Amelia Island Two Ways: Luxury vs. Budget

Looking to be pampered and spoiled? In search of an affordable family destination? A little of both? This Florida destination has you covered.

Amelia Island
If you’re in search of a classic Florida beach getaway, Amelia Island is the place. But there’s so much more to this popular destination.Deremer Studios LLC

Tucked between historic St. Augustine and Georgia’s Golden Isles, the alluring seaside town of Amelia Island, Florida, offers visitors a best-in-class destination set against the backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty.

From upscale accommodations, luxurious spas, and fine dining to charming inns, quaint shops, and delectable casual eateries, Amelia Island serves up a sumptuous retreat in every price range.

Get a Taste of Luxury

Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island lives up to the brand’s iconic legacy with high-end restaurants, retail shops and spa, among other offerings.Amelia Island Tourist Development Council

When you want an indulgent escape, book a room (or a suite) at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island for a taste of Southern hospitality at its finest. Perched just beyond the sand dunes, this award-winning, luxury resort offers a private balcony and ocean view in every one of its 404 rooms and suites.

Although you’ll find plenty to explore in the area, you might not want to leave the property thanks to the outstanding restaurants, spa, fitness center, shops, pools, firepit, and 18-hole championship golf course. Bringing the family? You’re in luck, as the resort offers an activity-packed kids’ program and select pet-friendly rooms.

Another high-end option? The sprawling, 1350-acre Omni Amelia Island Plantation nestled between the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Intracoastal Waterway on the west. This slice of paradise offers a 3.5-mile stretch of pristine beach, top-notch amenities, and magnificent natural beauty on all sides.

During your stay, schedule rejuvenating spa treatments to unwind and refresh from head to toe. Try a pampering facial at the Omni's Spa and Salon with pure ingredients that smell as good as they feel. (Try the sweet cherry brightening enzyme peel!) After your treatment, lounge in the recliners overlooking the Zen garden as you sip herbal tea.

For full-body pampering, try the signature Ocean Healing service at The Ritz-Carlton Spa—a spacious-yet-tranquil oasis. This 100-minute treatment incorporates restorative sea salt into every step, from the chromatherapy salt bath to the exfoliating salt scrub to the warm salt-stone massage.

Ready for some retail therapy? Find your favorite brands at The Shops at The Ritz-Carlton. Check out resort-chic ladies' wear from Lilly Pulitzer and coastal lifestyle apparel at The Southern Tide Signature Store. Don't leave without a tasting at Salt Boutique, featuring an exclusive array of specialty salts from around the globe. (Pinot Noir-flavored salt? Yes, please!)

Omni Amelia Island Plantation
The Omni Amelia Island Plantation sits on 3.5 miles of beach and offers high-end amenities, including the fascinating Nature Center.Amelia Island Tourist Development Council

For a lovely outdoor shopping experience, stroll through the Shops of Amelia Island Plantation just a few steps from the Omni. Pop into Marché Burette (gourmet food shop), The Queen Bee (ladies' apparel and accessories), and quaint boutiques, restaurants, and an art gallery.

While you’re at the Omni, visit the Nature Center. Here, you can chat with on-staff naturalists, rent a fishing pole to cast your line in private freshwater ponds, or sign up for a variety of tours perfect for adventurers, kids, and ecology-enthusiasts. Not up for kayaking or biking? Try a Segway tour to explore the resort’s meandering paths through the lush maritime forests and marsh boardwalks.

Now that you've worked up a thirst and an appetite, settle in for dinner and drinks, not necessarily in that order. Start with First Call, a daily tradition at The Ritz-Carlton's Lobby Bar. This mixology demonstration introduces the tailor-made spirit-of-the-day (such as bourbon infused with pear, cloves, ginger, lime, and rosemary) for a seasonal craft cocktail. For dinner, treat yourself to Salt, The Ritz-Carlton's AAA Five Diamond restaurant. In an elegant atmosphere with ocean-front views, enjoy farm-to-table cuisine artfully prepared by award-winning Chef de Cuisine Richard Laughlin.

For a unique culinary experience, reserve your spot at The Sprouting Project, an intimate monthly dinner at the Omni. This evening starts with a tour of the resort's aquaponic greenhouse, apiary, and organic garden. The culinary team gathers food directly from these sustainable grounds and creatively incorporates them into a five-course dinner with a seasonal theme (such as passionfruit).

Soak in Affordable Charm

Relax, you don’t need to break the bank at Amelia Island! This picturesque barrier island is home to plenty of affordable accommodations, including quaint bed-and-breakfast inns, boutique hotels, and budget-friendly camping.

Immerse yourself in the Old Florida charm of The Addison, an affordably upscale bed-and-breakfast in historic Fernandina Beach. Start you day with a fantastic breakfast (such as melt-in-your-mouth crème brulee French toast) out on the veranda overlooking the inn's courtyard. Or consider staying at The Amelia Schoolhouse Inn, a moderately priced boutique hotel. Originally built in 1886 as the island's first school, it was converted to a hotel in 2017. On a tight budget? Pitch a tent at Fort Clinch State Park or go camping at Peter's Point Beachfront Park—both low-priced options in this beautiful coastal area.

When it comes to affordable pampering, book a treatment at one of the local spas, such as Drift Day Spa or Magna's Aveda Full Body Salon and Spa. Or take the DIY approach by stocking up on local goodies for at-home spa treatments. Check out unique shops like Pelindaba Lavender where you'll find scented lotions, oils, bath salts, and sugar scrubs. Speaking of shopping local, plan to spend an afternoon perusing the 50-block downtown historic district. This Victorian seaport village features eclectic shops bursting with local flair, including antiques, clothing, artisan jewelry, toys, books and more.

Amelia Island
Amelia Island is also packed with possibilities for more adventurous visitors.Amelia Island Tourist Development Council

One of the best ways to see the area? A guided tour (either on land or water) arranged by Riptide. Peddle through Amelia Island history on a bike tour for an up-close look at striking Victorian-era homes. (Ask for Kyle, born and raised on Amelia Island and a fountain of local history, ghost stories, and scandals of yesteryear!) Looking for a salt-life kinda' tour? Go kayaking, captain a mini-catamaran, or try paddle boarding through the breath-taking landscape of salt marshes and freshwater creeks.

Another on-the-water tour option? A sunset cruise (including family-friendly and adults-only BYOB options) through Amelia River Cruises. This two-hour narrated cruise takes you north on the scenic waterways. When you reach Georgia's Cumberland Island National Seashore, look for wild horses grazing in the distance.

Hungry? Thirsty? Amelia Island has you covered with an array of affordable restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops, candy stores, and bars. Eat at local seafood faves, including The Salty Pelican, a harbor-front restaurant known for its locally caught shrimp. A few blocks away, you'll find Timoti's Seafood Shak, another fresh seafood standout. Order inside and head to the cozy outdoor seating to nosh on your shrimp tacos or crab burger.

If you want scrumptious ocean-view dining, try Salt Life Food Shack, with regular specials like Sushi Tuesdays and Oyster & Margarita Thursdays. (Tip: Grab a roof-top table for spectacular views!) Ready to quench your thirst? Stop by the Palace Saloon (originally built as a haberdashery in 1878), which stakes its claim as the oldest bar in Florida. Or pull up a stool at Amelia Tavern, a local brewery dishing up small plates and amazing craft beer (try the Canary Cross Amber) in a spacious, brick-walled interior.

No matter your price point, Amelia Island offers an idyllic destination that beckons you to visit any time of year. Ready to plan your trip? There's even a Discover Amelia Island app to help you get started.

Author’s Bio: Lisa Beach is a seasoned freelance writer. Her work has been published in The New York Times, USA Today Go Escape Florida & Caribbean, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, and dozens more. Check out her writer’s website