Amelia Island, the northernmost island on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, is a unique beach full of history, creative restaurants, relaxation, and beauty. It’s a perfect balance between the overcrowded beaches farther south and on the panhandle and lesser-known (and lesser-resourced beaches). It has an active inland downtown (Fernandina Beach) and a few larger resorts like the Ritz Carlton, but it’s mostly beach cottages and small condos.
While you usually think of beaches for their opportunities for relaxation and fun in the sun, Amelia Island has a lot more to offer. As one of the oldest European settlements in the US (1565), it’s full of history, and the downtown Fernandina Beach area has some of the best local food around. If you’re heading there with your kids, here are a few unique activities to enjoy as a family.
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The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island
If you want a luxury elevated vacation with your kids, check out the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. This sprawling resort has several high rises, beach access, pools, six restaurants, golf, tennis, and plenty of bars. Your kids will have what you expect at a resort, like pools, beach, sand, and water sports rentals.
But where the Ritz-Carlton shines is in their kids’ programming. They offer daily activities for kids to learn about marine life, and they also have a childcare program from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., so you can have a relaxing experience before meeting up in the afternoons to have fun as a family.
Amelia Island Beaches for Kids
Amelia Island has several beach areas with different levels of crowds and amenities. There are 40 public access points; many have parking lots, bathrooms, shoreside restaurants, volleyball courts, and other general features.
When we were there with our three small kids, we found the beach relatively flat and suitable for playing and building sandcastles, and the waves were manageable for my elementary-age kids except during high tide.
Amelia Island also has a historic beach called American Beach. It was owned by a black millionaire who let African-American guests use it without fear of harassment or discrimination during the pre-Civil Rights era.
Restaurants for Kids in Amelia Island
These two restaurants stood out to us as parents for a few reasons. First, they offered excellent seafood food and drinks for adults, but they also offered kid-friendly items like chicken fingers and burgers for our pickier kids. Second, they both have playgrounds where watching your kids play while you eat is easy.
Sliders Seaside Grill is a typical beach bar and grill that sits next to a public access parking lot with ocean views (if you can see over the dunes). They have seating inside and out, as well as upstairs. The outside seating also has a stage for live music and a pirate ship playground with a fence to keep your children from escaping into the ocean.
They have great seafood sandwiches, tacos, entrees, and a good kids’ menu. The service was excellent as well. It was more expensive than similar items found at other restaurants, but it was worth it to us to have the beach, the playground, the music, and the food in one place. They also have a great breakfast.
Timoti’s Seafood Shak is a counter service, “fresh and wild-caught” seafood restaurant in downtown Fernandina Beach, a few minutes inland from the beach. Like Sliders, it has a pirate ship-themed playground surrounded by a fence in the back. They take it one step further and have shredded tire mulch surrounding the playground for protection from falls.
The food was terrific—sandwiches, tacos, seafood baskets, etc. They also had incredible ahi tuna, which added an upscale feel to the casual restaurant. They also have a great selection of local beers and cocktails. Once again, my non-seafood-eating kids had bizarrely thin chicken fingers, but they ate them (all that matters).
Parking tip: If you can’t find a spot on the street, park in the library lot across the street. Parking is the only downside to downtown Fernandina. There’s not a lot of signage for public lots hidden from the main road.
Putt Putt in Amelia Island
Every beach has an excellent miniature golf spot, but Island Falls Adventure Golf is unique. A pink plantation house high on a hill serves as the clubhouse, while all 18 holes circle around it back down to the parking lot level. The holes are creative, with many hidden tunnels, water features, and varying paths. My kids loved deciding which direction would provide the best way, and my 10-year-old got her first hole-in-one.
Pay attention to where the bathroom is in relation to the hole because finding your path back takes work. Also, the water is deep, so you might ask for a new ball if you have an overly aggressive 8-year-old. But this was a fun and challenging course that both kids and adults loved. There’s another less adventurous course in downtown Fernandina with a bar, so you can decide which suits your family’s needs and your sanity.
Ice Cream in Amelia Beach
Plenty of great places to get ice cream with your kids on Amelia Island. It’s always a big hit. Our favorite was a creative place called Watanut.
Watanut has stores in Amelia Island and Augusta, GA. They bill themselves as a nut and cookie store, selling many gift items of candied nuts and creative cookies, but to us, they are a phenomenal ice cream shop. They sell a variety of innovative ice cream. My daughters loved the fruitier flavors, while my wife and I enjoyed salted caramel ice cream between two snickerdoodle cookies. And we’re all suckers for the shiplap behind the bar. So, head to Watanut in downtown Fernandina for some ice cream and candied pecans on the ride home.
Historical Amelia Island
One of the distinctive features of Amelia Island is its history. It’s the only place in America where eight different flags have flown. Initially settled in 1565 by a French explorer, it changed hands between the French, Spanish, English, Confederates, Americans, and a few enterprising groups. Native Americans also lived here long before the Europeans showed up.
Of interest to your kids might be the stories of pirates, Rockefellers, battles, or American Beach, where a black millionaire in the early 1900s bought property for African Americans to have a vacation spot unmarred by Jim Crow restrictions. Now, anyone can visit the ruins of old buildings and the museum that shares the story.
You can take your kids around and read the historical signs or check the various tours and state parks around the area. For some reason, my kids are big fans of bronze statues.
Amelia River Cruises
If you want to get off the island for a little bit and enjoy some scenic views, take an Amelia River Cruise. It will start in the inland river, pass past historical sites and beaches, and then take a quick trip across the channel and state lines to Cumberland Island in Georgia.
While cruising, the captain will share the history and point out wildlife like alligators, manatees, dolphins, wild horses, and bald eagles! They are fully prepared to handle the whole family with life jackets, changing tables for babies, and bathrooms aboard. You can even bring your pets if you have them with you.
Electric Skateboard Beach Tours
Why rent bikes when you can take an electric skateboard down the beach? If you have a kiddo with the balance for an adventure like this, you should do it as a family. For one hour, you get to cruise the beaches on skateboards with big enough wheels to handle the sand, and you don’t have to push!
Conclusion and Further Reading
There are tons to do with kids in Amelia Island, from playing in the sand to exploring all the restaurants, shops, and state parks. This sets you on the right path to having a fantastic vacation.
Featured Photo Credit: [@jovannig/DepositPhotos]
Alex Smith has three kids and an amazing wife, and he travels frequently with them. On his main blog, Second Dad to the Right, he shares tips, insights, and funny stories to help parents everywhere navigate Disney World and Disney Cruise Lines.