In her recent visit to Amelia Island, Guest Blogger Sylvia Longmire allows us to spend a day in the life of a wheelchair user.
To learn more about Sylvia and her Wheelchair User’s Guide to Accessible Florida, please visit her website.
Amelia Island is arguably one of the most beautiful vacation spots in Florida, and the City of Fernandina Beach is filled with several family-friendly and wheelchair accessible things to see and do. From beautiful beaches to historic forts, museums, and Victorian homes, a full weekend is the perfect amount of time to enjoy much of what Amelia Island has to offer wheelchair users and their families. Here’s a suggested itinerary of things to see and do, including some cool places to eat. Your accessible itinerary starts on a Friday early evening and ends mid-afternoon on Sunday.
Featuring lovely Victorian-era architecture, step back in time to the simpler days of yesteryear by exploring Amelia Island’s riverfront city, Fernandina Beach. Wander around this area dubbed “downtown” that branches out from the riverfront with the central business corridor of Centre Street. With historic district of 50-plus blocks on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s plenty to discover downtown. Fernandina features 400-plus historic structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Gaze at historic homes, churches, and commercial buildings. With “Old Florida” ambiance and small-town feel, downtown Fernandina features pubs, restaurants, gift shops, art galleries, antiques and consignment purveyors.
In 2016, Amelia Tavern Restaurant & Brewpub opened on Centre Street to provide delicious local food and cold brews to the friends and guests of Amelia Island. As the only wholly operational craft brewery operating in Fernandina Beach, they’d like to say that their beer is forged from the barrier island current and carved from these sandy dunes that surround the Tavern, but really it’s just made from the finest malt and hops around. Their kitchen serves amped up southern comfort food, where you’ll see enough diversity to be surprised without losing sight of the simple stuff you love. I can definitely vouch for the crab cakes and peanut butter pie!
Amelia Island’s most well-known and Florida’s northeastern-most beachfront park offers visitors two sand volleyball courts, a playground, several picnic shelters, restroom facilities, outdoor showers, beach access points, a multipurpose court, a skate park, and a large grassy area perfect for a game of catch or when you need a little break from the sand. Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
In addition to all City facilities being ADA compliant, the City of Fernandina Beach has a few items available to make navigating pools and beaches a bit easier. Main Beach is equipped with a Mobi Mat to allow for wheelchair access. The Atlantic Recreation Center (2500 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034) has three beach wheelchairs available for rent at no charge. There is also a Mobi-Chair that can float in water. To rent any of the chairs, contact Parks and Recreation at (904)310-3350. A $100 deposit is required and the wheelchairs may ONLY be used at City beach accesses.
Salt Life Food Shack was developed with the commitment to provide a community driven restaurant that compliments the brand, where “living the Salt Life” is a part of everyday life. They offer a carefully crafted eclectic menu to cater to all tastes and personalities. More importantly, they’re wheelchair accessible, and located at the south end of the Main Beach parking lot.
If you are interested in maritime and military history, pirates and Spanish treasure fleets, make sure to visit the Maritime Museum located in historic, downtown Fernandina Beach. You may even hear a sea story or two from actual divers who have found Spanish gold and silver from the Florida seas. Their artifacts are rich in local maritime history as well as others that include US Navy memorabilia, weapons from multiple time periods, a Soviet era KGB diving suit, an artifact from an expedition to the Titanic and of course, Spanish treasure! After visiting the museum, you can roll next door to the Marlin & Barrel Distillery if you’re in the mood for a taste of locally crafted fine spirits.
Just a few blocks from the Maritime Museum is the historic (and accessible) Palace Saloon. Originally constructed as a haberdashery in 1878, Louis G. Hirth bought the Prescott building in 1903 and replaced shoes with booze and named it the Palace Saloon. Hirth called upon his old friend Adolphus Bush, founder of Anheuser-Busch to assist him with the design of the elegant Bar, and Busch reportedly traveled from St. Louise to oversee the installation of the now famous fixture. The Palace has had to adapt to earn its title of “Florida’s oldest” continuously operated drinking establishment. According to local lore, it was the last bar in Florida to close on the eve of Prohibition. A shrewd businessman, Hirth stored up for a last hurrah selling till midnight and grossing $60,000 in a single day. Another first for the Palace, it was the first hard liquor bar to begin serving Coca-Cola, around 1905. The Palace survived the Prohibition years by selling Texaco gasoline, ice cream, special wines, 3 percent near-beer, and cigars.
This accessible eatery is conveniently a very short roll away from the Saloon. Partners Al Waldis and T.J. Pelletier started the Salty Pelican Bar & Grill in 2012. Both have spent several years in the Food and Beverage / Hospitality Industry working for such companies as The Ritz Carlton LLC, Amelia Island Plantation, and Orient Express Hotels, and have decided to bring that experience together and create the The Salty Pelican Bar & Grill. Inside/Outside dining features fresh local seafood, buffalo wings, house made loaded potato spring rolls, Salty Pelican stuffed burgers, and a selection of craft beers and fresh cocktails. Located at the downtown waterfront, the Salty Pelican boasts the biggest televisions on island, perfect for watching your favorite sporting event.
History meets nature at Fort Clinch State Park. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover or a bit of both, enjoy exploring the unique natural and historic resources of this pristine park. A row of cannons staring across the St. Mary’s River into Georgia are silent testimony to the strategic importance of Fort Clinch during the Civil War. Visitors can explore the fort’s many rooms, galleries and grounds and experience unparalleled living history programs as they learn about the life of a Union soldier. Make plans to visit on the first weekend of every month, a soldier garrison fires cannons and demonstrates other battlefield skills.
Fort Clinch State Park is in various stages of accessibility. All beach access boardwalks and buildings are ADA accessible and there are several accessible viewing platforms along the boardwalks. The park provides additional mobility equipment for visitors with mobility needs including standard, and all-terrain wheelchairs to enjoy the beach and other areas of the park. Please contact the park in advance at 904-277-7274 in order to make arrangements to reserve and utilize this equipment.
Due to the historic nature of the Fort Clinch historic structure, certain portions of the Fort are not accessible, however, please make contact with Ranger Station and Visitor Center Staff upon arrival. We offer all terrain wheelchairs, and access to lower level fort structures with the use of ramps installed upon request. You may also contact the Soldier on duty in the fort for additional assistance. Sign language interpreters are also available for the fort programs with a minimum of two weeks’ notice. A wide variety of large print brochures are also available upon request.
Pi Infinite Combinations is an accessible New York-style pizza joint in downtown Fernandina Beach. When the dream came true and Billy (the owner) started this adventure in the fall of 2014. Billy has been in the fine dining culinary field for over 22 years. Their business model is all bar service, no servers. So if you prefer table service where you dine, this will not be place for you. You will get your beverage at the self service station, grab your plates and silverware, and sit at the table that is assigned to you. Sounds pushy, they know, but the system works very well. The food is brought out to you, so if you don’t sit where you’re assigned, somebody else will be enjoying your food! They offer only 20-inch Pi’s, the largest on Amelia Island. Too much pizza? Get any type of Pi by the slice, they will fill you up!
The Amelia Island Museum of History is bursting with fascinating stories that are just waiting to be shared with eager visitors and residents. From the Timucua Native American tribe to Spanish and French explorers, from the lawless spirit of pirates to the dignified air of Victorian-era residents, Amelia Island has been home to diverse cultures that have left an exciting heritage. The Amelia Island Museum sees itself as the caretakers and disseminators of that exciting local history, which it shares not only through a wonderful variety of exhibits, but also by providing a multitude of programs throughout the community for all ages. The Museum also protects and shares local history with genealogists, homeowners and authors by providing a modern research facility. In the coming months, the Museum will highlight many of the varied and wonderful aspects of Nassau County history. The museum has a ramp up to the entrance and an accessible van parking space, as well as an accessible bathroom. However, please make note that the museum is located in a historic building, and many of the doorways are only 28″ wide.
Despite the historic nature of Amelia Island, the historic downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods have good sidewalks with curb drops at every intersection. It’s very easy to drive up and down the grid of beautiful victorian homes, but here’s how you can go on a 90-minute self-guided rolling tour. Just go to Florida Stories Walking Tours, and download the app created by the Florida Humanities Council. With this app you can learn, at your own pace and on your own schedule. The quaint shops and restaurants of historic downtown Amelia Island belie the rough and tumble beginnings of the city. As you quickly learn during this compact walking/rolling tour, the city’s location near Georgia made it an ideal location for the shipping of contraband and slaves, turning it into a haven for pirates, smugglers, outlaws and assorted colorful characters. But there was plenty of history before the first European settlers, with Timucuan Indians engaged in extensive sea trading. It is also the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in the United States.
For assistance with booking wheelchair accessible hotel accommodations on Amelia Island, please contact Sylvia through Spin the Globe/Travel!