Fernandina Beach, Florida is on the coast of Northeast Florida as far north on the Atlantic Coast as you can get in the Sunshine State. The city is a natural deep water seaport 26 miles north of Jacksonville.
It is on the south bank of the St. Marys River that divides Florida and Georgia. Perched on the north end of Amelia Island, the northernmost barrier island of Florida's Atlantic Coast.
Amelia Island Florida is part of Nassau County, which is included in the Jacksonville metropolitan area. Fernandina Beach is the county seat.
Amelia City and American Beach are also two historic communities on the small island.
Fernandina Beach was one of Florida's first major cities. The downtown area of the town preserves and displays many of the old historic buildings.
The history of Fernandina Beach is so confusing that only a history professor can understand it fully.
It is the only United States location to have been under eight different flags.
Its fortunes rose and fell with the fate of Spain, France, England, The Confederate States of America, the English American Colonies and the United States of America.
The first recorded visitor to Amelia Island was the French admiral and explorer, Jean Ribault. He arrived in May of 1562 and found the area populated by Timucuan Indians.
He claimed the island "Isle de Mai" for the month of May, and claimed it for France.
The Spanish came along 5 years later and claimed it for Spain. The Spaniards stuck around for almost 200 years, and in 1686 they built Fort San Fernando located in the area of Fernandina Beach now called Old Town. They called the island Santa Maria.
Then the English came along and wiped out the Spanish and renamed the island for Princess Amelia, daughter of King George II. For a few years they called it Egmont after the Earl of Egmont's big indigo plantation. After the Revolutionary War, the victorious Americans took the island from the English and gave it back to Spain.
In 1812 a group called "Patriots of Amelia Island" kicked the Spanish out and raised their own flag. The next day they raised the U.S. flag, but Spain demanded the island be returned, so it became Spanish again.
In 1817 an adventurer named Sir Gregor MacGregor captured the Spanish Fort San Carlos, and he raised his own flag, the Green Cross standard.
Then a couple of rebels and a pirate gained control from Sir Gregor and raised the Mexican Rebel flag.The United States quickly booted these guys out and held Amelia Island in trust for Spain.
Amelia Island finally became United States soil in 1821 when Florida became a territory.
During the first year of the civil war, however, the island was under the Confederate flag.
Old Glory was raised again in 1862, and the last time I checked, Amelia Island is still under the flag of The United States of America.
Fernandina thrived in the years just before and after the U.S. Civil War, and up until just after 1900.
Fort Clinch was built in 1847, and in the 1850's Fernandina became the eastern terminus of Florida's first cross-state railroad.
The railroad was built by Senator David Levy Yulee who planned the eastern and western terminals at deep water ports to facilitate ocean shipping. The railroad ran from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico.
He was also prominent as a United States Senator. He was elected as Florida was admitted as a state in 1845, holding that position until 1851.
He was then re-elected in 1855, working until he resigned in 1861 to support the Confederacy. He was briefly imprisoned after the war and then later pardoned.
Tourists came by steamboat from New York and other northern cities down to the state of Florida and Fernandina became a popular destination.
Visitors loved to stay in the city's beautiful hotels and enjoy the pristine beaches, much like today.
The shipping industry boomed with outgoing cargoes of lumber, naval stores and phosphate, and incoming loads of tourists.
By the early 1900's, however, the tourism trade had moved south to St. Augustine, and Fernandina became somewhat isolated.
Today Fernandina Beach it is a bustling little city of about 13,052 people living within the city limits.
Probably at least that many more live on that part of Amelia Island not within the city limits.
It is a self sufficient place with a solid paper industry, a shrimp fleet, and plenty of service industry jobs generated by the affluent retirement and second home communities of southern Amelia Island.
The historic district of Fernandina has been carefully preserved. Many houses and buildings remain as proof that this was a very prosperous town.
There are dozens of unique shops along with good restaurants and cafes, live music and horse-drawn carriage and trolley tours.
You can enjoy a leisurely sunny day or warm evening strolling along the main artery, Centre Street.
One spot you may want to stop in is a place called The Palace Saloon, which bills itself as the oldest continuously running bar in Florida, opening in 1903.
It even remained open during prohibition, where the owner made money selling gasoline, ice cream, cigars, and according to local lore, a bit of his own whiskey.
After prohibition it returned to its full glory, welcoming locals, élite visitors including the Rockefellers and Carnegies, along with passing ship captains.
Several of the large Victorian houses, along with the entire "Old Town" district, the now downtown district, the "jail" (now the historic museum) and the lighthouse are all registered on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fernandina Beach has managed to keep its charm as a quiet beach community and still offer many things to do.
The island is also known for having some of the best golf courses in north Florida.
These range from nice public municipal courses to Arnold Palmer-designed courses at the Golf Club of North Hampton to the Pete Dye course and golf vacation packages offered at the Omni Amelia Island Resort.
The island has 13 miles of beautiful beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and Fernandina has over 40 public beach access points. Although many do not have parking facilities they are generally walkable from where you are staying.
Numbered north to south, starting at Main Beach Park. This popular beach park has 2 sand volleyball courts, outdoor showers, a playground and a skateboard facility.
It is ADA accessible, with a special matted ramp to allow easier travel for wheelchairs and strollers over sand, a floating beach wheelchair and 3 upright beach wheelchairs that can be rented.
FERNANDINA BEACH MOTELS
The City of Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island are blessed with a variety of lodging places. Accomodations range from the simplest of Mom and Pop motels to the Ritz Carlton (which is fantastic!), and prices vary accordingly.
I have a few suggestions to make:
FERNANDINA BEACH ATTRACTIONS
Fernandina Beach Florida is about 11 miles east of I-95 Exit 373. This exit is about 10 miles south of the Georgia-Florida border.
Travel east through Yulee on SR-A1A, also known as The Buccaneer Trail, and shown as Highway 1A on this Google map.
Continue on SR-A1A east to Amelia Island, then follow the road as it bends north into Fernandina's historic downtown section.