Ninety minutes' drive north of St. Augustine, Amelia Island lets visitors time-travel to the Victorian era – free from tourist kitsch. Come for a day's window shopping, earnest historic appreciation or even time on the water, starting from the small beach town of Fernandina Beach. With a past just as fascinating as St. Augustine, and an annual shrimp festival (each May), it's a perfect place to let a day surprise you.
Beach and town
Once a port town through which slaves and liquor were transported, Fernandina Beach is today a quaint neighborhood of wonderfully preserved Victorian homes. Many house small cafés, used book shops and antiques dealers – you could easily spend a full day getting to know this quirky little town (and trying out its many ice cream and fudge offerings). As for the beach, it's designated car-free and spans twelve miles.
Where to start
To explore Amelia Island, you can happily wander the area with a map on a tour of your own invention. Otherwise the tour offerings are as comprehensive as in St. Augustine. Known as the 'Isle of Eight Flags' (for having flown, yes, eight different rulers' flags in its past), Amelia Island is small but packed with good stories.
A day's dose of history
While many Amelia Island buildings recall Victorian life, the island's record stretches way back – to the indigenous Timucuan people. (That's 4,000 years ago, if you're counting). Three local historic highlights would make a great 'day in the past':
Art, galleries and monthly walks
Life by the sea inspires great watercolor, and Fernandina Beach is particularly rich in local talent. Browse a great variety of studios dotted throughout town, choosing a great memento or thoughtful present for family at home.
Window and antiques shopping
If you can deposit those less interested in shopping at a neighborhood pub, fishing pier or at the beach – this town stands ready to delight. Antiques, boutiques and more! A few suggestions to get you started:
If you like the water
How to make best use of time on an island? Hit the water. This historic port knows a thing or two about fishing – and shrimp, especially. Charters and kayak tours lengthen the list of possibility.
Where to eat
With a few exceptions, most restaurants with outdoor patios are pet-friendly. We've marked those advertised as such with an asterisk. A tip to the wise, mosquito repellant if recommended if you plan to eat outdoors in the evening.
Just under an hour's drive north of St. Augustine, this beach town will suit water rats and shopaholics alike. A particularly genius day-trip if you have two interest groups to entertain (that is, Shoppers Vs. Non Shoppers) – the town center has a great book shop and casual restaurant choices, plus there's a nice sandy beach.
Beach and access
Fourteen public access points dot two miles of white beach – just the way you like it. Free street parking is nominally available, though empty spots are hard to find - especially on weekends. (Paid parking is located between 18th and 19th Streets).
A nice selection of independent shops feature gifts, home goods, clothes for kids, teens and adults, and more, all at the town center. A few favorites:
Where to eat:
(Plus a few choices in nearby Neptune Beach)
A great seaside stop if you're driving down the scenic A1A, Ormond Beach has a surprisingly substantial history. A favored winter spot of the rich and famous from the 1900s onwards, it drew the attention of one John D. Rockefeller who built his residence 'The Casements' here. Today the house is open for tours and also exhibits Boy Scouts memorabilia.
Though close to Daytona, the atmosphere is night and day. Ormond Beach has long stretches of undeveloped shore, and the sand is too soft to allow cars. While parking can be hard to find, its relative scarcity does deter crowds (more beach for you!).
Local Attractions - the top 3
Great for girls' trips
Great for kids
It must be said, Daytona is a "love it or hate it" town. What's to love? NASCAR and Bike Week, with a beach for driving and plenty of themed nightlife to fully get your fix. Not your scene? No problem, our other day trip suggestions suit plenty of interests beyond racing – keep reading!
Daytona claims to be Florida's most famous beach. Whether it trumps Miami's fame, it has undoubted niche popularity. Nature-lovers and privacy-seekers, steer clear: Daytona's bustle spans about 20 miles, with cars permitted on eleven of them. As you may have seen in photos, the beach is incredibly wide - approx. 500 feet - at low tide. Neither access nor parking are a problem (unless you're a sea turtle?).
DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
The home of NASCAR and its main event, the Daytona 500, as well as major bike events. Tour packages include special events (like Halloween), plus VIP and All-Access options.
BIKE WEEK AND BIKETOBERFEST
Weeklong bike events (the largest in the world) take over Daytona in March and October of each year. Not your interest? Wrong time to visit!
Other Daytona attractions
If coming with kids and you need an afternoon activity after your Speedway tour, two options will help you sneak in a little education:
Where to eat
Every major chain is found in Daytona, with favorites including Carrabbas and Chipolte. For an independent touch, try one of the following: