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Fernandina Beach is a charming, well preserved Victorian seaport town located at the northern end of Amelia Island, a 13-mile-long barrier island, just south of Georgia and not too far from Jacksonville.
What used to be a pirates' hangout and a smuggling center for liquor and slaves, is a vacation spot where families can both get away from it all and find plenty to do surrounded by sea, sand, sun, and water. It's a place where you can stroll along the beach, searching for fossilized shark teeth or travel back in time through the historical town center, play golf on oceanfront courses, shop at fancy boutiques and eat at good restaurants.
The Town & its Past
The main attraction here is the charming historic downtown area and the overall relaxed beach-town atmosphere that's seemingly worlds away from the bustle of our everyday lives. Fernandina proper contains more than 50 blocks of homes and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The heart of downtown is Centre Street, a charming eight-block corridor with a pedestrian-friendly street leading to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Fernandina Harbor Marina, where shrimp boats unload catches and charter boats depart for sightseeing and fishing.
Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island are the only parts of the United States to have been ruled by eight different powers. In addition to the flags of France, Spain, England and the United States, the most short-lived rule was the "Patriots of Amelia Island," an anti-Spanish splinter group that controlled the area for all of one day in 1812.
Much of Fernandina's wealth came from Florida's first cross-state railroad, completed in 1861, which ran from Fernandina to Cedar Key. The resort bloomed regally with fine homes and establishments such as the Florida House Inn, which can still be seen today. By the end of the century, however, a new railroad was pulling the northerners further south. Henry Flagler's East Coast Railway siphoned wealthy tourists away and Fernandina Beach began to rely on its fishing industry. The modern shrimping industry was founded in Fernandina Beach, with the first offshore shrimp trawlers pushing off in 1913. Shrimpers still dock at City Marina, which has the honor of being Florida's only marine welcome station. The sweet Fernandina shrimp is still the unofficial town mascot and Fernandina is the home base of the nation’s largest shrimping fleet. Nearly 80 percent of Florida’s sweet Atlantic white shrimp are harvested in Amelia’s waters.
Today the small town community focuses on preservation and renewal. This extends to the shopping district, where storefronts re-create the style of a previous century. More than 400 structures were built prior to 1927. A walking tour leads visitors past the most historic business buildings along Centre Street and the Victorian mansions of the Silk Stocking District.
Families with Young Kids
If you have young children, a wonderful time to visit the beach is around low tide. You will often find tidal puddles at low tide, that will delight the young. You will be able to relax a bit more, with diminished stress watching children in the tidal pools.
Practically part of Georgia, much of the Amelia Island's landscape resembles that of its neighbor. The two most prominent aspects of Amelia's landscape are the marshlands and beaches. Similar to Georgia's coastline, the Intracoastal Waterway clots with spongy clumps of grass and the beaches drop off from sand dunes that reach as high as 40 feet.
Where did these beaches come from?
Amelia's 13 miles of white sand beaches formed from the erosion of the Appalachian Mountains. The quartz sands moved southward along the coast and rested on Amelia Island to form its beautiful beaches. Winds from the east blew the sands inland forming the high dunes, and over time sea oats grew into the dunes.
MAIN BEACH (Atlantic and Fletcher avenues):
Fernandina's pristine beaches lie a mile from the center of town. Head east on Central Street, which becomes Atlantic Avenue (at 8th Street) and ends at Main Beach.
Main Beach is an old-fashioned beach with a boardwalk, amusements, picnic tables, playgrounds, and lifeguards and a very popular stretch of sand for families. The vast majority of Fernandina's beach visitors gravitate to Main Beach.
While it's all the same long strand, running south from Forth Clinch State Park, the beach narrows out a bit at Main Beach though it grows wider again as you travel further south. The sand on Main Beach tends to be a bit shellier compared to the sand on Fort Clinch. Main Beach, is known as one of the best places on the island for finding fossilized shark's teeth.
Hunting for Shark Teeth on Amelia's Beaches
A favorite past time on Amelia's beaches is hunting for fossilized shark teeth that were shed millions of years ago. The source of many of Amelia's shark teeth was caused by the dredging of the St. Mary's river which churned up what's been dated a 20-million-year-old geological deposit. Tides and currents have dispersed this natural treasure of fossilized teeth, all along Amelia's white sandy beaches, much to the delight of visitors.
The shark teeth are blackish, somewhat triangular in shape, and come in various sizes. Low tide is the best time to find shark teeth. If you don't find any, though, check out Fernandina's downtown shops as some have shark teeth on display and for sale.
Main Beach is approximately 4.5 miles long and there are 21 individual public accesses. Each is clearly marked with wooden signs. At the south Fernandina Beach accesses, a limited number of free parking spaces are provided. Surfing is not allowed at Main Beach, though surfers can access the beach at Sadler Road and Fletcher Avenue.
PETER'S POINT (S. Fletcher Avenue, about five miles south of Main Beach)
Peter's Point is a terrific public beach. The park has a large paved parking lot, covered pavilions, rest rooms and indoor/outdoor showers. Lifeguards are on duty every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Day to Labor Day. Low tide provides delightful tidal pools and streams, perfect for kids to play.
For the more adventurous, Adventure Amelia on Peter's Point offers a variety of craft, jet skis and Sea Doos. Parasailing is also available. 904-277-1161
If you like to ride bikes, low tide also provides a hard beach surface that allows bikers, to pedal in the hard packed sand toward the water. Riding a bike on the beach, as you breathe the salt air and bask in the sun, is one of the most satisfying biking experiences, and terrific exercise, too. Both the Ritz Carlton and the Amelia Island Plantation provide bikes for guests. Bikes can also be rented at several local businesses.
Amelia's beaches are the nesting grounds for sea turtles. A sea turtle watch group monitors the nests and tapes them off, posting warning signs. Both sea turtles and their nests are protected by environmental laws, and Fernandina has night time beach lighting laws in effect to help protect the turtle hatchlings. To learn lots more about Amelia's sea turtles visit Amelia Island's Sea Turtle Watch website.
Other Beaches on Amelia Island
Fort Clinch State Park.. read more>
Amelia Island Plantation & Summer Beach..read more>
Amelia Island State Park
Fernandina Beach....read more>
Island Falls Adventure Golf. Rock mountains, rushing streams, a 20-foot waterfall, and tropical vegetation make this a great place for miniature golf (904) 261-7881.
Golf - Leading golf-course architects have incorporated Amelia Island’s natural beauty – from ocean bluffs to intracoastal marshes – to create 90 holes of great golf.
Cliff Hanger Rock Climbing. Offers a rock-climbing wall across from Main Beach. (904) 206-0535.
Sunset Bike Hikes through the naturalist program at Amelia Island Plantation. The 1 1/2- to 2-hour tours loop down tree-lined trails and include a short boardwalk hike into the marsh; (800) 874-6878.
Amelia Island Museum of History, 233 South Third St., Fernandina Beach.
Fort Clinch State Park, 2601 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach.
Kayak Amelia - Picture yourself paddling a kayak through warm sparkling waters, a dolphin surfaces off your bow as pelicans soar overhead.
Hunt for Fossilized Shark Teeth
Kelly Sea Horse Ranch - Horseback riding on the beach. Experienced staff, gentle, well-trained horses. Open daily, $35/person, no experience necessary. Sunset rides and pony rides available! 904-491-5166