Fernandina, FL; Where bad vacations turn good

For the first time in three years I was able to go on a trip with my kids during spring break. Despite my excitement this trip had to be planned around a frugal budget (when does it not). Michael and I had been to Fernandina in July the year before for our anniversary and had a great time. We were so excited to return with the kids. My plan was to save money by camping at Fort Clinch State Park. At $28 per night for the primitive camping site we would have a lot of money left for all the fun stuff like renting scooters to tour the island, surf lessons from Drift Wood Surf Shop, and a boat tour of Cumberland Island where we might see the wild horses!

Above you can see our camping supplies. I did not plan on cooking anything on this trip beyond coffee and s’mores (another benefit of our frugal accommodations). Air mattresses were included because frankly they make sleeping on the ground better and everyone is nicer when they can sleep well.

The teenagers were not happy about camping but I promised them that the comfort station was great and close to our site. Besides we were going to be having so much fun that we would hardly be at our campsite anyway!

Que the ominous music because this is where my plans begin to unravel. As our trip approached the days were getting warmer and sunnier. I monitored the weather and watched in agony as the predicted temperature dropped and rain was in the forecast for all four days of our trip. A rainy, cold, windy beach trip was in our future and I debated on cancelling the whole thing. We persisted though. Michael and I made a conscious choice to keep an upbeat attitude and not kill the teenagers.

This lasted less than 24 hours. After setting up camp in a cold drizzling rain, spending the night with our tent being battered by high winds, and the constant beratement from unhappy teenagers, the sun rose on two vegans and two omnivores in search of comfort and coffee.

At a table in the Karibo Cafe we enjoyed a great breakfast which included mimosas and a berage of pleas to get a hotel room. Karibo offers wonderful options both vegan and none vegan. As our meal continued and more mimosas came I explained that getting a hotel room would mean giving up activities like renting scooters and surf lessons. They didn’t care. As more mimosas came, nether did I. Besides those things were not likely to happen with the weather being the way it was. So Michael went out in search of teenager friendly accommodations.

He found them at Hampton Inn where he met the manager, who having daughters of his own, understood Michael’s plight and insured that this did not become a survival story with the intro, “that time mom and dad took us camping on the beach and it was the worst trip ever”. The only thing available for the duration of our stay was a suite which we were given at the regular room rate (much gratitude to Bill ).

After packing up camp we had just enough time to go by Ft. Clinch while the reenactors were still present! I love seeing the people in costume and watching them stay in character while talking to visitors. Due to the day being windy and cold, and the teenagers not happy about being outside or interested in seeing history come alive, our visit was not a long one.

We still had three days at the beach to fill while not really “at the beach”. This ment a lot of eating and shopping. Every morning and every afternoon we stopped by Amelia Island Coffee. The cafe is usually pretty busy and justifiably so. The coffee is amazing and the atmosphere is great.

To break things up we spent an hour at the Fernandina Beach Pinball Museum. This was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. Players have the option of an all day pass or a one hour pass. We chose the one hour pass which gave us all just enough time to play nearly every game at least once.

To round out our first full day of vacation we had dinner at the Salty Pelican. The dinner rush hour can be very busy here but you can get a beverage and wait on the front patio for a table. If you time it right getting a table on the deck will allow you to view a beautiful sunset. The food and drinks here are great. I love the veggie tacos. They come with rice, beans, and avocado, but best of all an awesome spicy sauce ( I did not ask if it was vegan). Michael loves the portabella sandwich (with out the goat cheese). Our omnivores chose the fried calamari with banana peppers, the cuban sandwich, and the bacon mac & cheese. Everything was great all around and now having a fridge we could to take the leftovers too!

Things were looking good, our first spring break vacation in three years was going to go well. Until…I pulled my back out. I can’t even say it was doing something interesting like surfing or kayaking! It just happen while I was picking up a bag of clothes. It was more of a re-injury from two weeks before but now I was in more pain now than when it originally happened. The worst thing about a back injury is that it hurts no matter what. It does not matter whether you are sitting or standing, the pain is constant. After convincing my family that if they could be patient with my super slow pace then I would be up for meandering around town. So we began with touring the shops downtown.

The shops here range from unique artist shops to traditional tourist fair. We all found something to bring home. Lunch was at Sabbia. The mediterranean street food here is wonderful. I knew from our previous trip that I wanted the stuffed grape leaves. The Omnivores split a philly cheese steak sandwich which had both satisfied. We were able to sit outside and chat with some Floridians who visit the town often and told us to go see the “Pippy House” just a few blocks away where parts of the New Adventures of Pippy Longstockings Movie was filmed.

Pippy Longstockings House

After Lunch we went to the Maritime Museum Of Amelia Island. These are real treasure hunters! The staff present are often the treasure hunters themselves and they will proudly walk you through a tour and fill you in on more history and treasure stories than you could find anywhere else.

When dinner time arrived I wanted to start out at Pajama Dave’s Beer Garden. This establishment is one of our favorites. The beer and wine selection is super, the staff is always great, and the owner also runs the Amelia Island Boat Tours. True to his name Pajama Dave does always wear pajama bottoms and there is a variety for sale in the shop as well. The weather put a negative on our boat tour this trip but if in town I’d recommend going on one. Michael and I went on the BYOB Adult tour during our trip and it was wonderful. People came on board with picnic baskets full of snacks, beer, and wine to be enjoyed during a tour of the island while enjoying live music.

Dinner was at Wicked Bao. No one in the group had ever had Bao so the interest of all was peaked. As we stood in the entry staring at the menu the owner Nathalie Wu walked over to welcome us and explain a little bit of what was offered. Turns out bao is a steamed bun which usually wraps up some variety of pork or fish (crispy tofu in our case). One of the omnivores even tried the charred octopus. I’m glad we found this sweet place and if we are back in Fernandina I’ll be sure to go again.

Our last day had no better weather than the previous days and since I was still laid up with an injured back Michael and Livvy went out geocaching. They had a good time exploring and made it back to the hotel just as the predicted rain began to fall. Sheltered in our hotel room we relaxed and waited for the storm to pass. When it did we decided to for a walk and found a large group of pelicans hanging around outside the bait shop. Some employees noticed us taking photos and brought out some fishy bits to feed the group. These birds are very impressive and fun to watch. As you can see in the photos things became much more interesting when the fish came out.

I know we will go back to Fernandina, FL. I hope the kids can go with us because I really want them to enjoy the area the way Michael and I did on our first trip there. That being said I don’t think any other town could have saved our rainy, back injured, vacation trip as well as sweet Fernandia.

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