Florida Travel: A Philadelphian’s Guide to Amelia Island

From five-star luxury to B&B charm, North Florida’s Amelia Island oozes Southern comfort. 

amelia island florida

American Beach, Amelia Island / Photograph by Deremer Studios/Visit Amelia Island

Horseback rides on a quiet beach at sunrise, soft-hued Victorian homes, Spanish-moss-covered tree canopies, year-round temperate weather — to visitors from Philly, Amelia Island is like sliding into a warm bath. A bustling (but not overly crowded) historic downtown, pristine accommodations to suit your style and price range, and friendly (but not intrusive) residents work together to engender this rare state of pure relaxation. The 13-mile barrier island is just a 40-minute drive from the Jacksonville airport, which is just a two-hour-and-20-minute- nonstop flight from Philly. 

If you know of Amelia Island, it may be for one of two renowned beachfront resorts — the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island (from $599) and the Omni Amelia Island Resort (from $359). With its luxurious spa and award-winning restaurant, the Ritz is ideal for pampering girls’ getaways or milestone celebrations. For endless adventure packed into one scenic spot, go for the Omni, where staff naturalists lead outdoor activities like salt-marsh kayaking, nature Segway tours, and family education excursions, including Fishing 101 and shark-tooth hunting (complete with a bag for collecting teeth). 

For a bed-and-breakfast vibe, check out the Addison (from $290), a Victorian-era inn with modern amenities just a few blocks from downtown Fernandina Beach. It’s run by Bryn Mawr native Lisa West and her husband, Ron, who prepare baked oatmeal and vegetable quiche with herbs from their garden and offer daily wine hour on the courtyard veranda. If you don’t feel like walking, they have bikes for a pleasant cycle to the Main Beach two miles away. When it comes to getting around otherwise, call up Daniel Transportation — ebullient driver Rick Crosby might even take you past Cantina Louie to spot gators in the pond. 

Leave space in your suitcase for gifts from downtown shops like Color It Green, Colie’s Clothing + Gifts and the Book Loft, where you’ll find plenty of reads from part-time residents John Grisham and David Baldacci. Dining options go far beyond typical beach-town fare. Think octopus, paella and Iberian wines at España Restaurant & Tapas; osetra caviar and escargots at David’s Restaurant and Lounge; crawfish bread and live music at the Boat House; and warm butter cake with your cocktails at the Decantery. History buffs can grab a beer at Florida’s oldest bar, the Palace Saloon. Or visit the American Beach Museum at American Beach, an oceanfront destination for African Americans in the Jim Crow era, founded by Florida’s first Black millionaire, A.L. Lewis. Stop at the Amelia Island Museum of History, inside the old county jail, to learn how the town survived under eight different flags of dominion — the only town in America to hold that distinction.

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Published as “Natural Beauty” in the December 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.