Oh you don’t have to get fancy for historic downtown Fernandina Beach; you won’t get in trouble with the law or anything. Statement necklaces and slingbacks aren’t absolutely de rigueur. Yes, you might see a fair number of bow ties, rolled up sleeves and handmade belts. Classic seersucker, timeless pieces, handbags that aren’t knock-offs. This is the south, after all. If you stand by the water, that land you see across the way? That’s Georgia.
Getting fancy. On the weekends in our little beach house life, after hustling my butt off during the week, I sometimes have to wrack my brain to remember if I washed my face yesterday. I swirl my hair into a messy bun, garden in my pj’s, swim in the ocean in my favorite old bikini. I brush my teeth and rinse off the salt water before bed (some nights.) I tell myself no one can see the overgrowth of blond stubble on my legs. And tomorrow, I WILL do my toenails.
But in historic Fernandina Beach, with its history and southern charm, you somehow want to march – or at least fall in as gracefully as you can – to their beat. Has a town ever infused you with the energy to pick up your game a little? Clean up your act? Pretend your cute dress, bright sandals, beaded wristlet and d-shaped sunglasses were chosen with the same ease and confidence with which Kate Middleton chooses a pair of suede pumps?
The history of Fernandina Beach is so vast and convoluted I almost just got back in bed with the latest Laura Lippman instead of trying to make sense of it for you!
I was able to pull some of the best stuff out:
- Home of the oldest continually operating drinking establishment, The Palace Saloon
- Florida’s first luxury tourist destination
- Safe haven for pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries, and was also known for smuggling and slave trading
- Boasts over 400 historic structures recognized by the National Register of Historic Places
- The only location in the United States to have flown 8 different flags; as it was conquered, handed over, and passed around by Spain, France, England, Spain again I think, Mexico, the Confederate United States… (that bed and book are looking better and better.)
And, if you’re wondering – is it Amelia Island, or Fernandina Beach? Fernandina Beach is an incorporated city on the island of Amelia. For further confusion, historic Fernandina Beach isn’t on the beach. Though from The Salty Pelican (our pick of The Bar for historic Fernandina) to Sandy Bottoms (our pick of The Bar for Fernandina Beach) it’s only 2.3 miles.
Enough confusion! Let’s look at some pretty pictures.
As the historic part of Fernandina “Beach” is on the river, we’ve provided some links for exploring the area by boat:
Amelia River Cruises – richly historic narrated sightseeing cruises
Amelia Angler – Captain Terry Lacoss offers charter fishing, sailing, sightseeing tours and fishing school
Amelia Island Kayak Excursions – family owned and operated kayak tours
Backwater Adventure – “One of the most unique boat tours you will ever go on”, their “craigcats” look like a 2-person paddle boat but have a motor
The Angler’s Mark – Born and raised in Fernandina Beach, Captain Lawrence Piper is a fishing guide and U.S. Coast Guard licensed charter boat operator
12 North Front Street
- VIBE: Lively, very casual, “beach bar” atmosphere.
- ARRIVE: Across the street from the river, so arrive by car or by foot.
- SIT: Inside or out, upstairs open air seating is best.
- SIP: Happy Hour is Monday through Friday from 3 – 6 p.m.
- NOSH: Try the loaded baked potato spring rolls, and their signature broiled oysters.
- LISTEN: Live music Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
- WE LOVE: The view!
22 South 3rd Street
Not only did we brush the dust off our Sunday best for the town, we also stepped out of our Triple B tiny bungalow or mom-and-pop mode and chose the oldest operating Inn in Florida.
- VIBE: Quiet, gentile, yet not high brow or stuffy. Not run by your great-grandma.
- WALK: Right off the main street, you can walk to the waterfront, shops and restaurants.
- DECOR: Antiques with updated fabrics and art; almost a European feel.
- SLEEP: Superior. Luxurious linens and an amazingly comfortable mattress.
- EXTRAS: Complimentary wireless, private parking, complimentary coffee service in the parlor all day, full breakfast that is out of this world served overlooking the courtyard. Happy Hour prices 5- 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday at their Mermaid Bar.
- RATES: Our deluxe king suite rate was approximately $160.
- WE LOVE: How fresh, creative and current the decor was; no doilies and overpowering ruffles here! Also, the Mermaid Bar RIGHT THERE.
View from the front porch, to Leddy’s Porch, The Florida House Inn’s restaurant serving southern style comfort food. The Green Turtle Tavern is just beyond
We could have spent a WEEK photographing this town and not shown you everything. As it is, we totally missed the Old Town area – that will be our must-visit for next time. Read more this neighborhood, the only Spanish town in Florida with the original site plat remaining, here.
More of the historic area of Fernandina Beach:
And just one more of the back courtyard of The Florida House Inn. Perhaps from this you can feel the serenity this place offers settle on you, too.
After taking in all the elegance and subtle energy of the hospitable shops, gourmet restaurants and historic sites, coming back here to pop out my contacts and kick off my dress was as refreshing as slamming shut the enervating history book and getting back into my Laura Lippman.
You can take the girl out of her simple little beach life but you can’t take the simple little beach life out of the girl!
The historic area of Fernandina Beach is on St.Mary’s River, the western side of Amelia Island, which is on Florida’s atlantic coast, just south of the Florida/Georgia border, and 49 miles north of Jacksonville Beach.
The title of this article was inspired by lyrics of a Dexter Freebish song, “Leaving Town”
99.9% of our photos are taken by us, and if they’re not we’ll say so. The first two photographs of this article are from Pexels, who said they didn’t need attribution but I wanted to give them a shout-out anyway.
And if you guess who did it before the end in “Hush,” by Laura Lippman, let me know!