The Best of St. Augustine & Amelia Island 2016

When we decided to find out what our readers think are the best parts of St. Augustine and Amelia Island, we knew we wanted input from people across Northeast Florida. But in particular, we wanted to know what Jacksonvillians think. Because if they’d cross ferries and brave tourist traffic just to get to the restaurants, shops and attractions on this list, then we know they’re something special. You can get a plate of shrimp and grits or shop for décor anywhere on the First Coast, but these are the spots that keep us hitting the road again and again.

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Verandah

Best Restaurants: Amelia Island

29 South
A casual eatery rich with history, 29 South seamlessly blends the old with the new. The restaurant is housed inside a classic Southern home once belonging to the Murdaugh family, but inside is a trendy restaurant complete with a bar. Menu items—like the ever-popular fried green tomatoes—are sourced from both local farmers and chef and owner Scotty Schwartz’s garden. 29 South 3rd Street, 29southrestaurant.com

Bar Zin
Bar Zin’s indoor/outdoor layout, American cuisine and bar draws crowds year round. Situated less than two miles from Peter’s Point Park, a favorite beach destination, Bar Zin utilizes a farm-to-table approach, with a special emphasis on seafood (and, of course, wine). Look for seasonal specials such as lobster ravioli with wild mushrooms or duck confit with soy-truffle vinaigrette. 4924 First Coast Highway, Suite 10, barzin-bistro-winebar.com

Coast
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island’s newest restaurant Coast offers a contemporary ambiance and menu to match. Plenty of seafood is on offer (try the catch of the day) along with a handful of vegetarian items, steaks and fresh pasta. Dinner includes a variety of meat-centric dishes, too—from pork shank to flatbreads. 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, ritzcarlton.com

Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro
Nestled in Fernandina Beach’s historic district, Joe’s 2nd St. Bistro is one of those neighborhood spots that only gets better with time. Diners can choose to eat in the main dining room, upstairs private dining room or covered porch. Housed in a restored 1900s building, Joe’s has a high-end island feel. Here, Fernandina mac and cheese is laden with local lobster and shrimp and the gourmet pan sautéed lump crab cake shine. 14 S 2nd Street, joesbistro.com

España
With more than 20 years in the restaurant business under their belts, owners Roberto and Marina pair ambiance with a full menu of tapas and an extensive wine list at España. The Spanish-style eatery offers seating on an enclosed patio as well as in a authentically themed dining area. Seafood tapas—plus large pans overflowing with paella—are the restaurant’s claim to fame. 22 S. 4th Street, españadowntown.com

Le Clos
There’s no question that Le Clos—nestled in a small, yellow-and-white cottage—is charming, but its exterior belies the sophisticated French fare being served inside. The standards are here—escargot, pâté with cornichons and crunchy baguette—but so are more unusual items, such as beef and duck meatloaf with Bordeaux-mushroom sauce. Save room for dessert—gâteau au chocolat with créme anglaise is the stuff of dreams. 20 S 2nd St., leclos.com

Pi Infinite Combinations
As its name suggests, there are a seemingly infinite number of ingredient combinations with which to top your pie at Pi. The curry, goat cheese and shrimp pie comes topped with spicy arugula and a bright infusion of curry oil, while a foie gras version is complete with roasted Brussels sprouts and shaved leeks. There are more traditional options, too—margherita, pepperoni, etc.—plus a selection of salads and stromboli. 19 S 3rd St., piinfinitecombinations.com

Salt
Housed inside The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Salt specializes in expertly prepared, seasonal specialties. With over 40 different salts to choose from, the eatery lives up to its name. The chef’s feature is steak and eggs served on a 250 million year old Himalayan salt block. For the daring, there’s the chef’s adventure menu, a four-course meal made to the chef’s discretion. 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, ritzcarlton.com

The Salty Pelican
If you’re looking for a spot to watch the sunset while munching on tuna nachos, The Salty Pelican is your place. Its location offers one of the best views of the harbor and its menu—a mix of classic pub fare and fresh seafood—is the ideal mix of casual and gourmet. Beer-braised short ribs come topped with fried jalapeños and chicken tenders are elevated with sriracha Guinness barbecue sauce. 12 N. Front St., thesaltypelicanamelia.com

Timoti’s Seafood Shak
Timoti’s is a no-frills casual seafood joint that consistently dishes out tasty tacos, fish baskets and salads. Order at the counter and find a seat outside on a sunny day (the patio is shaded). Shrimp baskets that come with the works—a hush puppy, fries and slaw—and the poke bowl, with ahi tuna, coconut rice and spinach, is the stuff of local legend. 21 N. 3rd St., timotis.com

PLaE
PLaE (short for People Laughing and Eating) relies on knowledgable servers and an—ahem—playful menu at its contemporary Amelia Island digs, nestled among the spa and shops at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation. Here, a standard arugula salad is jazzed up with the addition of roasted beets and goat cheese fritters while French fries come complete with garlic and chipotle ketchup. The lounge features live entertainment most evenings, making it a good location for drinks and tapas. 80 Amelia Island Village Cir., 277-2132

Four Seasons Bistro
This intimate, upscale Italian bistro is something of a hidden gem, buried in an unassuming shopping center in Fernandina. It’s worth the drive, however, for its romantic atmosphere and well-prepared classic dishes like the penne rustica—grilled chicken and shrimp in a rosemary cream sauce with vegetables and mozzarella—and filet mignon "C.A.B.”—which the menu calls the “best steak over the bridge”—served with garlic mashed potatoes and veggies. The créme brûlée, a fan favorite, might be worth not finishing that entrée, though. 474305 E State Rd 200, fourseasonsbistro.biz

David’s
The resort-casual David’s is home to an extensive selection suited to any taste. Here, you’ll find copious amounts of seafood (Chilean sea bass with lemon créme, seafood linguini), plus chops (lamb, filet, ribeye). Those who are especially hungry might enjoy the King Crab—a six to nine pound offering that requires at least two days of notice to prepare. The whole crab serves four with appetizers and those who take on the challenge will have their photos displayed on the King Crab Hall of Fame wall. Enjoy a port or martini flight in the lounge post-dinner. 802 Ash St., ameliaislanddavids.com

Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen
Helmed by Top Chef alum Kenny Gilbert, Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen specializes in seasonal dishes influenced by the Deep South. The Fernandina Beach hot chicken, served with dill pickles, datil pepper remoulade and Texas toast, is a popular choice but there are more unusual items, too—like oyster cobbler, smoked alligator ribs, etc. Come lunchtime, Chef Gilbert fires up the grill to serve a variety of bbq standards (think pulled pork, beef brisket and grilled sausages). 510 S 8th St., undergroundkitchen.co

Verandah Seafood Restaurant
Fresh seafood and Southern-inspired fare is the focus at Verandah Seafood Restaurant, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort’s fine dining establishment. Entrées run the gamut from simply grilled salmon with tartar sauce to pink snapper baked with pecans and local strawberries. The restaurant partners with a number of regional fisheries, so expect fresh and local seafood in dishes like the Florida Coast seafood tower, a medley of raw oysters Mayport shrimp and lobster tail. 142 Racquet Park Dr., omnihotels.com

Reader's Poll Winners: Amelia Island

Special Occasion Restaurant
Housed inside The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Salt’s (4750 Amelia Island Pkwy.) pristine view of the Atlantic provides guests with a dining experience voted perfect for a special occasion.

First Date Eatery
Readers voted Moon River Pizza (925 S. 14th St.) as having the perfect atmosphere for first-date conversation over one of its signature pies.

Watering Hole
As the oldest bar in Florida, The Palace Saloon (117 Centre St.) is still the go-to watering hole for those looking to kick back with a few cold ones.

Seafood Eats
Along with flat screen TVs, beers on tap and all the makings of a sports bar and grill—according to readers, The Salty Pelican (12 N. Front St.) also serves up some of the best seafood in town.

Shrimp & Grits
At Verandah Seafood Restaurant (142 Racquet Park Dr.) there’s no other way to eat shrimp than stewed with grits and country ham.

Sweet Treats
A copper kettle, marble slab table and a recipe that dates back to 1887 yields Fernandina’s Fantastic Fudge (218 Centre St.)—voted best place for a sweet treat.

Brunch/Breakfast Spot
Serving up breakfast favorites until 2:30 PM daily, Beach Diner (2006 S. 8th St.) was voted best brunch/breakfast spot.

Funky Foodie Find
Chef Kenny Gilbert of Top Chef’s 7th season brings seasonal southern neighborhood dining to Fernandina Beach with Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen (510 S. 8th St.)—voted best funky foodie find.

Waterside Views
Located just steps away from the beach, Slider’s Seaside Grill (1998 S. Fletcher Ave.) serves up dishes such as sesame crusted ahi tuna and lump blue crab cakes with a view voted best by readers.

Outdoor Activity
From kayaking to stand up paddle boarding to yoga while kayaking and paddle boarding, Kayak Amelia (13030 Heckscher Dr.)—according to readers—is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts.

Must-Do Tour
Amelia River Cruise (1 N. Front St.) offers narrated sightseeing cruises rich in stories of Amelia and Cumberland’s history. Historic Attraction Fort Clinch (2601 Atlantic Ave.) provides recreational activities, wildlife viewing, historic attractions and history interpretive programs such as reenactments of life during the Civil War.

Cultural Outing
In addition to its beaches, Amelia Island is also known for its art. Explore the island’s galleries on the second Saturday of each month at Artrageous Artwalk.

Picnic Spot
Several pavilions line the ocean shore at Little Talbot Island (12157 Heckscher Dr.), many covered, equipped with tables and grills, making the barrier island ideal for picnicking, according to readers.

Beach Life Store
From surfboards to skateboards and everything in between, Driftwood Surf Shop (31 S. Fletcher Ave.) has been serving the Fernandina Beach community since 1979.

Art Gallery
Slightly Off Centre (218 Ash St.) is a gallery of fine art, folk art, glass art, paintings, photography and pottery.

Must-Visit Shop
According to readers, one does not visit Fernandina Beach and not stop by Twisted Sisters (402 Centre St.) for women’s apparel, home décor and gifts with a twist.

Favorite Festival
Voted favorite festival by readers, the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival (April 29-May 1) celebrates the history of Amelia Island and, of course, includes lots of shrimp.

Bed & Breakfast Inn
Each day at the Florida House Inn (22 S. 3rd St.) begins with complimentary coffee service in the parlor followed by a breakfast like mom used to make in the breakfast room overlooking the courtyard.

Oceanside Resort/Hotel
With four restaurants and cocktail lounges, private balconies on every guest room and a host of luxurious amenities, it’s no wonder The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island (4750 Amelia Island Pkwy.) was voted best oceanside hotel by readers.

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The Reef

Best Restaurants: St. Augustine

Casa Maya
This cozy house-turned-restaurant serves up Latin cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here, diners find a smattering of upmarket, Yucatan-inspired dishes like fish tacos and the popular cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish. Smoothie bowls, craft cocktails and unusual desserts (try the avocado crème brûlée) round out the menu. Head to the back patio oyster bar for a round of broiled oysters or ceviche. 22 Hypolita St., 823-0787

Costa Brava at the Casa Monica Hotel
The interior of the historic Casa Monica Hotel exudes exotic glamour and the menu at Costa Brava is just as wordly. The menu is divided into small plates, shareable dishes and entrees, such as crispy chicken Milanese, lamb lollipop chops and roasted snapper. The hunter board—a selection of chorizo, Serrano ham, various cheeses, fig bread and quince jam—is an ideal choice for a table of hungry diners. 95 Cordova St., casamonica.com

The Ice Plant
Housed in an old ice plant, the soaring ceilings and suspender-clad bar staff at The Ice Plant bring the Great Gatsby to mind. Prohibition-era inspired cocktails are the main attraction, but the food isn’t to be ignored. The blue crab beignets and soft pretzel bread with beer cheese fondue are solid appetizer choices and entrées include white shrimp with grilled okra and pork belly and roasted flat-iron steak with salsa verde. 110 Riberia St., iceplantbar.com

Gas Full Service
Though it’s just a short drive away from the beach, this pump station-style joint is serving up more than just seafood. Gas’ menu boasts Southern homestyle dishes all made with fresh, locally grown ingredients. The jalapeño pepper burger is a customer favorite, and can be paired with one of the many beer selections or homemade sweet potato fries (which are seasoned with sugar instead of salt). If that, plus the great service and a feel-good atmosphere isn’t enough to entice you, this charming A1A pit stop also serves award-winning reuben rolls, crispy onion straws and several specialty burger options for those with a big appetite. 9 Anastasia Blvd., 217-0326

Cellar 6
Most people gravitate to Cellar 6 for the stellar wine list, live music and weekly cocktail specials but the food deserves some attention as well. Guests can order from the appetizer menu—think Cajun egg rolls and gorgonzola chips—or opt for something more substantial. Entrées include Asian noodles, scallops and filet mignon. 6 Aviles St., cellar6staugustine.com

Collage
In an unassuming building off Hypolita Street sits Collage, a quaint, cozy eatery turning out a range of international fare. Start with the burrata, a house-made mozzarella stuffed with goat cheese mousse, before moving on to a hand-cut steak with black truffle compound butter, pistachio-and-bacon-crusted pork chop or from-scratch lobster ravioli. 60 Hypolita St., collagestaug.com

Cap’s on the Water
There’s really not a bad seat at Cap’s, which sits on the Intracoastal. The river can be seen from every vantage point, whether you’re seated at the waterfront bar or at a table beneath a live oak. Along with the amazing view, Chef Scott and his team of cooks never fail to deliver tasty and plentiful dishes. Try the vanilla grouper, jambalaya or the seafood trio to get a real taste of local seafood and Southern comfort sides (you’ll be craving the hushpuppies for days after). 4325 Myrtle St., 824-8794, St. Augustine, capsonthewater.com

The Floridian
The eclectic décor at The Floridian reflects its untraditional menu, which boasts plenty of local, seasonal ingredients. Most of the dishes are Southern-inspired—think grit cakes with chili-cumin aioli and pickled pepper shrimp with jalapeño and banana peppers—and there’s a wide range of vegetarian choices, too. The barbecue pork over crunchy cornmeal waffles—complete with bourbon-brown sugar fruit, house-made ricotta and candied pecans—goes down like a treat. 72 Spanish St., thefloridianstaug.com

Gypsy Cab Co.
A local haunt since 1983, Gypsy Cab Co. continues to make patrons feel at home with its laid back atmosphere and comfort food. “Cab fare” changes daily, but expect dishes like braised lamb shank, veal Pesada and blackened mahi with crab Florentine and dijon cream sauce. All items are served with a side salad and the popular house dressing is available by the bottle. 828 Anastasia Blvd., gypsycab.com

The Reef
Voted best brunch restaurant six years in a row, the Reef is the place to be in St. Augustine Sunday mornings. Every weekend, the oceanfront spot offers a carving station, crab legs, eggs Benedict and unlimited mimosas, with a view that’ll take your breath away. Sitting on the deck? The restaurant is dog-friendly, meaning that your pet can sit by the table while you enjoy your dining experience. 4100 Coastal Hwy., St. Augustine, 824-8008, thereefstaugustine.com

Raintree Restaurant
Though Raintree doesn’t open until 5 PM, you’ll want to save this meal for last. Here, guests can wine and dine in the elegant setting of a historical Victorian home, accented with a quaint gazebo and koi pond. Escargot, beef wellington and lobster bisque are popular menu items, and the restaurant offers a full bar for those who like a variety of drink selections. 102 San Marco Ave., St. Augustine, 824-7211, raintreerestaurant.com

Michael’s Tasting Room
Decadent shareable appetizers paired with carefully selected wines are Michael’s specialty. The restaurant, which sits in the middle of downtown St. Augustine, fosters the romantic Spanish city’s vibes through live entertainment and tastefully decorated dining rooms. Start off your meal with crispy pork belly, followed by shrimp and grits or clams Jerez. Finish off with a sea salt brownie for a rich finale to an intimate meal. 25 Cuna St., St. Augustine, 810-2400, tastetapas.com

Saltwater Cowboys
Located on a salt marsh just off the Intracoastal Highway, Saltwater Cowboys has been serving up frog legs and alligator tail for 35 years. Fried amphibian not your thing? There’s plenty of seafood and barbecue, too—plus a mean key lime pie you won’t want to pass up. Munch on that while watching the sun set over the water. 299 Dondanville Rd., St. Augustine, 471-2332, saltwatercowboys.com

The Columbia
St. Augustine can’t claim the original Columbia—that’s in Tampa’s Ybor city—but the Oldest City location is just as delicious. Patrons could fill up on the delicious warm Cuban bread alone, but usually save room for the famous 1905 salad, mixed tableside. Spanish-style dishes include Snapper Alicante, baked in a casserole dish with sweet onions, green peppers and a rich gravy and served with yellow rice and shrimp. Classics such as arroz con pollo and Cuban sandwich are also on the menu. 98 St. George St., columbiarestaurant.com

La Pentola
Chef Talavera makes food best described as Latin-tinged Italian cuisine. The carnitas tostada is reminiscent of Talavera’s Mexican roots, while pasta dishes like truffle saccheti (pasta purses filled with ricotta and truffles in a sherry cream sauce) is more akin to old world Italian fare. The two cultures blend together in the veal osso bucco, served with poblano pepper risotto. 58 Charlotte St., lapentolarestaurant.com

Reader's Poll Winners: St. Augustine

Special Occasion Restaurant
Offering more than 300 wines and a continental cuisine, readers voted The Raintree (102 San Marco Ave.) as best special occasion restaurant.

First Date Eatery
Readers voted Salt Life Food Shack (321 A1A Beach Blvd.) as the best first date eatery, providing the perfect location for tasty eats, libations and conversation.

Watering Hole
At Scarlett O’Hara’s (70 Hypolita St.) happy hour lasts all day, every day. It’s no wonder readers voted this said-to-be-haunted bar as the best watering hole in St. Augustine.

Seafood Eats
With New Orleans-style favorites such as jambalaya, shrimp creole and blackened red fish, readers voted Harry’s Seafood, Bar & Grille (46 Avenida Menedez) for having the best seafood eats in town.

Spanish Cuisine
Florida’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1905, Columbia Restaurant (98 St. George) was voted best Spanish cuisine by readers.

Sweet Treats
With unusual flavors such as cucumber, lemon and mint and melon and cracked pepper, readers voted the ice pops at The Hyppo (48 Charlotte St.) as best sweet treats in the Oldest City.

Brunch/Breakfast Spot
Formerly know as the Yard Bird, The Blue Hen (117 Martin Luther King Ave.) serves breakfast favorites such as buttermilk chicken biscuits with peach butter until they close.

Funky Foodie Find
The Floridian Restaurant (72 Spanish St.) offers dishes such as the slow-smoked barbecue pulled pork served with crunchy cornmeal waffles and lemon-sage marinated fried chicken.

Waterside Views
Arrive at Cap’s on the Water (4325 Myrtle St.) just before sunset and you will understand why readers chose the southern seafood restaurant for best waterside view.

Cocktail Corner
Housed in an old ice plant, The Ice Plant (110 Riberia St.) honors the building’s history by carving ice from large blocks in front of customers to complement each cocktail.

Must-Do Tour
Explore the darker side of the Oldest City with the Ghosts & Gravestones (108 Sea Grove Main St.) tour, voted a must-do for readers.

Museum
From mummies to Tiffany glass, the Lightner Museum (75 King St.) houses an eclectic collection of fine and decorative art from the 19th century throughout the floors of the original Alcazar Hotel.

Historic Attraction
Castillo de San Marcos (1 S. Castillo Dr.) is the oldest masonry fort in the U.S., providing tangible evidence of America’s grim but remarkable history.

Picnic Spot
Anastasia State Park’s (300 Anastasia Park Rd.) picnic areas are near the marsh and the ocean, featuring more than ten covered picnic tables.

Peaceful Beach
Despite the welcoming of pets and the option to drive vehicles on the beach, readers have voted Vilano Beach the most peaceful in St. Augustine.

Art Gallery
Plum Contemporary Gallery (10 Aviles St.) exhibits established and mid-career artists, while also saving some space for fresh talent.

Shopping Destination
Readers like the St. Augustine Premium Outlets (2700 FL-16) for its wide range of deals on brands such as Nike, J. Crew and Levi’s.

Favorite Festival
Guests soak in the sparkly atmosphere and enjoy the dining, tours and entertainment each year at the Nights of Lights (November-January), a favorite festival of locals and visitors alike.

Cultural Outing
For more than 50 years, the St. Augustine Art Association has celebrated Thanksgiving tradition in the Oldest City with the Fall Arts & Crafts Festival, voted best cultural outing by readers.

Bed & Breakfast Inn
Carriage Way Bed & Breakfast (70 Cuna St.), is housed in a traditional, Victorian-style building constructed in the 17th century. The building has been restored to its original grandeur and each room is adorned with antiques.