’Elegance might be the most famous, there’s always a special event or two to check out while you’re here.
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to Florida
You know to bring sunscreen and sunglasses, but here are five items you do not want to forget!
First, get a guidebook like the Lonely Planet Florida. It’s not easy to find traditional guidebooks once you land.
If you will be going on a road trip around Florida or nearby Georgia and South Carolina, I love Lonely Planet’s Florida & the South’s Best Road Trips.
Second, make sure to bring your cell phone. You will want to stay connected during your trip, plus it will serve as a navigation system and a go-to camera.
Third, grab a camera. While it’s great to have a cell phone with you for quick pics, if you want to do more serious photography or take more videos, I find it nice to travel with a separate dedicated camera as well.
If I will be wrestling with my toddler on the trip, I’ll grab my Sony ZV-1, which is a powerful compact camera with great video capabilities as well.
Next, bring a waterproof bag (also knowns as a dry bag) so that you can safely bring your electronics to the beach or kayaking.
You don’t want to ruin your trip with a drowned cell phone or wet camera, but you also don’t want to miss out on capturing all those great beach moments with your loved ones!
Finally, bring a backup charging bank for your phone.
Even though my new phone has an awesome battery life, I would not want to be out on a boat or a tour for the day and end up with a dead phone.
It’s a safety issue as well as an inconvenience.
Guidebooks I Used to Plan My Trip Around the South
These are the travel guidebooks that I used to plan my entire 5-week Southern USA road trip. I highly recommend each of them!
Lonely Planet Florida & the South’s Best Trips – this book was essential for me when I was trying to plan our road trip and understanding what was near each other and what absolutely not to miss.
Moon U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler’s Guide to the People, Places, and Events that Made the Movement – we did a lot of Civil Rights and Civil War historic sites on our trip, and if you’ll be doing any of this kind of travel, make sure to get this.
It was invaluable for finding off-the-beaten-path sites and can’t miss Black-owned historic businesses.
More Florida Travel Resources
We just love Florida! I’ve been six times, and I already can’t wait to go back! Here are all the Florida travel blog posts that I have to help you plan your trip around this wonderful state!
Florida State-Wide Guides
Florida City + Regional Guides
Florida is Included in these Round-Ups
Before You Leave for Florida – Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for your Florida vacation, make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I like to use World Nomads when I travel, and I happily recommend them.
It’s especially important to get travel insurance whenever you are more than one hundred miles from home, hanging out in large cities, or doing outdoor activities like going to the beach or kayaking.
So basically everything fun about visiting Florida.