Highlights of historic Fernandina, the beaches, and coastal nature at Florida-Georgia border.

Coastal Living Picks Fernandina Beach As “Best Little Beach Town”

Evening Scene of Historic Centre Street, Fernandina
Evening Scene of Historic Centre Street, Fernandina (Photo W.B. Lawson)

Coastal Living magazine just arrived in the mailbox. Who doesn‘t like to flip through, admiring the lovely coastal scenes and splendid homes?

The September 2010 issue of Coastal Living features a special 12-page section called “Dream Towns, The Best Little Beach Towns” and Fernandina Beach, Florida (on Amelia Island) has been chosen as one of the top 10 in the USA.

Seeking a dreamy seaside place to visit? Thinking of buying a coastal abode? The Coastal Living folks suggest these places “should top your list, whether you want to plan a quick trip or find a new place to live.”

Downtown Fernandina Beach Post Office
Downtown Fernandina Beach Post Office

Written by David Hanson, the best little beach towns were chosen “after canvassing all coasts for towns with seaside charm, a lively beach culture, and good housing…”

Fernandina Beach is in good company with places like Montauk, New York, Beaufort, North Carolina, Langley, Washington, and Encinitas, California — also on the top ten beach towns’ list.

One of the featured photos in the article, of course, is Fernandina’s historic district’s main corridor, Centre Street. And while not identified, Amelia Park is also pictured in the article (one photo is the church in this neo-traditional community, as well as a home in this neighborhood).

Oceanfront Homes, Amelia Island Plantation, Florida
Oceanfront Homes, Amelia Island Plantation

The sub-title “An Old Town Wakes Up” may be foreshadowing. Perhaps Fernandina Realtors’ phones will be ringing more with the distribution of a national magazine such as Coastal Living. Featuring “dream spots by the sea”, maybe the magazine article will lure some folks off the fence to come take a look here — those who have been waiting to buy coastal real estate in a small-town setting.

Rolling Lawson to the Sea. Main Beach Park, Fernandina
Rolling Lawns to the Sea, Fernandina

There are a few things mentioned in the overview of Fernandina, however, that are a bit off the mark. One of them is “your neighbors are mostly retired.” Well, this is accurate in some communities, such as the luxury golf resorts, Amelia Island Plantation and Summer Beach and yesteryear-styled Amelia Park.

But it basically comes down to economics. The pricier the neighborhood, the more retirees — those who have gained wealth over their lifetime and then settle into beautiful island homes, some as primary residences, and others who own second vacation homes here. The more entry-level communities are naturally more affordable and often attract younger, working families with children.

If one looks at demographic data, the median age of the population in Fernandina Beach is 46 (about 21% of the population is aged 65-plus). Fernandina Beach as a town (it’s actually a small city), is not a retirement enclave. Unlike some areas in Florida, don’t expect all those “early bird” buffet specials. Those seeking 55+ lifestyle communities catering to seniors-only may wish to head further south in Florida for a wider selection. (The only one here is Osprey Village within Amelia Island Plantation.)

View of North Beach from Life Guard's Chair, Fernandina Beach, Florida
North Beach,Life Guard Chair, Fernandina

Coastal Living picked Fernandina’s North Beach as the “best beach” (as they put it, avoiding “touristy Main Beach.” Pictured is North Beach, a sparsely visited section of the shoreline that I often pass through while beach bike riding at low tide. It is a beautiful, quiet area of the shoreline but will be less ideal for a day at the beach, for some.

Compared to Main Beach, North Beach (located off North Fletcher Avenue), has a much smaller parking lot and no public restrooms or amenities other than two covered picnic tables on the dune walkover. There’s no option for food or drinks at North Beach, while Main Beach has Sandy Bottoms bar/restaurant along with Putt Putt for drinks and ice cream, besides mini-golf.

So depending on your taste and how long you plan on being at the beach, some visitors may prefer Main Beach Park which offers restrooms, showers, picnic area, BBQs, playground, and more, even if it does get far more crowded.

If you seek seaside solitude, there are areas of sparsely-populated Amelia Island shoreline to visit, both within and outside the resort communities. South Fletcher Avenue has plenty of public beach access points, some with small parking areas or just foot paths. Just keep away from the most popular public beach parks (which are those offering the largest parking lots). Or, park at one of the big beach parks, enter the beach and then walk along the shore a third or half a mile to emptier areas.  See Amelia Island Living’s Beach Guide with an overview of the island’s beach parks.

Fort Clinch State Park Atlantic Coast Shoreline, Fernandina Beach
Fort Clinch State Park Atlantic Shoreline

Coastal Living also refers to Fort Clinch State Park as “a place to take the kids camping near the beach five miles away.”

Fort Clinch is actually located within Fernandina Beach and offers the largest, natural shoreline area on Amelia Island — 8,400 feet along the Amelia riverbank, then rounding the northern tip of Amelia Island, with 4,000 feet on the Atlantic coast. Not just for campers, the public can enter daily. There are restroom facilities available along the dune walkers to the beach, plus a half mile long pier, often used for fishing, but nice for a walk and terrific waterfront views. Fort Clinch State Park is a bargain at $6 per vehicle entry for the day, up to 8 passengers. (A bonus for history buffs is the brick fortress itself, one of the best-preserved 19th-century forts in America, that can be toured for a mere $2 per person. Stand on the outer walls by the canons for one of the most amazing views on Amelia Island, overlooking the Cumberland Sound, and looking south, the Atlantic shoreline.)

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