Put this Florida island town on your bucket list stat.

It’s called the Isle of Eight Flags. Since 1562, Amelia Island has changed hands several times: settled, warred over, seized, lost, re-conquered, and tussled over some more before it finally landed under its most recent flag (the U.S. flag) after the Civil War. Pirates and brothels and casinos once set up camp in Fernandina Beach, the island’s harbor town, and even Prohibition didn’t shut down the town saloon. If the Wild, Wild West had claimed a coastal cousin, the old Fernandina Beach just might have been it. These days, though, things move at a decidedly slower, more family-friendly pace in the little beach town. Here are 5 reasons to head to Fernandina Beach, Florida, for your next vacation.

The Beaches

Fernandina Beach sits pretty on the northern tip of Amelia Island, a barrier island that snuggles right up next to the northernmost stretch of Florida, so it’s no surprise that the gloriously pristine coastline is one of the town’s biggest draws. Amelia Island is home to thirteen miles of sandy shores and 40 public beach access points, so there’s no shortage of places to picnic, play, and put your toes in the water.

The History

From the eight flags that have flown over their shores to its bootlegging pirate days, Fernandina Beach is chockful of historic gems—a nice alternative to beach towns with flashy attractions and popped-up-yesterday T-shirt shops. Downtown is home to a 52-block historic district that’s dotted with Victorian-era mansions. Check out the Amelia Island Museum of History, housed in the old Nassau County jail, which offers interactive exhibits and guided tours daily; or visit Fort Clinch State Park further north, where you can explore the historic Civil War fort, hike the park’s maritime trails, or hunt for sharks’ teeth.

The Food & Drink Scene

When it comes to eating, drinking, and being merry, Fernandina Beach has plenty of options. For those who like a little history stirred into their cocktails, there’s The Palace Saloon, a bona fide institution that proudly lays claim to the title of Florida’s oldest bar: Opened in 1903, the bar even managed to stay open through the Prohibition by serving gasoline, ice cream, and 3% “near-beer.” Try the Pirate’s Punch, a secret recipe that may just give you sea legs. Stop by Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen for smoked chicken thighs and boiled peanuts, or plop at a picnic table on the patio at Timoti’s Seafood Shak for a basket of the day’s fresh catch.

The Festivals

This town knows how to celebrate! With nearly every month comes another festival to enjoy. May brings the Isle of 8 Flags Shrimp Festivals, which celebrates Fernandina Beach as the birthplace of the modern U.S. shrimping industry and includes a blessing of the shrimp fleet and food booths that serve up shrimp any way you could possibly want to eat them. October welcomes the annual Amelia Island Jazz Festival, and December plays host to Dickens on Centre, which gives downtown Fernandina a merry Victorian makeover just before Christmas.

The Outdoor Adventures

Fernandina Beach makes a convenient and charming base camp for a multitude of outdoor excursions. Book a guided eco tour with Amelia Island Kayak Excursions, or charter a catamaran for a sunset sail on the local waterways. If you’re looking to venture a little further into the wilderness, drive to nearby St. Marys, Georgia, where you can catch a ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore. There, you can walk undeveloped beaches, wander through maritime forests, and if you’re lucky, spot one of the island’s feral horses.

 

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