Fernandina Beach is a wonderful, well-preserved town at the north end of Amelia Island, which is Florida’s most northern barrier island. So it’s also Florida’s first beach town! This is the beginning of what many call the “First Coast,” a part of Florida’s northeast that is mainly overlooked by tourists as they zoom down I-95 toward South Florida.
And just because it is the northernmost town on Florida’s East Coast, well, don’t let that stop you from putting Fernandina Beach on your itinerary.
Yes, it is still Florida and way south of the Deep South cities of Savannah and Charleston. But if you want to see some of quickly vanishing “Old Florida” don’t hesitate to detour off the main drag and check out Fernandina Beach for as long as your time permits. Some stay a week or more.
History abounds here. Fernandina Beach and well, all of Amelia Island, is the only place in the USA to have been ruled by eight flags. The main ones are France, Spain, England, and the United States, but a few odd ones have flown over her as well.
The town really appeared on the map with the advent of the cross-state railroad in 1861, which ran from Fernandina to Cedar Key. You can see that wealth today in the Victorian architecture. Hotels and homes went up everywhere, mainly by the port and river. Henry Flagler‘s East Coast Railway started transporting more wealthy tourists to South Florida and soon Fernandina Beach had to change another industry to sustain itself.
It turned to shrimp fishing, and in fact, the first modern shrimping trawlers started offshore here in 1913. They still dock down at City Marina and go out everyday. Shrimping lead to oyster harvesting and with that canneries opened here. Paper mills are found around Fernandina Beach which did help them through the Great Depression, but wow…they are smelly! Unfortunately the toxins from the plants have made the waterways here one of the worst in the United States.
Fernandina’s pristine beaches lie a mile from the town center. Just head east on Centre Streetwhich turns into Atlantic Avenue (around 8th Street) and you’ll end up at Main Beach. There is a lot of parking and full facilities here with four lifeguard stands and a nice playground. So most visitors, especially those with kids, gravitate toward Main Beach.
It’s all the same long beach, running from Fort Clinch State Park, but does narrow at Main Beach, made larger by a man made riprap and a seawall. The sand here has more shell content than Fort Clinch, but as you go further down Amelia Island, the beach again widens.
Any town with Beach in its name should live up to that, and Fernandina does, with some 4.5 miles of the sandy stuff and 21 beach access points from the main road. You’ll see the signs where public access is available.
You can’t surf at Main Beach, because of the crowds, but you can at Sadler Road and Fletcher Avenue (Highway A1A) where waves are much better anyway.
For the best beach access in town, find Peter’s Point, just south of Main Beach. It’s about the same width and has good facilities. Peter’s Point will be less crowded, too. In fact, if you find any beach too crowded, head south. It gets better and better.
Location: Highway A1A (Fletcher Avenue) at Trout Street (Wolf Park)
Parking: free parking
Hours: 8 AM to 9 PM
Facilities: lifeguards (seasonal), restrooms, picnic tables, a playground, and showers.
South Fernandina Beach Accesses
Location: There are 21 of these at the end of streets that dead-end at the beach.
Parking: limited free parking
Hours: 8 AM to 9 PM
Phone: Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation Department 1-904-277-7350. If you want to drive on the beach, get a permit at the Nassau County Courthouse (and some stores.)
Peter’s Point Access
Location: south end of Fletcher Avenue (Highway A1A), just outside the city limits.
Hours: none posted
Facilities: lifeguards (seasonal), restrooms, picnic tables, and showers
Contact: Nassau County Recreation Department 1-904-321-5790