We recently returned from an amazing trip to Amelia Island, Florida, where we got to spend a blissful few days on the beach collecting seashells and shark teeth, as well as eating in amazing restaurants and discovering a fantastic fort. When researching the trip, I struggled to find specific things to do in Amelia Island with kids, so I thought I’d give a quick recap of out trip with some of the things we loved doing that the boys thought were really fun, as well as some very kid-friendly restaurants (where the food was also delicious!) So read along for our recommendations for what to do in Amelia Island with kids.
How to get to Amelia Island
If you’re driving to Amelia Island from the Orlando area as I was, then it’s just over a three hour drive. I found the drive pretty easy; I4 to I95 and then over towards the Jacksonville beaches. Our usual longer drives within Florida take us up or down the Florida Turnpike, and I find that road to be so dull to drive on, but this wasn’t too bad at all. The last half an hour or so take you down highway A1A and the scenery is beautiful; bridges over the ocean turn into oak-lined streets with overhanging canopies followed by a long beachfront street with amazing waterfront properties (that I’ve decided I’m going to buy if I win the lottery!)
If you’re flying in to visit Amelia Island, the closest airport will be Jacksonville International Airport, which is around a 30-45 minute ride away.
Where to stay in Amelia Island
We stayed at the Seaside Amelia Inn, and have nothing but glowing reports of our time there. Many of the reports I’d read from those who had stayed in Amelia Island recommended the Ritz-Carlton or the Omni Plantation, but both were farther out than we wanted to be. The Seaside Amelia Inn came recommended to me from the Amelia Island tourism board, and we absolutely loved our stay there. The property is located right on the Main Beach, and has a private entrance right onto the sand, with complimentary sun beds and umbrellas provided just for guests staying there. This location is perfect for families traveling with kids, especially young kids like mine who might just be looking to go to the beach for an hour or two before heading back to the room for a break. We also really enjoyed being able to walk down to the beach before breakfast when the temperatures were cool, or take a walk along the shore after dinner, and then head right back to the hotel. Main Beach also has a fantastic play area and miniature golf if you get bored of the beach.
Downtown Fernandina is less than a five minute drive from the hotel, and I was surprised how much we enjoyed spending time here. I had thought the kids might be bored walking around the shops or down towards the harbor, but they really loved the quaint little shops and local places to get something to eat. Fort Clinch State Park was also just a few minutes away, and that turned out to be my son’s favorite place of the whole trip!
The Seaside Amelia Inn has free parking, which is perfect for those bringing a car, as well as a complementary breakfast. Our room was spacious, modern and clean, and everyone we met there was very friendly and helpful. The hotel has a small pool which we found to be FREEZING in April – if it’s too cold for my water babies, then it’s definitely too cold! – but will probably be much warmer by the time the summer comes.
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this property, and I know we’ll be back next time we visit Amelia Island.
What to do in Amelia Island
Explore Fort Clinch State Park
Fort Clinch had been recommended to me by another mom before our trip, but I wasn’t totally sure that my boys would like it. Grayson just turned 2 and is happy anywhere he can either walk around or chill in his stroller, but Harrison needs a little more in the way of entertainment. I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to spend 2 hours exploring the fort, and had the most amazing time.
Fort Clinch State Park was less than a five minute drive from our hotel, located on Atlantic Avenue, and has a $6 fee per vehicle to enter. Once in the park, there are various ways to go; you can go to the one of the beaches, park and check out a walking or bike trail, head to one of the campsites, or go straight to the fort, which is what we chose. The fort has a large parking lot that was completely empty when we arrived, and entrance into the fort through the welcome center cost $2.50 for me (the kids were free!) We were given a map with a self-guided tour that included some of the history of the fort, as well as labeling all of the buildings so we would know what we were looking at. The first stop was a small museum with a movie documenting how the fort was built; we stayed to watch for a few minutes but Harrison was keen to see the actual fort, so we moved on. The fort is certainly impressive to look at, and we were eager to head over the drawbridge to take a look inside.
There were numerous buildings to explore here, including the barracks where the enlisted soldiers stayed, kitchens, store rooms, and even a prison. We had fun walking around and peeping into the old buildings. The fort was actually very stroller-friendly, more so than I had imagined it would be; I had assumed I would have to park the stroller somewhere and let Grayson walk, but for the most part, this wasn’t necessary. The buildings themselves did have high steps to get into them, so for those I either took Grayson out of the stroller or let Harrison go in alone; the rooms were quite small and it only took a minute or two to look around each one.
The highlight for us was being able to go up onto the walls of the fort; again, we thought this might be hard or even impossible with a toddler, but there was a ramp we could walk up (it was a bit on the steep side, but we managed!) Up on the walls of the fort we were afforded beautiful views out over the Cumberland Sound, as well as being able to get up close to the the canons. Harrison absolutely loved this!
Once we left the fort, the boys wanted to play for a while, and on the other side of the parking lot was a beautiful shaded play area with swings, slides, and a nice big play structure for them to be able to burn off some energy. There were also some nice picnic tables there, and I wished we’d thought to bring a packed lunch so we could have stayed to eat.
I cannot recommend the Fort Clinch State Park enough. The way it is set up definitely holds kids interest, and the history is fascinating. I love that there was a park across the street, clean restrooms for use, snacks for purchase in the gift shop, and pretty much anything else you would need to keep little ones happy. I’m really glad we decided to visit, despite my reservations.
Hunt for shark teeth and seashells on the beach
While researching what to do in Amelia Island, I happened to read an article that mentioned it being a good place to search for shark teeth. I casually mentioned this to Harrison, and of course he just thought that was the coolest thing ever! From the moment we stepped out of the car in Amelia Island, he wanted to go to the beach to see what we could find. Our hotel had a guide with pictures of different teeth from different sharks, so I had a vague idea of what we were looking for, and we spent our first evening on the beach, searching among the shells. Sadly that first night yielded no results, but we were determined to look again the next day.
Luckily when we hit the beach before breakfast the next morning (when my 5-year old wants something, he’s pretty focused!) we came across a very nice gentleman who showed us some shark teeth he had found – well, no wonder we hadn’t found any, they looked nothing like I thought they would! I thought they’d be white (you know, as teeth are!) and pretty big, maybe the size of a quarter. Well, they weren’t; they were black and a lot smaller than I thought, about the size of a nickel. He had a couple of different types and when he saw how excited Harrison was, he very kindly let him pick out a couple to keep. After consulting our guide, we think we got one from a hammerhead shark, and quite a rare one from a cow shark (the one with a serrated edge) and once we knew what we were looking for, we were able to find more on our own. Harrison is pretty convinced we found one from a great white shark and although I’m equally convinced that he’s wrong, this was the highlight of his trip!
Walk around downtown Fernandina
Another thing recommended to us was to walk around downtown Fernandina. Again, I thought the boys might be bored, but it’s such a lovely little town, we found some fantastic quaint shops to explore. Our favorite was The Book Loft, an old-fashioned book store with a lovely children’s section and even a train table to keep the kids entertained. I had a lovely time walking around browsing the titles, and of course we had to pick out a book or two before we left (partly used as bribery to get them away from the train table!) There was a definite ‘pirate’ theme to downtown Fernandina, and a lot of pirate souvenirs in the shops. The harbor area was a great place to walk in the evenings; lots of places to eat, and a wonderful view over the water where we could watch the boats and the pelicans.
Visit the Pirate Playground
Yet another recommendation, my boys adored this playground! Located on Atlantic Avenue, the playground was a bit hard to find at first, as it’s hidden away behind a building down a smaller dirt road, but once there we found plenty of parking. The best thing about the playground for my boys was the big sand box, complete with multiple sand toys donated by people over the years, and a really fun water feature. Since we stopped by on the way to dinner, I ‘encouraged’ them not to get too dirty, but this mostly fell on deaf ears! They had a great time playing here, and we could have stayed longer.
Play on the beach
This should definitely be your number one activity; the beaches of Amelia Island are gorgeous! For our April trip, temperatures were lovely during the day (in the high 70s) and a bit cooler in the evenings, especially when a cool wind blew off the ocean. It was also blissfully quiet, and we often had the beaches to ourselves. Staying where we did right on the beach, we would often head down to the sand before breakfast and then again after dinner. The waves were a little high for my kids to play in, although I don’t know if this is common for the area or not; a red flag was displayed the whole length of our trip, so we didn’t brave the water at all (we did dip our toes in, and it was COLD!) Read more on how to survive a beach trip with a baby here.
We picked up some cheap sand toys from Target before our trip, and the boys were both happy to play endlessly in the sand. Spending time on a peaceful beach is about as good as it gets in my opinion!
Where to eat
Click on the title of each location for the restaurants website or Facebook page to view location, hours, and menus
Sliders Seaside Grill was less than 2 miles from our hotel, and our favorite place to eat! There was plenty of parking, but if I hadn’t had the kids with me, I would happily have walked the 2 miles up the beach to get there. There is indoor and outdoor seating available, but the big draw of this restaurant for those dining with kids is the outdoor playground. Basically a giant sand box with slides and places to climb, my boys loved being able to play while we waited for our food to come out – and I loved being able to sit and relax with a drink for a few minutes! The drinks were great, the calamari was fantastic, and the view of the beach was second to none. Definitely somewhere to try!
Brett’s Waterway Cafe is found in the harbor area of downtown Fernandina and has a beautiful view over the water. The boys loved watching the boats and the pelicans, and the fresh seafood on the menu was fantastic. Again, both indoor and outdoor seating was available and while I can imagine it gets warm in the summer, the outdoor tables were lovely.
While walking through downtown Fernandina one day we decided to stop at the Amelia Tavern for lunch. Someone at our hotel had recommended the truffle fries there, and I can attest that both they, and the Mexican Corn, were absolutely delicious. They also had a great kids menu with portions big enough for the boys to share, and crayons for them to color with.
This is a great little casual place to get dinner that I probably would have walked straight by had it not been listed as one of the best places to get seafood online! Timoti’s has a few indoor seats but mostly outdoor tables, and best of all, yet another fantastic outdoor playground! You order your food and then collect it from the outdoor window when it’s ready; I found the prices to be very reasonable, and the crab burger I ordered was delicious (Grayson got the kids fish and that was absolutely delicious as well – and a very large portion for a kids meal!) It was a great place to sit and relax while eating, and the boys loved the play area (although I did discover that a downside to a play area that can be seen from the seating area makes it tricky to convince smaller members of the family to stop playing and actually eat!) This place was great value for money.
Overall, we absolutely loved our time in Amelia Island and can’t wait to go back – this is a fantastic place to visit with kids!
Have you been to Amelia Island? What was your favorite thing to do? Let me know in the comments!