Family trips to Florida don’t always have to involve mouse ears and theme parks. Laid-back Amelia Island—a 13-mile swath that’s part of the Sea Island chain of barrier islands—offers an alternative to the chaos and crowds, thanks to stretches of uncrowded beaches, nature preserves and the plethora of wildlife that share the area with its 12,000 residents.
Another bonus: Sitting just off the coast of the northeast portion of the Sunshine State (about 30 miles from Jacksonville), Amelia Island is less hot and humid than popular points of interest further south, making it more comfortable (and prompting less whining) from your whole brood.
Here are our five of favorite things to do with kids in tow on this picturesque bit of paradise.
1. Be a bunch of beachcombers at Fort Clinch State Park
Drive or bike to this beautiful park, where a stunning canopy of oak trees at the entrance gives way to three miles of shoreline that’s a popular spot to hunt for shark teeth and seashells. Maritime hammocks (a.k.a. tropical forests) are perfect for spotting wildlife from tortoises to pretty painted buntings. History buffs will also want to take a tour of the Civil War-era fort, where staff recreate life circa 1864 during the first Saturday of every month with period costumes, marching drills, fife players and more.
2. Go horseback riding on the beach
There are several outfitters to choose from for this iconic and truly breathtaking island experience, but unlike most, Amelia Horseback Riding caters to customers as young as six years old. The tranquil rides take place on Peters Point Beachfront Park; groups are no larger than six, making the experience extra-personal.
3. Take a river cruise to Cumberland Island, Georgia
Amelia River Cruises’ two-and-a-half hour boat ride provides a history—both oral and scenic—of Amelia Island and its pristine neighbor, an island famous for its wild horses, undeveloped beaches and lack of shops. Tours leave at 10am every day but Sunday; advance reservations recommended. Other cruises include an hour-long, family-oriented sunset tour and a shrimping tour.
4. Go arghhh wild at the Pirate Playground
This fully accessible playground located behind the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center features a pirate ship, water and sand play areas, swings, music-making structures and climbing ropes. Picnic benches near the play area make a good perch for parents while kids run around the enclosed space.
5. Stay at a resort that will take care of the fun for you
Book a stay at a resort that will plan your family fun so you can kick back. The Ritz Carlton Amelia Island offers kayak tours, shark-tooth hunting, evening stargazing and bonfires, and a kids’ program that includes supervised daytime activities and nights out with movies and dinner. The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort has a nature center onsite where families can learn about the region’s flora and fauna with the help of staff experts.