Victorian Vibe & Foot Friendly
Explore Amelia Island’s riverfront city, Fernandina Beach, Florida. Wander around this historic district dubbed “downtown,” that branches out from the Amelia River with central business corridor of Centre Street.
With historic district of 50-plus blocks on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s plenty to discover downtown. Fernandina features 400-plus historic structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Gaze at historic homes, churches, and commercial buildings.
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.”
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. The riverfront city of Fernandina Beach also celebrates its shrimping heritage with the “Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival,” an annual tradition for more than half a century (held the first weekend in May each year).
With “Old Florida” ambiance and small-town feel, downtown Fernandina features pubs, restaurants, gift shops, art galleries, antiques and consignment purveyors. Enjoy a meal, coastal cocktail or craft beer and spend some time browsing around downtown. Fernandina is also the hub of tour departures. Take a trolley ride while hearing local history highlights. History buffs will also like to explore the Amelia Island Museum of History downtown.
On The River
Get Out On The Water
Depart Fernandina’s downtown docks on a fishing charter or take a relaxing cruise on surrounding waterways. Amelia River Cruises has a ticket booth on the riverfront at the city’s marina. Daily tours are offered with narrative of local history, spotting wildlife, an adult BYOB sunset cruise, and more. Or just go to the downtown riverfront to watch a serene sunset, a popular pastime.
Fernandina Beach, Florida, with its historic architecture, laid-back pace, and Southern hospitality is a reminder of a bygone era. And just two miles to the east across the island from Fernandina’s downtown is the lovely Atlantic ocean coastline, 13 miles of beaches. Browse details of the top Amelia Island beach parks.
Also, learn about Florida’s oldest lighthouse circa 1838 located in Fernandina Beach. See Amelia Island Lighthouse tours.
Prefer to explore the downtown historic district at your own pace? Take a self-guided walking tour assisted by information/maps that can be picked up at the Visitor’s Welcome Center located in the Old Train Depot on Centre Street.
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.”
Spanish Old Town Fernandina
Another historic district on Amelia Island is Old Town Fernandina, located about a mile north of the downtown historic district (off North 14th Street). Old Town’s Fernandina Plaza is also an outstanding spot to watch the sunset over the Amelia River, with its elevated setting on a bluff above the Intracoastal Waterway.
Old Town Fernandina has the distinction of being the last Spanish city platted in the Western Hemisphere (retaining the 1811 plat). The small Old Town community (up river about a mile from the tourist corridor of Centre Street), is actually the original site of the city of Fernandina which was later moved a bit down river to its present location.
The most well-known historic home located in Old Town at the Fernandina Plaza, pictured above, is the Captain’s House. This lovely home with a high tower and gabled dormers is impossible to miss when passing through Old Town. Besides being admired for its wonderful architecture, this home has earned other notoriety. Built in 1888 by harbor pilot, James Bell, 100 years later, in 1988, the home became a movie set.