The stress of daily life was already starting to melt away as I crossed the Sidney Lanier Bridge, Georgia’s tallest cable-stayed suspension bridge heading to St. Simons Island. It literally felt like crossing the bridge of time- to an island filled with beauty, charm, and fascinating history!
More than 400 years ago, Spanish explorers landed on the barrier island shores in pursuit of gold and treasures instead found immense natural beauty in its golden sands, the sun gleaming off its marshlands. But, to witness, a gorgeous sunrise over the ocean or the spectacular sunsets to the west is to understand why St. Simons Island along with the other barrier islands is known as the Golden Coast. As one frequent visitor to the island proclaimed “it’s the warmth of the people and the way the island makes us feel every time we’re here. That’s why we call it the Golden Isles”. After my four days, three-night getaway here, I couldn’t agree more.
Nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, St. Simons Island is the largest of Georgia’s barrier islands. The vast, scenic salt Marshes of Glynn guiding me to the island are among the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Providing rich harvests of shrimp, blue crab, and oyster, they also function as a natural filtering system for the local waters.
Massive moss-draped oaks lining the winding island streets felt like an official welcoming committee on this quaint, charming southern atoll. Time really does stand still here.
The stately King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort located on the Atlantic Ocean’s edge opened as a seaside dance club in 1935. The main hotel building opened to the public in 1941 as the King and Prince Hotel. During World War II, the hotel served as a vital naval coast-watching and training facility. Due to its immense popularity and public demand, the hotel reopened again in 1947. In 2005, it was aptly named a Historic Hotel of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for faithfully maintaining its authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity.
Not surprising that the perfect mixture of history, casual elegance, legendary hospitality, and its seaside, relaxing location has earned the King and Prince numerous accolades from well-known publications as Southern Living, Travel, and Leisure, and Coastal Living. With its five oceanfront swimming pools, Rubico clay tennis courts, and award-winning beautifully landscaped golf course set amongst salt marshes and ancient, verdant forests, the King and Prince provide a wide variety of outdoor activities. Relaxation is also paramount with rejuvenating massage therapies located at the Royal Treatment Cottage.
Accommodations range from oceanfront rooms, beach villas, resort residences, and in my case, a delightfully inviting and roomy beachfront cabana with an outdoor patio just steps from the ocean. At night, ocean waves lulled me into dreamland.
What is it about strolling through a quaint, charming small town that can somehow turn a non-shopper into a captivated browser of Dixie delights? With tree-lined walks, beguiling shops, and boutiques, Redfern Village in the heart of St. Simons made it impossible to resist walking into sweet southern places like Planters Exchange, Petite Mason, Two Friends, and Cachettes.
Dining on St. Simons Island was one glorious savory seafood experience after another. ECHO, The King and Prince Beach & Golf resort’s signature restaurant is the island’s only oceanfront dining venue. “Southern coastal with a twist” is how Chef James Flack describes the cuisine. The delectable Shrimp & Grits prepared with sweet wild Georgia shrimp “had me from hello”!
Gnat’s Landing, a flip-flop-friendly bar and grill with a laid-back island atmosphere in Redfern Village was a perfect lunch stop with friends. The “Bug Bites” section of the menu was the perfect way to sample Gnat’s many mouthwatering southern specialties. The combination of Fried dill pickles with ranch sauce, cheesy Vidalia onion pie, and their famous 17-ingredient Peppered Shrimp, served with spicy dipping sauce and grilled Ciabatta “for soppin’” had us almost licking the plates and wishing for more!
The jewel of island dining was Georgia Sea Grill, setting the bar in terms of quality, innovation, and sustainability on the island. The tantalizing seasonal-changing cuisine is a story within itself, but, most impressive is being the forefront of change to the restaurant industry in the isles by embracing only fresh locally produced, and harvested ingredients on the menu. The creamy, famously southern She Crab Soup starter was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. My fresh- catch dinner entrée, Coriander Dusted Swordfish, was expertly prepared to delectable perfection and served over sautéed turnip greens, kohlrabi, bell pepper, and finished with a spicy orange butter sauce.
Islands and lighthouses go hand and hand and St. Simons is no exception. One of only five surviving light towers in Georgia, the St. Simons Island Lighthouse built in 1872 remains an important navigational aid for ships entering St. Simon Sound due to dangerous offshore sand bars. A climb of 129 steps to the top of the tower rewarded us with stunning ocean views and breathtaking island vistas.
One great place for walking, fishing, pelican watching, and photography, St. Simons Island Pier is the perfect place to spot dolphins feeding along the coast. Between December and March, North Atlantic Right Whales can be seen migrating from the northeastern United States to calving areas off the southeastern states. But, the most fun of all was watching the salty fishermen and hardy crabbers fishing from the pier or offloading their bounty after a long day at sea.
Nestled in a serene setting surrounded by mossy grass and towering oaks, Christ Church, the third oldest Episcopal church in the country is one of St. Simons’ most treasured landmarks and the most photographed locations on the island. Built in 1820, destroyed during the Civil War, then rebuilt in 1886, the Gothic-inspired sanctuary contains awe-inspiring, magnificent stained glass windows depicting notable biblical scenes. No wonder it is considered one of America’s most beautiful churches. The timing of our visit was perfect as both church and grounds were beautifully adorned with glorious autumn floral arrangements in celebration of the Fall Flower and Music Festival held each October.
A gentle rain seemed an appropriate accompaniment as we strolled the sacred cemetery grounds filled with aged, weathered tombstones. The gray, somber, overcast skies with Spanish moss literally dripping from majestic oaks could not have provided a more fitting setting. It is one of the oldest cemeteries in the state of Georgia with numerous early political leaders and settlers of the Georgia coast buried here, along with the famed writer, Eugenia Price.
Replete with so much history, southern hospitality, and stunning natural and architectural beauty, it’s no wonder St. Simons Island has received so many awards and honors as an island destination. The minute I stepped foot on the island, I understood why. The only thing that would have made my visit more perfect is if it had been longer!