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

Coastal Living magazine features “The Best Little Beach Towns” . Fernandina Beach (on Amelia Island) is in the top 10.

Photo Fernandina's Old Post Office on Centre Street
Fernandina’s Old Post Office circa 1912

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.”

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 main corridor, Centre Street, in the downtown historic district. And while not identified, the Amelia Park neighborhood is also pictured in the article.

The subtitle “An Old Town Wakes Up” may be foreshadowing. Perhaps Fernandina Realtors will be fielding more phone calls 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 — those who’ve been waiting to buy coastal real estate in a small-town setting.

Photo Main Beach Boardwalk, Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island
Main Beach Boardwalk, Fernandina Beach

There are a few things mentioned in the overview of Fernandina, however, that are a bit off the mark. One of them — “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 the neo-traditional 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.)

north beach Fernandina
North Beach, 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 beautiful, quiet area of the shoreline. However, it’s less ideal for a day at the beach, especially for families with kids.

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 an oceanfront bar/restaurant and Putt Putt golf (also offering burgers, drinks and ice cream).

Depending on your taste and how much time you plan to spend at the beach, many visitors may prefer Main Beach Park for its amenities, even if Main Beach does get far more crowded. There’s a boardwalk to stroll, lots of picnic tables (some covered), BBQs, playground equipment, volleyball nets, restrooms and outdoor shower spray.

However, if you seek seaside solitude, there are plenty of sparsely-populated Amelia Island shoreline to visit. South Fletcher Avenue has many public beach access points, some with small parking areas for a dozen or so cars, or just foot paths. Just keep away from the most popular public beach parks (those with the largest parking lots). Or, park at one of the big beach parks, enter the beach and then walk along the shore 100 yards or so to emptier areas.

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.)

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By The Editor

Observations of island life, news & opinion by Wendy Lawson. Residing on Amelia Island for 30+ years, her professional background began at a newspaper in NY. She later became a managing editor at an equity research publishing firm and was Series 7 licensed while with Merrill Lynch.