St. Simons Island and the Golden Isles
by Patrick Killam
When the daily grind gets you down, look for a golden getaway. You’ll think the drive from Atlanta to Georgia’s St. Simons Island is worth the five hours in the car once you start feeling the ocean breeze and your worries are wiped away.
As an alternative, round-trip regional jet service is offered several times a day between Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport and Brunswick Golden Isles Airport. Regardless how you get there, though, be sure to go! While the area is great for family fun, sportsmen, nature-lovers, history buffs, couples, and sun-worshippers will find lots to love, too.
First, you’ll arrive in mainland Brunswick (which gave its name to regional favorite Brunswick Stew), with a National Register District of majestic homes noted for their turn-of-the-century elegance and eclectic mix of styles, and a burgeoning downtown filled with antique and specialty shops and art galleries. Make your way across the marshland teeming with life and head to one of the four barrier islands arrayed along Georgia’s coast: St. Simons Island, the largest of the Golden Isles; Sea Island, home to the world-class Sea Island Resort and The Cloister at Sea Island; Little St. Simons Island, a private island offering accommodations for up to 30 guests; and Jekyll Island, the southernmost of the Golden Isles and once an exclusive winter retreat for some of America’s wealthiest families.
There’s enough in this area to keep you busy for weeks, but assuming your time is limited, St. Simons is a great place to enjoy your first visit.
A range of lodging opportunities is available on the island—from oceanfront resorts and vacation rentals, to inns and motel chains. One of the favorites in the area is St. Simons Beach Club, the largest oceanfront condominium community on St. Simons Island. With rentals offered by Hodnett Cooper Vacation Rentals, all residences include a fully equipped kitchen, private balcony, and combined living and dining area. In the heart of the beautifully landscaped grounds is a large oceanfront swimming pool, separate children’s pool, and two hot-tubs. A short stroll down the private boardwalk leads you to a sandy beach. Hodnett Cooper offers more than 400 rentals, including units in the following oceanfront complexes: St Simons Grand, Beach Club, North Breakers and Shipwatch. Contact Hodnett Cooper at 888- 638-4750 or see www.hodnettcooper.com.
Even if your lodging includes a kitchen, be sure to make opportunities to try the local fare. The Crab Trap is a St. Simons Island favorite for more than 30 years. Their world-famous Crab Soup is to die for. Known for its tables with “the hole” in the middle for discarding oyster shells and shrimp tails, the Crab Trap offers a very nautical, casual and rustic atmosphere.
Nearby, the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort offers three different restaurants, alone. Also, catch your fill of seafood at places like Crabdaddy’s, Barbara Jean’s or Georgia Sea Grill. Or try Brogan’s for burgers or Beachcomber BBQ & Grill for BBQ sandwiches and ribs.
Be sure to make opportunities to try the local fare.
With an eclectic collection of shops, galleries and restaurants, St. Simons Island Village is the hub for vacation activities. In this area, you can also walk out to the pier on Mallery Street to fish, or just to watch the ocean or the sunset. Contact the Brunswick-Golden Isles Visitors Bureau for details at www.comecoastawhile.com or 800-933-COAST.
Not to be missed there on the south end of the island is the St. Simons Lighthouse. Although the original lighthouse was destroyed during the Civil War, the current 104-foot lighthouse was built in 1872. Climb the 129 steps for an unforgettable view. You might purchase a combination ticket and visit the Maritime Museum at the Historic Coast Guard Station, as well.
Next to the lighthouse, Neptune Park is sure to be a hit with the family, offering a children’s playground, a miniature golf course and a pool.
Perhaps the best way to see the island is to rent a bike and tour via pedal power. For example, at Wheel Fun Rentals on Ocean Boulevard you can choose among surreys, bicycles and more. As you sightsee, be on the lookout for St. Simons’ “Tree Spirits.” These unique carvings in the live oak trees immortalize the sailors who lost their lives at sea aboard the sailing ships that were made from St. Simons oak.
Make your way to the other side of the island and visit Fort Frederica, which was established in 1736 by James Oglethorpe to protect the southern boundary of his new colony of Georgia from the Spanish in Florida. Nearby, see Christ Church, one of the oldest churches in Georgia. Worship has been continuous in Christ Church Parish since 1736, when Charles and John Wesley were early leaders. Frederica Park is another family-friendly venue, where the Alice Richards Botanical Trail features faerie houses, a gazebo and a labyrinth.
Wherever you choose to make your base— St. Simons, one of the other islands or the mainland— there’s much to do within a short drive. For example, golfers will find 180 holes of golf on area courses. And it’s not surprising that water is a big draw for the area, creating unique opportunities for a wide range of activities.
For example, the Lady Jane Shrimp Boat, based out of Brunswick, is the only shrimp vessel on the entire east coast that has been certified to carry 49 passengers offshore 20 nautical miles. If you like, you can help the crew sort the shrimp from her catch. Captain Larry Credle will take good care of you aboard his boat, which has an air conditioned cabin, restroom and large open decks. You can even enjoy fresh shrimp boiled and served on board. Call 912-265-5711 or see www.shrimpcruise.com for more information.
For something different, try your luck aboard the Emerald Princess II casino/cruise ship, which offers afternoon and evening cruises from downtown Brunswick.
Or you might like to try an eco-tour trawl cruise. Captain Phillip’s Charters and Tours are docked at the Jekyll Wharf Marina. The crew narrates about the creatures caught in its net and allows passengers to look at them up-close before throwing them back. They’ve even been known to accommodate small passengers with their own bucket to explore. Call 912-635-3152 or see www.captainphillip.com for more.
Also on Jekyll, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center serves as a hospital for sick and injured sea turtles. The Center is open to the general public and offers an interactive exhibit gallery and rehabilitation pavilion with a number of viewable sea turtle patients. Call 877-4JE-KYLL or visit www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org for more information.
Truly, whatever your interest, you’ll find something to enjoy when you visit St. Simons Island. In fact, there’s so much to do you’ll want to come back and coast awhile in Brunswick and Georgia’s Golden Isles.
For more information on planning your trip to St. Simons Island, or Brunswick and the Golden Isles, contact the Visitors Bureau for details at www.comecoastawhile.com or 800-933-COAST.