Amelia Island

Updated on 19 August 2022

Explore Florida’s Amelia Island: top things to do, where to stay and what to eat

A world away from the bright lights of Miami and thrill rides of Orlando, Amelia Island invites visitors to explore Florida’s flipside. Discover miles of untouched beaches, forest hiking trails and a historic downtown that resonates with old-school American charm.

Why go to Amelia Island?

A naturally beautiful barrier isle lying just off Florida’s north-east coast – a three-hour drive from Orlando International Airport – Amelia Island is the perfect place for an immersive beach break. 

It's just 13 miles (21km) long and 2 miles (3km) wide, so visitors are never far from a sweeping stretch of sand sheltered by dunes, while a range of stylish oceanfront resorts, watersports and horse riding along the shoreline add to the island’s sunny appeal.

The state parks – which cover 10% of the island – offer lush trails to hike or bike through coastal forests swaying with Spanish moss, while Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach is ripe for walking, skateboarding or e-scooter tours to discover the island’s Indigenous and colonial past. World-class spas and golf courses offer the ultimate in luxury R&R too.

Amelia Island beach, Florida. (Image: Amelia Island Tourist Development Council)Amelia Island Tourist Development Council

READ MORE: Florida's best RV parks awaiting your visit

Where to stay

You’ll find accommodation to suit every budget on Amelia Island, from cosy Airbnbs and campsites to period historic downtown hotels and high-end luxury beach resorts.   

Omni Amelia Island Resort

If you’re after a resort where your days will be fun and full, the Omni Amelia Island Resort is a great choice. Located near the southern tip of the island, the Omni offers stunning beach views from the balconies and patios of the 402 bright and breezy rooms, 10 restaurants ranging from casual poolside cafés to fine dining spots, and a monthly farm-to-table experience, The Sprouting Project. Several pools invite you in for a dip, or you can tee-off at the 18-hole championship golf course before checking in for some TLC at the luxe spa and meditation garden.

Set on 1,350 acres and encompassing a river and wildlife-rich marshlands, the Omni is primed for adventures of the water-based kind too. Setting off with a nature guide from the resort’s Walker’s Landing, you’ll see some of the island’s 300 resident or migratory bird species – including Forster’s terns, Bonaparte’s gulls and stunning pink roseate spoonbills – as you kayak or paddleboard the peaceful riverways. The Omni also offers ecology and adventure programmes from its Nature Centre, as well as tennis and pickleball coaching, so you can become a pro at the ballgame set to sweep across the nation.  

Omni Amelia Island Resort, Florida (Image: Lauren Jarvis)Lauren Jarvis

Seaside Amelia Inn

A simple but chic refurb has transformed this Amelia Island favourite into a bijou beach escape, with 46 rooms and suites – some with balconies, ocean views and kitchenettes – dressed in shades of nautical blue. Seaside Amelia Inn showcases works from local artists and offers a small pool, rooftop sundeck, grab-and-go breakfast room and amazing homemade chocolate-chip cookies and lemonade at the front desk (so keep a couple of reasons to pop down up your sleeve).

But the best thing about Seaside Amelia Inn is its location, a few steps away from one of the island’s most beautiful and best-known stretches of sand, Fernandina Beach. Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach is also just 2 miles (3km) away, and the Amelia Island Lighthouse, Florida’s oldest, beams nearby.   

READ MORE: 6 essential experiences along Florida's Sports Coast

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island

For a truly decadent island escape, check in to The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, which rises elegantly above the dunes, where sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs between May and October. The hotel’s recently transformed rooms and suites draw on the colours of nature to create a luxe haven for sleep, but it’s the beauty of the wild ocean rolling in outside your window that will really imprint on your memory.

Pull up a chair and order a cocktail and tacos at casual beachfront eatery Coquina, as frogs hop up to say ‘hello’, and streaks of pink blush the Florida sky. Feeling active? Play a round on the 18-hole championship golf course, take a surfing lesson in the Atlantic, or explore Amelia Island’s Intracoastal Waterway by kayak. Then when it’s time to chill, feel the sea’s ebb and flow on dry land in the spa with the resort’s signature Heaven in a Hammock massage, which combines touch therapy with rocking to echo the tides.  

On the first weekend in March, the Ritz-Carlton revs things up a little and hosts The Amelia, an annual multi-day motoring event that includes The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, a competition celebrating some of the world’s finest vintage cars.    

What to eat

Eight flags have flown over Amelia Island and the influence of those nations can still be felt in the eclectic mix of eateries that line its beaches and the streets of historic downtown.  

Salt Life Food Shack

Want to keep your day-at-the-beach vibe going? Then head to the rooftop deck, lounge or patio of the Salt Life Food Shack, a stone’s throw from Fernandina Beach. Like many of Amelia Island’s seaside restaurants, it's cool and casual, and fish and seafood abound – however, many of the dishes can be adapted for vegetarians, including fresh poke bowls, tacos and salads, and the naughty-but-nice avocado fries are a winner.

Hand-crafted cocktails hit the spot, while even the desserts, including Floridian favourite key lime pie and a rum-soaked pineapple upside-down cake, have a tropical holiday tang. Community is important at Salt Life and, before you know it, you’ll have made local friends to raise a glass with as the sun goes down.  

Salt Life, Amelia Island, Florida. (Image: Amelia Island Tourist Development Council)Amelia Island Tourist Development Council

Pogo’s Kitchen

Diners can choose to eat with aircon in the relaxed, effortlessly stylish interior, or outside on the lush and shady terrace at this gem of a restaurant tucked away from Amelia Island’s main attractions. The Pogo’s Kitchen menu, devised by James Beard-recognised executive chef Alan Heckman, reflects several global cuisines, with Asian Szechuan and tempura dishes, Italian pastas and lasagnes and classic American food.

The restaurant’s name was inspired by Pogo: a cartoon series set in the Okefenokee Swamp, which lies on the Florida/Georgia border. Created by cartoonist Walt Kelley in 1948, Pogo was a possum whose kitchen was a favourite of the swamp critters who dropped by daily for a ‘speshul meal’ – and while you won’t find any alligators propping up the bar, you’ll still find plenty that’s ‘speshul’ at this comfortable island favourite.   

READ MORE: How to do Orlando on a budget

Garden Street Bistro

This lovely little oasis off Fernandina’s main street has a cool, flower-covered courtyard and a dining room to escape from the heat of the day, and is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Garden Street Bistro is simple and unpretentious, and that’s part of its appeal, along with its great Sicilian summer pizza, home-baked breads and bottomless mimosas on Fridays. Set yourself up for a day of exploring with a hearty omelette, pancake or burrito, or dive into a taste of Southern USA with traditional breakfast biscuits or grits. 

Garden Street Bistro, Amelia Island, Florida. (Image: Lauren Jarvis)Lauren Jarvis

Timoti’s Seafood Shak  

A vegetarian in a seafood shack doesn’t sound like a match made in heaven, but popping into Timoti’s to grab a quick bite before a tour, I found a feast of freshly made wraps, tacos and rice bowls in this rustic family-run downtown eatery, which celebrates Amelia Island’s history as the birthplace of the shrimping industry (the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimping Festival takes place in May). While my visit fell a few hours short of cocktail time, the bargainous $7 libations on the menu are a worthy reason to venture back.

What to do

From hiking adventures in the island’s state parks, to exploring historic downtown and dolphin-spotting offshore, Amelia Island has no end of diverse delights to fill your days. 

Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach

The heart of Amelia Island beats in the Victorian seaport village, Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach. Take a leisurely stroll along Centre Street to the harbourfront, and you’ll find unique boutiques, local craft, surf and souvenir shops, and antiques that nod to the island’s pirating past (legend has it that Blackbeard himself buried treasure here).

Housed in the town’s former train depot, built during the island’s heyday in 1899, the Welcome Center has information on local tours. A stroll around town will also uncover what's tipped as Florida’s oldest hotel, The Florida House Inn built in 1857, and the state’s oldest bar, The Palace Saloon, which opened in 1903 and was purportedly the first bar to serve a Coca-Cola.

Welcome Centre, Amelia Island, Florida. (Image: Amelia Island Tourist Development Council)  Amelia Island Tourist Development Council

Fort Clinch State Park

Guarding the entrance to St Mary’s River and Cumberland Sound, Fort Clinch is one of the best-preserved Civil War-era forts in America, and staff in period costumes and reenactments bring its history to life throughout the year. Beyond the fortifications, the state park protects 1,400 acres of maritime marshes, forests and dunes, as well as wildlife including gopher tortoises, painted bunting birds and armadillos.

Camping and scouring the beaches here for sharks’ teeth are popular pursuits, and hikers can explore miles of coastal paths and the stunning Willow Pond Nature Trail, which has two loops and the chance to see deer, osprey and alligators under the arching ancient oaks. 

READ MORE: Discovering Gateway – the Deep Space Launch Complex on Florida's Space Coast

Cumberland Island National Seashore 

Setting sail from the harbourfront in Downtown Fernandina Beach, the two-and-a-half hour Cumberland Island Tour with Amelia River Cruises travels along St Mary’s River and into Georgia, where the wealthy Carnegie family built Dungeness and Plum Orchard Mansion on the Cumberland Island National Seashore to serve as their winter escapes.

Look out for the feral horses that graze the tough grasses along the island’s wild beaches – ancestors of those introduced by the Spanish – and if you’re lucky, you may see dolphins, manatees or even hammerhead sharks as you head for home.   

Amelia Island Museum of History  

Journey back 4,000 years at the excellent Amelia Island Museum of History, housed in the old Nassau County Jail. Starting off in the reconstructed jail cell, hour-long tours by local ambassadors will lead you through exhibits featuring the island’s first inhabitants, the Timucua people, and into the Eight Flags Gallery. Unravelled here are the stories of the eight flags that have ruled over the island – French, Spanish, British, Patriots, Green Cross, Mexican Revolutionary, National Flag of the Confederacy and the United States – which led to Amelia’s nickname, the ‘Isle of Eight Flags’.     

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge 

Tear yourself away from Amelia Island’s beaches for a few hours and drive into Georgia for an exciting adventure in North America’s largest black-water swamp at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. A 90-minute boat tour with Okefenokee Adventures transports visitors to a primordial landscape, where American alligators bask on riverbanks, black bears and bobcats roam, and waterways carpeted with lillies provide a sanctuary for wading birds and frogs.

The self-guided Swamp Island Drive leads to the Chesser Island Homestead, home to early pioneers or ‘swampers’, and the 50-foot (15m) Owl’s Roost Tower, which offers epic views of the wetlands. For a wilder adventure, rent a kayak or canoe, or join a one-to-four-night camping tour, sleeping on platforms in the heart of the swamp, before heading back to the island for a refreshing Atlantic Ocean dip.    

Okefenokee Swamp tour, Florida/Georgia. (Image: Lauren Jarvis)Lauren Jarvis

Getting there

US specialist tour operator America As You Like It offers a seven-night Florida fly-drive including three nights' B&B at the Seaside Amelia Inn, three nights' room-only at the Omni Amelia Island Resort, one night room-only at Lake Nona Wave Hotel in Orlando, seven days' fully inclusive car hire and return international flights from London Heathrow to Orlando with Virgin Atlantic from £1,670 per person, based on two people sharing.  

Order a free Amelia Island Visitor Guide and download the Amelia Island Mobile App to access augmented reality experiences and 360-degree videos, plus interactive scenes. 

For more info on Florida, go to and download a free USA Travel Planner at

Lead image: Amelia Island Tourist Development Council


Be the first to comment

Do you want to comment on this article? You need to be signed in for this feature

Copyright © All rights reserved.