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Simply Smart Travel
by Jeff Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein
St. Simons Island, GA.
Despite being hammered by 2016 and 2017 hurricanes, St. Simons is doing just fine. Named for a Spanish monk, this gorgeous and historic island is located just off the coast of Georgia.
It is the largest of a chain of Georgia barrier islands known as the Golden Isles. Other islands in the chain are Jekyll, Little St. Simons and Sea Island.
Accessible by highway from the mainland, the St. Simons of today is a peaceful resort town with its streets sheltered by a mature canopy of mossdraped coastal live oaks and full of quaint shops and restaurants. Its earlier history, however, was far from peaceful.
For at least two millennia, it was a native American fishing ground. In the 18th century it was the venue for the rival imperialisms of the new British colony of Georgia and the Spanish in Florida, based in St. Augustine. The area was known as the debatable land so Georgia's founder, James Oglethorpe, established Fort Frederica in 1736 on St. Simons to control the shipping lanes.
During the war of Jenkins Ear in 1742, Spanish and British forces clashed on the island. Fort Frederica's troops defeated the Spanish, ensuring Georgia's future as a British colony. Today, the archeological remnants of Fort Frederica are protected by the National Park Service. Rangers conduct a fascinating tour there.
The island was also home to nine slaveryera rice and cotton plantations and, in the 20th century, developed into a shrimping and tourist mecca. Over the years, it has attracted preachers John and Charles Wesley, U.S. Presidents, the G8 International Conference, the superrich and a cohort of smart travelers seeking a relaxing getaway.
21st century St. Simons’ attractions include friendly people, a great waterfront hotel, scores of restaurants, a public pier, an historic lighthouse and museum, parks, golf courses and a shopping village. It also boasts extensive marshes, eight to tenfoot tides, an impressive tree canopy and fine beaches with almost universal public access. A zoning ordinance that permits no building taller than its surrounding tree canopy has kept the island free of highrise hotels and condos and gives visitors the feel of returning to an earlier era of American leisure.
Before You Go
For a list of area attractions and tour suggestions, check:
St. Simons is just offshore from Brunswick, Ga. Accessible by car off I95 and U.S. 17, it is an hour’s drive north of Jacksonville, Florida.
There is a large private jetport on the island and nearby Brunswick (BQK) Airport, a former Naval Air Station, is served by Delta Airlines. Jacksonville (JAX) and Savannah (SAV) airports are both less than an hour and a half away and have extensive connections.
The closest Amtrak stations are in Jacksonville (78 miles) and Jessup, (48 miles), offering Florida to New York service.
The King And Prince hotel can arrange for airport and train station pickups with advance notice.
There is no island public transportation system but there are taxis and trolley services conducting island tours. Renting a bike is great because rental places and bike paths are almost everywhere.
When There Mustdos for a short trip are:
Prince Beach and Golf Resort for oceanfront luxury. The hotel started as a dance club in the roaring 20’s, became an upscale hotel in 1941 and was taken over by the U.S. Navy in WWII after a German UBoat torpedoed shipping just offshore. It was an officer’s billet and home to a topsecret radar development station, hence the name Echo for the hotel’s gourmetquality waterview restaurant. After the war, it resumed its role as a luxury hotel and today is the lodging crown jewel of St. Simons. Renovated in 2014 and totally repaired after 2017’s Hurricane Irma, the property blends a classic historical look with contemporary fixtures, conveniences and amenities.
Enjoying an Atlantic Ocean sunrise from the beach or pier.
Enjoy the costal ambiance on board a sunset cruise, dolphin cruise or inshore fishing trip with Cap Fendig of Lighthouse Trolleys.
Visit the old Coast Guard Station, Bloody Marsh battlefield, Fort Frederica, historic Christ Church and the St. Simon’s lighthouse and museum.
Explore the shops and galleries near the pier.
Explore Brunswick and adjacent Jekyll Island.
Rent a bicycle and explore the island’s many bike paths.
Play golf at the King and Prince golf course and enjoy greens built on small marsh islands.
When To Go:
St. Simons has a yearround good climate. August and September are usually hot but winter is mild and a great time to celebrate the holidays islandstyle. October and March are usually superb.
Jeffrey Orenstein, Ph.D. and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. Their Simply Smart Travel column appears in newspapers and magazines in eight states. Reach them at jorenstein@SimplySmartTravel.com