Spending time in the Jacksonville area of Florida? Looking for a relaxing spot away from the hustle and bustle of city life? Forget the historic city of St. Augustine (ok, so this is a pretty cool spot also!) and instead, take a short day trip north to Amelia Island. Whether you want to hit the gorgeous, pristine beaches of this island or take time exploring downtown Amelia Island, this is a hidden gem that many frequently miss given its location in the north-east corner of Florida.
During our recent visit to Jacksonville, we spent our first day exploring this city along with heading south to the aforementioned St. Augustine. However, many of our friends recommended that we head north to Amelia Island so we decided to check it out on our way north to Savannah.
Amelia Island isn’t located in the ideal spot to attract every visitor in the north-east Florida region. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing because it helps maintain the beauty and history of this city without being overrun by thousands of tourists.
A Southern jewel in the Sea Island chain of barrier islands
Dubbed as ‘A Southern Jewel’, Amelia Island is an unknown quantity to many but once you have visited here for the first time, you will likely want to book a return visit.
Historic Fernandina Beach
The historic town of Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island is where we spent most of our time. I know Heather would probably have preferred to check out some of those aforementioned gorgeous beaches, but we will save that for our next visit when we have a little more time.
The real beauty around Amelia Island is the iconic street that runs through Fernandina Beach. Victorian style architecture is scattered throughout the town and it’s just so cool to take a stroll around this town and admire the beautiful structures that continue to be preserved. Exploring this part of Amelia Island is just like taking a step back in time and is the ultimate spot for a relaxing afternoon on the island.
The town of Fernandina was officially established in 1811 and was named, unsurprisingly, after King Ferdinand VII of Spain. The town continued to grow and essentially moved to its current location in close proximity to the Florida Railroad to take advantage of the industrial boom that led to more tourism in the area.
However, as mentioned, Amelia Island in general, continues to be a lesser known gem among many other popular spots around the state of Florida.
Did you know that Fernandina’s downtown historic district features over 400 historic structures that are on the National Register of Historic Places? As you can imagine, it’s an architecture connoisseurs dream to spend time exploring the intricate details of these buildings. From historic homes to restaurants that have been renovated utilizing these gorgeous buildings, Fernandina Beach is well and truly the place to visit.
Downtown Amelia Island Walking Tour
How do you find time to experience all of these amazing sights? Don’t worry, Fernandina Beach has you covered!
Whether you want to join one of the guided tours of the historic district or simply head to the “Welcome Center” by the railroad tracks and grab a self-guided walking map, there are plenty of options available to you.
For those of you opting for the self-guided walking tour, let me tell you, it’s not for the faint-hearted, especially when the temperatures are close to 100 degrees on a scorching hot day! 43 different buildings are scattered around a 50-block area located at the north end of Amelia Island.
We decided to explore just part of the tour and the handy guide provides detailed, historic information on all 43 structures. Many of the buildings are iconic to Fernandina Beach, not only because of their architectural beauty but also because of their integral role in the development of the town. For example, the Duryee Building which is now home to the Marina Restaurant was formerly an office building that included the Collector of Customs.
The majority of buildings toward the west end of Centre Street are iconic for one reason or another. We recommend this part of Fernandina Beach if you don’t have time to explore all 43 attractions.
The Nassau County Courthouse is located in a great spot if you want to use this as your stopping point, but please take some time to explore this gorgeous building that dates back to 1891. Renowned as one of the most breathtaking examples of surviving Victorian courthouses in Florida, it is the oldest county courthouse still being actively used within the state!
Directly across from the courthouse is the Lesesne House which was built in 1860. Constructed from hand-hewn timber and wooden pegs, it is a gorgeous sight to see how this structure has been maintained throughout the years.
This Classical Revival style residence, built by Dr. John F. Lesesne circa 1860, is one of the oldest homes in Fernandina Beach.
The sign in front of the house details a little more history about the ‘classic revival style’ used in the design of this structure.
400 Years Under 8 Flags
Did you know that Amelia Island is the only US location to have been under eight different flags? Another interesting fact about this Florida Golden Isle but you may be wondering why this was such an important location.
Geographically speaking, Amelia Island is on the Atlantic Ocean just north of Jacksonville and provides a perfect shipping point for commerce from across the pond. It is one of the East coasts largest and deepest inlets meaning that container ships can access this area unlike many other ports along the Eastern seaboard.
For the historians out there, here are the eight flags that were empowered in Amelia Island.
- Green Cross of Florida
- Mexican Rebel Flag
- United States
Spending time in downtown Amelia Island (Fernandina Beach) is definitely a worthwhile experience. It’s very different than your stereotypical association with Florida and offers a definite moment of solitude away from the hustle and bustle of beach life along the Atlantic coast.
The history throughout the architecture along Centre Street and nearby Alachua Street is amazing and for those of you wanting to experience the local cuisine, there are a number of restaurants offering local seafood and other options available. Amelia Island is a true hidden gem in Florida and certainly a location you should consider visiting if you are in the Jacksonville area of the state.
Have you visited Amelia Island? Do you concur with our opinions about the quirkiness and beauty of downtown Fernandina Beach?