Amelia Island possesses an unmistakable charm. Gray coils of Spanish moss adorn the branches of old-growth trees that drape over historic streets dotted with Victorian-era cottages. Downtown, eclectic shops and independent restaurants offer respite, however briefly, from the blazing heat of the summer sun. The smell of salt and seaweed emanates from the Fernandina Beach Marina, bustling with fishermen and local charter boats.
The barrier island, located off the northeastern corner of Florida, is a popular destination for thousands of vacationers who flock to the vibrant beach town, Fernandina Beach, to celebrate time-honored traditions. Some visitors seek out their favorite shrimp tacos; some revisit their cherished childhood ice-cream joint. But the Island’s biggest draws, by far, are the plentiful opportunities it affords guests to reconnect with nature—opportunities that Amelia Island is invested in sustaining well into the future.
Suggesting eco-friendly practices and environmental responsibility, the term “sustainable travel” has a green sheen to it. As we learn more about our changing climate, and as consumer interest in sustainable travel habits continues to grow, the travel industry is turning its eyes toward more green initiatives. While nature conservation is important (nearly 10 percent of Amelia Island’s landmass is preserved park land), sustainability extends further, touching policy management, sourcing, and emissions. That’s especially true for the tourism industry’s biggest offenders—hotels, which, according to a study by the United Nations World Tourism Association, contribute about one percent of all global emissions.
Currently, ten accommodations on Amelia Island (and two more on the way) have earned the Audubon International Green Lodging Program certification, a third-party rating system that verifies that properties meet environmental best practice standards. Through a series of performance assessments and evaluations, the Green Lodging Program provides hotels with the tools and specific actions needed to reduce their ecological footprint. This translates to better water conservation, more energy efficiency, a reduction in waste production, and an increase in resource conservation. Amelia Island’s Convention and Visitors Bureau aims to be the first location in Florida to have all hotels Green Lodging certified—a lofty goal they are well on their way to achieving.
Meanwhile, the culinary team at Omni Amelia Island Resort has nearly created an entire ecosystem all its own. On the grounds of the property lies “The Sprouting Project,” a localized mini-farm that highlights the hotel’s ethos towards sustainable food production. Made up of an organic garden, an aquaponic greenhouse, a chicken coop, a barrel aging room—which produces fermented hot sauces, balsamic vinegars, and barrel-aged spirits—and 27 colonies of bees, the various components of The Sprouting Project all contribute toward the resort’s hyper-popular dinners. Dining doesn’t get much more local than this. Literally—the five-course dinners take place outdoors only feet away from where the food was sourced. Each month spotlights a different seasonal ingredient (peppers, when I visited. Think Fresno chile margaritas and datil pepper-infused moonshine), and the farm-to-table feasts are also available as private dinners for up to 10 people. If you can’t snag a reservation for the signature dinners, don’t worry: All restaurants on the Omni’s property use ingredients cultivated through The Sprouting Project, so you’re sure to get a taste of what they’re growing.
While you’re there, here’s three more eco-oriented experiences to check out on Amelia Island.
Set aside an hour to visit this small but storied institution for a fascinating tour of the history of American Beach, a haven for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. The exhibits begin with the Beach’s founding in 1935 by community co-founder, A.L. Lewis, the first black millionaire in Florida, but the museum also tells the story of Lewis’ great-granddaughter, MaVynn Betsch (aka “The Beach Lady”), who preserved many of the artifacts now housed inside. A former international opera singer, MaVynn (whose signature seven-foot dreadlocks are on display) dedicated the latter half of her life to activism and environmental causes, including the protection of the tallest dune in Florida, which she dubbed “NaNa.” allewismuseum.org
Paddle Jax Amelia Island
Because of its calm waterways, Lofton Creek is one of the most popular areas on Amelia Island for kayak eco tours. Put in with Paddle Jax Amelia Island for the naturalist-led Big Cyprus tour and wind your way through distinctive tea-colored waters to the “Big Cypress,” a towering cypress tree thought to be more than 100-years old. Keep your eyes peeled for native fauna—alligators, turtles, red-headed woodpeckers, hawks—and flora, such as sweet gum trees, arrowroot, and wild azaleas. paddlejaxamelia.com
There are ample options for plant-based fare on Amelia Island, but perhaps none as delightful (and delicious) as the “Tofu Tower” at Cafe Karibo, a mainstay in Fernandina Beach since 2001. Creamy, savory, and fresh, the dish is as much a treat for the eyes as it is for the palate: Bright, seasonal vegetables drizzled with sriracha aioli (also vegan) surround an alternately stacked tower of marinated tofu and grilled portabella mushrooms, which rest on a bed of fluffy couscous. Have dinner outdoors on the garden patio, shaded by oak trees and twinkling with string lights. cafekaribo.com