When you arrive on the barrier island of Amelia Island, something funny happens.
It’s as if the whole world has taken a happy pill. People smile a lot. No one seems like they’re in a hurry. Most everybody’s dressed for a beach day. You don’t see a lot of high heels and pearls; it’s more a flip-flop and sunburned-nose kind of place.
The beach is one of the biggest draws. It’s a treat for the eyes, with unfettered stretches of sand and a wide swath of dunes bristling with sea-oats and palmettos.
If you like fishing, the area’s renowned for it.
But kicking back by the waves is even more popular.
American Beach is beautifu l-- and historic. Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Florida's first black millionaire and president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, established this beach during the Jim Crow era, when black Americans weren't allowed to swim at most of the area’s beaches. It became the largest and most popular of several blacks-only areas.
Exploring historic, charming Fernandina Beach is a must-do.
You can eat at the Crab Trap in the Seydel Building, built over 136 years ago.
Or indulge in something sinful from Fernandina’s Fudge.
Make sure to raise a toast at Sheffield’s Palace, said to be Florida’s oldest bar. Or at least step inside to admire the mosaic floors and painted murals of this pre-Prohibition establishment.
A trolley tour provides insight into the village and its tumultuous past.
You'll discover history brimming with Indians, pirates, scoundrels and fishermen.
Many of the Victorian houses are said to be haunted. I know if I were a ghost this is where I’d want to live.
Your whole gang can get outside and enjoy nature.
Watching dolphins play in the Atlantic from the back of a horse is something you'll always remember. This experience is all about simple pleasures: winding your horse’s mane through your fingers and swaying to the rhythm of his walk as you listen to the surf.
Kayaking in the salt marsh, the most productive ecosystem on the planet, is another way to reconnect with nature and quiet moments.
Area accommodations run the gamut.
Elizabeth Pointe Lodge Bed and Breakfast will please folks who like stepping outside right onto a generous beach.
It will also please folks who enjoy lemonade on the porch.
Folks who fancy home-cooked breakfasts with the Atlantic Ocean singing just outside the windows will like it, too. Not that this rules out a lot of people.
You can stay budget-friendly resorts like the Amelia Hotel at the Beach. It’s located just across the street from a beach complete with restrooms and showers. The rooms are large and comfortable, and the Hotel offers breakfast with your stay.
The southern part of the Island is dedicated to luxury. Picture giant oaks dripping with Spanish Moss, golf courses rolling next to the Ocean, and mind-blowing Resorts. I can personally vouch for Summer Beach Resort, which was the height of indulgence.
The view wasn’t bad, either; this is what we woke up to every day.
The beach felt like it belonged to us and only us, with miles of soothing dunes and sandy beach.
And who couldn’t stand a little soul soothing?
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA