When you’re a 13-mile long island, you’ve got a lot of beaches: public beaches, private beaches, natural beaches, historic beaches….Amelia Island has far more than it’s fair share of beaches. There are so many beaches on Amelia Island that the official visitors’ guide had to narrow things down to a list of 5 favorite beach spots: (1) Amelia Island State Park, (2) American Beach, (3) Fort Clinch State Park, (4) Main Beach Park, and (5) Peter’s Point. Still, if you continue reading about the island, you will soon see references to the Ritz Carlton’s beach, the Tiki bar at Sliders on Seaside Park Beach, and the adjacent Talbot Islands. There’s really not enough time to see them all, but we did our best.
Main Beach is Amelia Island’s busiest beach, likely a result of having a restaurant (Sandy Bottoms) and several lodging options. There are at least 3 hotels that I can think of either directly on the beach or only a short walk from it, including the Elizabeth Point Lodge, the Seaside Amelia Inn, and the Comfort Suites Oceanview. For those of you with bigger budgets, you should consider staying at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island – they have their own private beach access and an award-winning oceanfront restaurant (Salt).
Fort Clinch Beach
There’s a lot more to Fort Clinch State Park than just the fort. There’s also hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, wildlife viewing, and more. It was a mercilessly hot afternoon when we visited Fort Clinch State Park. But once I finally got to the beach and laid down in the hard-packed sand, relieved by the brisk sea breeze, I didn’t want to leave. This beautiful natural beach is cool enough for a hot day and peaceful enough to take a short nap in the sand.
American Beach is Amelia Island’s historic beach. During the Jim Crow era (1877-1964), it was one of less than 10* beaches in the state of Florida that welcomed African Americans. American Beach was established in 1935 by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, President of Afro-American life (insurance co.) and Florida’s first African American millionaire. Unlike most other beaches of the time, American Beach was meant to be enjoyed by all Americans, regardless of their color of skin. However, it drew mostly African Americans, who were barred from nearby Jacksonville’s whites-only beaches. It soon became a popular weekend destination for African Americans from all over the southeastern United States. The surrounding neighborhood became a haven for African American professionals, who built vacation homes here throughout the 1930’s.
Everything changed with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many black residents and tourists moved out and moved on. And in 1972, developers tried to move in. Thankfully, American Beach resident MaVynee “Beach Lady” Betsch fought for the preservation of American Beach and its surrounding homes. In 2002, thanks to MaVynee’s efforts, American Beach was finally added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Although many of the American Beach businesses popular in the 1930’s-1950’s, like Evans’ Rendezvous nightclub, closed years ago, there are still plenty of things to see on American Beach. I recommend visiting the American Beach Museum on Julia Street before visiting the beach so you can learn more about the history. Make sure you see the NaNa sand dune – it’s the tallest sand dune in Florida. The beach itself is now popular with owners of 4-wheel drive vehicles, who can drive right onto the beach (you may need a permit to do this). A 33-acre portion of the old neighborhood has been preserved, so you can still see the first home built on American Beach as well as the homes of other prominent American Beach residents.
*I can’t be sure of the exact number of beaches in Florida open to African Americans during this time, but I’ve heard (through word of mouth) that there were really only a couple of good ones.
Seaside Park Beach
Don’t ask me what this one looks like in the daylight, because we got there long after dark. The attraction for us was the Tiki Bar at Sliders, which has live music from 1pm-10pm every Friday and Saturday. Like Main Beach, Seaside Park Beach has a restaurant (Sliders) and lots of lodging options, including the Amelia Hotel, a Hampton Inn, Days Inn, and Residence Inn.
What we missed:
- Horseback riding on the beach at Amelia Island State Park. If you like riding horseback, then you should give Kelly Seahorse Ranch a call.
- Taking in the view at Peter’s Point. This is the area of Amelia Island where the Ritz Carlton is located, but you can still enjoy the beach here, even if the Ritz isn’t in your budget.
- Photographing Talbot Islands State Park Beaches. We did drive through Talbot Islands on A1A on our way back down the east coast, but we didn’t have time to stop at either of the Talbot Island Beaches. Little Talbot’s beaches are recommended for swimming and beachcombing, while Big Talbot’s Boneyard Beach is recommended for photography.
It would seem redundant for me to say that Amelia Island is full of natural beauty, so I am just going to leave you with this photograph from the road as we drove through Talbot Islands on our way back home.