4. Nassau County (Yulee to Fernandina Beach): a Float on Lofton Creek, and Other Fun Stuff

Before starting Part 4 of the A1A journey south, let’s review. Starting in Callahan, A1A goes in a easterly direction, crossing at two major intersections: I-95 and US 17, and arriving at Yulee, home of the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry.

Now, the journey continues from US 17 to Amelia Island. Just short of 12 miles, you will arrive at Centre Street and the historic downtown area of Fernandina Beach. Crossing the bridge over the Amelia River, a tremendous panoramic view awaits, welcoming you with a coastal vibe.

Expect that vibe to hang around all the way to Key West.

In Part 3, I mentioned the 2002 John Sayles-directed movie Sunshine State. The bridge is featured twice in the movie, once with actors Edie Falco and Timothy Hutton, in character, standing over one side of the bridge and looking out at the Amelia River; the other scene shows a caravan of land developers leave the island near the end of the movie after an archeological find thwarts their efforts.

This movie, filmed almost entirely on Amelia Island, fictionalizes both Fernandina Beach and the island—Amelia Island plays the role of Plantation Island; Fernandina Beach plays the role of Delrona Beach, and American Beach plays the role of Lincoln Beach, the African American beach community.

Watch the movie to see that truth is stranger than fiction.

From US 17 to the bridge, strip malls, fast-food restaurants, and big-box stores dominate the landscape. Traffic rarely lacks along this section of A1A. Expectedly, A1A travelers will want to hurriedly put Yulee in the rearview mirror.

However, there is a spot before Amelia Island worth considering, especially for kayakers and paddle boarders: Lofton Creek, an inland blackwater creek offering much in the way of flora and fauna. While not the first opportunity to launch a kayak, it is A1A’s first location served by kayaking operators.

Amelia Adventures, Amelia Island Adventures, and Amelia Island Kayak Excursions offer kayaking tours that begin and end at the Melton O. Nelson Memorial Park’s boat ramp, located just off A1A. For those planning on kayaking while traveling A1A, Lofton Creek, known for its calm water and protection from windy weather conditions, offers a nice start, especially for beginners.

Lofton Creek is the first of many kayaking adventures to be had throughout A1A.

I went with Amelia Adventures for my first kayak float in many years; Catherine Oliver, who with her husband Thomas own this kayaking outfit, served as an awesome guide, as was her fellow guide for the morning, Jeff. Both were very knowledgeable about the creek’s flora and fauna, and they navigated a group of over 20 novice kayakers with patience and expertise.

Our Lofton Creek float included a couple of alligator sightings, turtles, and wisteria blooms. Fully, it allowed a chance to connect with nature.

Amelia Adventures offers several other kayaking options, including one to Georgia’s Cumberland Island, known for its wild horses, Egan’s Creek and the salt marshes, and the Amelia River. Paddleboarding and private boat tours are also available.

Lofton Creek is beautiful and natural; however, getting back onto A1A from the boat ramp quickly jolts the senses as traffic was thick and full of over-assertive drivers. The desire for island time intensifies. But the Yulee stretch does offer a few opportunities to unwind with a beer and/or some excellent, local seafood.

Yulee offers the journey’s first microbrewery stop: SJ Brewing Company. The beer is good, and so is the genuine, local vibe. Owners Shaun and JoAnn Stewart offer this to visitors:

“Our goal is to be the local hangout where everyone feels welcome. Come in and have a pint, play some games, make some friends, and hang out a while.”

A nice post-kayak spot for a beer and a hot dog; they open at noon on Friday-Sunday only: Closed on Monday, they open at 3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. With some luck, you might be able to have a Heisman Hornet, a brew honoring Yulee’s football legend.

Below the bridge crossing the Amelia River are two locally-known restaurants: Shucker’s Oyster Bar & Grill and Down Under. Both offer fresh seafood, including local shrimp (by the way, Amelia Island is the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry). Both also offer wonderful views of the river and the bridge, and the possibility to view wildlife such as dolphins, manatees, and alligators.

Continuing eastward, after 22 miles on A1A from Callahan, island time has arrived.

Welcome to Fernandina Beach!

On Amelia Island, A1A becomes South 8th Street for about five miles. While you will find fast food restaurants and chain establishments, you will also find some local flavor.

For breakfast or lunch—Beach Diner offers a combination of a traditional diner and as the name would suggest, a beach-like atmosphere. Friendly Fernandina should be an alliteral phrase applied to locals, and Beach Diner clearly exemplifies this. Regulars abound; they and the service staff tend to share a first-name basis. And yes, the food is excellent—give the shrimp and crab omelette a try.

Another option for breakfast or lunch is Aloha Bagel and Deli, located next door to the Amelia Adventures shop. Aloha’s Hawaiian decor catches the eye, as does the wall art at Amelia Adventures.

However, it is live oak tree found between the two—the second largest in Nassau County according to Catherine—that cannot be ignored.

Aloha does a brisk business, especially with takeout. Their specialty bagels include the Hawaii Five-O, The Elvis, the Elvis 2.0, and the Poe—consisting of peanut better cream cheese, Oreos, and a Nutella drizzle. It is a fun menu, and their offerings are tasty.

An unescapable aspect of Amelia Island is its love for wall art and its affinity for pirates. It doesn’t take long to see how pirates are embraced (there is even a pirate’s club on the island).

Five Points Liquors, “Amelia Island’s ONLY drive-thru liquor store,” is painted with mural-like images of the island, including those representing pirate culture. It is worth a quick look.

For beer connoisseurs, the second microbrewery on A1A, Mocama Beer Company is located on A1A/8th Street. For those with a preference for spirits, Marlin & Barrel Distillery offers a selection of hand-crafted rum, vodka, gin, and cello. Both, located within walking distance of each other, are housed in what were automobile dealerships; both are credited with helping reinvigorate the once commercial thoroughfare that was 8th Street.

For antiquing enthusiasts, an A1A antique trail begins on 8th Street with four antique shops; another two can be found on Centre Street; that is six antique shops within a one-mile stretch.

The first, New Possibilities, is a fun shop to explore, though watch your step in the back area; awkward steps and a hodge-podge of worn items are scattered throughout. Inside, the aisles are tight, but loaded with fascinating, Florida collectables.

The third, Antiques and More Treasures, tends to offer more in the way of home furnishings. Some interesting finds may be found by seasoned antique shoppers.

The fourth, House of Collectables, “offers an eclectic collection of one-of-a-kind items.

“Get your Blast-from-the-Past memorabilia here! Contemporary, vintage, retro collectibles from Elvis to Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to Sleeping Beauty. Vast array of fun, unique, different, rare and odd finds. It a browser’s paradise! We also feature new and used aquariums, all sizes and shapes; a wide assortment of new and used books, comics, manga, DVD’s, CD’s, and VHS tapes, and hand-made jewelry, dolls, action figures, ceramics, art, sports cards and non-sports cards…come take a look.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

Try to get here when the weather isn’t too hot; while the fan in the back room offers some ambience, its intentions lack success. Also, try to get there when Larry is working; He is friendly, talkative, and willing to provide any information you need concerning Amelia Island. While I was looking at some John Grisham novels, Larry informed me that Grisham has a vacation home on the island and passed along the address.

Always knowing the need to confirm my sources, I found this “Ode to Amelia Island” that Grisham wrote for Gun and Garden magazine’s June/July 2019 issue. My purchase at House of Collectables was a book by Ernest Hemingway—True at First Light: a Fictional Memoir. Grisham and Hemingway are two of the many writers connected to A1A.

As for Larry—Friendly Fernandina comes to mind.

The second antique shop, of which I intentionally share last, is Island Treasures. Driving along A1A/South 8th Street, it is almost impossible to miss the decor and wall art that is so Florida.

This store has a wonderful collection of bric-a-brac, and an offering of used books that would rival any bookstore. What makes Island Treasures a must stop, however, is its garden center; it is massive, full of lawn and garden statues and lush greenery. If your arrival on the island hasn’t yet instilled an island vibe, Island Treasures should do the trick.

Without yet venturing onto Centre Street and Fernandina Beach’s historic district, there is already much to discover and see. This blog entry cannot be completed without one more spot to consider.

Have you ever been to a pinball museum?

Located in a strip shopping center next to a Chinese restaurant, the Fernandina Beach Pinball Museum doesn’t feel like an actual museum; it is basically three rooms: the entrance area with four pinball machines, a main room with pinball machines lining each side, and a back room with a bathroom and a couple of machines disassembled.

It is, however, a fun visit, especially for old-school gamers. The collection includes a 1932 Ballyhoo machine, and others from the 1970s-2000s.

For $10, it is all you can play for an hour; $14 for the day. During my visit, there were several AARP age-qualifiers, a young mother and her daughter, and a few teenagers. Jeremy, the owner, is very welcoming and will answer any questions you may have; he will also ask what your favorite machine is (being old-school myself, mine was the 1975 machine “Spirit of 76).

If you miss out on this “interactive museum,” no worries—another one along A1A can be found in Delray Beach, over 300 miles away.

A visit here will also allow you to meet Jeremy’s dog, Midnight, a Preso Canario. Friendly Fernandina also applies for its love for dogs, which will be evident when you explore the island.

Next stop: Fernandina Beach’s Centre Street and Atlantic Avenue.

Happy traveling!

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