Get to know this historic and charming Amelia Island town on Florida’s northeast coast, and 20 Best Places to Live 2017. Get the inside scoop on Fernandina Beach, including where to eat, drink, play, and stay. 

By Bob Curley and Tracey Minkin

With a 50-block historic downtown so pretty it demands its own series of postcards, a lively marina on the Amelia River, broad beaches on the Atlantic, surrounding nature preserves that include spectacular, nearby Cumberland Island, and the bragging rights of being home to the oldest bar in Florida, Fernandina Beach has all the boxes checked when it comes to life on the coast. Its location on Amelia Island— home to five golf courses and 13 miles of pristine sands—makes Saturdays (or any day, for that matter) sweeter year-round.

Fernandina Beach by the Numbers

Population: 12,339
Average July high: 91
Average January low: 44
Median home price: $299,100
Average commute time: 25 minutes
Number of sunny days: 222

Best Beaches and Other Attractions

Amelia Island has 40 public beach access points, so there’s a lot to choose from. Main Beach has playgrounds, a skate park, and a volleyball court. Walk north from there for a bit of serenity on the pristine sands of Fort Clinch State Park.

And speaking of forts, they have guarded the strategic entrance to the Cumberland Sound here since 1736. Fort Clinch was built in 1847 and was seized by the Confederacy during the early years of the Civil War, then abandoned and reoccupied by the Union. Visitors can enjoy reenactments of soldiers’ lives during the war, tour the fortifications, and follow the Willow Pond Nature Trail around Fort Clinch State Park, which includes three miles of undeveloped shoreline and a half-mile-long fishing pier.

Finally, explore the wild side of beautiful Amelia Island in kayaks and paddleboards (or hit offroad trails on Segways) with Kayak Amelia.

RELATED: The 10 Best Beaches in Florida

Where to Eat and Drink

Helmed by celebrity chef Kenny Gilbert, Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen is a true culinary discovery. Yes, he’s smoking that meat right in the parking lot, and he’s making those bitters for the cocktails himself. Don’t miss his life-changing pimento cheese, along with smoked mullet fish dip, a southern fried St. John's River catfish with chef's own hot sauce, and grits and greens and some skillet cornbread and insanely good savory drop biscuits.

Farm-raised ain’t a thing at Timoti’s Seafood Shack, which only serves wild-caught fish whether they’re stuffing shrimp into tacos or po' boys, serving up hot bowls of clam chowder, or dealing out baskets of fried, baked, or blackened catch of the day. Joe’s Second St. Bistro has fine and family-friendly dining in a cute courtyard. And for lunch, the go-to has to be Tasty’s (check out the super-fresh shrimp rolls and chocolate milkshakes), tucked into a renovated gas station.

Start you day drinking off on the caffeinated side: In the hub of downtown life on Centre Street (and featuring Bold Bean Coffee from nearby Jacksonville), Amelia Island Coffee is the community catbird seat. Speaking of which, you’ll meet every local worth meeting at the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest bar and the true center of Fernandina life. The Green Turtle Tavern is also a beloved local watering hole. No night is complete without at a stop at least one.  Meanwhile, don’t miss a tour and tasting of local vodka and rum at Marlin & Barrel, an excellent small distillery right in the center of downtown.

RELATED: America’s Happiest Seaside Towns 2017

Where to Stay

The Addison on Amelia B&B and the Amelia Island Williams House both evoke the Old South in downtown Fernandina Beach. The Addison has elegantly appointed guest rooms and breakfast and happy hour cocktails served on a verandah overlooking the inn’s courtyard; live oaks hung with Spanish moss part to reveal the Williams House’s trio of historic lodgings, including the Antebellum Williams House mansion, the circa 1884 Hearthstone House, and a rebuilt Carriage House.

To get your toes as close to the beach as possible while still being within an easy reach to downtown, there’s no better spot than the Seaside Amelia Inn. For waterfront pleasures, the Hampton Inn & Suites Amelia Island sits right on Fernandina Beach’s bustling little harbor and is within short walks to all of downtown’s restaurants, bars, and museums.