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This Little-Known Florida Island is a Treat for Mind, Body, and Soul

With outdoor adventure, homemade fare at locally owned eateries, and cultural events, experience complete and total wellness on Amelia Island.

This Little-Known Florida Island is a Treat for Mind, Body, and Soul

Relax on Amelia Island’s Appalachian quartz beaches.

Deremer Studios LLC/Deremer Studios LLC Deremer Studios LLCPhotography by Deremer Studios LLC - www.deremerstudios.com

Between planning, transport, and jam-packed itineraries, wanting a vacation from your vacation is practically a cliché. Not so on Amelia Island, where the laid-back lifestyle is part of a refreshing mix of outdoor recreation, mind-expanding history, award-winning dining, and colorful events—all making for an experience of ultimate wellbeing.

Located off the northeastern tip of Florida near Jacksonville, Amelia Island offers an unspoiled, off-the-beaten-path setting for relaxing getaways. At just 13 miles long and two miles wide, the island is nearly 10 percent parkland, with preserved areas at both its northern and southern ends. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway, the Nassau Sound, and the Cumberland Sound, it’s also lined with Appalachian quartz beaches and sand dunes as tall as 60 feet.

Visitors here discover natural beauty and charming seaport character, along with irresistible leisure activities, restaurants, and festivals. And if you’d rather just rest, Amelia Island is great for that too, as well as for spending quality time with loved ones. Thanks to its remote-yet-still accessible position between Georgia’s Golden Isles and historic St. Augustine, the tranquil island is the ideal place to escape the hustle of everyday life. Read on for all the ways you can find wellness on a trip to Amelia Island and head home feeling totally rejuvenated.

Move your body

Get some exercise and see wildlife like dolphins and manatees on a kayak tour of Egans Creek.

Get some exercise and see wildlife like dolphins and manatees on a kayak tour of Egans Creek.

Photographer: W. Herb Clark - Ed/Photographer: W. Herb Clark - Edits by Deremer Studios LLC

Home to long, beautiful beaches and shady trails (including part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile trail that connects Florida to Maine), Amelia Island is practically made for outdoor recreation. Fort Clinch State Park has swimming, fishing, full-facility camping, and a six-mile trail for hiking and biking, while the Omni Amelia Island Resort boasts legendary tennis courts where such greats as Agassi, Sharapova, and Venus and Serena Williams have played. The island is also one of the country’s premier golf destinations, with an array of public and private courses for every skill level, and there are even riverfront pétanque courts in downtown Fernandina Beach.

Equestrians should know that Amelia Island is one of the few places in Florida where you can ride horses on the beach. Enjoy the island’s white sand and turquoise waters from horseback on a ride with Kelly Seahorse Ranch or Ride the Beaches of Amelia Island, both of which have stables of gentle, well-trained horses. If you’d rather get out on the water, you can go on a Jet Ski tour of Amelia River with Flying Fish Adventures or paddle alongside dolphins and manatees in the tranquil salt marshes of Egans Creek with Amelia Island Kayak Excursions.

For a workout while exploring the island’s natural beauty, book a yoga class on a stand-up paddleboard with Kayak Amelia or a hydro-bike tour with Amelia River Cycles. Regular cycling is another option. Here, bikers have their pick of everything from smooth, scenic paths along the coast to rugged trails that wind past moss-covered live oaks and natural waterways.

Enrich your mind

Fort Clinch is one of the most well-preserved 19th-century forts in the country.

Fort Clinch is one of the most well-preserved 19th-century forts in the country.

Deremer Studios LLC/Photography by Deremer Studios LLC - www.deremerstudios.com

Amelia Island is the only community in America to have experienced life under eight different flags of dominion. As locals say, “the French visited, the Spanish developed, the English named, and the Americans tamed.” Other rulers included the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, and even the Confederates, and all played a prominent role in shaping Florida’s history. Learn all about it and more at the Amelia Island Museum of History, Florida’s first spoken-history museum. Housed in what was once the county jail, the museum features exhibits, historical objects, and archeological finds spanning more than four centuries.

Another museum worth visiting is the A. L. Lewis Museum at American Beach, which details the history of an oceanfront haven for African Americans on Amelia Island during the Jim Crow–era of segregation. At the Maritime Museum you can view artifacts rich in local maritime history as well as U.S. Navy memorabilia, a Soviet-era KGB diving suit, Spanish treasure, and more.

If you’d rather go sightseeing, start in the island’s 52-block Victorian historic district, where you’ll find 450 ornate structures built prior to 1927—300 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then head to the Amelia Island Welcome Center, housed in the old Fernandina Beach Railroad Depot, which was once the starting point for Florida’s first cross-country railroad. Lovingly restored, the building retains its original charm but now serves as a welcome center on the Fernandina Beach waterfront.

You’ll also want to check out Fort Clinch State Park, where you can explore one of the most well-preserved 19th-century forts in the country (and witness Civil War reenactments on the first weekend of every month), and Old Town on the north end of the island, which was founded in 1811 as the last Spanish town in the Western Hemisphere.

Awaken your senses

Dine with water views in Fernandina Beach.

Dine with water views in Fernandina Beach.

Deremer Studios LLC/Deremer Studios LLC Deremer Studios LLCPhotography by Deremer Studios LLC - www.deremerstudios.com

Amelia Island may be small but it’s home to more than 100 distinctive restaurants, from waterfront hangouts and fine-dining spots to romantic bistros and a growing number of farm-to-table destinations. Whether you opt for the freshest local seafood or authentic Italian and Spanish specialties, you can expect your meal to be served with a winning combination of easygoing, beach-community charm and southern hospitality.

Located in Fernandina Beach’s historic downtown, Burlingame Restaurant offers a seasonally inspired menu from an emerging local chef. Served in a relaxed but elegant setting, the made-from-scratch, modern American food is not to be missed. Another one of the island’s finest restaurants is Verandah, where ingredients for the house-made pasta and Mediterranean-inspired seafood come from local farmers and fishermen.

If you’re in the mood for something international, try España Restaurant & Tapas for traditional Portuguese and Spanish cuisine; Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant for fresh, south-of-the-border fare; and Akari Sushi, which uses only the highest quality ingredients for classic Japanese dishes. And if it’s AAA Five Diamond dining you want, book a table at Salt in The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, where the chef uses more than 40 salts from around the world to add depth and flavor to coastal-inspired cuisine.

The birthplace of the modern shrimping industry, Fernandina Beach was also at one time the shrimping capital of the world. All this to say, you can’t visit without trying some crustaceans, preferably at Timoti’s Seafood Shack, which is a local favorite for wild-caught seafood from local fisherman. Also worth checking out is Amelia Island’s craft beer scene, which has exploded in recent years. Try The Alley, from the team behind Amelia Island Brewing Co., for delicious beers paired with light fare; Mocama Beer Company for brews like Cosmico IPA and Prosim Pils; and First Love Brewing for their favored milk stout. If you’re more of a cocktail person, visit Marlin and Barrel Distillery, which makes handcrafted rum and vodka.

Feed your soul

Amelia Island hosts a variety of fun events and festivals throughout the year.

Amelia Island hosts a variety of fun events and festivals throughout the year.

Deremer Studios LLC/Deremer Studios LLC Photography by Deremer Studios LLC - www.deremerstudios.com

On Amelia Island, there’s an outsize number of family-friendly events and festivals that keep locals celebrating all year long. Kicking things off in January is Amelia Island Restaurant Week, a 10-day culinary showcase with special menus at a wide selection of the island’s most popular eateries. Then comes the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, which puts on world-class performances from February to April, and the Amelia Concours Week, anchored by the Amelia Concours d’Elegance which brings rare vintage automobiles to the island in March.

May ushers in the Wild Amelia Nature Festival, offering an entertaining and educational look at the island’s biodiversity, and the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, an all-out street party that honors the island’s shrimping heritage with parades, fireworks, contests, and plenty of fresh seafood. The Amelia Island Jazz Festival takes place in October, while the Pétanque American Open occurs in November. Also in November is the Right Whale Festival, which honors the annual return of the endangered North Atlantic right whale to Amelia Island’s coastal waters.

Headlined by the Victorian-themed Dickens on Centre festival, over-the-top holiday celebrations close things out in December, making a strong case for a warm-weather—and wonderfully peaceful—Christmas.

Rest your head and relax

Whether you seek oceanfront appeal, historic charm, or boutique style, Amelia Island has an award-winning resort for you to call home during your stay. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, the Omni Amelia Island Resort boasts sweeping views, plus an infinity-edge pool, nine food and beverage offerings, a championship golf course, and a signature, nature-inspired spa with everything from Reiki treatments to couple’s massages. In the same category, there’s The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, which pampers guests with amenities like plush bathrobes, marble baths, and 24-hour room service, as well as indoor and outdoor pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a lavish spa offering personalized wellness retreats that include guided yoga, a healthy lunch, and treatments.

For something with a bit more character, book a room at one of Amelia Island’s six B&Bs, which impress with everything from secret gardens and shady courtyards to porch swings, fountains, and, of course, daily breakfast. One even hosted such families as the Carnegies and Rockefellers.

Amelia Island is also home to two boutique treasures: the oceanfront Elizabeth Pointe Lodge and the recently opened Amelia Schoolhouse Inn. The Lodge features wraparound porches, gorgeous rooms, and seaside dining, while the Inn, housed in a renovated 1886 schoolhouse, wows with Victorian architecture and first-class amenities.

Natalie is a a New York-based writer and editor focused on travel, food, and drink. Her work has appeared in AFAR, TimeOut, Fodor’s Travel, Edible Brooklyn, Serious Eats, and Vox Creative, among others.
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