within walking

The Sea Cottages are within walking distance to the beach.

It’s an island like no other.

Amelia Island is 34 miles north of Jacksonville and was named one of the top islands in the U.S. by Travel+Leisure Magazine last year. The small island is only 13 miles long and 2 miles wide and is a destination to get away from life for a while. From the large quiet beaches and fun little surf shops, to restaurants and preserved state parks, it’s only a little less than four hours from Central Florida.

We arrived the week after Christmas and checked into the Sea Cottages of Amelia not far from the beach. Each family had their own little hideaway tucked amongst a majestic canopy of trees. The rates were very affordable, and the island has many options for accommodations. If you are looking for something fancy, you can check out the Omni Amelia Island Resort or the Ritz Carlton. There are also hotels, motels, vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts.

The Sea Cottages opened last March, and business has been doing well.

“We’re different from a hotel,” said office manager Betsy Reese. “It’s a comfy feeling, private, and we are close to the beach. And we are pet friendly.”

Not far from the Sea Cottages are several restaurants serving seafood and other fare. We grabbed amazing fish sandwiches and drinks at Sliders Seaside Grill right on the ocean while we listened to a live reggae band. The Salt Life Food Shack was another eatery nearby offering an eclectic menu with sushi, poke bowls and tacos, to name a few. And ice cream isn’t far at Denucci’s or Island Time Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt. 

Within walking distance of the cottages were some beach shops, such as Amelia Island Beach Shack, and a quick drive down the road is the Driftwood Surf Shop, both with cool clothing. Check out the upscale shopping on the Omni property and grab a bite to eat. 

If you are looking for downtown shopping, historic Fernandina Beach is a cute seaport village about 10 minutes away. There you’ll find restaurants, independent shops, antiques, art galleries, a book store, the Amelia Island history museum, jewelry stores and many other places to find treasures. 

We were there for New Year’s Eve, and downtown came alive with the annual “Shrimp Drop.” Instead of a ball like in Times Square, a giant shrimp covered in lights was released from a crane to celebrate 2022. Amelia Island is known as the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry. every May, the city has a shrimp festival.

The Amelia Island tourism office said downtown has an old Florida feel.

“It’s always a surprise for people,” said Amy Boek, chief marketing officer for the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There is so much here, but it’s still in a small package.”

Last year, Amelia Island saw just under 700,000 overnight visitors, up 17% from 2020. 

Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach have several festivals and events throughout the year. There is restaurant week, the chamber music festival, a book festival, the Artrageous Art Walk, a film festival, a jazz festival, Dickens on Centre in December and others.

On your way to downtown Fernandina, a nice place to explore is Fort Clinch State Park, located at the tip of the island. It’s for nature lovers and history buffs, and visitors will learn about the Civil War and the life of a Union soldier.

The first weekend of each month, you can see a soldier garrison fire cannons and demonstrate other battlefield skills. The park is open 8 a.m. to sunset every day.

The island is very dog friendly. We brought our two shih-tzus along for the trip, and island visitors can bring their dogs to many restaurants, shops and even some of the beaches. The beach across from our cottage and next to Sliders restaurant was a fun place for the pups to frolic and play in the ocean. In downtown, you’ll see water bowls along the sidewalk, if your dogs are thirsty on a hot summer day.

Amelia Island is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, intercoastal waterway, the Nassau Sound and Cumberland Sound. There are more than 40 public beach access points. One of our favorite beaches is Boneyard Beach at Big Talbot Island State Park. The shoreline has 30-foot bluffs and its most unique trait – massive driftwood trees scattered across the sand looking like “bones.”

The drive isn’t bad from Central Florida, so hop in your car and explore a unique beach town for a long weekend getaway.

“The top reason people visit Amelia Island is its beautiful beaches,” said Boek. “We have a little bit of everything on a small, charming barrier island.”

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