Hitting the Beach
Thanks to a reclamation project, the widest beaches here are at the exclusive enclave on the island’s southern third. Even if you aren’t staying at one of the swanky resorts, you can enjoy this section of beach at Peters Point Beach Front Park, on A1A, north of the Ritz-Carlton. The park has picnic shelters and restrooms with indoor and outdoor showers. The Amelia Island Trail, a 6.2-mile path for biking and hiking that opened in 2013 starts here too. North of the resort, the beach has public-access points with free parking every quarter-mile or so. The center of activity is Main Beach, at the ocean end of Atlantic Avenue (A1A), with good swimming, volleyball courts, playground, restrooms, picnic shelters, outdoor showers, a casual beach bar and restaurant, and Fernandina’s Putt-Putt, which serves milk shakes, ice cream, and soft drinks at the beach, and lots of free parking. This area is understandably popular with families.
The beach at Fort Clinch State Park, which wraps around the island’s heavily forested northern end, is backed by rolling dunes and is filled with shells and driftwood. A jetty and pier jutting into Cumberland Sound are popular with anglers. There are showers and changing rooms at the pier. Elsewhere in the park, you might see an alligator—and certainly some of the 170 species of birds that live here—by hiking the Willow Pond nature trail. Rangers lead nature tours on the trail, usually beginning at 10:30am on Saturday. There are also 6 miles of off-road bike trails here. Construction on the remarkably well-preserved Fort Clinch began in 1847 on the northern tip of the island and was still underway when Union troops occupied it in 1862. The fort was abandoned shortly after the Civil War, except for a brief reactivation in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Reenactors gather the first full weekend of each month to re-create how the Union soldiers lived in the fort in 1864 (including wearing their wool underwear, even in summer!). Rangers are on duty at the fort year-round, and they lead candlelight tours ($3 per person) on Friday and Saturday evenings during summer, beginning about an hour after sunset. You can arrange guided tours at other times for an extra fee. The park entrance is on Atlantic Avenue near the beach. Entrance fees are $6 per vehicle with up to eight occupants, $2 per pedestrian or bicyclist. Admission to the fort costs $2, free for children 4 and under. The park is open daily from 8am to sunset; the fort, daily from 9am to 5pm. For a schedule of tours and events, contact the park at 2601 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034 (tel. 904/277-7274; www.floridastateparks.org/fortclinch).
The park also has 61 campsites—some behind the dunes at the beach (no shade out there), most in a forest along the sound side. They cost $26 per night, including tax. You can reserve a site up to 11 months in advance (a very good idea in summer) by calling tel. 800/326-3521 or going to www.reserveamerica.com.
Pets on leashes are allowed on all of the island’s public beaches and in Fort Clinch State Park.
Biking -- Despite the name, Ray and Jody Hetchka’s Kayak Amelia(tel. 888/305-2925 or 904/251-0016; www.kayakamelia.com), based near Talbot Island State Park (technically in Jacksonville) offers bike rentals at $7 an hour or $20 a day.
Bikers and hikers traveling along the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway connecting major cities from Calais, Maine, to Key West can now take the “Blueway Bypass” thanks to the Cumberland Sound Ferry Service (tel. 877/264-9972; www.ameliarivercruises.com), which runs privately chartered trips to St. Marys, Georgia. The trip takes approximately 1 hour and features live narration of the region’s history, natural features, and wildlife. You’ll also get to explore each of the cities. Trip costs $20 round-trip per person with a minimum of 20 passengers or $400 per round trip for a group of less than 20 passengers.
Boating, Fishing, Sailing & Kayaking -- The Amelia Island Charter Boat Association (tel. 800/229-1682 or 904/261-2870), at Tiger Point Marina on 14th Street, north of the historic district (though the boats dock at Centre St.), can help arrange deep-sea fishing charters, party-boat excursions, and dolphin-watching and sightseeing cruises. Other charter boats also dock at Fernandina Harbor Marina, downtown at the foot of Centre Street.
Windward Sailing School, based at Fernandina Harbor Marina, 3977 First Ave. (tel. 904/261-9125; www.windwardsailing.com), will teach you to skipper your boat; it also has charters and boat rentals. Call for details and reservations.
You have to be careful in the currents, but the backwaters here are great for kayaking, whether you’re a beginner or a pro. However, you’ll have to travel just off the island to do it. Kayak Amelia(tel. 888/305-2925 or 904/251-0016; www.kayakamelia.com) also offers beginner and advanced-level trips on back bays, creeks, and marshes. Half-day trips go for about $65 for adults and $55 for children. Kayak and canoe rentals go from $35 to $62. Reservations are required.
A fabulous company that takes you along the salt marshes, wilderness beaches, and historic riverbanks of Amelia, Fernandina Beach, and Cumberland Island, Georgia, where wild horses roam the unfettered beaches, Amelia River Cruises (tel. 877/264-9972; www.ameliarivercruises.com) offers all sorts of tours including extensive eco-tours of Cumberland Island and Beach Creek and, seasonally, a BYOB evening cruise, ranging from $23 to $26 for adults, $18 to $24 for seniors, and $14 to $20 for children 12 and under. New in June 2014 is a 2-hour catch-and-release eco-shrimping tour of the St. Mary’s River Basin using an otter trawl shrimp net. Cost is $27 for adults and $17 for kids.
Golf -- If you’re not staying in a resort with a golf course, try the 36-hole Amelia Links (tel. 904/261-6161; www.omniameliaislandplantation.com), featuring two signature courses designed by Pete Dye and Bobby Weed at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, where greens fees range from $125 to $150 per person depending on the time and season. The Long Pointcourse, a mind-blowingly beautiful Tom Fazio–designed 18-holer, has two par-3s in a row bordering the ocean. Fees are highish—from $115 to $200 depending on the time and season. Or play the older and less expensive 27-hole Fernandina Municipal Golf Course (tel. 904/277-7370; www.fernandinabeachgolfclub.com), where prices are $20 to $41 for 18 holes or $16 to $26 for 9 holes.
For course information go to www.golf.com or www.floridagolfing.com; or you can call the Florida Sports Foundation (tel. 850/488-8347) or Florida Golfing (tel. 866/833-2663).
Horseback Riding -- You can ride on the beach with the Kelly Seahorse Ranch (tel. 904/491-5166; www.kellyranchinc.net), on the southernmost tip of Amelia Island within the Amelia Island State Park. The cost is $70 per person for a 1-hour ride; the ranch is open daily from 8am to 6pm. Reservations are required. Note: Riders must be 13 or older, at least 4 1/2 feet tall, and weigh less than 230 pounds. No experience is necessary.
Segway Tours -- Kayak Amelia also provides 1- and 2-hour eco tours on Segways through upland tree hammocks, Spanish moss, Fort Clinch State Park, Fort George Island, Kingsley Plantation, the Timucuan Preserve, and all that makes this area one of the most scenic and diverse ecosystems in the country. Tours are $75 to $95 per person. Riders must be 14 or older and under 265 pounds. A short lesson on how to ride the Segway will precede the tour.
Tennis -- Ranked among the nation’s top-50 by Tennis magazine, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation’s Racquet Park (tel. 904/261-6161; www.aipfl.com/Tennis/tennis.htm), with 23 Har-Tru tennis courts (naturally shaded by a canopy of gorgeous trees), hosts many professional tournaments, and is home to the renowned Cliff Drysdale Tennis program.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.