Amelia Island, Florida
With 13 miles of beaches, abundant native wildlife, golf, and fishing, this small island has something for everyone.
|NATURE CALLS: Backwater fishing.|
photography courtesy of Amelia Island Plantation
GOLF SHE SAID: Can golfers and their non-duffer partners vacation together? Amelia Island Plantation says an emphatic yes with a AAA-Four Diamond facility that combines golf courses with nature tours, tennis courts, and spa. The 1,350-acre property sits on Amelia Island, about 30 miles northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, part of a barrier chain called the Sea Islands that runs along the East Coast. The Plantation is one of two residential-resort communities (the other is a Ritz-Carlton) that have become a destination for golfers and nature lovers alike. Apart from its breathtaking views of the ocean and salt marshes, what sets Amelia apart from other golf resorts is its accessibility. It’s a three-hour flight from Dallas to the tiny, supremely navigable Jacksonville International Airport, followed by a 30-minute shuttle ride to the property—making it a quick-and-easy weekend getaway.
|You can swing away on three golf courses.|
photography by George Hunter
WHEN TO GO: While summer is understandably the peak, it’s almost as appealing to visit now, when temperatures are still in the upper 60s but the beaches are thrillingly desolate. Have you ever had the pleasure of enjoying a patch of undeveloped oceanfront all to yourself? Christmas is also worth considering, with horse-drawn carriage rides, Santa’s workshop, wine tastings, movie screenings, and a grand buffet on Christmas day.
STAY ON COURSE: Four courses plus several public courses nearby give hackers plenty of options—most with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and salt marshes. The sound of gentle, rhythmic waves shooshing in the background makes the occasional bogie a little easier to swallow. Fairways lined with the island’s signature oak trees, draped with moss, exhibit prototypical Southern charm. Where’s my mint julep?
|Abundant shopping along the water.|
WHAT A RACKET: Like the golf courses, the Plantation’s clay tennis courts have won plenty of best-of nods and hosted numerous tournaments, including the Women’s Tennis Association tournament for 29 years, welcoming every major player from Martina Navratilova to Maria Sharapova. Weekly events for kids and teens include bowling nights, pizza and movies, beach fires, and trips to the zoo.
SPAS AND SUCH: Along with standard reflexology, aromatherapy, and the like, the lodge-like spa offers offbeat selections such as the chocolate “antioxidant” massage with chocolate tea and organic chocolates. (Waiter, please!) Wraps, facials, and scrubs are big here. They feature a Hawaiian fruit salad theme, with copious doses of pineapple, coconut milk, nut oils, and cane sugar. The tropical island wrap leaves you feeling baby-bottom smooth after your pores have been exfoliated with coconut cream scrub and your body has been “painted” with moisture-infusing coconut body butter.
|End your day by kayaking at sunset.|
GOOD EATS: Of the nearly dozen eateries on-site, Ocean Grill is the high-end pick with foodie favorites such as arugula and Niman Ranch. This close to the ocean, there’s no reason to eat anything but fish. Find cedar-planked salmon and mahi mahi with mango salsa at the more casual Verandah. Finish your night with a cocktail and karaoke fix at the Falcon’s Nest in the center of the complex. Go ahead and sing your heart out. You’re unlikely to see these people ever again.
See It All on Foot, By Boat, or on a Segway
Much of Amelia Island’s natural habitat has been preserved, creating a haven for birders and hikers alike. At the Plantation, you can tour it from the seat of a bicycle, the hull of a kayak—or the platform of a Segway, as the Plantation belongs to an elite group that offers authorized Segway tours
. After getting schooled on the intricacies of steering a personal transporter, you’ll deftly wheel down meandering trails, stopping to catch a close-up of a hermit crab burrowing into the marsh or to cast your eyes across unspoiled grasslands, dunes, and white-sand beaches. The wildest Segway tour hits the beach, using a special model with extra-fat wheels to maneuver across the sand. Wildlife thrives here, from tortoises to raccoons, from dolphins to egrets. Late-night tours focus on nocturnal critters such as owls and bats. Another explores the constellations in the sky. Meanwhile, the staff keeps things green by observing facility-wide recycling, using decomposable to-go containers, purchasing products made from recycled raw materials, and distributing its monthly guide and marketing materials electronically.
WHERE TO STAY
Amelia Island Plantation
Rates run from $149 for a
single room to $800 for a three-
HOW TO GET THERE
Jacksonville JAX Airport is serviced by American (aa.com), Continental (continental.com), Delta (delta.com), and Southwest (southwest.com). Amelia Island is about 30 miles north of the airport; approximate travel time is 45 minutes. Amelia Island Plantation offers a shuttle service for $44 per person. Cab fare is $60.
WHEN TO GO:
Now. The beaches are bare.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: