We visited family in Jacksonville last weekend and decided to take a day trip to Amelia Island to try some new-to-us spots. If you’re not familiar with the area, Amelia Island is located at the most Northeast corner of Florida just south of Georgia. It’s a great destination for couples, families or friends for any occasion with its beautiful beaches, historic downtown, popular golf courses, luxury resorts, and charming bed & breakfasts. There’s enough to do if you want to stay for a whole week or simply a half day like us. This was my third time to Amelia Island – once when I was younger and another time that feels more recent but was actually in May of 2017! It was on our way to Savannah, the perfect in between stop coming from Orlando. Check out my “Day in Amelia Island” post that includes a review of 1 hotel, 2 restaurants, 1 bar and 1 dessert spot on the island – none of which are mentioned in this post. Like I said before, we wanted to check out some new spots on the island that my sister and brother-in-law recommended to us. As always, they definitely did not disappoint!
If you’re coming up the coast of Florida to Amelia Island, you can take I-95 all the way up to the second-to-last exit before Georgia or hop off the highway a little earlier for the scenic route, which Google Maps will tell you is only about a 5-minute difference (assuming no traffic). The scenic drive is nice if you have the time, as it goes through the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, passing beautiful waterfront homes and local fish camps. Turns out the majority of this route is a one-lane road, so if you get stuck behind someone slow, it might take longer than what Google Maps suggests. We hit some traffic due to the line to enter the popular Huguenot Memorial Park on a Saturday afternoon, and my sister previously experienced something similar taking this route on a late Sunday morning when many people are getting out of church. Something to keep in mind!
Our first stop was lunch at Cafe Karibo, which was right next door to where we got lunch last time at Timoti’s Seafood Shak. There is a parking lot in front of these restaurants but it fills up fast on the weekend – street parking is the best alternative if you want to stay nearby. I also highly recommend making a reservation if you’d like to eat at Cafe Karibo, especially if you want to sit outside. There was a wait when we arrived so we were fortunate that we planned ahead. The food is good but the main appeal here is their outside garden, central location in downtown Fernandina Beach, and the casual, friendly atmosphere.
After lunch we went to The Decantery for a drink before our boat tour. It’s a modern bar and lounge on the main Centre Street serving craft beer, wine on tap, cocktails and dessert. It’s a little hard to find because there’s no signage except for an A-Frame sign on the ground, but it’s right next door to The Palace Saloon on the main street. I didn’t like the cocktail I ordered, but everyone else did so I won’t judge it based on the one drink I chose to try. I think it’s a nice spot to check out because there isn’t anything else like it in the area. I would definitely go back if I was in Amelia Island (and order a different drink). 🙂
Amelia Island River Cruise
For some much-needed fresh air and sunshine, and to take a break from eating and drinking, we booked an 1.5 hour Beach Creek Tour by Amelia River Cruises. It goes through the salt marshes to the Dungeness Mansion and around Cumberland Island where you might spot wild horses on the beach! We saw two that were a little far away, but my sister has done the tour previously and saw more. They also look out for birds, dolphins and in the spring, manatees too. The tour is run by a family who has generations upon generations of history in Amelia Island, and make the guided tour really interesting with their personal stories and jokes. In fact, the crew on our tour was a father and son. I’m typically not one for tours of any kind when I travel, but this was a very enjoyable guided tour that I’d recommend to anyone. The majority of the boat is covered, but you should still wear your SPF ;)! The hour and a half goes by fast and they have a restroom and bottled water if needed on-board. The casual nature of the tour also allows you bring food or your own beverages if you’d like. I highly recommend checking it out and supporting this local family business!
The Palace Saloon
After the boat tour, we walked back down the main Centre Street to The Palace Saloon, the oldest bar in Florida. It has an old-fashioned meets dive bar atmosphere with locals and tourists alike enjoying their Pirate Punch rum cocktail. They have a full bar but the Pirate Punch is quite tasty if I do say so myself. Just be careful – the mid-afternoon crowd was getting pretty rowdy after a few of them!
The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island Lobby Bar
Last but not least, both the highlight and the purpose of this trip, The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island Lobby Bar. My sister and brother-in-law discovered this gem on one of their trips to Amelia Island and have been talking about it ever since. They serve incredible in-house smoked old fashioned cocktails, “first-call” specialty-infused bourbons, and amazing sushi. After trying it out, we agreed with them that it is both worth the hype and the high luxury resort price tags.
I started with the Cucumber Saketini ($18) with Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka, TyKy Cucumber Junmai Sake, Simple Syrup, Fresh Cucumber (pictured below right). I love cucumber cocktails and sake, so I definitely need to recreate this combination at home – super refreshing! Then we ordered their in-house Smoked Old Fashioned ($24), the lobby bar’s most celebrated cocktail. It’s a blend of 1792 Bourbon with St. Germain, finished with orange peel, orange bitters and Luxardo cherries. I have tried many of my boyfriend’s old fashioned cocktails while we’ve been out, but none were even close to how delicious this was. They also serve it in a very photo/video worthy, memorable way releasing the cloche of smoke to reveal the drink beneath it. Check out my Instagram post or “Amelia Island” stories highlight to see it in action!
By 5:45 p.m., they began serving their “First Call” infused whiskey, which changes daily and is available until it’s gone. This one had brûléed banana, strawberries, dark chocolate, and 1792 Bourbon. It runs out quickly so definitely give it a try if you time it right, whichever combination of infusions it is. Such a treat!
In addition to the drinks, my sister and brother-in-law raved about the quality of their sushi at the Lobby Bar, saying it’s some of the best they’ve ever had! Kadence in Orlando will always be my #1 until I go to Japan probably, but this was at the top of the list too. We ordered 3 rolls and an appetizer to share, so we got a good sampling of different fish and preparations. I’ve included the shadow-heavy photos of the menu above just so you can see what they offer and the prices for full transparency. It is definitely expensive, but in this case, you get what you pay for. The portions were very reasonable, the fish was super fresh, and the preparations were masterfully executed.
We ordered the following and loved every one. My personal favorite was the Trio Spicy Roll, but they were all phenomenal. The aged soy sauce also needs its own shout out because WOW, who knew we could be so excited about soy sauce?! Top notch.
- Trio spicy roll with spicy tuna, hamachi, salmon, cucumber shiso leaf, jalapeño, tobiko
- Surf & turf with shrimp tempura, beef carpaccio, scallion, cucumber, teriyaki glaze. We watched the sushi chef torch it behind the bar – all the heart eyes/drooling emojis!
- Tuna duo with spicy tuna, sliced tuna, cucumber, green onion, aged soy sauce
- Tuna and snapper sashimi with aged soy sauce, cucumber and scallion salad
For dessert, ask for “The Ritz-Carlton Cake!” It’s a specialty off-the-menu item and apparently available at any Ritz-Carlton location if you know to ask for it. I can’t personally attest this to be true, but that’s what we heard! It’s chocolate mousse and raspberry, which is one of my favorites combinations…well, anything with chocolate pretty much! The bartender also kindly brought us their new Strawberry Mango Cheesecake to try too. So good!
For special occasions or simply to treat yourself, I highly recommend going to The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island Lobby Bar. It is open to anyone, whereas some of their other restaurants are only open to hotel guests due to the pandemic and space restrictions. The Lobby Bar opens at 4 p.m. daily and features a variety of seating options – at the bar where we sat, lounge seating, tables, and outdoor tables with a fire pit and views of the ocean in the distance. There was a wedding while we were there so the outdoor portion of the Lobby Bar was blocked off for the ceremony and reception – something to keep in mind if you visit over a weekend. Especially now when things are slowly starting to pick back up, I’m sure there will be weddings every weekend at the Ritz! My last note to included is that the hotel is valet-only at the front if you are driving yourself.
I hope this second guide to Amelia Island is helpful and inspires a well-deserved, relaxing vacation! Please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below or on my Instagram @adventuresingourmet.
Other Places To Consider
A few places that are on my list to check out next time are below. Anywhere else I should add?
- The Salty Pelican – Open-air seafood restaurant offering river views along with Sunday brunch & live music. It’s located across the street from the marina where the Amelia River Cruises are docked.
- Amelia Tavern or The Alley Taproom by Amelia Island Brewing Co.
- Salt at the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island – Fine dining with a view over the water, the restaurant uses more than 40 salts from around the world to add depth and flavor to coastal-inspired cuisine. Save this one for really special occasions and take note of their dress policy. They are only open for dinner from Thursday to Sunday. Call ahead to check if they are accepting non-hotel guests, as it may be exclusive to hotel guests pending the status of the pandemic.
In Case You Missed It
I’m linking some guides to other beach towns in Florida I’ve written about, as well as historic Southern cities within a 3-hour drive from Amelia Island including Savannah, Charleston, Sanford and Winter Garden. Depending on the length of your trip, it might be worth checking out more than one city nearby!
- A Day in Amelia Island, FL – My first guide to the island!
- A Guide to Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
- The Best Places To Eat & Drink in Jacksonville, FL
- Couples Weekend in Savannah, GA
- A 3-Day Weekend in Savannah, GA
- A Guide to Charleston, SC
- A Photo Diary & Review of Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, FL
- A Weekend in New Smyrna Beach, FL
- An Afternoon in Winter Garden, FL
- An Afternoon in Sanford, FL
- Restaurant Review for Kadence & Sushi & Sashimi Pre-Fixe Dinner at Kadence in Orlando, FL
- Restaurant Reviews: Buccan & Imoto in Palm Beach, FL
- Restaurant Review: 1000 North in Jupiter, FL
- A Relaxing Girls Weekend in Clearwater Beach, FL