Looking to visit Amelia Island with kids? You’ve made a wise decision. It is an amazing place for a family vacation. Read along for all of our tips and information for planning your perfect trip.
We recently traveled to Amelia Island with our kids, and I want to share a secret with you. It may just be our new favorite beach area in Florida. I will be the first to admit that I’ve been spoiled by the white sandy beaches and emerald waters of the Gulf Coast. However, I think Amelia Island with its abundant wildlife and historical charm may be just then place to convert this girl to an Atlantic coast lover, and it may be the same for you.
About Amelia Island
Amelia Island is comprised of 13 miles of everything from sandy beaches to moss covered live oaks and marshes. This barrier island on the Atlantic coast is unique in that it still retains much of its historic charm. Amelia Island isn’t overrun by high rise condos and chain restaurants. Instead, you’ll see plenty of locals eating in the restaurants or hitting the beaches on the weekends.
There is plenty of untouched nature to be found for those like us who are easily bored by spending all day at the beach. Dotted with multiple playgrounds, a cool fort, and plenty of other activities, the kids are sure to be entertained. We spent most of our days exploring the island in the mornings then ended our days with some pool and beach time.
If the beach is your thing, perfect. The miles and miles of beaches can provide you with hours of seashell hunting and waves perfect for boogie boarding. Our kids came in every day with handfuls of seashells. If you’re lucky, you may even spot an elusive shark tooth that are often found here.
Getting To Amelia Island
Jacksonville international airport is relatively close and makes for an easy trip. The drive from Jacksonville airport is only a 35-45 minutes. Even with traffic and lots of road construction, we made the drive in an easy 50 minutes.
Downtown Fernandina, on the north end of the island, is a picturesque American town with plenty of walkable streets. Center Street, the main thoroughfare, is lined with shops and restaurants. You can easily walk from the shops to the boat docks, where shrimping boats leave out to sea to bring back fresh seafood for the island restaurants. Fernandina is the perfect placed to go for a casual dinner followed by ice cream after a long day at the beach.
Where to Stay on Amelia Island with Kids
The best places to stay on Amelia Island, especially with kids, are located on the east side of the island along the Atlantic. To the north side of the island, closer to downtown Fernandina and Fernandina Beach, you have multiple options along Highway A1A. There are some places through this area that have great reviews, but there are also several public beaches. I worry this area being extremely crowded during the summer months.
Instead, I would recommend considering a stay further toward the middle or southern part of the island. These areas are more quiet and less crowded. Again, a drive into downtown Fernandina would only take about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on where your accommodations are located. I originally thought we would want to be right outside of Fernandina, but I’m glad we chose to stay further away from the crowds. Plus, it only added about five minutes to the drive into town.
Amelia Surf and Racquet Club
We stayed more toward the central part of the coast at the Amelia Surf and Racquet Club. It is located just down the road from the Ritz Carlton, and had a much more secluded and laidback vibe. The condo was perfect, with more than enough space and an onsite pool. We often only shared the beach with a handful of other people. Even on a “crowded” Saturday, we still had at least 20 yards between us and the next group of people.
Our condo allowed us to have at least one to two meals in if we wanted a longer beach day. Also, we had a washer and dryer which helped in our efforts to pack lightly. It was a short, easy drive into downtown Fernandina for dinner or exploring.
Most places on Amelia Island are condo or home rentals. If you’re looking for a hotel with more amenities (and the budget allows), I’d go with the Omni or the Ritz Carlton. Our preference between the two, from what we could tell, would be the Omni. The Ritz seemed much more targeted toward golfers and beach goers. While the Omni has the beach along with a plethora of outdoor activities and has a much more nature oriented feel. They also have great activities that kids will love!
Things to do on Amelia Island with kids
1. Ride the Egans Creek Greenway
This Egans Creek greenway area has over 300 acres of protected lands and natural areas. There area multiples grass-covered trails you can take by foot or bicycle. Often, you can catch a glimpse of wildlife such as alligators, marsh rabbits, and birds. See more here on their site. Just be sure to take bug wipes or spray; we came out with quite a few bites.
2. Visit the Pirate Playground
This shaded playground located near the town recreation center and right off the Egans Creek Greenway is perfect for a morning or afternoon spent off the beach. Our kids loved this playground!! There are multiple play areas including swings, a climbing structure, a music area, and a sand pit with a water table with a wheel powered well. The area is fenced and has plenty of benches for parents to sit. Facilities onsite include an extremely clean bathroom and a few picnic tables.
3. Go to the Local Farmers Market
The farmers market, located on North 7th Street in Fernandina, runs from 9am to 1pm every Saturday. They have multiple vendors selling everything from local produce and fresh caught shrimp to crafts and locally made reef-safe sunscreen. We bought some shrimp from a local vendor, along with some seasoning from another, and had a fresh seafood dinner at our condo that night.
4. Visit Fort Clinch State Park
This beautiful state park only gets about 100,000 visitors a year, so crowds shouldn’t be a big issue. Often overshadowed by the nearby St Augustine, but definitely worth a visit, Fort Clinch is a great way to spend a morning. This was one our kids’ favorites on Amelia Island.
Amenities at Fort Clinch
With a minimal $6 per vehicle entrance fee, you have access to all the beaches and grounds in the park. There are campsites for those so inclined, but also a playground and multiple trails for hiking or biking. You cannot swim on the beaches on the Cumberland Sound side due to strong currents, but there are plenty of beaches located on the Atlantic side for swimming.
With an additional $2.50 more per adult, you can tour the fort itself. I would highly recommend visiting, as this fort was actually occupied by Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Also serving as a fort during the Spanish-American War and World War II, it has lots of history within the walls. There was never a shot fired from or at this fort during any war, so it is well preserved. During the first weekend of each month, soldiers perform reenactments, but even during other times you will often see a soldier or two in uniform walking around to help provide information.
Directly across the parking lot from the fort entrance, a path leads to an awesome shaded playground. This fully shaded play area has swings and slides surrounded by several grills and about 10 picnic tables.
Tips for Visiting Fort Clinch with Kids
I would plan to be at the fort when it opens at 9am because there is no shade once inside. Then after spending an hour or so touring the fort, head over to the playground for a some playtime and a picnic lunch. You can also rent bikes from the fort information center, but they don’t have trailers or small bikes for younger kids. If you think you want to bike with young kids while at Fort Clinch, make sure to rent the bikes beforehand and take them in with you. Also, make sure to take any beach towels, sunscreen, or chairs you may want for visiting the beaches in the park.
5. Take a River Cruise
Amelia River Cruises offers multiple tours with varying times and lengths. We opted to do the family friendly sunset tour. It was a little over an hour long. The tour cruises along the river past nearby mills and businesses, along the coast of Cumberland Island, and past Fort Clinch before ending up back in the sound at sunset.
The tour was very informative about the local shrimping industry and town of Fernandina. It was long enough, without completely boring the kids. We saw dolphins and then the famous wild horses on Cumberland Island. While not quite as scenic as we’d hoped, we learned quite a bit about the area.
They also offer a shrimping eco tour, which I think the kids would’ve enjoyed more. If I had it to do again, I’d probably choose this option. The price was $22 per adult and $16 for kids over three years old. Also, you can take your own beer or wine if you want to partake. You can check out their site here for more information.
6. Visit the Omni Nature Center
The Nature Center at the Omni hotel offers several outdoor adventures for those staying on site. However, you can still visit the center even if you aren’t staying at the Omni.
Inside, they have several turtles, fish and snakes that have been rescued. There are also multiple animal vertebrae, snake skins, and stuffed birds and otters for kids to look at. The parrot, Buddy, often greets you with a loud squawk when you walk in. Right behind the building is a small pond with a dock. The nature center will provide little ones with free food to throw to the fish and turtles. You can easily spend an hour here. Read more here.
7. Go to the Shrimp Festival
We were lucky enough to visit during the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. This is a huge festival celebrating the island’s once major industry, shrimping. It occurs every year during the first weekend in May, There is a parade on Thursday evening with lots of floats with shrimp and pirate themes. Our kids absolutely loved this parade, especially since they loaded up on candy. We also enjoyed gaining a glimpse of local life on Amelia Island.
8. Hunt for Crabs, Seashells, and Sharks Teeth
We seriously found so many crabs in the little tide pools. The kids absolutely loved looking for them and catching them with our bucket. Amelia Island also seems to be a magnet for sharks teeth; you’ll see lots of people out looking. So, what a visit to Amelia Island with kids without finding a few sharks teeth?
9. Visit the Drummond Point Park
While this is behind a private, gated neighborhood on the Omni property, the greenway runs right through this beautiful natural area full of marshes. There are several lookouts and a small playground as well. If you stay onsite at the Omni you will have full access to this beautiful area.
10. Make a side trip to Disney
You can be at Walt Disney World within three hours. We took a little side trip for two days and made a visit to The Magic Kindgom. It was the perfect amount of time, especially knowing we could go back to the beach and relax after a long, exhausting day of sensory overload.
Where to Eat on Amelia Island with Kids
Amelia Island is full of great restaurants, and most are extremely kid-friendly. I’m not sure we’ve ever been somewhere with a higher concentration of restaurants boasting playgrounds! Here are your best bets for where to eat with kids on Amelia Island.
The Salty Pelican
The Salty Pelican is located in downtown Fernandina near the water had high reviews, but I had my doubts. I honestly worried it would be a tourist trap, filled with fried seafood. However, it was one of our favorite meals here.
The shrimp was fresh and locally caught. David has a peel and eat shrimp platter, while I tried the shrimp tacos. Usually shrimp tacos are filled with puny little shrimp, but these were the same size as those on David’s peel and eat platter. I was extremely impressed. The tacos were delicious and the shrimp perfectly seasoned and topped with just enough slaw. David’s shrimp were served chilled over ice with a last minute addition of old bay seasoning. We were also happy that we could choose sweet potato fries as our side for the same price as regular fries.
The kids meal (chicken strips per usual) was yummy. It wasn’t a huge portion, though, so I wouldn’t bet on the kids splitting a meal. It was plenty for our two (especially since they eat off our plates a lot), but if you have big eaters, I’d get a meal each. The kid’s meals are served on a frisbee they can take home, so don’t wait until your last day to eat here!
Sliders Seaside Grill
The food at Sliders is great, but the outdoor playground surrounded by tables is the homerun. The play structure is the perfect solution to eating out with toddlers. You can sit and enjoy your lunch or dinner while the kids play in the sand.
Just like most other restaurants on Amelia Island, they only serve locally caught shrimp and seafood. We started with a peel-and-eat appetizer, served hot with the best sauce I’ve ever had for shrimp. I’m usually a cocktail sauce girl, but this was served with buffalo butter, which is essentially buffalo sauce mixed with a lot of butter. It is pretty much heaven and delicious for dipping shrimp in- along with fries or anything else you can get your hands on.
I had a delicious crab burger (with minimal stuffing) topped with a lettuce, tomato, and aioli served with super yummy fries. David has the lowcountry boil, which was perfectly seasoned. The fries here may have been our second favorite of the week. The kids meal was enough for our kids to split, but I’d get one each if you have big eaters.
I also tried once of their mixed drinks, a grapefruit crush. While I actually hate grapefruit, I was persuaded by our server. I’m so glad I tried it, as it was refreshing and slightly sweet, but didn’t have an overly strong grapefruit flavor. We went back a second time and tried the bang bang shrimp tacos and gringo tacos. These were both good, but I’d say the low country boil, crab burger, or peel and eat were our favorites here.
This is a local favorite in Fernandina and super kid friendly. It is a simple walk up restaurant with large picnic tables located outside. David got the grilled shrimp basket and I tried the mahi taco special for the day. Both were delicious. The only thing is I wish I would’ve ordered my tacos on flour tortillas. They were so full of yummy goodies that they crumbled easily. The kids meal was plenty for our kids to split.
The best part of eating at Timoti’s with kids? The large pirate ship playground in the back. You can see the play area from the picnic tables, but there are also a few Adirondack chairs you can sit in while the kids play. We saw tons of locals eating here and even had several others we talked to recommend it as one of their favorites.
Located right on Center Street in downtown Fernandina, this modern brewpub was a nice change from the seafood places we frequented daily. They have multiple beers on tap, offering flight tastings. I had a chicken sandwich, and David the fish sandwich. Both were really tasty, along with the fries that may have been our favorite on the island. We aren’t ones to usually eat fries (we try to eat healthy most of the time) but they were so good. The kids split a kids pasta, which they seemed to enjoy. I liked that it was a macaroni noodle, which is easy for the kids to handle vs long spaghetti noodles.
Located in downtown Fernandina, this pizza place seems to be a local favorite. Known for their neopolitan wood fired pizzas and sangria, it was recommended by several people we talked to. We didn’t have time to try it, but I’d love to hear feedback for next time.
This gas station turned dive is THE local place for burgers according to several people we talked to. Even by the end of our trip, we weren’t quite tired of seafood, so we never made it to T-Ray’s. Let me know if you have.
Also located in downtown Fernandina, Pablo’s is a favorite for Mexican fare on the island. Our favorite part was the huge outdoor patio, where they often have live music in the evenings. We split a seafood fajitas- filled with locally caught fish, shrimp, scallops, and crab meat with just a minimal amount of peppers and onions- and loved it. There was enough for both of us to have three fajitas each. The kids chicken quesadilla was really yummy as well. The chicken was actually seasoned and had a small amount of sauce before being added to the quesadilla, which, of course, made our four year old turn up her nose at first. Our son, however, had no problem cleaning the plate.
This new chain establishment looks super fresh and trendy from the outside. We never made it here, but a local told us it’s actually pretty good. If you go, let us know how it is.
This sugar haven has been locally owned and operated since 1988. Located right on Central Street, it is a booming place in the evenings after dinner. Known for their fudge and multiple confections, the ice cream seems to be the draw for most people. We stopped in here 3 different times, and can vouch that the ice cream is delicious. But don’t just take our word for it, they’ve also been featured by Southern Living and The Travel Channel as well.
This local joint used to be in a tiny building that according to an Amelia resident “you wouldn’t have walked in and eaten at unless you knew about it”, but they’ve recently built a beautiful new location just across the bridge to the mainland. It is located right off the Amelia river with a nice patio area and a playground.
I debated including Shucker’s, as we didn’t have a great experience service wise. That said, they were having a wedding reception on the patio area and the restaurant itself was packed when we were there. Honestly though, once we finally got our food it was delicious. Plus, the prices were much more reasonable than some of the other places we ate. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and thinking they just had a bad night, especially since we heard rave reviews from several others. I would give them another try because our peel-and-eat shrimp along with my grilled shrimp were both worth going back for.
I’ve included a handy dandy map so you’ll have everything all in one place.
Are you going to Amelia Island with your kid soon or know someone who is? Make sure to share this with them!