This Florida Beach Town Offers Southern Charm, a Shrimp-themed Festival, and Year-round Family Fun (2024)

Beyond the famed shores of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Daytona, Florida’s smaller beach towns welcome travelers from near and far for laid-back, sunny getaways.

Take Fernandina Beach, for example. Sitting on the northeastern border between Florida and Georgia, this destination brings something different to the table: a delightful blend of Southern charm, centuries-old historical sites, and, as its name suggests, picture-perfect stretches of sand and sea.

This Florida Beach Town Offers Southern Charm, a Shrimp-themed Festival, and Year-round Family Fun (1)

Fernandina Beach was once a stomping ground for swashbuckling pirates, Prohibition-era bootleggers, and a host of other interesting characters. Today, it's a quirky, relaxing, family-friendly escape full of great food, unique stories, and plenty of activities to enjoy.

This Florida Beach Town Offers Southern Charm, a Shrimp-themed Festival, and Year-round Family Fun (2)

Best Things to Do in Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Beach is one of three communities that make up Amelia Island, off the coast of Jacksonville. At just 13 miles long, this barrier island might be small, but it has more than 40 public beach access points, including Main Beach Park. One of Fernandina’s most popular hangouts, it offers an oceanfront mini-golf course, skate park, multiple picnic shelters, and tons of lawn space.

You could easily spend your entire vacation relaxing by the ocean, or hop on a kayak, boat, or paddleboard tour with Amelia Adventures to explore the nearby rivers and creeks. Keeping an eye out for local wildlife like dolphins, manatees, and hundreds of bird species is part of the fun.

At the Amelia Island Museum of History, you can learn about the area’s tumultuous past, including how ownership of the lands passed from the Timucua people to competing European countries, earning the island its nickname as the “Isle of Eight Flags.” The museum also offers several docent-led walking tours of the downtown historic district with its impressive Victorian architecture. History buffs and nature lovers alike will appreciate a visit to Fort Clinch State Park, which has a 19th-century fortress and several hiking and biking trails.

Thanks to Fernandina Beach’s fascinating past, there’s no shortage of entertaining legends and ghoulish stories about this area, so join the guides at Anchor Trolley and Transport to hear about the town’s spooky history on a seasonal nighttime ghost tour. The company also offers daytime trolley tours of the historic district.

No matter which activities you choose, a visit to Fernandina Beach isn’t complete until you take a stroll down charming Centre Street. Serving as the main hub of downtown life, the street is lined with art galleries, eclectic shops, restaurants, and more — mostly housed in simple brick buildings that preserve Fernandina’s historic look.

This Florida Beach Town Offers Southern Charm, a Shrimp-themed Festival, and Year-round Family Fun (3)

Fernandina Beach Hotels

To fully immerse yourself in the beauty of Fernandina Beach, book your stay at one of the historic homes that have been transformed into quaint inns and bed-and-breakfasts. Hoyt House is a top-rated choice, offering 10 elegant Victorian-influenced guest rooms, an English-style pub, andan outdoor pool and hot tub. Meanwhile, the upscale Fairbanks House, nestled on one acre of perfectly manicured grounds in the historic district, features spacious rooms, suites, and cottages, plus a pool and complimentary bicycles for guest use.

Other elegant B&Bs include The Addison on Amelia Island, Blue Heron Inn, and Amelia Island Williams House.

Travelers who prefer resort life will also find several options nearby: The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island offers the brand’s usual level of superb, detail-oriented service, while Omni Amelia Island Resort is another appealing option for the luxury traveler. Both of these beachfront properties feature access to golf courses designed by PGA players and relaxing spas.

Best Time to Visit Fernandina Beach

Like Paris, Fernandina Beach is always a good idea. The “best time” to visit simply depends on what type of experience you’re looking for since, unlike other popular beach destinations around Florida, Fernandina Beach’s northern location makes for more pronounced seasonal changes.

Though the hot summer months draw the biggest crowds (and priciest room rates), they also offer the best beach weather and several events to keep you busy, including Sounds on Centre, a free outdoor concert series. If slightly cooler days don’t deter you from dipping your toes in the water, spring and fall are also excellent choices for a beachy vacation with temperatures typically in the 70s and far fewer crowds.

Even a wintertime visit has its perks. Compared to most of the U.S., Amelia Island winters are mild with average temps in the 50s and 60s, so the destination can still provide an escape from the true cold up north. This time of year is also ideal for bird-watchers, as many migratory species make their way to the island. For an extra dose of enchantment, December in Fernandina Beach also comes with holiday lights and festive displays throughout the downtown district.

With tons of fun festivals happening year round, it's worth checking Fernandina Beach’s event calendar as you plan your visit. The city is best known for its Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival held every spring to celebrate the city’s role as the birthplace of the modern American shrimping industry. The festivities include a parade, decorated shrimp boats, and tasty seafood.

The Best Time to Visit Florida for Fewer Crowds, Better Weather, and Travel Deals

This Florida Beach Town Offers Southern Charm, a Shrimp-themed Festival, and Year-round Family Fun (4)

Where to Eat and Drink

Ready to try some of the area’s famous seafood? Head to Timoti's Seafood Shak for a basket of shrimp, oysters, or the fresh catch of the day prepared to your liking with a side of coleslaw, fries, and hush puppies. The Salty Pelican is another local favorite for seafood, whipping up Florida classics like crabcakes and fried gator bites (OK, not exactly seafood), along with the can’t-miss tuna nachos. Verandah is also a noteworthy restaurant thanks to its traditional Southern seafood and house-made pasta served in a stylish setting.

For something more carnivorous, reserve a seat at Bob’s Steak & Chop House, known for generous cuts of prime steaks. Other popular spots include Fernandina Beach’s internationally inspired eateries, including España Restaurant and Tapas, which specializes in Spanish and Portuguese dishes; Wicked Bao, with its variety of Asian street food; and Hola! Cuban Cafe, serving traditional cuisine from the island for breakfast and lunch.

With Amelia Island’s bootlegging history, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of spots to grab a quality co*cktail. A visit to The Palace Saloon is a must. Opened in 1903, it’s the oldest bar in Florida —and even managed to stay open during Prohibition. Go for the co*cktails, but stay for the good company and live music. Meanwhile, whiskey aficionados should make their way to The Sandbar & Kitchen, where they’ll find more than 1,200 varieties — one of the largest collections in Florida.

For a fun introduction to Fernandina Beach’s culinary scene, book a Booze & Bites tour with Amelia Island Downtown Tasting Tours. Or skip the food and go straight for the company’s co*cktail excursion.

Getting There

Though Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport is only minutes from the town center, flight service out of this small airport — and its unique airplane-shaped terminal — is limited to private jets or small aircraft. Luckily, it's less than a 45-minute drive southwest to Jacksonville International Airport, the closest and best option for travelers flying on any major carrier.

9 Best Beach Towns in Florida

This Florida Beach Town Offers Southern Charm, a Shrimp-themed Festival, and Year-round Family Fun (2024)
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