St. Simons Island is one of the five Golden Isles of Georgia. St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island and Brunswick have been called the “Best islands in the Continental U.S. and Canada.”
Located on Georgia’s southern coast, you will be enchanted by their beauty, history and recreational offerings. The marshland grasses, the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and the welcoming hospitality of residents, along with hotel, restaurant and shop owners will lure you back year after year.
1. The glorious beach and lively activities
The water of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the wide fringe of marshland made up of spartina grasses, provide ample spaces for swimming, diving, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing and boat tours. The area also has the largest ecosystem east of the Mississippi River. The shore birds, such as cormorants, sandpipers, brown pelicans, laughing gulls, royal terns, least terns and kildeer, have an abundance of food in these shallow waters. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and occasional manatees make their way into the natural channels. Crabs are harvested commercially, and wild Georgia shrimp are famous for their size and sweet, distinctive taste.
Fishing charters and area restaurants work closely together, and the restaurants will happily cook the speckled sea trout, red fish, and flounder that are caught. Shrimpers are especially happy in these waters from the “Blessing of the Fleet” in early May until December every year with abundant catches and great profits.
Boat tours are popular to spot all of this marine life and to go under the 195-foot (59.436 m.) tall Sidney Lanier Bridge, which connects St. Simons Island with Jekyll Island. It is the only unlighted bridge in this region in deference to migrating sea turtles.
2. Fresh, locally-sourced food
According to Cap Fendig, owner of Lighthouse Trolleys, there are 67 restaurants on St. Simons Island. That should ensure that all dining tastes are satisfied. For breakfast, Sandcastle Cafe & Grill at the Pier has a popular buffet. For a casual lunch or weekend musical entertainment, Gnat’s Landing at Redfern Village has a moderately-priced menu with open air dining and wide screen TVs.
For a more upscale dinner with an acclaimed chef, look no further than Georgia Sea Grill on Mallery Street with Chef Jeff Lewis’ amazing menu or ECHO, inside the King and Prince Beach and Golf Club, featuring the culinary wizardry of Chef James Flack. Both showcase fresh-caught seafood and locally-sourced ingredients.
If Cap Fendig is right, there are at least 64 more choices for a good meal on the island.
3. Intriguing history
Take a narrated trolley tour or drive to these places on your own, but be sure to visit some of the historically significant locations on St. Simons Island.
The present structure of Christ Church on Frederica Road was built in 1884 by Reverend Anson Phelps Dodge, Jr. in memory of his wife, Ellen. Former presidents Calvin Coolidge, Jimmy Carter and George Bush, in addition to former Vice President Alben Barkley have worshipped in this building. There are many intriguing stories connected to the people interred in the cemetery beside the church. Eugenia Price, a best-selling American author, is buried there. She was known for her historical novels set in the Deep South and even wrote a trilogy set on St. Simons Island.
Fort Frederica on the island was established by James Oglethorpe in 1736 to protect Georgia’s southern coast from the Spanish in Florida. The Battles of Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh were both fought and won near this fort, allowing the British to remain in control.
The first lighthouse protecting the coast was built by James Gould in 1810, but it was destroyed by Confederate soldiers in 1862 to prevent the Union troops from being able to use it. The present lighthouse and lightkeeper’s house, known as St. Simons Island Lighthouse, was built in 1872. Inside the house, you will find very informative displays about the function of lighthouses in general and this lighthouse in particular.
4. One-of-a-kind shopping
The two main shopping areas on the island are Redfern Village and Pier Village. There are some chain businesses among the shops, but many are locally-owned and one-of-a-kind. Chic boutiques are neighbors with art galleries and antique stores.
One business that you will find especially tasty is Savannah Bee Company on Mallery Street in Pier Village. They have a tasting area for delicious honey as well as a mead tasting bar in the back. Mead is made from honey, water and yeast and is thought to be the oldest alcoholic drink ever created. Savannah Bee Company also carries a line of health and skin care products made from honey. Ted Dennard’s story of going from a Peace Corps worker to a business phenomenon is inspirational.
5. Golfing and Biking
On St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island combined there are over 50 miles of paved bike trails. Bikers just have to remember to wear a helmet because it’s the law for every person under 16 years old in Georgia. This is perfect for exercise and enjoying the beautiful scenery and vegetation on the islands.
Scattered throughout the Golden Isles are 180+ holes of golf. Some have even called it the “Capitol for Golf” in the United States. Pro players are discovering what a great place the Golden Isles are for playing and training, and quite a few have moved to the area. Some of the courses are for members or hotel guests only.
The course at King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort is on land that was formerly the Hampton Plantation where cotton, rice and indigo were grown. Joe Lee did a masterful job of designing the course among marsh islands, lagoons, a tidal creek and large oak trees.
St. Simons Island has traditional hotels, a few bed and breakfasts plus cottages, condominiums and private homes for rent. The only oceanside property is King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, and it has a variety of lodging options. Guests may choose villas, houses, or rooms overlooking the pool, the gardens or the ocean.
Sea Island is famous for The Cloister which is a very expensive, five-star property.
Jekyll Island has several lodging options from a grand historic hotel to campsites near the beach.
Little St. Simons Island is only accessible by boat and is equipped to host only 32 guests for an overnight stay.
Brunswick offers plenty of well-known hotel chains in a wide variety of price ranges.
7. Sea turtles and tree spirits
In the 2015 season, there were 2331 sea turtle nests in the state of Georgia. The Golden Isles had 399 of those. Residents of St. Simons are interested in and committed to the well-being of their sea turtles, and visitors will enjoy learning about these fascinating animals and leave with a new respect.
Thanks to the carving skill of Keith Jennings, 20 tree spirits have been commissioned for St. Simons Island. These spirits are ghostly faces representing sailors who drowned on ships made from St. Simons Island’s trees. Four of these are available for public viewing while the others are on private property. It is a fun family activity to search for these tree spirits.
Don’t worry. These carvings are done by hand and are not harmful to the trees. Mr. Jennings has been carving the spirits since 1982 and insists that the trees themselves tell him what or who he should carve. His most recent carving became a mermaid, rather than a sailor.
So much more than sand and surf on St. Simons Island
Many vacation destinations exist that have sand, waves and a view of the ocean or gulf, but on St. Simons Island a visitor gets so much more. There are plenty of water-related activities and places to eat fresh seafood, but in addition, you can learn much United States history from the days of the original 13 colonies to the Civil War and beyond. You can play golf on a different course every day of your vacation and ride your bike for miles, but you can also watch as sea turtles hatch and head instinctively to the sea, and search for tree spirits. It is unlikely that you could find a more unique place to spend a week.
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