Holle is a retired English and creative writing teacher. She is a professional freelance writer and former dog trainer.
Amelia Island Florida to Jacksonville
We've visited Amelia Island in Florida on numerous occasions. Sometimes we go for a long weekend, but most of our trips have lasted for one or two weeks. It's a beautiful area, and I find it soul-soothing. I love the ocean and just about everything associated with it: marshes, beaches, tidal creeks, islands, moss-draped oak trees, and rivers.
Nothing beats driving along the shoreline with the windows down, breathing in the invigorating salty air, and soaking in the natural scenery. One of the most beautiful drives I’ve found is the thirty miles between Amelia Island, Florida and Jacksonville, along A1A, or First Coast Highway.
Maritime Forests, Marshes, and Tidal Creeks
Traffic along this route is almost nonexistent because most people are in a hurry and prefer traveling on I-95. I wonder if they know what they’re missing. Leaving Amelia Island, you drive through several miles of maritime forests, with a good chance of viewing native wildlife.
When you reach the tip of the island, you cross the Nassau River Bridge. You’ll notice lots of fishermen on the old bridge and along the beach, and sometimes you’ll see folks on horseback trotting along the shore.
Soon after crossing the big bridge, you’ll pass tidal creeks, including Simpson Creek and Sawpit Creek. Both have expansive marshes. The area looks like a sea of waving grasses cut by the dark lines of the meandering waterways. If you cross at low tide, you’ll see numerous gray oyster mounds along the banks.
Pristine, Untouched Beaches
You’ll also pass sand dunes and pristine beaches completely devoid of people, hotels, or any other traces of mankind. You’re bound to wonder why in the heck this area hasn’t been developed. Then you’ll offer a silent 'thank you' that it hasn’t.
Just offshore to your left, you’ll pass the barrier islands of Big Talbot and Little Talbot and their wide, sandy beaches. In the warmer months, a few folks are always on the beach, fishing.
Most of the waterways you cross along the way will be shallow, and if the wind has been coming out of the northeast for a few days, the water will be clear and have a wonderful blue-green tint. If, however, the winds have been from the south, silt from the St. John’s River will muddy the waterways. I’ve witnessed the water along this trek when it looked like the Caribbean, and I’ve also seen it a grayish brown. Most of the time, it’s somewhere in between.
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Farther south, you’ll cross more tidal creeks and pass old bait shacks, several of which have been the subjects of my paintings. Sometimes you’ll see several men wading in the shallows, pulling a seine net. I always want to stop to see what they’ve caught.
Soon, you enter back into civilization at Fort George Island, home to Fort George Island Cultural Park. Stop for a nature walk, kayaking, canoeing, cycling, or exploring the shell mounds made by indigenous people 7,000 years ago.
Historical Antebellum Farm
Another great place to see here is Kingsley Plantation, an antebellum farm where you can explore the plantation house, the slave quarters, the barns, the kitchen house, the waterfront, and the gardens. Nearby are the Fort Caroline National Memorial, the Timucuan Indian Preserve, and the historic Ribault Club.
There’s a great restaurant at the St. John’s River called the Sand Dollar, in case you happen by at mealtime. If you stop for a bite, sit on the riverfront deck. Chances are you’ll view playful dolphins and myriad ships and boats plying the waters.
It’s also time for you to make a decision whether to catch the car ferry to Mayport or drive over the Dames Point Bridge. I recommend the ferry.
Ferry Ride, Shrimping Village, and Historic Lighthouse
The ferry crosses the St. John’s River, carrying you the short distance to the shrimping village of Mayport. Here, you’ll find the historic Mayport Lighthouse and the Mayport Naval Air Station. If you have time, treat yourself to a tour of the lighthouse and the naval station.
Jacksonville Zoo and Botanical Gardens
On the road again, you’ll soon enter the outskirts of Jacksonville and Heckscher Drive. Take a few hours to explore the fascinating Jacksonville Zoo, located on the banks of the Trout River. It has a walking safari, botanical gardens, and over 1,500 animals. Kids will love the train, the carousel, and the interactive exhibits.
If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, forget the interstate. Slow down and enjoy the magnificent scenery and history! Check out the photos below!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.