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I recently had the pleasure of exploring small but mighty Georgia coastline, in particular, St. Simons Island. During my stay on the island, it became increasingly apparent that this hidden gem is a nature lover’s playground. In fact, I’d wager the wildlife – specifically the sea life – greatly outnumber the people.
If you are truly looking to get away from it all, and still have a beach vacation without the crowds, I’d recommend the natural beauty of St. Simons Island. The following breaks down just a small sampling of outdoor and pure charm of this delightful unspoiled island.
My visit to St. Simons Island was sponsored by Leigh Cort Publicity and The King and Prince Resort. However, all opinions and observations are my own.
St. Simons Island is the largest of the Golden Isles along Georgia’s coast. The island is roughly 17 square miles long. It’s flanked by Sea Island, Jekyll Island and Little St. Simons Island, and just off the coastline is the historic city of Brunswick, GA. St. Simons Island is approximately an hour north of Jacksonville and an hour south of Savannah, making it a perfect place to combine a historical adventure with a relaxing beach vacation. St. Simons Island is rated among America’s Favorite Beach Towns by Travel + Leisure, Best Coastal Small Town by USA Today and best US Islands for Family Vacations by Conde Nast Traveler. As you can guess, families love it here.
While on the island, I experienced an island tour by the engaging Cap Fendig and his Lighthouse Trolleys. We also spoke with Marcie at the Golden Isles Welcome Center. What impressed me the most about these organizations and the people who run them was the extraordinary amount of information they provided about their island. They demonstrated that the “local movement” isn’t just the latest trend on St. Simons, but a proud heritage in everything they offer.
Part of the natural beauty of St. Simons Island lies in their trees. The moss draped, quintessential southern style grandiose oaks line every street. In fact, the island has an ordinance that no building may eclipse the tree line. This means no high-rise hotels or skyscrapers detracting from the historic charm.
Tree Spirits also adorn a few of the trees on St. Simons Island. Local sculptor Keith Jennings shapes these designs from naturally damaged parts of the oak trees, so no further damage is done. These intricate carvings are scattered throughout the island, make a fun family adventure and scavenger hunt. Stop by the Welcome Center for a map.
Salt Marsh Rivers
The Golden Isles are lush with salt and tidal marshes, creeks, and rivers. This protected ecosystem is one of the largest salt marshes in the United States. The salt marsh is tidal, in that it moves with the sea tides, up to six feet between high and low. Interestingly, the salt marsh provides an abundance of wildlife, on land, sea, and air.
While visiting, Cap Fendig and the Lighthouse Trolley tours took us on one of their sightseeing boat tours. We watched bald eagles nesting, fisherman crabbing and dolphins swimming and jumping in the marshy rivers. In fact, because the marshland is an abundant feeding ground, over 300 species of native and migratory birds come through here.
Fishing, shrimping and crabbing are popular in this area, and although Georgia only claims about 100 miles of coastline, they do have their very own Georgia White Shrimp.
For a truly unique and educational experience, take the kids aboard a certified passenger shrimp boat, the Lady Jane. Help the crew, sort the catch and learn what makes the salt marshes perfect for these delicious shrimp.
Lighthouse Trolleys also offer fishing trips, sunset cruises and dolphin tours. Or you can bring/rent your own equipment and head out with the locals on the pier.
Watch portions of our dolphin tour here.
The beaches of St Simons are also unique. Because the marsh water mixes with the ocean, the water is not the crystal clear you might think common. Plus, the tide changes drastically here, anywhere from 6 to 8 feet every six hours. This is something to watch when you have young swimmers. An added odd benefit to this I found, the salt water is not as “salty” as in some other areas.
If you’re not staying ocean side, all the beaches in St. Simons offer free parking.
For more adventure, check out Barry’s Beach Service. They offer ocean kayak rentals, guided river kayak tours (with the winding and changing tidal rivers, you need a guide) sailing and stand up paddleboarding. They also offer beach umbrella and chair rentals and I found their pricing very reasonable.
I took the opportunity and headed out for my first ocean paddleboard. I’ve paddled the rivers before, and I did find this a different challenge. While I didn’t take instruction, the folks at Barry’s would help you get your sea legs.
Out on the ocean is my favorite spot to be, and this did not disappoint. While paddling, I was able to watch dolphins play about 20-30 feet from me.
Turtles and turtle nesting are another popular attraction at the beach. Loggerhead and sometimes leatherback turtles come ashore to make their nest in June and July with babes hatching in August and September. Stop in the Golden Isles Welcome Center to inquire about setting up a night-time tour.
As with any wildlife, keep your distance, even from the sea creatures mentioned here. Turtle nests should never be disturbed.
St. Simons Island has over 30 miles of bike trails, making it a family friendly place to explore. Bring your own, or rent from Ocean Motion. The offer baby seats, trailer/tandem bikes and each rental include a lock, basket, and helmet. Get a bike made for the beach and sand and explore that way too.
Explore St. Simons Island
Need a place to stay? Be sure to read my full review of the King and Prince Resort on St. Simons Island.
St. Simons Island is a perfect family destination for those seeking a little adventure, a little seclusion and a lot of natural wildlife and beauty.