Amelia Island, nestled just off the northeast coast of Florida, might be a state away, but it is less than two hours from Savannah by car. Part of the picturesque Sea Islands chain, Amelia boasts 13 miles of quiet beachfront with endless activities for those who love nature, outdoor sports, food and the arts—the perfect excuse to get away for the day. And once you arrive, park the car, because Amelia Island offers a variety of unconventional ways to explore land, sand, surf, sport and, yes, even sky.
Visitors to Kelly Seahorse Ranch, located on the 200 acres of unspoiled Florida state park wilderness, travel on horseback directly from ranch to beach. Even riders with little-to-no experience can enjoy a laid-back ride as long as they are at least 13 years old. For riders as young as 6, Amelia Island Horseback Riding offers low-key jaunts across the pristine coastline of Fernandina Beach, including sunrise and sunset rides.
Even for the frequent beachgoer, experiencing the surf on horseback is unforgettable. “There’s nothing like being on a horse with the sounds of the ocean next to you,” says owner of Amelia Island Horseback Riding, Debbie Manser.
Many companies around Amelia Island also offer beach cruiser bicycle rentals. Amelia Island State Park is an excellent place to begin your ride. For just $2 a person, you and your family can embark on the Timucuan Trail, a paved pathway that runs six miles north to Peters Point Beach Park or crosses the A1A bridge to Big Talbot Island State Park to the south.
Sites along the route include Spoonbill Pond, one of the premier birding spots in the area, and trail access to Talbot Island’s Boneyard Beach, famous for the magnificent skeletons of trees eerily washed up along the shore.
If you’re looking to ditch your land legs for a spell, the water adventures on Amelia Island not only include the expanse of the Atlantic, but also scenic salt marshes, swamps and rivers. Windward Sailing and Sail Amelia provide sailboats for charter trips where the captain and crew can assist guests as little or as much as you like. They also offer certified sailor classes for those interested in learning to travel the seas without a guide. For an inland experience, Backwater Cat Adventure escorts guests on two-person motorized CraigCat boats to explore the spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife native to the backwater rivers and swamps around Amelia Island.
If you prefer a board to a boat, Amelia Island Kayak Excursions and Adventures Up the Creek offer guided kayak tours to those who want to tour Amelia Island at a slower pace. If you are just testing the waters, Amelia Island Paddle Surf Company offers stand-up paddleboard and surfboard rentals, classes and private sessions for all levels. Kayak Amelia, which has been in business for 22 years, combines yoga and meditation with paddleboards and kayaks so you can find your Zen in the serene salt marshes.
For the sporting lot, the waters around Amelia Island are fertile ground for salt water fishing and popular charter services like Pipe Dreams Charters and Amelia Island Sportfishing can help you hook the “big one” whether you’re experienced at fishing or it is your first time out. Home to marlin, grouper, shark, sea bass and tarpon, visitors can curate their excursions based on the type of fishing they’d like to enjoy. Reef/wreck fishing, blue water trolling and inshore fishing each provide a unique aquatic experience.
And what is a southeastern paradise without golf? Dubbed “Florida’s First Coast of Golf,” Amelia Island’s premier links are a divine destination for even the most discriminating golfer. From local favorite Fernandina Beach Golf Club to the classic Pete Dye-designed Oak Marsh Golf Course, the island’s five courses provide a playing experience unlike anywhere else in the country.
When you’ve fully explored Amelia Island by land and water, turn your eyes to the sky to find your adventures in the air. Florida Adventure Sports takes visitors in powered hang gliders hundreds of feet over the beaches and parklands of Amelia Island. There you will get a bird’s-eye view of the majestic barrier islands on 20-, 40-, or 60-minute flights in the clouds.
“It’s not a tour, it’s a hands-on experience where you take control of the aircraft and fly with a flight instructor,” says Gene Monnier with Florida Adventure Sports. “Powered hang gliding is open cockpit flying with an unobstructed view and, for most, it’s the thrill of a lifetime.”
Did You Know?
- Amelia Island is notoriously known as the “Isle of Eight Flags” because it is the only place in the country to have been under eight different flags throughout history, including French, Spanish, English, Patriot and Confederate flags.
- The Amelia Island Lighthouse is Florida’s oldest lighthouse and the only lighthouse in the U.S. to have stood in two separate states. It was first constructed in 1820 on Cumberland Island, Georgia, dismantled brick-by-brick in 1838, and then reconstructed on Amelia Island where it stands today.
- The East Coast Greenway, a 3,000- mile trail that runs from Maine to Key West, travels through the center of Amelia Island.
- Since 2009, Amelia Island has played host to the annual Pétanque America Open, a form of boules.
- The area is rumored to have been home to the largest concentration of pirates throughout history, including the notorious Blackbeard, Calico Jack and Anne Bonny. Whether there’s still treasure to be found on the island is a subject of continual debate.