The one of the Sea Islands - a string of barrier islands that extends down the Georgia Coast from South Carolina - that's located in Florida, picturesque and historic Amelia Island has a storied past relating to the many flags that have flown over it, including Spain, France, England, Mexico, and a few others. Stretching for 13 miles from nearly the Georgia border south to just off the coast from metro Jacksonville, the island is home to about 12,000 year-round residents but swells with vacationers throughout much of the year. It's by no means a major LGBT destination, but there are some gay-owned businesses on the island, and it makes for a lovely, romantic couples getaway with sophisticated dining and shopping, and it's free from some of the more excessive development farther south along the coast.
Its largest community is charming Fernandina Beach, while smaller Amelia City - farther south - also has a few restaurant and is also close to the most famous resort on the island, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. In Fernandina Beach, however, you'll find several gay-friendly B&Bs, most of them within a couple of blocks of Central Park and the waterfront on the Amelia River (on which scenic river cruises are available). It's a great neighborhood for being close to local restaurants and boutiques, most of which are set in stately Victorian-era buildings, and it's only 2 miles from the beachfront and a short drive from the area's most prominent historic attraction, Fort Clinch State Park. That said, if it's a vacation right on the ocean that you're seeking, you might want to consider the Ritz or one of the other resorts set along the beachfront. The mid-priced Hampton Inn & Suites Amelia Island Historic Harbor Front (19 S. 2nd St., Fernandina Beach, 904-491-4911) and Hampton Inn Amelia Island at Fernandina Beach (2549 Sadler Rd., Fernandina Beach, 904-321-1111) - the latter property is right on the ocean - are good bets if you're not wanting to spend a ton of money.
Highway 200 leads onto the island's northern reaches and provides easy access from I-95. If you're driving here from nearby Jacksonville, it takes about 45 minutes from downtown; allow five hours if coming here from Atlanta and a little over two hours from Savannah. You can also drive to the island along coastal Highway A1A, making your way up the coast from Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach - this route includes a short ferry crossing the St. Johns River at Mayport. The drive to Amelia Island from Jacksonville Beach takes 45 minutes to an hour (you can also bypass the ferry if it's closed or to save time by taking an inland route via I-295).
However you get to Amelia Island, plan for a relaxing time. This isn't a spot for nightlife or nonstop activity, but it is terrific for golfing, ecotourism, boating, fishing, and all sorts of water-borne activities. The Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau is a handy source for information on what to see and do on the island. If you're looking to partake of Jacksonville's gay scene, remember that it's a pretty easy drive down to this bustling city.
On a quiet residential street that's just three blocks from verdant Central Park and steps from numerous restaurants and shops in the historic core of Fernandina Beach, the Amelia Island Williams House Inn (103 S. 9th St., Fernandina Beach, 904-277-2328) dates to 1858 and abounds with history. Although updated with plenty of modern comforts, this gay-friendly getaway with 11 guest rooms (all but one with a private bath) is decorated with tasteful antiques as well as comfortable modern pieces - tall windows let in plenty of light, and some rooms have fireplaces or whirlpool tubs. Perks include flat-screen TVs, individual climate control, and spa robes, and a two-course full breakfast is provided each morning.
An upscale, eco-friendly property in the heart of historic downtown Fernandina Beach, the Addison Inn (614 Ash St., Fernandina Beach, 904-277-1604) dates to 1876 and contains 14 smartly appointed rooms, some with fireplaces and many with either private verandas or outdoor areas in the lush garden. Guests are treated to lavish breakfast each day with fresh-squeezed orange juice and a rotating menu of tasty dishes, and wine and snacks are served during the complimentary happy hour early each evening.
The gorgeously decorated and centrally located Hoyt House B&B (804 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach, 904-277-4300) is a favorite Amelia Island retreat, and as it's also LGBT-owned, it's a favorite with gay travelers, too. Innkeepers Myrta Defendini and Deborah Gold operate this charming 10-room early 1900s property that's also a wonderful scenic venue for same-sex weddings. Guests can relax among a few different common rooms as well as out in the back garden, where there's a whirlpool tub, heated pool, and ample lounge seating. The inn is a short walk from Fernandina Beach dining, and the rooms in this stately yellow mansion are artfully decorated and stocked with Gilchrist & Soames bath products. On the food and beverage side, breakfasts include a selection from the buffet as well as a menu featuring six different entree options - you can dine with fellow guests at the main table or enjoy a bit more privacy at your own table. In the afternoons, a traditional and extensive English tea is served (reservations required), featuring sandwiches, sweets, and even mimosa cocktails to help ease you into the evening hour.
The poshest resort in northeastern Florida, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island (4750 Amelia Island Pkwy., Fernandina Beach, 904-277-1100) enjoys a mesmerizing setting overlooking the ocean about 6 miles southeast of historic downtown Fernandina Beach. The hotel is just off the bike-friendly Amelia Trail, which you can use to get up to town, and it adjoins the famed Golf Club at Amelia Island. Other recreation options include paddle-boarding, tennis, swimming, nature tours, and - of course - relaxing with one of the stress-reducing treatments in the Ritz-Carlton Spa, which also has a spacious and well-equipped fitness center. The 446 rooms and suites are generously apportioned and all have full or partial ocean views and balconies, and there are six restaurants to choose from.