FERNANDINA BEACH, FLA. - Felix, known in these parts as the “Peanut Man,” offers to sell me some of the fresh mangoes sitting in the wicker basket on his three-wheeled bike.
The bubbly Felix, who acts as a one-man welcoming committee in this capital of enchanting Amelia Island, asks: “Are you having a good time in Fernandina Beach?”
Then he suggests that I might want to sample some of the dishes in a restaurant on 2nd Street, the Crab Trap.
“The Crab Trap has the best seafood in town,” says Felix in a sweet southern drawl. “I personally like the gator tail, fried shrimp and fried cheese combo.
“And the hush puppies, crab legs, battered fries and Key Lime pie are pretty good, too,” says Felix, before peddling off in the direction of Centre St., the main artery in this enchanting historic village.
On Felix’s suggestion, we pull up a chair at the family owned and operated Crab Trap, which opened 34 years ago and has become a local legend thanks to its quality dishes, featuring fish and seafood caught fresh daily in the shimmering waters off Amelia Island.
The building in which the restaurant is housed is also a local landmark — the Seydel Building dates back to 1877 and has a great history of its own — but it’s the food and welcoming staff that keep patrons coming back to the Crab Trap.
Left: The coastline here is ringed by a ribbon of sand. Right: The Amelia Island golf course in one of the best in Florida.
The Germano family who run the Crab Trap never let you leave hungry and the staff fills you up with a lot of local knowledge. Our server suggests we take a walk along Centre St., where the Victorian homes look like giant doll houses, and maybe drop into the unique shops, many of which sell colourful island paintings.
Or, she says, “maybe you’d like to take an Amelia River cruise that showcases some of our out islands like Cumberland where wild horses roam free.”
So, after our finger-lickin’ delightful dinner, we stroll down Centre St., admiring the one-of-a-kind shops and quaint B&Bs and wave at the tourists riding in horse-drawn carriages. People come here to Florida’s northernmost outpost to enjoy Amelia’s outstanding beaches and simple lifestyle. And because there are so many visitors, restaurants and bars dominate the streets of Fernandina Beach and the roads leading into this idyllic town that looks like it was painted by Norman Rockwell.
Soon, we come to Front St. where rail tracks act as a dividing line between the town and its busy waterfront.
It’s here we board the river boat for a one-hour sunset cruise that offers breathtaking views of the many islands that dot the waters. Our captain tells us a brief history of the area: “Amelia Island has lived under eight flags (France, England and Spain were among its rulers) over its history and Timucuan Indians were the first inhabitants. They originally called the island Napoyca.”
The British later changed the name to honour the daughter of King George II — Princess Amelia — and we must admit, Amelia sounds better.
Scottish smugglers, Mexican pirates and Cuban freedom fighters have also spent time on Amelia and the remains of 19th century Fort Clinch remind us that the island also played a role in the American Civil War.
Left: Felix greets visitors to Fernandina Beach with a friendly smile. Right: Beaches are what draws families to treaured Amelia Island.
Much of Amelia Island’s 4,000-year history is documented and preserved in the Museum of History, which is housed in former jail house.
Walking tours are offered of the 50-block Historic District. All the buildings in this area are on the National Register and many have been turned into quaint inns so you can experience the past.
Fewer than 12,000 people live here permanently but the population swells to 10 times that number in the peak vacation seasons.
The main reason people venture to this incredible island is to enjoy the Appalachian quartz sand beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see and admire the island’s unblemished eco-system.
The island hosts many festivals throughout the year — the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is the one we’d like to sample — and sportsmen who like fishing and golf never go home feeling cheated.
The Golf Club of Amelia Island is the area’s best course and is a treasure you never get tired of playing. Designed by PGA legends Mark McCumber and Gene Littler, the course meanders through some of the island’s loveliest terrain with the smell of the ocean hanging over the manicured fairways and greens. But who needs the ocean when 13 of the holes here feature water hazards? While tight in spots, with lots of trees and bunkers to keep you focused, the course is very playable and forgiving but will test every part of your game.
The course sits in the shadow of the fabulous Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which offers stay-and-play packages. That means you can stay at the island’s best resort and play its best golf course all in one visit.
Above: The streets of Fernandina Beach are quaint with lots of American charm.
Amelia is an island paradise for foodies, with a full range of restaurants in almost every category, with seafood rooms, naturally, topping the list. Another great restaurant we stumbled upon during our stay was the seaside Surf, where locals and tourists come together to enjoy great food and live music; the stunning ocean views are free.
Or, for something a little trendier, there’s BarZin, a neighbourhood bistro room that makes you feel right at home with great food and wine and a lovely atmosphere.
The Ritz-Carlton’s Café 4750, the Hammerhead Beach Bar, the Hola! Cuban Café, the Natural Slice over at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, the Salty Pelican Bar and Grill, Sheffield’s at The Palace and the Omni’s Verandah are some of the other places we’d recommend you try during your stay.
And if you need any guidance or some fresh fruit while on Amelia Island, just look for Felix.
Accommodation comes in many forms on Amelia Island and there’s plenty of places that qualify as a “home away from home”, but there’s only one property company that makes its guests feel like they’re at home — the Summer Beach Resort. Offering a variety of oceanfront properties, from single-family homes, condos, townhouses and villas, the Summer Beach Resort is one of the most desirable addresses on Amelia. Tucked between the world renowned Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the fabled Amelia Island Golf Club, our accommodation while on Florida’s northern outpost was a condominium complex that offered breathtaking sunrises each morning and a beach that stretched in both directions to the horizon. The spacious three bedroom condo was tastefully decorated and offered a wealth of amenities that encouraged family dinners on balconies overlooking the Atlantic brilliance featured here. With a private pool perched overlooking the beach and lots of sand for kids to build castles, it’s no wonder the Summer Beach Resort is such a desirable location. And if you don’t feel like cooking, the Ritz a short walk away offers some of the island’s best restaurants. For information on the Summer Beach Resort, go to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com