Every year for our wedding anniversary, my husband and I travel somewhere that neither one of us has been; the last six years have taken us to Chicago, Seattle, Shenandoah, Montreal, Toronto, and New York City. But this year was an especially busy year and, rather than conquer a new city, we wanted somewhere to relax. A few days in Amelia Island, Florida to relax by the pool, walk the beach, and explore the town seemed just perfect.
Where to Rest Your Head
This barrier island, 45 minutes off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, is full of bed and breakfasts, beach rentals, a few budget-friendly chain hotels, and two resorts (the Ritz Carlton and the Omni Plantation). We stayed at the Omni and it was absolutely perfect for us. This luxury resort recently underwent an $85 million renovation — you’d never know the property was 40 years old!
When they heard we were on our anniversary trip, Omni was nice enough to upgrade us to one of their End Suites. There are seven of these beautiful suites in the hotel and ours was literally larger than our house! The one-bedroom suite had a dining room for six, a small kitchen, a living room with a huge sectional sofa, a small half bath off the living room, and a comfortable master bedroom and master bath with double sinks and a walk-in shower. One of our favorite features was the suite’s wraparound balcony: one side looked out over the pool, while the other side allowed gazing out to the ocean.
The sprawling resort has everything you need — so much so that you really don’t ever need to leave the property. We enjoyed the bountiful daily breakfast buffet (make sure to get your cinnamon bun warmed!); lunch at several of the casual restaurants around the resort (even once right at our poolside lounge chairs); a romantic dinner one evening at their fine dining restaurant, Verandah; and a pizza the first night at their pizzeria/surf shop, Natural Slice.
A highlight of the resort was a romantic, private bonfire built right on the beach. This two-hour experience comes with everything you need for a perfectly romantic evening, including lounge chairs, marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers, tiki torches, and your own personal bonfire attendant. It is one of our favorite experiences on any trip we’ve ever been on!
The resort is popular with couples, families, and especially golfers and tennis nuts. We recommend visiting as we did during shoulder season, when it was still warm enough to swim but we almost had the place to ourselves.
Amelia Island Eats
While we were totally enamored with the Omni Plantation Resort, we also can’t resist a good local meal, so we ventured out a few times for dinner. Bar Zin is on the south end of the island, about five minutes from the Omni, making it a popular choice for visitors staying on that end. Their extensive wine list is almost all California wines, and you’ll have plenty of choices for dinner as their specials menu is almost as long as the regular menu! We found the shrimp bruschetta appetizer and the “famous” gumbo to be especially good.
Twenty minutes north of the Omni, in the town of Fernandina Beach, are a number of good breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. We enjoyed lunch at Salty Pelican one afternoon at their open air upper bar, noshing on fresh shrimp tacos and looking out over the marshland.
29 South, a cute little house-turned-bistro on a quiet side street, was the last meal of our trip and the best. Make sure and try the “Crust of the Day” (a giant piece of bruschetta topped with something delicious) and the scallops. We hadn’t initially ordered any sides, but when we got a whiff of our neighbor’s rosemary truffle fries, there was no way we weren’t indulging in our own plate of them.
And, of course, when you’re in Florida, you simply must stop by Publix and get one of their world famous subs!
Because You Can’t Sit By the Pool Every Day, All Day
We may have come to Amelia Island for a little rest and relaxation, but we also love getting out on the water and trying new things. Through the Omni Plantation Resort, we arranged for a private SUP (stand-up paddleboard) tour through Amelia Island’s marshlands. It was our first time trying SUP and I fell in love with it (the husband was a little less convinced, as he had trouble balancing). Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the local birds and pointed them out to us as we paddled along the smooth, protected waters. SUP tours are always run at high tide to avoid the area’s many razor sharp oyster beds.
Jumping in a kayak is one of our favorite ways to explore the local area when traveling, so one afternoon we grabbed two kayaks from Kayak Amelia Island and enjoyed a leisurely paddle. The scenery was beautiful and calming, and after a few miles of paddling we made it to a sandbar where we could get out and stretch our legs (and dig our toes in the sand).
Off the water, we paid a visit one morning to Fort Clinch State Park. This sprawling park at the very northern tip of the island is perfect for a day of exploring: pristine, almost empty beach; a restored Civil War fort, complete with historical reenactment; and views of the local marshlands and even a lighthouse. The beautiful canopy of Spanish moss-covered trees is reason enough to pay park admission.
The best part about staying on Amelia Island, regardless of where you stay, what you eat, or how you spend your days? The sunrises are absolutely stunning!
All photos are courtesy of the author.