(UPDATED AUGUST 2021) Georgia is known for its delicious peaches, world-famous golf, Atlanta’s metropolitan city, President Jimmy Carter, and Savannah’s stately squares. What you might not know is that the Barrier Islands start in The Peach State and are full of beaches, maritime forests, live oak trees dripping with moss, and coastal delights. Here are the must see (and do) things on St. Simons Island, GA, the largest of Georgia’s barrier islands.
Want to discover one of the best-kept secrets in the South? My family discovered St. Simons Island nearly 20 years ago and we’ve have watched it grow in greatness, but stay true to its nature. This laid-back town with unspoiled beauty doesn’t need theme parks, National Parks, or James Beard chefs to make a name for itself. With dripping Spanish moss, hundreds of shore birds, excellent sweet tea, and a deep-rooted community, it is the quintessential Georgia town.
Eat Around St. Simons Island: The Best SSI Restaurants
Porch is one of my favorite draws on St. Simons Island. This laid-back eatery with indoor, outdoor, and screened-in dining features awesome Nashville Hot Chicken, catfish, and shrimp, plus a wide array of traditional Southern side dishes. A “plate” gets you a main meat, two sides, slice of white bread, and pickles. I recommend the maple baked beans, PVC pimento cheese grits, and JB’s collard greens.
For fine-dining in a casual setting, Georgia Sea Grill, on Mallery Street, serves up delicious food with impeccable service. I’ve never been one to order Escargot, but have had it on cruise ships many times. This is one restaurant you will want to order it—again, and again, and again. The delicate and tasty snails are sitting on a little cloud of puff pastry and topped with a garlic-parsley butter.
Shrimp and Grits are always a great choice for dinner at Georgia Sea Grill, but the bronzed fresh catch with Hoppin’ John and tomato cream. No matter what meal you choose, save room for the Georgia Pecan Pie or Buttermilk Pie with housemade strawberry jam. Mmm, mmm, good. Georgia Sea Grill also has an extensive wine menu.
Gnat’s Landing is the place to go for upscale pub grub and for watching sporting events or televised specials. Order the lip-smacking good Vidalia Onion Pie for starters and a Shrimp Basket or Slaw Bowl for lunch.
Mullet Bay Restaurant is a lively place for good cold beer and American fare in a loud and energetic setting, while Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria is a neighborhood staple for Classic Italian eats, antipasti, and perfectly-prepared pizza.
ECHO, a Southern contemporary oceanfront eatery and bar, is the King and Prince’s onsite restaurant. Chef James Flack and his culinary team serve a foodie-friendly menu that is sure to please. Grab a craft beer sampling from the rotating beers on tap while you munch on Truffle Fries. Handcrafted cocktails and over 40 wines (served by the glass) are also good choices.
Barbara Jean’s is the place to go for the best selection of award-winning seafood (try the crab cakes) and homestyle side dishes, or make a meal of three to four of them, while Palmer’s Village Cafe is the place to go for exotic breakfast dishes, served all day. More traditional breakfast items, including a buffet back in the days when I visited, is from Sandcastle Cafe & Grill.
Practice your swing on one of St. Simons Island’s award-winning golf courses. It is no wonder that many of the golf greats in the country live right here in this area, perhaps you will see them around town or nearby Sea Island. The courses often feature lagoons, salt marshes, and extraordinary Southern beauty.
If you are not a golfer, perhaps an invigorating tennis game played on Rubico clay tennis courts or renting a bicycle from nearby Ocean Motion is more your speed. There are 21 miles of bike paths around St. Simons Island to keep you busy.
A Memorable Historic Church and Sites
History buffs will be pleased with all of the choices St. Simons Island offers. Drive through the double row 190-year-old lives oak trees at Avenue of the Oaks en route to see the Fort Frederica National Monument. This treasure was built by General James Oglethorpe, responsible for planning the magnificent city of Savannah. Other churches an historic sites worth having a look at include Bloody Marsh Battle Site, First African Baptist Church (dating back to the plantation era), and Christ Church, Frederica, circa 1884. I’ve always heard that the stained glass inside Christ Church was an unsigned Louis Comfort Tiffany piece.
Another popular thing to search for on St. Simons Island are called Tree Spirits. The island has seven hand-carved masterpieces around town, with one being the Mermaid Tree Spirit at eh Golden Isles Welcome Center. You can pick up a map to find the other locations from the center. You can also find nearly twenty weathered faces carved in tree trunks or deadened branch. Keith Jennings is the artist behind these lovely artworks.
The Famous Lighthouse
If you love visiting lighthouses, St. Simons Island, GA, has one that is sure to please. Climb the 129 steps to the top for stellar 360-degree views of Neptune Park and its oceanside pool and playground.
The treasured St. Simons Lighthouse was built in the 1800s and is one of only five remaining Georgia lighthouses. Be sure to explore The Keeper’s Dwelling, a two-story Victorian structure (the keeper’s home until the 1950s) that is currently a museum with rare artifacts and memorabilia.
A more adventurous option would be to take a Coastal Georgia Tour or Dolphin Cruise with Cap Fendig and crew. You may be greeted with sea life and wildlife, so have your camera ready to go.
And don’t forget the magnificent oaks that adorn the St. Simons Island landscape.
Shopping St. Simons Island
Downtown St. Simons Island (SSI) is a treasure trove of locally-owned shops, cute cafes, and art galleries. Check out Savannah Bee Company, where you can take home fine honey (the hot is sensational!), natural body care products, and try a sampling of mead, honey wine.
Pier Village, the hub of town, has something for everyone. Caution, you may be tempted to browse and wander for hours.
One of my favorite places to shop is Redfern Village, an ideal place for upscale purchases and browsing. Shops that may catch your eye in Redfern Village are Cutie Patooties, Posh, Golden Isles Olive Co., and The Queen Bee.
Don’t feel like driving around the island? Call St. Simon’s Lighthouse Trolley for a vehicle to serve your needs. You may be surprised at how economical it can be, especially for a group or family.
The Fabulous Beaches
If beaches are what you desire, you’ll love the simple charms of Driftwood Beach. As the name implies, this beach (Northern Jekyll) is dotted with interesting driftwood and trees. Chances are you will see a plethora of exotic birds, too. Bring your camera for the wonderful photo ops.
Another noteworthy beach, Glory Beach, is accessible by a boardwalk that crosses a dune.
A Day Trip to Jekyll Island
Day trips around the area might include discovering historic Brunswick (one of the most viable ports in the United States) or Jekyll Island, millionaires retreat from 1886-1942.
Jekyll Island was the most exclusive club globally with members such as J.P. Morgan and William Rockefeller. The Jekyll Island Club Hotel is a great place to start your day.
Afterward, spring for the $25 tour to possibly enter some of the island’s historic homes.
Where to Stay at St. Simons Island
Consider the elegant King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort for your home away from home accommodations. Just the name King and Prince and St. Simons Island are pretty much synonymous. The luxury resort excels in Southern hospitality and making the guest feel at home, wanted, and appreciated all at the same time. Many of their guests are repeat visitors, which speaks loads for their commitment to customer satisfaction.
At the King and Prince Resort, you are genuinely enveloped in island beauty, pristine sandy beaches, crashing ocean waves, and swaying palm trees. Lodging choices include the main hotel, beach villas, or resort residences (some of which are dog-friendly).
The King and Prince’s aesthetically pleasing grounds offer two huge oceanfront pools (3 others throughout the property), children’s play area, Royal Treatment Cottage for massage services, and plenty of spots for relaxing and lapping up the scenery. Rooms include complimentary Wi-Fi, parking, and no resort fees are required. King and Prince Resort is a member of the Historic Hotels of America.
Unless you have a large group traveling with you, spring for an ocean view room in the main hotel, leave your floor to ceiling sliding glass doors open at night, and enjoy hearing the waves going to sleep. The rooms’ interior is beach chic done up in demure, relaxing colors. A couch and chairs provide additional seating in the room.
Rooms include mini-refrigerators, flat-screen TVs with CD/DVD players, and a small arsenal of books.
Two other suggestions for excellent accommodations are the St. Simons Inn by the Lighthouse (34 stylish rooms) and Village Inn & Pub, a 1930s-era beach cottage under live oaks.
A Little Slice of Heaven?
The charming community of St. Simons Island puts you under her spell. Maybe that is why Travel + Leisure has named it America’s Most Romantic Town and America’s Favorite Beach Town in the past. Come for a vacation and leave enchanted!
Special thanks to Leigh Cort Publicity and the King and Prince for the hospitality, meals, and having me for one of my visits. As with all posts on this site, all opinions and conclusions are 100% my own and unbiased.
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