Fernandina Beach, on the northern part of Amelia Island, is just an hour and a half drive from St. Simons Island, GA (our home base for two weeks). We decided to get in the car and in our spirit of exploring, drove south to this coastal town in Florida. Growing up in Miami, we always had friends who vacationed at Amelia, which Conde Nast continuously rates as a top ten island destination in the US. Since we only went for the day, of which we mostly spent at sea, we were not able to fully absorb its' essence but we definitely got a taste of the charming feel of Fernandina Beach and caught a glimpse of its history filled with pirate tales and even rumors of potential treasures still waiting to be found.
We began our morning by heading to the pier and meeting our captains on The Windward Sail catamaran we booked in celebration of our son's fourteenth birthday. We were greeted with warm hospitality, albeit it was an unmasked one. Although we had ample space in the front of the boat when we first embarked and sat at the dining table in the rear deck we felt too close to the captains who surprisingly did not wear masks, even when we were in close proximity. Once we took off our shoes, we quickly headed for more space to the front deck where we immediately forgot about Covid for the next three hours that we were embraced by the sea.
Sailing past Cumberland Island brought lots of excitement as we spotted some of the island's 200 wild horses. Cumberland Island is part of Georgia, has no residents, can only be accessed by boats or ferries, and has just one inn, The Greyfield Inn, which was also the site of John F Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette's super-secretive wedding. All these romantic and magical vibes washed over us as we glided by admiring the landscape and wildlife.
We also passed a runway, built in the water, that the US Navy uses for its monthly submarine docks back on land in the nearby Kingsbay Naval Submarine Base, one of two of the most important naval bases in the US. I was hoping to witness one of the nuclear powered (yikes!) submarines slowly emerge from the water and make its way towards its' base, but no such luck! Can you imagine living with approximately 100 other soldiers immersed hundreds, even thousands, of feet deep for sixty-ninety days at a time? No thank you!
Along the way, we sighted the Pippi Longstocking house, Fort Clinch (a massive fort built in 1847), many bird species, and dolphins too. While exploring the US by road is an adventure in itself, there is nothing like getting lost at sea. I have always felt a strong connection to the ocean and find that with it my mind only wanders to gratitude and overwhelming love for nature's bountiful beauty. At sea, there is no plan or agenda. At sea, the wind blows through my hair and takes any uneasy thoughts with it. At sea, when I listen closely, I hear words of wisdom. At sea, inhaling the saltwater rejuvenates me and prepares me to trust what comes next.
After disembarking the vessel, we walked over to Centre Street which is full of eclectic and independent shops. Before arriving I read that some folks compare this main street of Fernandina Beach to New England towns. I had a completely different view of it. To me, it resembles a (very well kept) scene out of a Western movie. This was once a stomping ground for pirates and although the stretch of shops is high-end and well maintained, you can easily imagine that pirates and cowboys once perused their way through these streets too. The Palace Saloon, the oldest saloon in Florida, adds to this flavor. Rumors have it that this was the last bar in the US to close during The Prohibition and that it sold ice cream during the prohibition years (that's "ice cream" of course).
We had lunch at Kariboo, which was an awesome choice. They have a beautiful courtyard with ample space to social distance and lots of shade. I had a blackened mahi-mahi sandwich that I gobbled up. It was perfectly seasoned and grilled, oozing with spicy aioli sauce and topped with delicious mango salsa. Paired with a glass of well-chilled Sauvignon Blanc, well... let's just say I was one happy diner! And just when we thought it couldn't get better, dessert arrived. We opted for the key lime pie (a must when in Florida!), a chocolate pecan pie, and a strawberry cake. All homemade. All absolutely delicious.
I can't believe that I spent twenty-one years of my life living in Florida and never experienced this laid back, chill, and unpretentious part of the state which is very unlike the glitzy and flashy experience I had growing up just a few hours south in Miami. Truth be told, we will never learn about "what is out there" until we get out and explore. I hope that highlighting some of these less known locations will inspire you to get into your cars and explore them as well, or even just areas closer to wherever you are that you would have not normally considered visiting. There is so much out there waiting to be discovered!