Featuring lovely Victorian-era architecture, step back in time to the simpler days of yesteryear in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida. Browse photo gallery further below, scenes around Fernandina’s historic district and harbor marina. Wander around this area dubbed “downtown,” that branches out from the riverfront, with its central business corridor of Centre Street.
Rich in history with historic district of 50-plus blocks on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s plenty to explore downtown.
Fernandina features 400-plus historic structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Gaze at historic homes, churches, and commercial buildings. The downtown has been preserved like a Victorian time capsule, providing a glimpse of yesteryear Florida.
With historic ambiance and small-town feel, downtown Fernandina features pubs, restaurants, gift shops, art galleries, and antiques/consignment purveyors. Also a hub of tour departures, ride in a horse-drawn carriage or a trolley and learn about local history highlights. Depart the dock on a fishing charter or tour boat cruise on surrounding waterways. Take in a riverfront sunset or just take a walk around the foot-friendly sidewalks downtown and admire the Victorian-era architecture, a reminder of a bygone era. Feel Fernandina’s relaxed vibe while strolling the charming streetscape, and enjoy a meal, coastal cocktail or craft beer. (Also read related article, “Fernandina’s Main Street Called Centre.”)
Fernandina is also known as the “birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in America.” Ask about availability of sweet Atlantic wild-caught shrimp when dining out locally. Learn about city’s shrimping heritage at the Shrimping Museum located at the Fernandina Marina Welcome Center, next to boat ramp downtown.
Fernandina Beach holds claim to Florida’s oldest existing lighthouse (Amelia Island Lighthouse c. 1838), the state’s oldest continually-operated drinking establishment (The Palace Saloon c. 1903), and the oldest hotel in the state of Florida (Florida House Inn c. 1857). Other key landmark buildings downtown include Centre Street’s Nassau County Courthouse c. 1891, the old train depot c. 1899, and the old post office c. 1912. Amelia Island’s historic city of Fernandina is also home to Fort Clinch, said to be “one of the most well-preserved 19th-century forts in America” (building of the fortress commenced in 1847).
Also visit the Amelia Island Museum of History or take guided tours of the historic district with museum docents (including a “Pub Crawl” to enjoy “Happy Hour History”). Visitors can also take a ghost tour to explore island haunts, or a self-guided walking tour (get the app for smart phones or pick up a tour map at the Tourist Information Center near the Fernandina Harbor at the Old Train Depot).
Representatives of the Smithsonian Institute previously described local life in Fernandina Beach as “one of the best examples of small town living in the U.S.” The National Trust for Historic Preservation has honored Fernandina Beach for its historic preservation. In fact, the Victorian-era seaport made the National Trust’s list of “12 top vacation destinations in the United States for historic preservation.”
Marvel at some of the best-preserved Victorian architecture on the eastern seaboard. Wander down sidewalks off the main corridor of Centre Street in Fernandina Beach to see gracious Queen Annes, shaded by ancient oaks draped in moss, charming Victorian cottages, bungalows, and sweeping verandahs. Fernandina features various architectural styles that were fashionable during the Victorian-era period (1850 to 1910).
(Hover over photo below to see arrows, browse through gallery).
The Palace Saloon
The oldest continuously-operated drinking establishment in Florida is the Palace Saloon. Try the signature cocktail, “Pirate’s Punch,” a popular rum drink at the saloon located on Centre Street. It’s hard to miss the Palace Saloon with its life-sized pirate statue outside the saloon doors. The building housing the Palace, called the Prescott building, was constructed in 1878. Amelia Island was the stamping ground of pirates, sea captains, and sailors and The Palace was the “ship captain’s bar.” The saloon’s 40-foot bar is a wonderful relic from the turn of the century, surrounded by mosaic tile floors, embossed tin ceilings and murals painted on the walls. The founder of Anheuser-Busch, Adolphus Busch, reportedly assisted in designing the elegant bar, lit with gas lamps. For further details, visit the Palace Saloon website.
The Florida House Inn
The Florida House Inn is said to be Florida’s oldest surviving hotel. The original structure dates back to 1857, built by David Yulee’s Florida Railroad. During the Civil War, Union soldiers occupied the hotel. Notorious guests include Ulysses S. Grant, early film stars such as Laurel & Hardy, and members of America’s elite families, the Rockefellers and Carnegies. To the rear of the Florida House Inn is a lovely courtyard with outdoor seating and mermaid fountain adding to the ambiance.
Sight-Seeing Cruises on the Water
Depart from the Fernandina Harbor Marina downtown (ticket booth on the waterfront), for tours that explore around the local waterways with excellent narrative of local history and highlights of coastal nature. Amelia River Cruises offers nature tours on the water and sunset cruises including one Twilight BYOB adult-themed tour with live entertainment, ask about the seasonal schedule. Educational nature tours feature views of the salt marsh and riverbank, seeing Fort Clinch and Old Town Fernandina from the perspective of the water, as well as passing by the shoreline of Cumberland Island, Georgia.
Spanish Old Town Fernandina
Another historic district on Amelia Island is Old Town, located about a mile north of the downtown historic district, with the distinction of being the last Spanish city platted in the Western Hemisphere (retaining the 1811 plat). Old Town Fernandina is located off North 14th Street. Off the beaten path, get there from historic Centre Street by heading east away from downtown (Centre Street turns into Atlantic Avenue), then turn onto North 14th Street at the traffic light and follow until you see Old Town on the left, after Bosque Bello cemetery (just before going over the 14th Street bridge). Read feature article about Spanish Old Town Fernandina.
Other Historic Sites/Landmarks To See On Amelia Island
Besides the historic district in downtown Fernandina Beach and Spanish Old Town Fernandina, also venture east along Atlantic Avenue to visit Fort Clinch State Park (the entrance is not far from Main Beach Park) and see the Amelia Island Lighthouse.