(UPDATED AUGUST 2022) Sometimes the best places you’ll find are in the places you know nothing about. That’s how I discovered Fernandina Beach, on the way home to Vero Beach from Savannah, Georgia. I wanted to stop about halfway into the drive to see someplace new. My family had a spring break trip to the Ritz Carlton at Amelia Island long ago, so I figured seeing the best things in Fernandina Beach would be worth our time.
Was it ever! Fernandina Beach is an adorable historic town with a thriving community spirit, cool shops and eateries, and a super fun walkable downtown.
Fun Fact: Fernandina Beach is the name of the city, and Amelia Island is the name of the entire island it’s located on.
1. Fernandina’s Romantic Inns
Fernandina Beach is a place you can road trip to or go for a day visit, but when you see how cute the town is, you will want to have a packed bag for an overnighter. My top pick is the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn, a sweet converted school that is now a 17-room inn.
The rooms vary in square footage and bed size, but guaranteed they are all decorated to take you back to school days with globe, blackboards, maps, handwriting charts, and other memorabilia.
I loved the high ceilings, probably 12 feet tall, at least. My room came with a mini-fridge, plush robes, high-end toiletries, and complimentary Wifi, parking, and grab & go breakfast. Coffee is available at a station in the hallways 24/7.
On the first floor of Amelia Schoolhouse Inn, is the adorable Principal’s Office Bar that is open to the public. Outside is a putting green, courtyard, and picturesque swimming pool. If inns or bed and breakfasts are not your style, there is a colorful Hampton Inn on the waterfront that looks very appealing.
2. A Gorgeous Beach
Fernandina Beach offers less-crowded beaches than some of its neighbors. Enjoy getting in the ocean, body surfing, sun bathing, or building a sand castle as you experience the Atlantic Coast at its finest. You can also rent kayaks or standup paddle boards to get physical on your visit to Main Beach Park with manned lifeguard stations. You’ll also find public restrooms, picnic tables, a playground, mini-golf, volleyball, and much more there.
Kudos to Main Beach Park for having a Mobi-Mat for wheelchair, stroller, and walker accessibility.
Be sure to enjoy the newly finished Main Beach Boardwalk for a lovely stroll, to watch the fishing boats head out for the day, and see hungry pelicans scouting food. It really is a beautiful area, despite my rainy day photo.
3. Endless Outdoor Offerings
Fort Clinch State Park is a must and located only minutes away. It has 1,400 acres, hiking and biking trails, and of course, a historic fort. Amelia Island State Park is another, though much of the park requires a 4-Wheel drive vehicle. If you are swimming at either state park, keep in mind that Florida is laden with RIP currents and there are no lifeguards at either of these beach areas.
Fishing is a big business in Fernandina Beach, with several charters and boat trips for the ultimate experience. The most coveted fish are flounder, sea bass, tarpon, and cobra.
One of the coolest things you can do at Amelia Island is to go horseback riding on the beach. You can do that at Kelly Seashore Ranch, which really adds to a memorable vacation or day trip.
4. Fernandina Beach Historic Downtown
I was blown away by the 30 blocks of Fernandina Beach’s historic downtown, also on the National Register of Historic Places. Street parking is free and there are plenty of spaces. Wander the local-business clad streets and soak up the scenery as you familiarize yourself with this adorable town.
You’ll find two great coffee shops to satisfy your caffeine cravings, Amelia Island Coffee and Hola Cuban Coffee. Indulge your sweet tooth from macarons, zombie cookies, and gourmet cupcakes at Nana Teresa’s Bake Shop or perfectly ooey-gooey fudge from Fernandina Fantastic Fudge.
5. The Tantalizing Food
You’ll find a surprising number of ethnic eats in Fernandina Beach. When Cuban, Spanish, and Mexican top the TripAdvisor list, you know you are in for a real treat.
I say grab a seat on the lovely Pepper’s Cocina Mexicana & Tequila Bar‘s patio and sip a Jalapeño margarita while munching on tortilla chips, salsa, and queso. If you want a dish to share, the Chicken Fajita Nachos are excellent.
Beach Diner, a short drive from downtown Fernandina Beach, is excellent for all the breakfast dishes you know and love—pancakes, omelets, Bennies, and the list goes on and on. I say choose the omelet of your liking and add cheese grits. Yum!
Fun Fact: Beach Diner has been in business 25+ years.
Tasty’s Fresh Burgers is a town favorite, with gourmet burgers, sandwiches, milkshakes, and freaking fabulous fries. The Boat House is another eatery for fresh seafood, shrimp & grits (including short rib & grits), and bangin’ crawfish bread with garlic and herbs.
Other restaurants that came highly recommended from friends and the staff at our inn, that we didn’t have time to try yet, are Burlingame, Townies Pizzeria, The Patio Place, and Aloha Bagel and Deli.
6. Upscale Shopping
Never in my life would I have guessed that Fernandina Beach would be a treasure trove full of charming clothing, home accessory, children’s, souvenir, and specialty shops. But it is. Shop mainstream name brands like Lilly Pulitzer at Pearl Boutique, gauze cotton and hand-painted ladies apparel and jewelry at Cottonways, and holiday merchandise at Christmas on the River. Then, pop in Villa Villekulla for kid’s toys and Trailer Park Collectibles for a wide variety of one-of-a-kind antiques.
Downtown Fernandina Beach has a wonderful book store, The Book Loft, with unique books and plenty of the classics. An adorable touch are the chairs in each separated nook in the book shop, and the staff is super friendly and helpful.
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