It’s been a while since your DSTA Tour “proprietors” (Rorie and Bart) have reported from the road. Well, we’re back. Our latest exciting excursion was inspired by Bruce Hunt, author of Visiting Small-Town Florida.
Last week we set out to experience some unique small towns with important history, unusual charm and, of course, great food. Thanks to Bruce we found one such very special place – Amelia Island, FL.
Located on the border of Georgia and Florida, 13 miles long and the most northern barrier island in FL, this spit of land has been invaded and fought over by eight countries and is known as the Isle of Eight Flags. Amelia Island was controlled by the French (1562-1565), the Spanish (1565-1763), the English (1763-1783), the Spanish again (1783-1821) with interruptions by the “Patriots” (1812), Green Cross of Florida (1817), Mexican Rebels (1817), United States (1821) and the Confederacy (1861)). Obviously these “conquerers” all knew Amelia Island was something really special.
The Island has something for everyone including high-end resorts and hotels, cozy inns and B&Bs, ocean front mansions and weathered old homes, miles of beach and acres of golf courses and friendly locals who love their island and are proud to tell you about all it has to offer.
Our first stop was The Seaside Amelia Inn where we checked into our spacious and very comfortable room. Located on the northern end of the island at Main Beach, this gem of an Inn has much to commend it – friendly staff, an incredible location beachside and a great cooked-to-order southern breakfast (www.seasideameliainn.com).
Heading out to explore the Island, we made our first stop Ft. Clinch State Park. With over 1,400 acres, Ft. Clinch is a nature lovers, campers, hikers, and history buffs paradise. The fort is one of the most well-preserved 19th century forts in the country and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Once a month you can step back to the year 1864 and watch soldiers reenact life during the Civil War.
Continuing our explorations, we discovered the historic town of Fernandina Beach (pop. 12,000). Rich in history, with its downtown historic district of 50-plus blocks on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s plenty to see here. It is chock-full of Southern hospitality, restaurants, boutiques and lovingly preserved Victorian architecture. Anchored on one end by a marina filled with fishing boats, and an active train depot, the main street is lined with magnificent homes, shops, restaurants and churches.
Fernandina Beach is also home to the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest continuously operating drinking establishment. Zip in and belly up to the 40 foot bar designed with the help of Adolphus Bush, founder of Anheuser-Bush.
Did you say you wanted to cleanse your palate with a sweet treat? Drag your belly from the bar at the Palace and head over across the street to Fantastic Fudge. Rorie was afraid to go in so she longingly pressed her nose to the glass as she drooled over the array of homemade confections inside.
Having heard about a pizza shop that makes amazing combinations of pizza, including one with sausage and truffles, and sports the quirky name of Pi Infinite Combinations, we had to stop in for a late afternoon snack. Just entering the artsy courtyard leading to the front door, we knew we were in a place where anything goes and pizza dough is a blank canvass awaiting your infinite creativity!
Husband and wife owners Billy and Eva put in 60 hours a week to make sure you get the pizza combination of your dreams.
Biting into huge slices of white pizza with home made sausage bursting with fennel and earthy slivers of truffles, was a heavenly experience. And size matters here…we’re talking big slices. Opened in 2014, Pi is making a name for itself on Amelia Island and beyond.
Rorie begged Eva for more Pi (kidding). Here she’s telling the owner how fantastic the pizza was. If you have a chance you must experience Pi. Go in, create any combination of pizza you can imagine, and sit back and wait for the magic to be delivered to your table. (www.piinfinitecombinations.com).
After heading back to the Inn and resting for a little while, we realized it had been over 2 hours since we’d eaten and, not surprisingly, we were hungry again! Right next to the Inn, smack dab on the beach where surfers were riding the storm waves, sat the casual Sandy Bottoms Beach Bar & Grill.
What a find! Packed with locals, Sandy Bottoms is definitely the place to be for happy hour any night of the week. Bart and I hit the jackpot on “50 cent wing night” and who could resist that deal! 10 crispy flavorful wings, great seafood corn chowder and gumbo, salad for the illusion of healthy eating, and 2 strong drinks later, we were full and ready to crawl into bed for a good nights sleep. Inexpensive drinks, great food and an energetic vibe, Sandy Bottoms is the place to be for a warm welcome and a hot time. http://www.sandybottomsamelia.com
We’ll be back to Amelia Island and the wonderful town of Fernandina Beach. If you’ve never been, you should make it a bucket list stop along the highway of your life.
We headed out of town back to our home in Longboat Key and drove Route A1A along the coast (a road that is so beautiful it inspired Jimmy Buffett to produce an album by the same name – A1A). After about 30 miles following this officially-designated American Byway parallel to the Atlantic coast, we hopped onto Route 301 which allowed us to meander along back roads through many of central Florida’s small towns and rural countryside.
A roadside sign soon caught our attention and so we followed it to the little village of Micanopy, FL (pop. 600), named after a Seminole Indian Chief.
The town center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the main street is fronted with colorful antique shops, restaurants, a church, beautiful old homes, a museum and a large bookstore.
As usual, we sampled the local food when we stopped into the adorable Coffee n’ Cream, a bustling little café in the middle of town. After sitting at the old fashioned counter, owner Kelly Harris entertained us with wonderful stories about Micanopy including its history, and the little tidbit that the film Doc Hollywood staring Michael J. Fox was filmed here. Stop in, grab a seat, order some homemade food and let Kelly and her staff show you what hospitality is all about! www.MicanopyCoffeeShop.com
Thanks to Kelly’s awesome BLT stuffed with really crisp bacon, crunchy fresh lettuce and perfectly ripened tomatoes, we were now fueled for the trip back to our place on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Stay tuned for the next Discover Small Town America Tour report…