Beach and dunes on Amelia Island

Amelia Island is home to a stunning shoreline. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Explore Idyllic Amelia Island, Florida on a Weekend Escape

Nestled in northeastern Florida and connected to the mainland by a bridge, Amelia Island is easy to get to — it’s just a 40-minute drive from Jacksonville. The tiny barrier island is easy on the eyes, too, blessed with 13 miles of wide-open beaches, along with acres of protected natural areas where you can kayak, horseback ride, hike and cycle. And at the heart of Amelia is Fernandina Beach, a storied seaport village where you’ll find shops, restaurants and museums.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Explore Fernandina Beach

Shots of espresso being made
Start your morning with an espresso. (Photo: Getty Images)

Start the day with breakfast at Amelia Island Coffee in Fernandina Beach, the island’s historic — and oft photographed — seaport village (old-fashioned Centre Street is Instagram famous unto itself). At the café, enjoy a cappuccino or chai latte alongside a flaky pastry or a hearty breakfast bowl filled with eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy.

Stroll the 52-block National Historic District on foot. Stop by the Nassau County Courthouse, the oldest county courthouse in continuous use and one of the best-preserved examples of the town’s Classical Revival architecture.

Visit the Amelia Island Museum of History, where you’ll learn how Amelia earned its nickname, “Isle of Eight Flags.” It was home to the Timucua Indigenous people, before it was claimed by the Spanish, French, British and others.

Long story short: It’s now the only place in the U.S. to have been under the dominion of eight different flags. Browse exhibits that trace the island’s 4,000 years of history, from bootleggers and shrimpers to pirates and millionaires.

The museum also offers themed and guided walking tours — of the Silk Stocking District, for instance. Or pick up a map and discover Fernandina’s finest on your own.

But first, lunch at the laid-back (and nearby) 4th Street Deli, where the Reuben sandwich and portobello salad draw raves.

The afternoon is for continued wandering, stopping into shops and galleries. And along the way, if a fanciful Victorian bordering Fernanda Plaza Historic State Park looks familiar, you might be a Pippi Longstocking fan — the pretty clapboard home starred as Villa Villekulla in the 1987 movie about the pigtailed girl pirate.

You’ll also want to stop for an afternoon brew at the Palace Saloon, established in 1903 and one of the area’s oldest bars. Even if you’re not a drinker, the venue is worth a glimpse inside, where centuries-old architectural details remain. Find embossed tin ceilings and a 40-foot bar lit by gas lamps.

At the end of the day, attend one of the museum’s evening ghost tours. Walk a section of the historic district with a professional guide as they divulge the island’s spooky history.

When it’s time for dinner, book a table at Burlingame in the Fernandina Beach district.

This restaurant focuses on atmosphere as much as the menu, offering a maze of rooms for guests to dine in from a lively lounge area to the much-quieter Ethel’s Room or the romantic pergola. When it comes to food, everything is seasonal. Past dishes include shrimp and grits, diver scallops, braised pork cheeks and pecan pie.

Saturday: Enjoy a Cooking Class Before Visiting Fort Clinch State Park

Begin your Saturday with a unique culinary experience at Amelia Island Culinary Academy. With the house chef and owner Bill Thompson as your guide, venture to the Fernandina Farmers Market. Shop for fresh, locally grown produce to make regional (and rotating) delicacies such as shrimp hush puppies glazed with pepper jelly and pimento cheese served on a fresh-baked baguette.

After your DIY brunch, it’s time for Amelia Island’s main attraction: beach hopping. With 13 miles of coastline, where the Atlantic Ocean laps against rolling sand dunes, you have quite a few options to choose from.

Pack a picnic lunch before you head to Fort Clinch State Park, a 1,400-acre natural area with the historic, pentagonal Fort Clinch at its center. A park ranger can give you a tour of the Civil War site, originally constructed in the 19th century out of 5 million red bricks.

Bring your towel and umbrella for a day under the sun with views of the ocean and Cumberland Island to the north. Be sure to keep an eye out for shark teeth, as this area is known as a fertile hunting ground for these pearly souvenirs. The park also offers miles of gentle hiking trails.

Shrimp and grits with a cocktail
Enjoy a hearty dish of shrimp and grits. (Photo: Marriott International)

For dinner, book a table at the Sandbar & Kitchen, a popular oceanfront spot serving coconut shrimp, shrimp and grits, fish tacos and whatever has just been pulled out of the ocean. Another claim to fame: its “library” of 975 bottles of whiskeys and scotches.

Sunday: Sail Through the Cumberland Sound

For your final day on Amelia Island, seek out some adventure on the high seas. Opt for a leisurely sailing cruise with the team at Windward Sailing. A highlight is exploring Cumberland Sound, a large, deep inlet where you’re likely to see dolphins cresting the waves and wild horses roaming the countryside on the neighboring Cumberland Island in Georgia.

Wetlands at sunset in Amelia Island
Talbot Island is a must-see. (Photo: Getty Images)

To work up a sweat, you have a few options. Go on a kayaking exploration of the Little Talbot Island State Park‘s many waterways; cycle miles of forested pathways along the Amelia Island Trail; or horseback ride through Amelia Island State Park, a natural area that protects more than 200 acres of wilderness in the island’s southern bounds.

For the golfers, a round at Long Point Golf Course, one of the best of its kind in Florida, is not to be missed.

After a full day of activity, enjoy a little pampering — you are on vacation, after all. Book a service at Oceanside Spa in the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. The signature treatments take inspiration from the sea. Try a sea-salt rub in the Ocean Healing Bath or the Heaven in a Hammock massage, designed to mimic the movement of the tide.

Wrap up your long weekend adventure with dinner at the Boat House. Dine alfresco on appetizers like seafood nachos and entrées like crab cakes and grits, and don’t miss the spectacular Key lime cheesecake.