My wife and I recently moved to Florida and really wanted to do a long weekend getaway. A friend said that we should visit Amelia Island. It’s an easy drive, the kids won’t have time to get antsy in the car, and it’s a historic city on the water that feels nothing like Jacksonville.
We’re still fairly new to Florida and had not visited the Fernandina Beach area (on Amelia Island) yet, so we decided to give it a shot.
After a long weekend, I can tell you this: We will be going back very soon and very often! We loved it — we were relaxed and had so much fun.
I am not the best at planning things. I tend to just wing it, but this time we did some planning, and I think it made all of the difference. Here’s how you can take our plan and make your own “Amelia Island Dream Weekend Getaway.”
First and foremost, plan your lodging
There are plenty of corporate-chain, name-brand hotels all around Fernandina Beach, so finding a place to stay isn’t a problem. During the summer months (and other typical vacation times of year), you definitely need to make reservations.
We decided to avoid the hotels and try out a resort in the area. We contacted Summer Beach Resort Lodging, which has a lot of luxury condos and villas right on the beach. We ended up in one of their Sailmaker Villas. It was gorgeous, with an oceanfront view off the balcony that made waking up and sitting out there with my Cafe Bustelo coffee and listening to the ocean waves utterly enjoyable and relaxing. It was like heaven (until my three kids woke up and then it was like a hurricane was crashing through).
Plan your days around meals
We love to eat. One of the things we enjoy about visiting new places is filling up on great food. Not everyone is interested in that and that’s why the resort-style condos are great. They are usually furnished with kitchens that make dining in easy and affordable (and less stressful with little ones).
We weren’t worried about that, though. We wanted to try a few of the restaurants around Amelia Island. So we planned on doing dinner on Friday evening, lunch and dinner on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday before our weekend came to a close.
We arrived in Amelia Island in the early evening, the sun was still up and we were hungry. Before doing anything we wanted dinner. Our priorities were (1) good food and (2) kid-friendly.
Do your research ahead of time! Use Urbanspoon or Yelp or some other foodie directory to determine a few good places to eat. You can’t always go by the reviews, but you can get an idea of what the place will be like and you can definitely tell if the restaurant will be ideal for kids in tow or not. We have three under the age of 10, so kid meals and a not-too-quiet atmosphere are key for us.
We decided on something easy with great atmosphere and checked out Slider’s Seaside Grill. This place is touted as an Amelia Island landmark and it’s one of only two restaurants on the beach. Bonus for parents: There is a little playground off the porch. So when the wait is longer than hoped for, the kids will have something to do to burn off some energy.
The food was good, the location was wonderful, the live music was great and we started off the weekend on a great note.
While I’m not much of a golfer, I enjoy a round of mini-golf as much as the next kid so we headed to Island Falls Golf. I’m happy to say I was able to dominate my much younger opponents.
We finished off the evening with dessert at DeNucci’s for soft-serve ice cream and smoothies.
We retired back to the villa, put the kids to bed and enjoyed a glass of wine on the balcony overlooking the ocean.
Saturday was the day we decided to try to see and do as much as possible, without causing stress and anxiety.
I’ve never been surfing and my son is interested in trying it, so we took a surfing lesson. Pipeline Surf Shop offers lessons (you have to schedule in advance) – if you schedule the lesson for two or more people, it costs $60 per person. That gets you the lesson, the instructor, board, wetsuit and the ocean, too! It’s challenging, I won’t lie. It didn’t matter though — we made a great memory and that’s what life is really all about.
My wife and two daughters weren’t much interested in surfing so they went to the historic Victorian shopping district. This area is loaded with shops, galleries and restaurants on Centre Street. Many of the buildings date to the late 19th century and are Victorian-style buildings and cottages. You can find virtually anything here, from books, to art, clothing and coffee and fudge.
My son and I met up with the rest of our crew after our lesson and we were starving! We decided ahead of time we would try Tasty’s Burger’s and Fries (it has an amazing 95% rating on Urbanspoon). Do not go here if you are looking to eat light, this is not that kind of place. You want a delicious burger? You don’t care about calories? Tasty’s is for you!
Amelia River Cruises offer all sorts of river cruises and we embarked on the Beach Creek Tour. This was a nice leisurely afternoon tour up Beach Creek and it gave us a good mix of history and nature. You get to view the salt marshes and birds off Cumberland Island. The tour lasts about an hour and a half.
Saturday evening we rounded out with dinner at The Surf on Fletcher Ave. I had a perfectly medium-cooked New York strip. My wife enjoyed the Surf Single Platter with shrimp, while the kids had the usual kids menu fare.
We could have stayed on for dessert, as the dessert menu at The Surf looked pretty good. But where’s the fun in that? We knew in advance we wanted to try out Fantastic Fudge. The fudge here is made the old-fashioned way – so they say, I have no way of knowing if that’s true or not! My favorite dessert though was the Pecan Turtles. Goodness gracious, these were good!
Just a quick aside: One of the things that is so cool about Amelia Island is many of the establishments there are small businesses and family owned. I’m not knocking the corporate, big business stores and shops, but it’s nice to know that when you buy from them you are supporting the local economy directly.
By this time it was still early enough to hang out on the beach by the Sailmaker villas and let the kids dig around and play.
We got up early and headed to breakfast at a place that friends from Jacksonville recommended we try — Bright Mornings Cafe. The food was good, but just one warning: If you are in a hurry, try someplace else. It wasn’t overly long, but if you’re expecting quick food service, you won’t find it here. Depending on your needs, that may not be a bad thing. I needed lots of coffee and they were quick with a refill. No complaints from our clan.
We wanted to see some more of the natural beauty around Fernandina Beach on our last day, so we planned a visit to the Nature Center in Amelia Island Plantation. You have to pre-register for these tours, and tthere is a cancellation fee. We were able to get some fresh air and learn about many of the bird species that call North Florida home, as well as the turtles and the other animals. If you have really little ones, you might think twice about this, however. The walking tour can be a bit much and if you hit a warm day it could be downright miserable! We were lucky and had a nice day and our three-year-old was loving the outdoors.
Our last few hours before heading home were spent on the beach. First, though, we visited Townies for sandwiches and snacks to bring with us to the beach. If you want a crazy-delicious dessert (who doesn’t?) try their monkey bread — doughy, sticky, cinnamon-y thick pieces of bread. By the way, don’t try bringing this to the beach like we did. First, sand gets everywhere and sticks to it. Second, seagulls think they are entitled to this sweet gooey goodness and will harass you until it’s gone or you share it with them (whatever you do, do not share it with them).
Had we planned things a little better we would have tried to be in town for the weekend when turtle eggs were expected to hatch and be led to the sea by volunteers. This year there were Leatherback hatchlings! That would have been an awesome sight.
All in all, we ended up having a relaxing, and food-fulfilling weekend in Amelia Island. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip.
Brian Valentin is a freelance writer and blogger living in Jacksonville, FL with his wife and three kids. He blogs about paleo eating at 4hourbodyzone.com and also maintains a Jacksonville business directory. He enjoys coffee, the beach, and reading historical fiction.