From horseback riding along the Atlantic coastline and bike riding through a beachfront park to airboat rides across the St. Johns River and hang gliding over marshland, there are dozens of entertaining and exhilarating ways to see the First Coast. Follow us on a bespoke tour through Jacksonville, Amelia Island and St. Augustine.
Fernandina Beach, a city located on Amelia Island just north of Jacksonville, has become one of the most sought-after destinations for horseback riding on the shore. Check out Kelly Seahorse Ranch, a family-owned operation exclusively endorsed by the Florida Park Service and nestled within the maritime forest of Amelia Island State Park. Open every day but Monday, the ranch offers one-hour guided beach rides multiple times a day for those ages 13 and older. There’s also the neighboring Amelia Island Horseback Riding, which greets riders in Peters Point Beachfront Park for sunrise rides, daytime rides, sunset rides and special events like anniversary and engagement rides. Now that’s a romantic way to see the First Coast.
In the Air
If you’re looking for a thrill-seeking adventure, then head over to the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport for a powered hang-gliding experience that you’ll never forget. At Florida Adventure Sports, choose between 20, 40 and 60-minute flights aboard an Airborne XT-912 that takes you high in the sky for a bird’s-eye view of Florida’s tropical landscape and downtown Jacksonville’s skyline. Also at the airport, Hang Glide USA, open since 2010, offers up a wide array of services, including an introductory flight, Fernandina Beach tour, Deluxe Discovery tour and Cumberland Island nature tour.
Perhaps you prefer to stay grounded while exploring the First Coast. Check out Amelia Island’s extensive bike trails. From leisure rider to avid cyclist, the island, which is part of the Sea Islands chain of barrier islands, has become known as one of the best places in the Sunshine State for getting around on two wheels. Spanning nearly 6 miles from Peters Point Beachfront Park to Amelia Island State Park, Amelia Island Trail is a paved, tree-lined route and part of the East Coast Greenway, which stretches from Florida to Maine.
Just south of Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island is downtown Jacksonville, a historic Southern city dubbed the “Gateway to Florida” and boasting a long and colorful past. If history is your preferred method of getting to know a place and its people, then sign up for a Jacksonville Walking Tour with AdLib Luxury Tours and hear stories of the River City ( Jacksonville’s other nickname) as you walk through buildings and explore secret underground tunnels beneath the city. Learn about the Great Fire of 1901 and the city’s influence on the silent film industry as the “First Hollywood.”
If you’d rather see Jacksonville’s downtown and neighboring areas from the water, then add St. Johns River Taxi & Tours to your list. Every Friday and Saturday night, enjoy a sunset cruise aboard the Miss Hadley for an hour-and-a-half cruise south along the St. Johns River toward Riverside, Avondale and San Marco. Guests will be treated to live music and are welcome to bring small coolers with snacks and beverages. St. Johns River Taxi & Tours also offers private charters, eco tours and special event transportation to concerts, live sporting events and tours from Friendship Fountain to Museum of Science and History (MOSH).
A relatively new addition to ecotourism, airboats are flat-bottomed watercraft with large fan-like propellers and are quickly gaining popularity as a great way to explore the First Coast. Head on over to Jacksonville Airboat Rides where they guarantee you will see wildlife (or your next trip is free!). Located off Port Arthur Road, tours run seven days a week and take guests along the marshes and swamps of the Intracoastal Waterway searching for alligators, manatees and birds, as well as offering a trip to the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean to look for dolphins, sharks, whales and turtles.
Just south of Jacksonville is St. Augustine, a historic city founded in 1565 and dubbed the Nation’s Oldest City. Take in the beautiful architecture of century-old churches and other structures from the comfort of a Segway. Guided tours with St. Augustine Segway Tours promise riders access to the quaint, local streets and areas many times missed by tourists visiting the city—so you’ll discover the hidden gems. Tours are typically two hours long, include training and are offered four times per day. They are also available in Spanish.
If you prefer a slow-paced way to see the First Coast, downtown St. Augustine boasts two horse-drawn carriage companies; Southern Carriages and Country Carriages. From romantic carriage rides along the Matanzas River’s Bayfront to haunted carriage rides where guests are privy to the city’s long, haunted past, carriage rides are perfect for the entire family. Look for the carriages lined up along the Bayfront or book ahead for special events.