Home to the largest dune system on the Atlantic Coast in Florida, American Beach has a rich history as a vacation destination that served the African-American community during the days of segregation in the South. With interpretive sites managed by Timucuan Preserve as part of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which stretches along the Atlantic Coast from Jacksonville to Wilmington NC, 33 acres of the community are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lat-Lon: 30.573332, -81.444297
Restroom: At Burney Park
Oceanfront access, restrooms, and parking are available at Burney Park at the south end of the community. Be aware that this oceanfront is known for killer riptides. Sunning, fishing, and walking the beach are better options than swimming.
Along Amelia Island Parkway / Buccaneer Trail (between Amelia Island State Park and Fernandina Beach), turn east on Lewis Street. This street ends at a drive-on spot on the beach, although the sand may be soft here. Burney Park (southernmost point on map) is your best place to park.
Squeezed by resorts to the north, south, and west, this small strip of oceanfront has an important story to tell. American Beach was established in 1935 by A.L. Lewis, president of the Afro American Insurance Company in Jacksonville and Florida’s first black millionaire. It became the first beach resort in Florida exclusively for African-Americans, starting with vacationing employees of the firm and ending up with parcels sold to executives, shareholders, community leaders, and the community at large. Motels, restaurants, and shops opened to serve visitors.
The end of segregated beaches in Florida – which persisted into the 1960s – spelled the end of American Beach as a community. As developers moved in along the Amelia Island oceanfront, rising property values – leading to higher taxes – forced many long-time homeowners to sell out. Surrounding developers snapped up more than half of American Beach, including the historic Franklintown Cemetery, to which they blocked off access. While fiction, the film Sunshine State casts a light on what happened. Find the full story at the American Beach Museum, 1600 Julia Street, through artifacts and oral histories. The museum is open on weekends.
The activism of MaVynee Betsch, “The Beach Lady,” great-granddaughter of A.L. Lewis, led to conservation of what remained of the community as a historic site. Many people still live here. Although much work needs to be done on buildings, interpretive stations are at American Beach Historic Park and at the base of “A Dune Called Nana.” At 65 feet high, it is the tallest dune on the Atlantic Coast of Florida.