Northeast of Jacksonville
Graced with 13 miles of beautiful beaches, lush forests, and a unique, colorful history, Amelia Island is the perfect spot for collecting seashells, riding mountain bikes, or taking a quick trip back in time. In spite of its turbulent past and the waves of industrialization and modernization surrounding it, the island remains a quaint and authentic Victorian seaport village. It’s also productive: Nearly 80 percent of Florida’s Atlantic white shrimp are harvested here.
Discovered by a Frenchman in 1562, the island was soon claimed by the Spaniards. Its only town, Fernandina Beach, was named for King Ferdinand VII. Later, when Spain swapped Florida for Havana with England, British loyalists took control and christened the island Amelia. In the mid-1930s the founders of Afro-American Life Insurance bought 200 acres on the island’s southern end. Known as American Beach, this property became an oceanfront haven for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Today American Beach is the first stop on Florida’s Black Heritage Trail.
While basking in the island’s distinctive past and character, visitors can swim, sail, kayak, or even go horseback riding on the beach—one of only a handful of places in the United States where this exhilarating activity is permitted. Kelly Seahorse Ranch provides horses and expert guidance. Sightseers can also take a river cruise through the Intracoastal Waterway past Cumberland Island, where wild horses play. Along the way, amid the salty marshes, guests just might get to meet an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.