St. Simons Island: Georgia's Barrier Island Getaway

Sitting off the Georgia coast is a perfect get-away island. Easily reached by car the idyllic island of St. Simons offers great places to eat, interesting historic sites, water activities, wonderful hard-packed sand beaches, and a huge range of lodging.

Like almost all of North America, the land that would come to be called St. Simons Island was home to native American villages. In fact, a former burial ground and village was actually uncovered at what is now the McKinnon Airport. But there's plenty of more modern history as well.

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Fort Frederica

In the 17th and 18th century the Spanish, English, and entrepreneurial pirates vied for dominance, or at least a share of the colonial America pie. Fort Frederica was established to protect Savannah and the Carolinas from Spain. The Battle of Bloody Marsh in 1742 ended Spain's threat to English domination. Today it's For Frederica National Monument, an archeological park open for visitors.

Christ Church

Nearby is the historic Christ Church (1884) famous for its serene beauty and stained glass windows. It is open to the public for tours every day (except Monday, Easter & Christmas) from 2-5 PM. Call the church office at (912) 638-8683 for more information.

Island Plantations

As in other parts of Georgia, cotton and plantations came to St. Simons, along with the slaves to make them run. At one point there were over a dozen plantations on the island. Most were built of wood and have not survived the intervening years. But there are two notable exceptions that can be visited.

The remnants of Hamilton Plantation (owned by James Hamilton -- a native of Scotland) still stand on Gascoigne Bluff near Fort Frederica. Two of the slave cabins remain. They were made of tabby -- lime, sand, water and oyster shells. The Cassina Garden Club now owns the cabins and are restoring them. Tours are available (with donations gratefully accepted). Call 912-638-1908 or 912-638-9808.

The other plantation site is Cannon's Point Plantation, completed in 1804. Although the building itself is in ruins, grounds and tours will soon be available. St. Simons Land Trust now owns the property and expects to integrate it into their existing trail system as well as offer biking, hiking, kayaking, picnicking. History buffs will be interested in the proposed tours of the remains of Cannon's Point.

Visiting the Village on St. Simons

This is a great strolling village with places to shop, eat, and enjoy the water. It's also got a town park with an unusual history. Neptune Park wasn't named after the king of the sea, but rather a former slave named Neptune Small. It's an interesting and in some ways challenging story. Small was owned by the King family. When the Civil War broke out he accompanied Henry Lord Page King into the military as his servant. King died at Fredericksburg Virginia. Small searched the battlefield, found the body and brought him home... and then went back to be the servant of the younger son. After the war, Small was given a tract of land. Part of that land today is the park that bears his name -- Neptune Park.

While in the village, visit St. Simons Island Lighthouse and lighthouse keepers cottage. The current structure was built in 1872 (the original was built in 1811 but was destroyed by confederate army in 1862). The lighthouse is open for climbing daily, except during bad weather. The lighthouse keeper's cottage is currently undergoing renovation but will soon be open for visitors. Check the status 912-638-4666

One of the delightful surprises that greet visitors to the island are the "tree spirits" carved into a huge old trees. Most are created by Keith Jennings. There is, of course, a story behind this intriguing carvings. According to legend, tree spirits were a way to remember and honor those who lost their lives at sea. The ships were built of St. Simons oak, so the carvings returned their spirits home to the trees. Five of these carvings are on public streets along Demere Road, Mallory Street, Redfern Village and Frederica Road. There's even a map available online that might help visitors find this somewhat elusive art.

Other Activities

The Lady Jane offers a pretty special experience -- go shrimping on a shrimp boat and then eat the catch. Tour the island with one of the special narrated tours of the island. The Glynn Art Association offers special events, and classes. Check them out at GlynnArt.org

Of course, islands are all about beaches. There's plenty to choose from, if you stay in a hotel that doesn't offer beach access, the two beaches that provide facilities are Massengale Park at 1350 Ocean Blvd, and Coast Guard Station / East Beach at 4100 First St.

Food

You'll never go hungry on St Simons but there are some places too good to miss. Sal's Neighborhood Pizzeria really does have phenomenal pizza and very New York Italian setting. Sal himself is a New Yorker and Italian to the core. In addition to great food, Sal's story is fascinating, including holding the Guinness World Record for "The longest interval between two professional boxing fights." This interval was 25 years and 66 days and Sal Cenicola holds that distinction. Stop by, enjoy the pizza and chat with Sal.

Breakfast in the village at the Sandcastle Cafe. Their plentiful buffet is a justified legend. You won't go away hungry.

If BBQ is your thing, Southern Soul BBQ sits alongside a major road and has limited seating so you might need to get their delicious brisket (and other goodies) to go. It's worth it.

Whether or not you are a guest at the King and Prince, you'll definitely want to try their new Echo Restaurant. Recently re-opened, the menu stresses local and fresh coastal cuisine with a modern twist. It's also great for breakfast.

Lodging

There's plenty of places to stay, but only one resort on the beach and it is world class. King and Prince Resort. Go there. Eat there. Plan on returning.

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Neala Schwartzberg McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: June 2nd, 2014



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