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5 Lesser-Known Gems You Shouldn’t Miss on This Florida Barrier Island

From a guided backwater tour on mini catamarans to a stop on the Florida Distillery Trail, Amelia Island is full of distinctive, off-the-beaten-path experiences—and some you won’t find anywhere else.

Low dunes and seagrass frame one of Amelia Island’s serene beaches.

Low dunes and seagrass frame one of Amelia Island’s serene beaches.

Courtesy of Amelia Island

While Amelia Island may be best known for its 13 miles of pristine beaches, this Northeast Florida destination is much more than its serene landscape of stunning salt marshes and unspoiled coastline. Yes, its tranquil, dune-lined shoreline is the perfect place to relax, whether you opt to spend the day out on the water or simply dig your toes in the sand. And you can expect an exciting mix of under-the-radar experiences that make Amelia Island an ideal vacation for all types of travelers, including adventurers, families, and nature lovers.

Zoom through the backwaters in search of manatees and dolphins. Sample the island’s award-winning restaurants and bars on an expert-guided tour. Spend the day at historic beaches. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back or thrill-packed getaway, here are five hidden treasures to explore.

Discover Amelia Island’s Black Heritage

Amelia Island holds an important place in history as the home of American Beach, a safe haven for Black beachgoers during the time of segregation and Jim Crow laws. Founded by African American businessman A.L. Lewis, American Beach and nearby Franklintown were highlighted in The Negro Motorist Green Book and the former served as a thriving resort town for Black Americans until Hurricane Dora hit the area in 1964. Today, visitors can stop by the A. L. Lewis Museum and learn more about Amelia Island’s African American roots with Coast One Tours, a Black historic touring company owned by local historian Ron Miller.

Savor handmade spirits along the Florida Distillery Trail

If you have a taste for fine liquor, be sure to head to Marlin and Barrel. Located in a charming old Florida home, the distillery features as a stop on the Florida Craft Spirits Association’s Florida Distillery Trail, a collection of the 39 best distilleries across the Sunshine State. Visitors can enjoy a tour and free samples of rum and vodka, all crafted and bottled by hand. Try Venture Craft Vodka, made from local molasses; smooth Bearing Light Rum; and Blossom Orangecello, starring Florida’s most famous fruit.

Have a backwater adventure

With lush forests, maze-like marshlands, and serene beaches, Amelia Island has plenty of nature to discover—and just as many ways to explore it. One of the best? Backwater Cat Adventure Tours. Often compared to waterborne go-karts, these two-person mini catamarans are thrilling and easy to use, allowing even first-time drivers to enjoy the ride during a guided tour of Amelia Island’s scenic waterways. Experience rich historic sites, a fun beach stop, and natural beauty, all while keeping an eye out for fascinating wildlife like manatees and dolphins.

Dig into a vibrant food scene downtown

Boasting more than 90 independent restaurants, Amelia Island leaves travelers spoiled for choice. Join Amelia Island Downtown Tasting Tours as they introduce you to the hottest restaurants and bars in the area, as well as the owners, chefs, and bartenders who shape the island’s vibrant culinary scene. Pick from the Booze & Bites Tour (during which guests visit two restaurants and two bars while learning about the history of the restaurant from the owner or chef) or the Cocktail Tour of four spots to taste craft cocktails from top bartenders.

Visit Fort Clinch State Park

Deremer Studios Commercial Photograph - Amelia Island

Sunset at Fort Clinch State Park

Courtesy of Amelia Island

Home to one of the most well-preserved Civil War-era forts in the country, Fort Clinch State Park provides a chance to step back in time to 1864 on the first weekend of every month when a soldier reenactment program fires cannons and demonstrates other battlefield skills. You can wander the rest of the fort’s extensive grounds and rooms on daily tours. Fans of the outdoors will also find plenty to enjoy in the 1,400-acre park, including hiking and biking trails under massive live oaks and three miles of shoreline for swimming, fishing, and fossil hunting.

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