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Amelia Island, Florida

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Did You Know … ?

  • Eight national (or quasi national) flags have flown over Amelia Island, more than at any other U.S. site.
  • The area once harbored the largest concentration of pirates in America.
  • The Patriot Flag of the Republic of Florida flew over Amelia Island for one day.
  • Whalers gave right whales their name, judging them the right whales to kill on a hunt.
  • Amelia Island, birthplace of the trawl net for shrimpers (1913), was once America’s shrimp capital.

Of pirates and shrimp

Amelia Island, a well positioned barrier island just off Florida’s northeast coast, may look like just another pretty face, what with its historic fort, Victorian houses, inviting marinas and 13 miles of beaches. But the 24-square-mile island was once prized by colonial powers for other reasons, especially its deep harbor, and even controlled, briefly, by a few disorganized ne’er-do-wells, pirates among them.

After the American Civil War, things finally quieted down. Amelia Island then became a center of the world’s shrimping business as well as Florida’s first luxury tourist destination.

As to the former, shrimping has declined as a major economic factor for the island, but the seafood is celebrated at an annual shrimp festival and in the island’s Shrimping Museum. Tourists can participate in a guided shrimping expedition, and there is always fresh local shrimp on menus.

As for the tourism, during the late 19th century’s Gilded Age, the island attracted well-to-do industrialists, socialites and dignitaries. Their stomping grounds included the Palace Saloon and the Florida House Inn, both available to 21st century visitors. But today’s vacationers have more choices including high-end resorts with an extensive array of services and comforts.

As in the past, tourists are drawn by the climate and easy access to beaches and a watery playground. These days, they may occupy themselves with diving or kayaking, sailing or deep-sea fishing. Sunbathing and swimming are obvious options while assuming a yoga position on a stand-up paddle board is less so. Active visitors also like the cycling and hiking. Golfing, tennis and horseback riding are on offer, too.

Sightseers gravitate to the Old Town Historic District at the original Fernandina Beach location, which still retains the layout created by the Spanish, and the Downtown Historic District, heart of the newer town site and loaded with the Victorian architecture that bespeaks the newer area’s founding period in the late 19th/early 20th century. Museums and events at Fort Clinch fill in the blanks for those wanting to know more about the island’s past and the reasons for pirate-themed attractions and occasional references to ghosts.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Drool over gorgeous cars at the Concours D’Elegance, an auto event that brings more than 250 rare and classic vehicles to the island. Or, bring your own to the March event.
  • Put the Amelia Island Jazz Festival on your travel calendar — that would be in October.
  • Take a ghost tour, available any time of year. There is much to see, or think you see. We are told some tales are “not for the faint of heart.”
  • Pilot a speedboat on the waters from Fort Clinch to Cumberland Island.
  • Paddle on the marshy side of Amelia Island. That would be stand-up paddle boarding with yoga if you wish, or something closer to the water — kayaking.
  • Rent the gear and take a dive. Take scuba lessons if necessary.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Have a drink at the Palace Saloon, and overnight at the 1857 Florida House Inn. Both are said to be haunted.
  • Take a guided horseback ride along the shore.
  • Cycle the Amelia Island Trail, a scenic byway running from Peters Point Beachfront Park to Amelia Island State Park.
  • Get some personal experience deploying and retrieving a shrimp net as part of a shrimp ecotour. Come in spring for the Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.
  • Tour the Marlin and Barrel Distillery to see how rum and vodka are made here.
  • Go for the big one aboard a deep-sea fishing charter.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Look for the right whales off Amelia Island’s coast in December or January. The whales come to the area to give birth and nurse their young.
  • Sample some or many parts of the island’s 13 miles of beaches.
  • Fish off the milelong pier at Fort Clinch State Park. Attend a living history reenactment at the fort.
  • Relax over a round of golf. Or, choose a tennis match if that’s your game.
  • Allot some time for museums, starting with the Amelia Island Museum of History, housed in a former jail. Take a walking tour of Fernandina Beach’s 50-block Downtown Historic District, known for its Victorian houses, or see the sights from a trolley or a horse-drawn carriage.
  • Book a performance at the Amelia Community Theatre.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council at www.ameliaisland.com