For Erik’s birthday, we took a weekend trip to Amelia Island and absolutely fell in LOVE with it! It’s a total hidden gem and is a perfect weekend getaway for folks that live in Charleston. Only a quick 3.5 hour drive from Charleston, Amelia Island is located in Florida but the culture felt much more Southern than most Florida cities.
Everyone from the boat captains and restaurant staff to the hotel owner and complete strangers on the street were happy and uplifting. Amelia Island has a fun small-town feel but still tons of shopping, great food, and activities. We were most impressed with the food. We are spoiled with good food living in Charleston, but the food in Amelia Island was on par with the best restaurants in Charleston… and that says a lot! Thanks so much to the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council for hosting us and showing us the best places to go on Amelia Island!
Where to Stay in Amelia Island
We stayed in the historic Amelia Schoolhouse Inn, which was originally built as the first school on Amelia Island in 1886. The school closed down in the 20th century but reopened as the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn in 2018 after a complete restoration of the building.
With 17 guest rooms, a pool, a courtyard with a putting green, and a bar, the inn provides all the amenities of a boutique inn in an amazing location within walking distance to over 30 restaurants and many shops. They also had free bike rentals available if you didn’t feel like walking.
The rooms of the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn were so darn cute! They had beautiful schoolhouse decor with lots of space and a super comfy bed. We adored it! Plus, there was a jar of Jelly Belly’s, which are my and Harper’s favorite candies, at the check-in desk.
Located in the hotel is everyone’s favorite local bar, The Principal’s Office. The Principal’s Office Bar is open to the public and gives patrons a unique historical flair to their cocktail experience. The bar is certainly more enjoyable than some of us might have experienced being sent to the actual principal’s office. You can check out their full menu here!
914 Atlantic Avenue
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
Amelia Island Weekend Guide
We drove down to Amelia Island from Charleston just in time for dinner at Timoti’s Seafood Shack. This was one of the top recommendations I got when I asked y’all what we should do on Amelia Island and I understand why! Their menu had everything from fried shrimp and hush puppies to fresh poke bowls, and all of their seafood is wild-caught. They also had outdoor seating and an adorable pirate ship outdoor playground for kids to play on! Harper loved it!
I got the Baja Box with blackened shrimp and it was legitimately one of the best meals I have had in a long time. It was super fresh and super inexpensive – only $9.99, which is INSANE for what I got. The meal came with coconut rice, fresh avocado, greens, pico fresco, black sesame seeds, and T’s poke sauce. It was so good I got extra to take back to the hotel for Erik after he got in from his flight.
You absolutely HAVE to go here, and you must get the shrimp! The shrimp in Amelia Island are the best I’ve ever had, totally next level. Fernandina Beach is actually known for its fresh shrimp. It was the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry and was once the shrimping capital of the world! Now, shrimp is still celebrated on the island with an annual shrimp festival and fresh, locally caught shrimp is available at restaurants around Amelia Island, including Timoti’s.
21 N 3rd Street
Fernandina Beach, Fl
CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST AT AMELIA SCHOOLHOUSE INN
We started off our first full day on Amelia Island with continental breakfast at Amelia Schoolhouse Inn. It was the perfect quick start to a busy day and everything was super delicious.
EXPLORING DOWNTOWN AMELIA ISLAND
We spent most of the morning and early afternoon wandering around the historic streets of downtown, stopping in at some of the adorable independent shops and admiring the preserved architecture. With 50 blocks to explore, there was plenty to keep us interested, but it still had such a charming small-town feel. Downtown Fernandina Beach used to be the stomping ground for pirates, Gilded Age millionaires, shrimpers, and more, so it’s fun to imagine them walking around the streets with us! They had a ton of great shops. We bought matching hats at Harbor Wear gift shop and we love them! We also stopped by the local bookstore, The Book Loft of Amelia, and I purchased the best local cookbook and Harper picked out two books as his souvenir.
LUNCH AT CAFE KARIBO
We took a break from our exploring with lunch at Cafe Karibo. Home of the Turkey Cuban and “world famous” veggie burger, Cafe Karibo is so cute and has delicious and fresh meals. Located in downtown, you can choose to eat under oak trees on the beautiful patio (total treehouse vibes!) or in the eclectic cafe. They even have an outdoor seating area with a fireplace!
We were greeted by our wonderful server Camry. She was very friendly, helping us navigate the menu, and offering great suggestions. We started with the Thai Spring Rolls, and they were absolutely delicious! Y’all have got to try them! The sauce they came with was delightful. After a perfect appetizer, Erik got the “world famous” veggie burger and thought it was great! Erik is very much a carnivore, but he actually loved the veggie burger. It helped balance out some of the other treats we had throughout our stay. I got the shrimp salad sandwich, which is another one of Cafe Karibo’s well-known dishes, and it was great! The shrimp salad was super fresh, made with local shrimp, a perfectly toasted croissant, and not too much mayonnaise. Both Erik and I agreed that it was the best shrimp salad we have ever had. Harper got cheese pizza, which he was a big fan of. We topped off our lunch with a delicious dessert; after much debate, we decided to try the berry cobbler, which contained a delicious crust with whipped cream. It was a tasty, sweet treat, and great for sharing. Cafe Karibo is a perfect lunch break with tons of options for soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts!
27 N 3rd. Downtown
Fernandina Beach FL, 32034
BEACH CREEK TOUR WITH AMELIA RIVER CRUISES & CHARTERS
Saturday afternoon, we took a Beach Creek Tour with Amelia River Cruises and Charters. This cruise takes you up Beach Creek to discover all the natural beauty of Cumberland Island with a good balance of history and nature. On the salt marshes, we saw plenty of birds and even some wild horses! The cruise also takes you to get a close-up view of the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion. The mansion was home to several prominent American families over a couple of centuries, but was eventually destroyed by a fire, leaving the ruins left to observe and imagine what life was like back then.
Our tour guide, Mark, provided wonderful commentary throughout the cruise. He was comical and knowledgeable at the same time and we laughed throughout the entire trip. He was born and raised in Amelia so he knew all of the incredible history of the area. I’ve never been so interested in a narrated tour before. It takes a lot to keep your interest for an entire 90 minute cruise but they succeeded. I could have listened to him tell stories all day.
The cruise was so beautiful and such a great way to explore more of Amelia Island and the surrounding area by boat. Harper had so much fun, and even got to steer the boat for a bit! Tickets were only $26 for adults and $20 for kids. SO worth it!! We went out on a chilly day and they offered blankets and a transparent, zippered enclosure around the inside of the boat so it was still perfect even on a cold day. If you go to Amelia Island, you have to do this cruise!
1 N. Front St, Ste #3
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
DINNER AT SALT LIFE FOOD SHACK
We finished up our day on Amelia Island with dinner at Salt Life Food Shack. The restaurant’s carefully crafted eclectic menu has something for everyone’s tastes, with a large selection of amazing seafood dishes. The interior of the restaurant is so beachy, but the open-air outdoor space is where it’s at! The restaurant’s goal is to make you feel like you’re on vacation and we definitely did. We loved talking with the general manager, Marcos Jovel, to get his recommendations and insider info on the best dishes!
Fun fact, the head chef at Salt Life Food Shack is Daniel Veltri, Season 5 winner of Hell’s Kitchen. We were impressed with all of his creations. We started with parmesan-crusted oysters, which were seriously life-changing! I got the Caliche’s poke bowl, which is made with an incredible secret marinade that the owner of Salt Life brought back from his favorite restaurant in Costa Rica.
Salt Life Food Shack has live music 7 days a week. That night, Salt Life had live music outside by Henry Joe Solo. We actually recognized Henry from when we lived in Nashville. His band, Henry and the Seahawks, was the house band at Tin Roof in Nashville. We were thrilled to see him and listen to his music. Erik even sang with him and did a few solo songs on his own too! It was SUCH a fun night!
17 N. Fletcher Ave.
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
MORNING CRAIGCAT TOUR WITH RIPTIDE WATERSPORTS
Riptide Watersports offers a bunch of different tours, but we started our day with a CraigCat Catamaran tour through the backwater of Amelia Island. Our guide was Captain Cris McComas. He was so nice, had wonderful stories and knew all the local history! Harper rode with him and ADORED him, especially since he did some figure eights and donuts to give Harper a little thrill ride. Erik and I were in our own boat and had so much fun, even if we did get absolutely soaked.
This was personally my favorite part of the trip. It was equal parts adventurous and relaxing. We got an up close and personal view of the coastline all while cruising at up to 27MPH with the water 4 inches beneath us. It was exhilarating. My cheeks hurt from laughing and smiling at the end of the trip.
Plus, we got to see Villa Villekulla, the fictional home of Pippi Longstocking in the 1987 movie The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking. I was obsessed with the movie as a child, so it was definitely a highlight of my trip!
We highly recommend this tour. Make sure to ask for Captain Cris, he is the best!
Amelia Island Marina
251 Creekside Drive
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
SOUTHERN BRUNCH AT LAGNIAPPE
After being out on the water, we headed back to dry land for a Southern brunch at Lagniappe. Pronounced lan-yap, the Louisiana French Creole use the term “lagniappe” to describe something that’s “a little something extra,” and that’s exactly what chef and co-owner Brian Grimley implements to transform his dishes from mere food into an experience you’ll never forget.
Lagniappe’s Southern breakfast goes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and has something for everyone. We started our meal with Calas rice fritters, biscuits and preserves, and biscuits with gravy. The Calas rice fritters were insanely delicious! They are dumplings composed primarily of cooked rice, yeast, sugar, eggs, and flour; the resulting batter is deep-fried. They are squishy and sweet and so so yummy. For our main meals, we shared fried chicken and hoe cakes with Steen’s syrup and delicious shrimp and grits. I’m telling y’all, you must try the shrimp on Amelia Island! Everything at Lagniappe is made from scratch with local ingredients. They even had homemade hot sauce and it was so darn good! I recommend drizzling the hot sauce over the biscuits and gravy and the fried chicken.
Beyond the good food, the highlight of the meal was definitely getting to chat with chef and co-owner, Brian Grimley. He’s originally from the same tiny town in the south of England where my Papa Bradshaw grew up so I loved hearing his accent. The restaurant is the culmination of everything Brian has learned about food, service, and hospitality in the South, drawing strong influence from cities like Charleston, New Orleans, and Savannah. His passion for seeking out the best ingredients possible is evident in every dish at Lagniappe, as is his love of entertaining.
Shops at Amelia Market
4810 1st Coast Hwy
Amelia Island, FL 32034
SEGWAY TOUR AT THE OMNI
After brunch came our second adventure of the day with a Segway tour by Amelia’s Wheels. Located at the Omni, Amelia’s Wheels provides Segway™ tours, as well as island hoppers (four- and six-person gas powered carts), rental bicycles, tag a-long bikes, baby joggers and baby trailers. Of all of the options, Harper was the most excited about the Segway™ tour. When you arrive, you watch a 10 minute instructional video. Then the staff provides hands-on training with time to practice. Erik and I caught on quickly but it took a little longer for Harper to get the hang of it. Thankfully our tour guide Ari was fantastic and super helpful. He was patient and helped Harper navigate the Segway until he was totally comfortable. Harper said it was one of his favorite activities on this trip and he’s still talking about it!
Orientation is included with each tour, and participants must be 8 years old and 65 pounds. The hour and a half tour took us all around the Omni property, including the marsh and oceanside. The experience reminded us a lot of Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island in Charleston, with beautiful, serene paths lined with oak trees and Spanish moss. We even saw a guy fishing and watched him reel in a huge trout! We were so proud of Harper. By the end he was a pro, zig-zagging through through the group with ease.
48 Amelia Village Circle
Fernandina Beach Florida 32034
DINNER AT ESPAÑA.
We finished up our last day in Amelia Island with dinner at España Restaurant and Tapas. Every local we met told us to try this place for dinner and it did NOT disappoint. Erik didn’t even mind missing a part of the Super Bowl because the food was so good (and he sneaked in a bit of the game on his iPhone at the dinner table haha).
Specializing in traditional Spanish and Portuguese flavors, España is located in historic downtown and has a gorgeous cozy dining room and outdoor spaces to eat as well.
We started off with Calamari a la Plancha. It was a seasoned, seared calamari streak topped with capers, olive oil and balsamic glaze. It was so good and I actually enjoyed this more than the usual fried calamari dish. We also has the Gambas Mozambique. This was my favorite part of the meal. It was shrimp sautéed in a spicy coconut milk sauce with fresh cilantro. The flavor was so rich and delicious we took them out in 5 minutes flat. We paired our meal with red sangria and it reminded us of Barcelona. Next we had the Mediterraneo which was their version of a caprese salad. Fresh mozzarella slices served with sliced tomato, roasted peppers drizzled with basil infused olive oil and balsamic glaze. We finished our meal with Vieras en Salsa Verde. It was scallops in green sauce. The Diver Sea Scallops were sautéed in a garlic white wine sauce with parsley and cilantro. An absolutely perfect way to end our trip. You can check out their menu here.
22 S. 4th Street
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
Our time on Amelia Island is one we will never forget and we cannot wait to go back. With 13 miles of beautiful beaches, abundant native wildlife, and pristine waters, this barrier island has become a favorite family destination. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing family adventure or an adrenaline pumping good time, you’ll find it on Amelia Island. Our weekend was packed with fun activities but we never felt rushed or stressed because of the laidback island vibe. This will definitely be a repeat Huffman family vacation spot.