Whether your brood consists of toddlers, tweens or teenagers, there’s a good chance your kids have their faces buried in their phones, computers, tablets or TVs at any given hour of the day. Plus, with grownup work moving at the speed of crazy and 24/7 pings from email and social media, you might find yourself yearning to put down the screens, too.
If the idea of locking away the tech and getting back to real-life connection sounds like a good one, head to Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach, where there’s so much to do, the only thing you’ll pull out your phone for is a family photo.
Roll on the River
Instead of arriving on the island by car, take the St. Johns River Ferry to give the kids a little taste of what “no cell service” is like before you ditch the phones for the weekend. From Jacksonville Beach, continue north on A1A until you reach the docks near the Coast Guard and Navy stations.
The 10-minute auto ferry trip is just $6, and the easiest way to pay is through Jacksonville’s transit authority app, MyJTA.
Hike, Bike, Beach
Fort Clinch State Park will keep your kiddos so busy that Snapchat will be the last thing on their minds. Hike one or two of several trails through the scrub oak forest and spy gopher tortoises and sandhill cranes. Walk along the beach and search the sand for sharks’ teeth, including fangs from great whites.
Plan your visit on a day when actors in period regalia set up at the Civil War-era masonry fort and show visitors what it was like to live there during the 1860s. There’s even a cool candlelight tour of the fort on certain weekend nights.
Amelia Island is one of the few spots in the country where you can ride horses right on the sand. Happy Trails Walking Horses, Kelly Seahorse Ranch and Amelia Island Horseback Riding all offer guided wildlife tours of Fernandina’s white-sand beaches on horseback.
While you’re out there see dolphins playing in the surf and sandpipers running alongside your horse’s hooves. With both hands holding the reins, phones stay safely pocketed.
“Centre” of Attention
Fernandina Beach, the main town on Amelia Island, has a one-street downtown area you could easily spend a whole day exploring. The pre–Civil War buildings on Centre Street each have a story of their own, so take a guided tour from the members of the Amelia Island Museum of History. Most of their docents have been living on the island for decades and know it all.
After the history lesson, dip into each boutique to shop for items you won’t find anywhere else, like books by local authors at The Book Loft, and then watch the staff whip up homemade chocolate at Fantastic Fudge (the peanut butter flavor is a must-try).
Get into the Spirit
The Amelia Island Museum of History isn’t just for daylight hours. With a storied past, like many of America’s oldest cities (the island was first settled by French explorers in 1562), Amelia Island is said to be full of secrets and spirits.
The Friday night ghost tour from the history museum’s docents begins at 6 p.m. behind the cemetery at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The tour is kid friendly, and the ghastly tales will definitely keep their attention away from Instagram.
On the Waterfront
There’re just about as many ways to get out on the water surrounding Amelia Island as there are apps on your phone. Choose a narrated wildlife river adventure with live music from Amelia River Cruises & Charters, a high-intensity Jet Ski tour from George’s Jet Ski Adventures or a group ocean kayaking tour to come face-to-face with waterbirds, dolphins, manatees or sea turtles with Kayak Amelia.
Send your teens out on their own CraigCat (a two-person paddle sailboat) for one of the newest ways to see the shore from the waves with Backwater Cat Adventure.