These islands, rich in heritage and scenic beauty, are named for the autumnal colors of their vast marshes.
When Spanish explorers searched for gold along the southern coast of Georgia, they instead found beautiful beaches and golden marshes. Modern-day visitors will enjoy these natural wonders as well as the culture and history of St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island and Sea Island – the four destinations – along with the mainland city of Brunswick, Georgia, that make up the Golden Isles. Spend a relaxing day on St. Simons Island, the largest barrier island in the group, exploring historic sites, natural beauty and shopping.
Start the Day at the Pier
Begin your stay on St. Simons Island with people-watching and absorbing the gorgeous views at St. Simons Fishing Pier. Many tourists and locals come here to go fishing, watch a spectacular oceanfront sunrise or just hang out. Near the fishing pier is Mallery Street and Pier Village, a colorful area where visitors can shop and dine at small boutiques and locally owned restaurants. Enjoy window shopping at the quaint stores and savor the tempting aromas from restaurant patios. If you’re traveling with your family, take the children to enjoy Neptune Park, a short walk from the pier. Neptune Park has a playground, picnic tables and a miniature golf course. Children will love the Fun Zone, with its water slides, zero-entry pool and wading area. Best of all, it’s all along the ocean front, making for a pretty and relaxing day on the island.
Climb the Lighthouse
Near the foot of Mallery Street is the St. Simons Lighthouse. Climb the 129 steps to the top of the lighthouse and soak in the incredible views of Neptune Park, Jekyll Island and the rest of the beautiful coastline. Originally lit using oil, this still-active light was converted to electricity in 1934. It still uses the original third-order Fresnel lens. The museum and gift shop at the foot of the tower are well worth a stop.
Visit Historic Sites
Drive to Fort Frederica, about 20 minutes from the lighthouse. The fort was built to protect British interests against the Spanish. Named after the Prince of Wales, Frederick Louis, it was established as a defense post on March 16, 1736. Its founder, James Edward Oglethorpe, came here to defend British military interests as well as for commercial and philanthropic reasons. The first colonists were 44 men and 72 women and children from England, Scotland and the German territories; only a few years later, the number had risen to 1,000. Today, only the ruins stand, as the remains of the abandoned post burned down in 1758. The wall remnants – made of “tabby,” a mix of sand, water and boiled oyster shells – give insight into the building’s former architecture, and the surrounding live oaks covered in Spanish moss complete this ethereal setting.
Just a few minutes from the fort, pay a visit to Christ Church, Frederica, which is built in a cruciform design with magnificent stained glass windows. It’s one of the oldest churches in Georgia. The original building was destroyed during the Civil War and rebuilt in 1889 by Anson Dodge as a memorial for his wife, Ellen, who died on their honeymoon in India. Next to the garden is the Christ Church Cemetery, with the graves of early settlers and famous Georgians. Its oldest headstone dates to 1803. Also near the fort is something a little different, the Wesley Memorial and Gardens. Dedicated to the Revs, John and Charles Wesley – the latter wrote the popular Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” – the gardens are as beautiful as they are tranquil. Time your visit in spring to see the azaleas burst into bloom. Between the flowers and the Spanish moss-draped trees, it’s hard to imagine anything more peaceful. The centerpiece of this memorial is a Celtic cross made of Georgia stone.
Shopping and Dining
In addition to natural beauty, sandy beaches, a fishing pier, a cinema and a theater, St. Simons Island has some of the best shopping and award-winning dining options on the Georgia coast. One thing you notice upon your arrival is that almost all of the shops and restaurants are family-owned businesses rather than big chains. The friendliness from the staffs is a great reflection of the level of care given to visitors. If shopping makes you hungry, stop by Bennie’s Red Barn, established in 1954. The oldest restaurant on St. Simons Island has its inspiration in Germany, as the founder had sought shelter in a German barn as a soldier in World War II.
After regaining your energy, head out in search of so-called tree spirits, which are carvings of faces hidden in the island’s majestic live oaks. These eerie faces represent sailors who lost their lives at sea. An online map will show you where each spirit is located, but try to resist cheating and enjoy the scavenger hunt.
Little Simons Island
Little Simons Island is accessible only by boat from the north end of St. Simons Island. The Lodge at Little Simons Island accommodates just 32 guests at a time, so if you’re looking for a private escape for a group, this is it. Even if you’re not staying at the Lodge, you can take a day trip and tour the island with a guide to learn about this pristine landscape. Or unplug completely and just take in the tranquility of the undeveloped beaches and the beauty of the island’s wildlife.
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