Best of Lists

Great Lakes' Beaches Rival Florida and California

10,000 Miles of Shoreline to Enjoy

By
Capt. Jeff
Werner

When thinking about loafing around on a beach, Florida, California and Hawaii immediately come to mind -- the Great Lakes, not so much. But they should. The Great Lakes have almost 10,000 miles of shoreline, more than three times the combined coastlines of Hawaii, California and Florida. And while the Great Lakes may not be too great for surfing, their beaches do rival the best saltwater beaches.

What makes a beach perfect for spending the day is a very personal decision, one that combines childhood memories with the currency of our desire to just chill. Because of the length and breadth of each of the Great Lakes, Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior each offer a unique take on the American summer getaway.

Lake Superior

Whitefish Point, Paradise, Mich.

The name of the town says it all about this beach: Paradise. Located at the tip of the isolated spit that guards Whitefish Bay, it has commanding views of the ore freighters that pass by as they ply Lake Superior. Not only can you walk this sandy beach for miles, but Whitefish Point has a namesake lighthouse, fully restored and open for tours. It is the oldest continually operated lighthouse on the lake. Next door is the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, a nod to the fact that the Edmund Fitzgerald went down just 17 miles from here. A short walk away is the Bird Observatory, where the annual spring migration of hawks, eagles, vultures and falcons is documented. Nearby, Tahquamenon Falls State Park offers a hike to the hidden upper and lower falls, where the waters are tinged amber by the tannins from cedar, spruce and hemlock trees.

Paradise Beach, Grand Marais, Minn.

The name Paradise is definitely trending on Lake Superior, and for good reason.  This North Shore beach is a mecca for agate hunters. Lake Superior acts as a giant rock tumbler that polishes these semi-precious gemstones just waiting for rock pickers to discover them. And visitors, young and old alike, never seem to tire of trying their hands at the time- honored pastime of stone skipping.

Lake Erie

Pelee Island, Ont.

This island is just about as far south as you can get in Canada. Pelee Island is the largest of the nine lake islands of provincial Ontario on the western half of Lake Erie. While the other islands, including Big Chicken, Little Chicken and Hen, are not much more than navigation hazards, Pelee is ringed by beaches that are connected by a 20-mile circular Waterfront Trail. Most of the beaches are sandy, great for digging and building castles, while other beaches are made of pebble and stone. Sunset Beach, just north of the ferry terminal, is the ideal spot for toasting the end of the day with a glass of Pelee Pink from the local winery.

Cedar Point Beach, Sandusky, Ohio

The sand beach of Cedar Point amusement park is in the best tradition of Coney Island. Roller coaster aficionados appreciate the proximity of this beach, since Cedar Point is the Roller Coaster Capital of the World. At last count it had eighteen roller coasters, including a few vintage wooden varieties and ones for young coaster lovers in training, which makes for a full day of thrills and screams. Boaters especially like this beach, since access to it is included as an amenity when docking at Cedar Point Marina.

cedar

Lake Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Empire, Mich.

Sand, sand and more sand, it is everywhere, whether on the 35 miles of pristine beaches or atop the massive bluffs towering 450 feet above the lake. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named  the "Most Beautiful Place in America" in 2011, and that description is true to its word.  There are a half dozen well-visited beaches, however, with so many hiking trails and long walks along the water,  finding solitude on an unnamed beach is quite easy. Popular Glen Haven offers more than a stunning beach and beautiful views of the Manitou Islands, it also has a historic village restored to its 1920s appearance. At that time, it supplied cord wood to passing steamships and had a thriving cherry canning factory. Nearby, and not to be missed, is the U.S. Life-Saving Service Maritime Museum.

Nicolet Beach, Fish Creek, Wis.

Door County is synonymous with summertime  fish boils, and Fish Creek is a haven for tourists seeking that unique mix of whitefish, onions and potatoes, expertly cooked by a boil master. Adjacent to Fish Creek on Green Bay is Peninsula State Park.  The park's Nicolet Beach is the area's most well-known sandy spot and is a place to see and be seen. It can be particularly crowded on weekends, but whether arriving by car, bicycle or boat, it is always a fun location for a day-long party with good friends. After spending the day at the beach, taking in an evening performance of the Peninsula Players at their nearby lakeside summer theater ends a perfect Door County experience.

Lake Ontario

Sandbanks, Picton, Ont.

Take the world's largest fresh-water sand bar and barrier sand dune, turn it into a provincial park and they will come. That was the premise of opening Sandbanks Provincial Park in 1970, and come they have. The park and its surrounding beaches are visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year from Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec and New York State. In addition to swimming, Sandbanks offers opportunities for biking, birding, canoeing, fishing and hiking.

Hamlin Beach, Hamlin, N.Y.

"A lovely family beach in a beautiful State Park" is a typical Trip Advisor review that neatly sums up Hamlin Beach State Park. The clear water and long sandy beach combined with plenty of sites for tent and trailer camping make this beach an ideal location to relax for a few days and let the world go by. Taking the time to fish for salmon and trout round out a leisurely stay.

Lake Huron

Lakeside Park, Rogers City, Mich.

This downtown park is the center of all summer recreational activity in Rogers City. Stretching along ten acres of Lake Huron waterfront, and anchored by a state-of-the-art municipal marina, are a sandy swimming beach, playgrounds, volleyball and basketball courts. A large bandshell hosts concerts throughout the summer, and there is a Nautical Festival each August at the park. A special feature of Lakeside Park is the Sailor's Memorial dedicated to the crews of Great Lakes freighters who have lost their lives while underway.

Not only do Great Lakes beaches contribute to the pleasures of summer, many of these beaches are open to the public year round. And there is nothing more spectacular than hiking along Sleeping Bear Dunes in the late spring and watching a family of deer scampering along the beach as the ice breaks up on Lake Michigan.  That's the time to stand up and applaud Mother Nature for her beauty.

Capt. Jeff Werner has been in the yachting industry for over 25 years. In addition to working as a captain on private and charter yachts, both sail and power, he is a certified instructor for the USCG, US Sailing, RYA and the MCA. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your yacht's fuel in optimal condition for peak performance. For more information, call 239-246-6810, or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount on purchases of equipment, products and supplies from Diesel Doctor.

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Maritime Museums in the Caribbean
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The Caribbean is well known for its clear blue tropical waters. But as rich as it is in beauty, the islands have an even greater wealth of his- tory. Luckily, museums are located across the region to share the stories and significant events that can provide glimpses of what maritime life was like throughout the years. Their exhibits, relics and archives will have you looking at the region in a whole new light.

Here are eight Maritime Museums: 

National Museum of Bermuda Flagpole

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF BERMUDA

You can find this treasure trove of artifacts in the Atlantic Ocean 650 miles east of North Carolina, the nearest land mass to this collection of islands. The museum shows how maritime events shaped the history, people and culture of Bermuda. It is located at the historic Royal Naval Dockyard within Bermuda’s largest fort. Exhibits cover 500 years of the country’s history from how the German U-505 submarine was captured by the U.S. Navy and concealed in Bermuda to how sailing races from North America to Bermuda have influenced the development of ocean-worthy boats and blue water sailing. Be sure to experience the museum’s unique spaces by strolling through the two-story boat loft to catching a dolphin show at the Keep Pond Terrace to taking in the expansive ocean views at the flagpole.

Where to Dock: Kings Wharf or Heritage Wharf

TURKS AND CAICOS NATIONAL MUSEUM

Turks and Caicos National Museum opened in 1991 to store artifacts found in the excavation of the Molasses Reef shipwreck, an unknown Spanish ship that sunk in 1515 on the Caicos Bank. The museum spans two locations: the Guinep House on Grand Turk Island, believed to be more than 180 years old and named after the large guinep tree on its property, and the Village at Grace Bay on Providenciales, where visitors can tour the Heritage House, an historically correct rendition of a typical 1800s Caicos dwelling. In addition to showcasing shipwreck artifacts, visitors also learn about the evolution of The Grand Turk Lighthouse as well as the rise and fall of the island’s salt industry. On Museum Day, the first Saturday in November, visitors can tour the exhibits for free, and in May, the Village at Grace Bay holds a “Back in the Day” event with activities reflecting historical life on the island.

Where to Dock: Blue Haven Resort & Marina

Map of the driving routes on the Grand Cayman Heritage Trail
Grand Cayman Heritage Trail Driving Routes | GCHT

MARITIME HERITAGE TRAIL & CAYMAN ISLANDS NATIONAL MUSEUM

If you like to take in history outdoors, these exhibitions are for you. The trail consists of 36 stops across all three islands (Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands) and is best traveled via car. Each stop is marked by a road sign that shares a notable historic event or contribution related to the maritime industry. Learn how turtling shaped the islands’ early economy, how ships were cleaned and repaired before boat lifts by a process called “careening”, and hear stories of notable shipwrecks. If you prefer to learn Cayman Island history in one place, you can check out the Cayman Islands National Museum, housed in Cayman’s oldest surviving public building, which has a series of permanent and rotating exhibits.

Where to Dock: The Barcadere Marina

COLUMBUS LIGHTHOUSE (FARO A COLÓN) MUSEUM IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Completed 500 years after Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of La Hispaniola, the Faro a Colon (aka The Columbus Lighthouse) is one of the Dominican Republic’s most popular attractions. Constructed in the shape of a Latin cross spanning the width of two soccer fields, the lighthouse was created to recognize the first “encounter between two worlds.” It includes a mausoleum that houses Christopher Columbus’ remains as well as a museum displaying original and replica artifacts from the time of Columbus’ voyage. The lighthouse also has a library containing documents and maps displaying some of the earliest drawings of the Americas.

Where to Dock: Marina Zarpar

Boats in the water with green hills in the background
Nelson's Dockyard | Source Alexa Zizzi

NELSON’S DOCKYARD IN ANTIGUA

The Antigua Naval Dockyard, now named Nelson’s Dockyard, was built in the mid-1700s to serve as a strategic post and support the Royal Navy battle against the French and protect trade routes in the region. The dockyard officially closed in 1889 and reopened in 1961 as an historic site. In addition to exploring the dockyard, take advantage of the park’s 12 miles of hiking trails, two forts, and tours such as the “Rum in the Ruins” where you can listen to stories of the dockyard while sipping on a cocktail. If traveling by boat, get the best view of the gorgeous English Harbour and snag a slip at nearby Nelson’s Dockyard Marina, the only continuously working Georgian Era dockyard in the world.

Where to Dock: Nelson’s Dockyard Marina

BEQUIA HERITAGE MUSEUM

Opened in 2020, the Bequia Heritage Museum includes the Boat Museum and Annexe that display and educate visitors about the boatbuilding and whaling industries as well as artifacts dating back to the period of the island’s European settlement. Vessels on display at the museum include a traditional Amerindian dug-out canoe and the decommissioned boat, Rescue, that was originally used for whaling.

Where to Dock: Bequia Marina

Curaçao Maritime Museum | Credit CP Hoffman

CURAÇAO MARITIME MUSEUM

Located in a mansion built in 1729 on the Waaigat inlet, the Curaçao Maritime Museum shares with visitors the story and events that influenced Curaçao’s involvement in the maritime industry. Learn how trade ebbed and flowed in and out of Curaçao’s ports, reflective of the events happening around the world to the arrival of the first cruise ship in 1901 from New York, sparking the cruise tourism industry until the 1970s when air travel took over as the primary way for tourists to visit the island. Visitors can explore the museum at their own pace or take a guided tour.

Where to Dock: Seru Boca Marina

GRAND BAHAMA MUSEUM

With a decent internet connection, you can visit the Grand Bahama Museum from the comforts of your remote anchorage or mooring. Bahamian history and culture are explored through digital exhibits ranging from the islands’ natural landscapes and the history of the port authority to the role the Bahamas played during the Golden Age of Piracy. Learn about the first recorded piece of mail sent from the Bahamas in 1761 and the evolution of mailboats. Or savor a dark and stormy while reading about the Bahamas’ role in the rum-running industry during U.S. Prohibition. The Grand Bahama Museum was originally housed at The Garden of the Groves but was unfortunately destroyed by weather and time. To reach a wider audience and share Bahamian history and culture, the museum decided to move to a digital platform.

Where to Dock: Grand Bahama Yacht Club or Flamingo Bay Hotel & Marina

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Florida's Fall Calendar of Events 2022
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From the Gulf to the Atlantic and every bay in between, boaters and their families have plenty to look forward to on the Florida coasts this fall. Start the season with a couple of pints at Oktoberfest and spooks at a haunted ghost tour, throw in a boating event or two, and round it out with a lighted boat parade.

OCTOBER

Black trolley with "Ghosts and Gravestones" logo on the side
Source: Adonis Paul Hunter

HAUNTED GHOST TOURS

St. Augustine

Daily/weekly

Learn about the haunted history in the oldest city in the United States through the lens of the undead. Get tickets for haunted pub crawls, trolly tours and walking tours. You’ll get in the Halloween spirit and learn the stories behind St. Augustine’s most spirited locations from professional storytellers with just the right amount of spook. Kids are welcome on trolly and walking tours, and pets are allowed on walking tours! Check out Ghost Tours of St. Augustine or Ghosts & Gravestones.

Where to Dock: Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor

Band walking in a parade playing tubas
Oktoberfest | Credit Pixabay

OKTOBERFEST

Jacksonville Beach, Tampa

October 7-9

Kick off the fall season with Oktoberfest on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast with Beaches Oktoberfest and Oktoberfest Tampa. With Tampa’s event ranking in the top five in the country and Jacksonville Beach’s being the largest in the state, you’re sure to find the brew for you! beachesoktoberfest.com

Where to Dock: Fort George Island Marina (Jacksonville), Westshore Yacht Club (Tampa)

FLORIDA BIRDING & NATURE FESTIVAL

Apollo Beach

October 20-23

Just across the Bay from Tampa and St. Pete, Apollo Beach is teeming with wildlife on land and on the water. At this four-day festival, you’ll find a free expo with nature organizations and artwork, daily field and boat trips to sites not accessible to the public, and expert wildlife and conservation seminars. Nature aficionados won’t want to miss this opportunity at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Suncoast Youth Conservation Center.

Where to Dock: Apollo Beach Marina

PALM BEACH KENNEL CLUB 2022 MUTT DERBY

West Palm Beach

October 22

Has your dog always wanted to be an (un)professional racer? Now is Fido’s time to shine! Register your pup for a day full of zoomies, Doggie Costume Contest, and plenty of BBQ and entertainment for the whole family. Proceeds benefit Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch.

Where to Dock: Palm Harbor Marina

Jazz band on stage under bright lights playing instruments

CLEARWATER JAZZ HOLIDAY

Clearwater

October 14-16

No matter your music taste, you’re sure to find something to jam out to at this three-day festival, from smooth jazz and blues to funk and zydeco. You’ll find plenty of vendors at the festival, and Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood offers old-school charm and Latin American eateries. St. Petersburg offers hip breweries, coffee shops and more.

Where to Dock: Clearwater Beach Municipal Marina

SARASOTA WATER LANTERN FESTIVAL

Sarasota

October 22

Join in a celebration of life at the Water Lantern Festival this fall. Start the day with food trucks, music and family- friendly fun, and end by releasing your personalized lantern on the water at sunset.

Where to Dock: Marina Jack

Two dark grey mega-yachts docked at the boat show
Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show | Credit Informa Markets

FORT LAUDERDALE INTERNATIONAL BOAT SHOW

Fort Lauderdale

October 26-30

The largest in-water boat show in the world offers viewings and demos of everything from superyachts to kayaks and fishing gear. Stop by the Superyacht Village to sip a cocktail on one of the most luxurious boats in the world, the Convention Center for watersport and innovative boating gear demos, and take the family to a kid-friendly fishing seminar.

Where to Dock: 17th Street Yacht Basin, Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Pier 66 Hotel & Marina

NAPLES STONE CRAB FESTIVAL

Naples

October 28-30

Join the Old Naples Waterfront Association in the historic center to kick off stone crab season! Eat stone crab to your heart’s content in a prime harvesting location of the tasty crustacean and enjoy plenty of entertainment, from live music to local galleries and craft vendors. floridarambler.com/florida-festivals/ florida-seafood-festivals-calendar

Where to Dock: Naples Bay Resort & Marina

NOVEMBER

close up view of a seafood platter with vegetables, salmon, scallops, and shrimp
Florida Seafood Festival | Source VISIT FLORIDA

58TH ANNUAL FLORIDA SEAFOOD FESTIVAL

Apalachicola

November 4-5

Cruise to the charming Apalachicola, tucked away among expansive wildlife reserves and just a bay away from the Gulf. Along with some of the best oysters and seafood you can eat, the whole family will enjoy a parade, carnival, Blessing of the Fleet, hours of live music every day, and competitions such as the oyster shucking contest and blue crab races.  

Where to Dock: Apalachicola Marina

RIGHT WHALE FESTIVAL

Fernandina Beach

November 5

Celebrate the annual return of the North Atlantic right whale to the coasts of Florida and Georgia to give birth and nurse their young in historic Fernandina Beach. Learn about threats and conservation efforts for these gentle giants, participate in a beach clean-up, and enjoy family fun at educational exhibits, athletic events, and food and craft vendors.

Where to Dock: Oasis Marinas at Fernandina Beach

KEY WEST OFFSHORE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

Key West

November 6-13

Cruise to Key West for three days of epic racing and a full week of family-friendly fun. Don’t miss the World’s Fastest Boat Parade on the first Sunday, or any three of the races throughout the week: the Truman Waterfront Cup, Southernmost Continental Champion, and Championship. Use downtime to explore the Race Village at Truman Waterfront and try out local pubs, shops and restaurants.

Where to Dock: Conch Harbor Marina

crowd on the beach admiring a large sand sculpture
Credit JJS Photo

SIESTA KEY CRYSTAL CLASSIC INTERNATIONAL SAND SCULPTING FESTIVAL

Sarasota

November 11-14

Visit Siesta Key Beach to watch sculptors from around the world turn piles of white sand into sculpted masterpieces. Professional competitors have 24 hours to build their pieces, and visitors have the chance to participate in amateur sand-sculpting competitions and see the masters at work.  

Where to Dock: Safe Harbor Siesta Key

SARASOTA FALL FINE ART FESTIVAL

Sarasota

November 19-20

Art connoisseurs and amateurs alike will love this boutique art competition and festival in the scenic cultural center of Sarasota. Masters of different media—ceramics, jewelry, graphic art, painting, and more—will put the best of their work on display for patrons to browse and buy to their hearts’ content.

Where to Dock: Marina Jack

Mansion at night-time with palm trees filled with warm white holiday lights
St. Augustine Night of Lights | Source Om Flickr

ST. AUGUSTINE NIGHT OF LIGHTS

St. Augustine

November 19-January 31

Ready to get in the holiday spirit? Cruise back to St. Augustine as early as before Thanksgiving for a dazzling display of more than 3 million lights in the historic district. Gaze in awe at the twinkly lights and find photo ops at the Bridge of Lions and the Christmas tree at the center of Plaza de la Constitución. Enjoy the sounds of the All Star Orchestra on the first night and stroll to businesses open later than usual.

Where to Dock: St. Augustine Municipal Marina

DECEMBER

ART BASEL

Miami Beach

December 1-3

Since the 1970s, this annual art extravaganza brings works of contemporary and modern pieces by renowed and emerging artists from around the world to showcase in Miami. Held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, for three days the public can gaze upon unique masterpieces presented by leading galleries from five continents.

Where to Dock: Sunset Harbour Yacht Club

OCEAN REEF CLUB VINTAGE WEEKEND

Key Largo, FL

December 1-4

This annual four-day event showcases classic antique yachts, automobiles and aircraft to celebrate those who restore vintage collections. Experience a full schedule of events kicking off with a welcome party and dinner buffet on Thursday, then a weekend packed with drive-bys, shows, dinners, cocktail receptions, a costume party and more.

Where to Dock: Ocean Reef Club

HOLIDAY BOAT PARADES

With so many spectacular lighted boat parades on the coasts of Florida, we couldn’t choose just one! Dock at any of these coastal towns on the first three Saturdays of December to ring in the season on the festive Florida waterfronts.

Palm trees lined with warm white holiday lights and a sunset with boats in the background
Credit Florida Historic Coast

Daytona Beach Christmas Boat Parade
December 3


Palm Coast Yacht Club Holiday Boat Parade
December 3


The Seminole Hard Rock Winter Boat Parade
December 10


St. Augustine Regatta of Lights
December 10


Naples Bay Christmas Boat Parade
December 10


Northwest Cape Coral 2nd Annual Boat Parade
December 17

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This or That: Beaufort VS. FERNANDINA BEACH
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WHICH OF THESE RENOWNED SEAFOOD TOWNS WILL HOOK YOU?

Location

Fernandina Beach | credit Patrick Farrell

BEAUFORT, NC

Beaufort lies on an inlet leading south to the Atlantic and is considered part of North Carolina’s “Inner Banks” and the Crystal Coast. The Crystal Coast spans 85 miles of stunning coastline in southern North Carolina, including 56 miles of protected beach of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

FERNANDINA BEACH, FL

Located on historic Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach is the northernmost city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Visitors will find easy access to Jacksonville, the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, and coastal destinations in southern Georgia such as Cumberland Island.

HISTORY

Beaufort History | credit Dori Arrington

BEAUFORT, NC

Established in 1709, Beaufort was originally known as Fishtown, having been a fishing village and port of safety since the late 1600s. In addition to fishing, Beaufort was a hub for whaling, lumber, shipbuilding and farming. The earliest settlers made their mark by building Bahamian and West Indian-style homes, and the Plan of Beaufort Towne can still be seen in a 12-block historic district.

FERNANDINA BEACH, FL

First settled in 1562, this town on historic Amelia Island went through many transformations under eight flags before it became what it is today. After the Civil War, Fernandina Beach became a bustling seaport and popular destination, called “The Queen of Summer Resorts” by many Northerners. Today’s visitors find themselves surrounded by the town’s lovely relics of the past — an historic district, Civil War port and the first cross-state railroad remain.

BOATING ATTRACTIONS

Fernandina Beach | credit Deremer Studios LLC

BEAUFORT, NC

Beaufort has a thriving scene for anglers. Cast your line off a dock downtown, book a charter or head north to Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge to catch flounder, trout and redfish. Boat tours and private charters are a popular way to experience the stunning views and wildlife of the Crystal Coast. See porpoises, dolphins and wild horses on the beach. Better yet, book with Cruisin’ Tikis Beaufort to imbibe while you observe. Dock at Beaufort Docks.

FERNANDINA BEACH, FL

Pier fishing is huge on Amelia Island, and anglers should head to the George Crady Bridge, which spans one mile of Nassau Sound. Snag a variety of fish in the area, including redfish, whiting, seatrout, tarpon and flounder. Boaters can start aquatic excursions in either the Atlantic Ocean to the east or Amelia River to the west. Go on a solo adventure, or join a tour or charter by boat, kayak or watersport with the likes of Amelia River Tours, Amelia Adventures & Kayak or Riptide Watersports. Dock at Fernandina Harbor Marina.

ACTIVITIES

Beaufort | credit Dori Arrington

BEAUFORT, NC

History buffs will feel right at home in Beaufort. Visit the Beaufort Historic Site to learn the town’s story through nine preserved historic homes in the middle of town. Three different maritime museums, including the North Carolina Maritime Museum, and the Bonehenge Whale Center offer marine merriment for the whole family. And for a taste of Crystal Coast wildlife, head over to the Rachel Carson Reserve where wild horses and countless birds, reptiles and aquatic mammals roam free.

FERNANDINA BEACH, FL

Fernandina Beach is known for its easy living. Amelia Island Welcome Center is a great place to revisit Fernandina’s history and plan your day. Make your way to Centre Street on the water to browse eclectic shops and bustling art galleries, taste wild-caught shrimp at a bistro, or grab a pint at the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest tavern. If you’re in town on a Friday, you might stumble upon Sounds on Centre, a local concert series.

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