Fernandina Beach has its old-fashioned “Main Street” called Centre. It’s the prominent tourism corridor, eight blocks long, in the downtown historic district. Anchored by the city’s harbor, vintage buildings line the sidewalks. Experience this Victorian-era streetscape, a looking glass to the past.
Old-Fashioned Main Street
Centre Street is the hub of activity downtown, the main artery in the heart of Fernandina Beach. A place that charms tourists and residents alike, nostalgia abounds. There’s a clock tower-topped courthouse circa 1891 and a post office that’s been around since stamps cost two cents. A corner pub (the Palace Saloon), is said to be Florida’s oldest continuously-operated drinking establishment. Railroad tracks finished in 1861 and the old train depot, circa 1899, still remain by the Fernandina marina. With an antique fountain and horse trough out front, the old train depot still greets visitors, now housing the downtown Amelia Island tourist information center.
Today, the Fernandina’s old brick buildings shelter boutiques, eateries, pubs, the arts, and antiques. It’s a pleasant streetscape to browse shops, sip coffee, enjoy cocktails and fine dining, or indulge a sweet tooth with confections. From the cruise ship passengers and other mariners arriving at the harbor docks, to the visitors who arrive by air or auto, downtown Fernandina Beach, a “Preserve America” community, draws people in like feeder creeks flowing into a main basin.
Reminiscent of a village more than a city, Fernandina is endearing. The preserved historic brick buildings, clustered by the riverfront, and neighboring Victorian-era homes and cottages, are a reflection of the past. They await discovery by newcomers and future generations.
One need only wander just off Centre Street to see Fernandina’s lovely historic bed and breakfast inns and preserved homes, many dating to the mid-1800s to early 1900s. Downtown Fernandina is the hub of historic tours, whether you wish to ride in a horse-drawn carriage while listening to Fernandina’s fascinating history, hop aboard a trolley for a guided tour, or traverse the streets by foot, led by knowledgeable docents from the Amelia Island Museum.
Along Centre Street are flowers, shade trees, and benches to sit upon and ponder the surroundings. Two pocket parks are also tucked between antiquated brick walls, peaceful places where one can take a load off and reflect on the ambiance of this vintage seaport.
Sometimes you’ll hear the sounds of the park space before you get there. Music fills the air for blocks during special events. Musicians in the pocket parks (and also those of the “Sounds on Centre” concerts), seem to do what they love — play. And people congregate to listen. During the Christmas season, one may hear carolers on special occasions singing downtown.
Centre Street is also the main parade route. Locals can attest that Fernandina loves parades, some attracting thousands of spectators downtown to watch. Annual parades showcasing community spirit include the Shrimp Festival, Homecoming, Veterans Day, the Pet Parade of Paws, and the Holiday Light Parade.
Amelia’s Natural Treasure
The defining character of Amelia is the sea island itself — a natural treasure. An estuarine habitat with thriving salt marsh along western riverbank, sea oat-laced dunes along Amelia’s eastern Atlantic beachfront and maritime forest, including two beautiful Florida State Parks — Fort Clinch and Amelia Island State Park. But many would agree it’s Fernandina’s downtown historic district that adds the regal crown to this “Isle of 8 Flags,” named after princess Amelia (daughter of King George II of England).
Don’t forget the small businesses of Amelia Island’s “Main Street” in downtown Fernandina. Window shopping along Centre Street reveals far more than the goods inside. Notice the window reflections of historic buildings across the street. These storefront windows are mirrors to the past that you won’t see at the mall.
Each year, the holiday season in Fernandina is a time when another layer of quaintness veils the town like a vintage lace shawl. Holiday trimmings will greet visitors and residents who wander around the streets of this riverfront city. Fernandina wears the colors of Christmas — red bows and poinsettias, green garland and wreaths.
Featured events during the season are three special tree lighting celebrations complimentary to the public — downtown at the Fernandina riverfront, at the oceanfront courtyard of the Ritz-Carlton, and at Omni Amelia Island Plantation’s shopping village. Also see inside some of Fernandina’s grandest, historic homes during special holiday home tours, decked out for the Christmas season and twinkling into the night with Christmas lights. Visitors and local residents can also experience a Victorian-themed street festival in early December, “Dickens on Centre,” an annual event, see more here.