Florida’s Hidden Gem: Exploring Amelia Island

While Amelia Island is not quite part of Florida’s Emerald Coast, it reminds me of the beaches you’d see in Destin and Panama City but far less congested and more laid back.

Recently my girlfriend and I decided to take a long weekend to Amelia Island. I’d received a voucher for a two night stay at any Omni property in the US or Canada and figures I wanted to go somewhere warm and beachy that I’d never been to before. I figured Amelia Island would fit the bill.

Shortly after deciding on the Omni Amelia Island, JetBlue had one of their great sales and Jacksonville, FL was one of their destinations. How perfect! My friend was coming from New York, while I was coming from Washington, DC. The best part was neither of us paid more than $180 for our tickets.

We flew in on a Friday afternoon and rented a car to drive to Amelia Island which is about 40 minutes from the Jacksonville Airport. Car rentals for 3 days start around $55.

The resort itself is huge and you really have no reason to leave. There are 9 restaurants, a nice, quiet beach (you do have to pay for chairs and umbrellas), huge pool area, miniature golf, an 18 hole golf course, and much more.

We ended up leaving twice to explore nearby Fernandina Beach. We went to The Beach Cafe for a late breakfast. Reasonable prices and a ton of options for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. We walked around Fernandina Beach and checked out an art gallery that contained works from local arts, it’s was a collaborative of sorts.

The highlight was visiting a huge antique market located on the Main Street. They had tons of vintage furniture at really great prices plus everything else you could imagine from fur collars and clothing, collectible dolls, records, war memorabilia, Star Wars figurines, even stuff from the Civil War (I was good on all of that). We could totally have seen Chip and Joana Gaines from HGTV going in there and transforming old furniture for one of their shabby chic homes.

Anyways let’s talk about the food…

  • Oceanside (Omni Amelia Island) — I ordered the crab cakes and my friend had a fried shrimp and calamari dish. Neither of us were impressed with our entrees. The highlight was definitely the spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette. It had large lardons topping it and could easily have served as an entree.
  • Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen — Found out about this restaurant from a local guidebook, plus it had great reviews on Yelp. The chef has been on Top Chef, Chopped, and Cutthroat Kitchen, which are all of my favorite Food Network shows. Everything we had was delicious but I’d especially recommend the drop biscuits and shrimp and grits. My friend loved her Trio of Swine, it had sausage, ribs, and pulled pork. Their portions are huge so be prepared to only eat half of your meal.
  • Sunrise Cafe — we had a large breakfast. The buffet was only $23, can’t remember the last time I had a buffet breakfast at a hotel for under $35. There were tons of options for everyone, including a gluten free section, and the smoked bacon was to die for.
  • Verandah (Omni Amelia Island) — This was another Southern restaurant and apparently the best restaurant on the property. Based on the dinner we had, we’d have to agree. They brought out a basket with 2 types of bread, and the cornbread was hands down the best I’ve had in a long time. I had the grouper with blue crab over mashed potatoes and my friend the shrimp and grits. The fried green tomatoes were tasty but a bit too much for a starter for 2 people. At the end they brought us out some liquid nitrogen popcorn, compliments of the chef. It tasted like cold Crunch ‘N’ Munch.

If you’re looking for a chill getaway in FL that’s the polar opposite of Miami or Panama City, Amelia Island is your place.


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