One of our favorite small towns, this beachside community is postcard-perfect.
Why We Love It: It’s unpretentious and patient. One of the most fought-over towns in America (starting in 1565 when the Spanish threw out the French, only to be thrown out by the British in 1702), Fernandina Beach has learned to take what comes and take it easy.
Our Favorite Inn: The Elizabeth Pointe Lodge
This 25-room seaside inn is located about 1.5 miles from the historic harbor. Guests can ride bikes, fly kites, or just watch the waves roll in. Rates start at $225.
Best Place for Dinner: Le Clos
Chef Katherine Ewing earned degrees in pastry and cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu and trained at the Ritz in Paris before opening her restaurant in a small cottage near the Fernandina Harbor in 1997. Each item on the menu brings a taste of France to Fernandina. Order the seared Hudson Valley duck breast with mushrooms, a crème brûlée, and a cup of espresso, and you may find yourself humming La Marseillaise.
City Center: Centre Street
This wide street running from downtown to the Fernandina Harbor is lined with antiques shops, specialty stores, restaurants, and the venerable Palace Saloon. In addition to European furniture, French Market Antiques offers a variety of what the owners call “indulgences,” such as gourmet salts, natural soaps, and aromatherapy candles. Down the street, master chocolatier Steve Colwell creates hand-dipped chocolates and other treats at his Fantastic Fudge shop.
Scenic Spot: Fort Clinch State Park
Built at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River to protect ships coming into Fernandina Beach, Fort Clinch became the centerpiece of one of Florida’s first state parks in 1935. About 2 miles north of downtown, the Civil War-era fort today shares the park with white-sand beaches, 6 miles of hiking and biking trails, and campgrounds.