This Florida Beach Town Has Loads of Southern Charm, a Shrimp-themed Festival, and Year-round Fun for the Whole Family

Here’s what you need to know to plan a trip to Fernandina Beach, Florida.

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 seaside 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. 

Downtown aerial of Fernandina Beach, Florida near Jacksonville.

Michael Warren/Getty Images

Fernandina Beach was once a playground for swashbuckling pirates, Prohibition-era bootleggers, and a host of other interesting characters. Today, there’s a rich and quirky community with a family-friendly atmosphere that draws on some of Florida’s best attributes to craft a relaxing escape full of great food, unique stories, and plenty of activities to enjoy. 

Related: 15 Best Beach Towns in the South

Seagulls on the beach with waves coming up

Mauricio Handler/Getty Images

Best Things to Do in Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Beach is one of three communities that make up Amelia Island, a barrier island off the coast of Jacksonville that's just 13 miles long. The island may be small, but it has 40 public beach access points, including Main Beach Park, one of Fernandina’s most popular hangouts thanks to its oceanfront mini-golf course, skate park, multiple picnic shelters, and tons of lawn space.

Though you could easily spend your entire vacation soaking up the sun by the sea, 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 over 400 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 one group to the next, earning the island its nickname as the “Isle of Eight Flags.” The museum also offers several docent-led walking tours of the Historic District of Fernandina Beach so you can fully appreciate this enchanting downtown, including its impressive examples of Victorian-era architecture. History buffs and nature lovers alike will appreciate a visit to Fort Clinch State Park with its 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 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, Centre Street is lined with art galleries, eclectic shops, restaurants, and more — mostly housed in simple brick buildings that preserve Fernandina’s historic look.

Downtown aerial of city hall on Fernandina Beach

Michael Warren/Getty Images

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 guest rooms full of classic Florida elegance and luxurious modern amenities. Meanwhile, Fairbanks House, which is located on one acre of perfectly manicured grounds, caters to adults looking for an upscale B&B experience in the heart of the historic district.

Other B&Bs that come highly recommended 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 properties come with onsite 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 temperatures don’t deter you from dipping your toes in the water, spring and even fall are also excellent choices for a beachy vacation with far fewer crowds since school is still in session. 

Even a wintertime visit has its perks. Compared to most of the U.S., Amelia Island winters are mild, so the destination can still provide an escape from the true cold up north. This time of year is also ideal for birdwatchers as several 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 may be worth checking Fernandina Beach’s event calendar before you plan your visit. The city is best known for its Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival held every spring (May 5-7 in 2023) to celebrate the city’s long-standing shrimping history (Fernandina Beach is the birthplace of the modern American shrimping industry) with a parade, decorated shrimp boats, and lots of tasty seafood. 

Sand dune on Fernandina Beach and the Atlantic Ocean

Ruth Peterkin/Getty Images

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 hushpuppies. The Salty Pelican is another local favorite for seafood, whipping up Florida classics like crabcakes and fried gator bites (okay, 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 a fine dining experience that will satisfy both seafood lovers and more carnivorous travelers, reserve a seat at Bob’s Steak & Chop House, known for generous cuts of prime steaks. Other popular eateries include Fernandina Beach’s internationally inspired restaurants like 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 tons of places to grab a quality cocktail in Fernandina Beach. A visit to The Palace Saloon is non-negotiable. Opened in 1903, it’s the oldest bar in Florida —  it even managed to stay open during Prohibition. Go for the cocktails, but stay for the good company and live music. Meanwhile, whiskey aficionados should make their way to The Sandbar & Kitchen, where they’ll find one of the largest whiskey collections in Florida with more than 1,200 bottles. 

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 cocktail tour. 

Getting There

Though Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport is only minutes away 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, a 45-minute drive southwest will get you to Jacksonville International Airport, the closest and best option for travelers flying on any major carrier.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles