Florida that’s more Deep South than South Beach

A trip back in time to Civil War days.  With houses built by Confederate troops and lunch is real Southern, not Cracker Barrel. Where the Georgia Bulldogs rule. And the paper mill is as big an employer as tourism.

Welcome to Fernandina Beach, Florida. Yes, Florida.

Put your notions of South Beach., Disney World, Little Havana away in your  beach bag. This is the other Florida. So far north on the Atlantic coast, Georgia is minutes away on the interstate.


Fernandina Beach is on Amelia Island, one of several stretching from South Carolina to Florida. It’s part of metro Jacksonville and three hours from Orlando.

You might recognize the name from John Sayles’ movie Sunshine State, a saga of local yokels fending off land developers.

Though it’s just another nondescript beach town that could be anywhere along the East Coast (except for the palm trees), Fernandina has a pretty colorful history. In addition to being a movie locale, its other big claim to fame is, it’s been conquered by a lot of countries. Among them Britain, France, Mexico and the Confederacy.

It was also a haven for pirates, shrimpers and fishermen.

The local railroad was used by the South during the Civil War, and then the Union.

The town really grew when two brothers who’d served in the Confederate Navy settled there after the Civil War and went on a building spree.

One house a gift to one of their wives. It’s now the Beech Street Grill.

The Florida House Inn, said to be the state’s oldest hotel, served as a boarding house for Union officers during the Civil War. Famous guests included Civil War General and President Ulysses Grant and Cuban nationalist and poet Jose Marti.

I’m told Marti stayed in this room.

The Beech Street Grill is an upscale place with an upscale version of tuna-noodle casserole: lobster and crab meat drowning in sherry cream sauce with linguini. I know I pledged to watch my calories, but couldn’t resist.

That was followed by lunch the next day at the Florida House Inn. The Southern-style lunch menu didn’t disappoint.

The best fried chicken my sis said she’d ever tasted. And she should know: she makes a pretty good version herself. They have take-out  Thanksgiving feasts if you’re interested.

The city also boasts the oldest bar in Florida: the Palace Saloon. Stuck my head in, but looked a little rough

The Crab Trap is a popular local hangout. We stopped in for a T-shirt and found it cozy on a rainy weeknight.

If you’re interested in holing up at the beach and being pampered, there’s always the Ritz-Carlton and Omni.

But I thought the town was far more interesting.

So if you’re headed to Disney World in Orlando and feel like taking a road trip, it’s a great antidote to Mickey Mouse.

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