A Fernandina Beach Florida Cheap Vacation

A View of the Beach at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach
Fort Clinch State Park Beach in Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Beach Florida is my latest discovery. Just when I think I've found the best Florida has to offer, I find something new and spectacular, which I am so pleased to report to you.

Now, I've been to Fernandina Beach before--quite a few times--but I had never been to Fort Clinch State Park, located in Fernandina Beach. How did I manage to miss this jewel? Beats me. But as I'm writing these words, my wife and I just returned from a memorable three-night, four-day camping trip to the Park. Being so pleased with what we had discovered, I was eager to get back to my computer's keyboard to be able to report it to you.

Fort Clinch State Park

By staying here at the Park for a modest fee, not only will you be in the charming and quaint City of Fernandina Beach Florida, you'll also be set to enjoy all 1,427 acres of Fort Clinch State Park, which is by far the best piece of real estate on Amelia Island.

Fort Clinch State Park offers much more than I had expected. I expected a Civil War fort, and got that. But I also got a great beach, a fishing pier, miles of walking and bicycle trails, a shady comfortable campground, and a few days of relaxation in the real Florida.

Uncrowded Beaches

According to one park ranger I talked with, the Park's beaches are never--hardly ever, let's say--crowded. The public beach not too far away sees a lot more people.

Fishing

Plus, here at the Park, you have access to a fishing pier that must be about a half mile long. And you can fish from the beach either along the Atlantic or in Cumberland Sound. Fishing in the sound looked like it might be promising because the water appeared deep, and there was a good current. In my experience, fish seem to like deep water and currents.

A View of the Fishing Pier at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach
Fort Clinch State Park Fishing Pier

Lots of Shade

Much of the park is thick maritime hammock. Moss-draped live oaks provide lots of shade. In fact, much of the Park's three-mile main drive is covered with a canopy of overhanging oaks. We walked mostly in shade even in mid-day.

A Road Shaded by Trees of a Maritime Hammock at Fort Clinch State Park
Shady Road at Fort Clinch State Park

Camping at the Park

The Park has two campgrounds--a beach campground and a river campground. As of this writing in 2011, the beach campground is closed while they build new facilities there. We preferred the river campground anyway because we found it to be shady and inviting.

A Wooded Campsite at River Campground in Fort Clinch State Park
Our River Campground Campsite at Fort Clinch State Park

The beach campground, meanwhile, had no shade at all. I suppose if you were in a large RV, the beach campground would be fine, but in our opinion we preferred the river campground's wooded setting. Besides, the river campground has brand-new, air-conditioned washroom facilities. That said, the beach campground was right at the beach, an attribute that, for many people, overrides any lack of shady tree cover.

A Beach Campsite at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach Florida
Fort Clinch State Park Beach Campsite

The beach has plenty of parking, and being only a couple of miles or so from the river campground, we made the short and pleasant trip to the beach a few times in our vehicle. Some people just rode bikes over there.

At night, I walked along the beach bordering Cumberland Sound, up to the fort. It was a dark night with cumulus clouds drifting by now and then. I was the only person in sight. One of the great things about camping in Florida State Parks is these kinds of interesting, out-of-the-way places are available to you day and night. You may sleep in a tent, but not even a five-star hotel can match the surroundings.

The Beach

As a native Floridian, my preference for beach-going is summertime. We stayed at the Park in August, and enjoyed surf temperatures of about 84 degrees. Now, THAT is idyllic. In the winter, however, water temperatures along Florida's First Coast can drop below 60 degrees, so unless you're a polar bear, if you want to swim and enjoy it, come in the warmer months. Otherwise, a walk down a cold, windy beach while you're bundled up can be a pleasure in itself. Hot tea or coffee later goes down well.

A popular activity on the beach here is to look for sharks' teeth, which can often be found in areas where shells naturally collect at low tide. But to have much luck at finding shark's teeth, you must know what to look for. There's a collection of shark's teeth at the Ranger Station as you enter the park. Be sure to study them, and talk with the rangers about how to find them.

Fort Clinch

Some say Fort Clinch is the Park's main attraction. Maybe that's true, but the Park's beautiful Atlantic beaches are hard to top, making the fort, in my opinion, an outstanding added feature to this great Park.

Work on the fort began in 1847 and continued off and on over the years whenever it was in use. At the start of the Civil War, the Confederates moved in to occupy the empty fort, but later left when General Robert E. Lee ordered them to abandon it. After that, the Yankees moved in and began the task of completing the fort's construction.

While it must have been hard duty, at least they weren't getting shot at since the fort never saw combat. Fort Clinch was deactivated in 1867. Later, it was used for a brief time during the Spanish-American war, and later still served as a coastal surveillance and communications center during the Second World War.

While at Fort Clinch, I had the pleasure of engaging in an illuminating discussion with "Corporal Lee," of the 1st New York Engineers. Lee, decked out in his Union blues, gave his 1860s perspective of the war and life here at the fort. Except for briefly revealing his love of history and the fact that he has a Master's degree in the subject, Lee remained firmly in character. No kin to General Robert E. Lee, Lee was every bit the Yankee soldier he portrayed, complete with New York accent.

We discussed the war and its causes, including the reasons for secession and its justifaction or lack thereof, which depends totally, I suppose, on one's perspective. We agreed that contrary to today's popular thinking, the Civil War was not primarily about any one issue. The way Corporal Lee explained it is that mechanical actions can have a single cause and effect. "The hammer strikes the bullet, causing it to fire," he said. But he went on to explain that human actions are never the result of a single cause. Instead, human behavior is complex and multifaceted. The Civil War resulted from a variety of human interactions difficult for today's person not inculcated with 1860s thinking, to fully comprehend.

While at Fort Clinch, if you have the opportunity to speak with Corporal Lee or any of the other soldiers, by all means do so. If the rest of them are like Lee, they know their part and play it well.

To give you an idea of what this old coastal fort is like, I took a few photos and set them to appropriate royalty-free Civil War music. I'm sure people of that time were no different than we are today. They felt the pain of separation from their loved ones, and judging from the selected music, longed to see their soldier--whether dressed in blue or gray--come marching home again.

Downtown Fernandina Beach Florida

For over 25 years, I've been privileged to live in a relaxed little, woodsy north Florida town located near Gainesville, and somewhere in the mullet latitudes. But if I ever had to pick another Florida town to live in, Fernandina Beach Florida just might be it. Quaint, charming, southern, friendly, plus lots of salt water and beautiful beaches combine to make Fernandina Beach an attractive draw for anyone seeking refuge from urban hustle and bustle.

After long, morning walks through the Park and swims at the beach, we enjoyed exploring Fernandina's old downtown area. While my wife browsed the local shops, I went around town, taking photos and talking with locals about what there is to do here.

Here's my video slide show of downtown Fernandina Beach Florida you might enjoy:

Captain Carol's On-the-Water-Adventures

Regarding Amelia Island adventures, a name that came up several times was that of "Captain Carol," owner of On-the-Water Adventures.

She's a local guide who takes people out in her boat for a flat per-hour fee--as of this writing that fee is $100, but, as you well know, prices can change. That price, by the way, is not per person, but for the boat. And her boat can carry up to six passengers.

Before going to Fernandina, I ran across her web site, and liked what I saw. Asking around, people at the marina and the state park had good things to say about her. She's been around a good while, and from what I hear she knows her stuff. So, I called her, and she's agreed to a telephone interview with me to discuss the adventurous things her passengers often encounter.

Amelia River Cruises

One local who works at the State Park told me that when out-of-town guests come to visit here in Fernandina Beach Florida, if they have time for only ONE thing to do while here, she recommends one of the Amelia River Cruises tours.

We had planned to go out with them, but we were in town during the dog days of summer, business was slow, and they weren't making a run that day. I think it's unusual for them not to go out, but, hey, it was the hottest part of the summer, and, besides, Hurricane Irene was making her way up and offshore of the Florida east coast.

The Coffee Shop

At Fort Clinch, I had the good fortune to meet Mark Brackbill and his wife Linda, local Fernandina business owners escaping to the State Park for a couple of days. We had a few questions about the local area, and they were pleased to answer them.

Mark runs the Amelia Island Coffee shop, which is apparently the place to gather downtown, and Linda owns GoFish Clothing and Jewelry next door. The couple's friendly, outgoing nature is typical of what I found in here in quaint Fernandina Beach Florida. Stop in and see them when you're in town. Tell them you saw their photo on FloridaAdventuring.

Mark and Linda Standing in the Lobby of the Fort Clinch gift shop.
Mark and Linda--Friendly Fernandina Folks

While downtown, we had coffee and ice cream at Mark's coffee shop on Centre Street. You can sit inside or outside next to the sidewalk, as you prefer.

Interior View of the Amelia Island Coffee Shop
Amelia Island Coffee Shop

The three-layer cakes were powerfully appealing to my sweet tooth, especially the coconut. I'm going to get that the very next time I'm in town.

Fernandina Beach Florida--A Great Choice for Your Vacation

So, that's another of my suggestions for a cheap Florida vacation. I hope you enjoy Fernandina Beach Florida as much as I did. You may do some of the things I suggested. Then again, you may find other things you like doing.

No matter, as long as you have a great time and enjoy a bit of Sunshine State relaxation and adventure without breaking the bank. Whether you yourself are a Floridian, from some other state, or some other country, Fernandina Beach Florida and Fort Clinch State Park are fine choices for a low-cost but very enjoyable Florida vacation.