What are the chances that three NYC families from the same building end up, unplanned, on this not-so-known island? There are many reasons this place draws folks from big cities and there are many reasons that it should remain a well-kept secret. Below are some insights on our two very special weeks on the island.
When I think of St. Simons Island, I think BEACH. There is so much of it- long, dreamy stretches of endless sand along miles of the beautiful coast. The house we rented was along the ninth street entrance of East Beach, the main beach, with beautiful sand dunes that greet you as soon as you step on the sand. Each morning began with an early walk; flip flops in hand and feet in the water. Similarly, many days ended with sunset strolls admiring the coast's ever-changing colors as the day neared its' end. Depending on the clouds in the sky and the sun's mood, each walk brought a new vista and new discoveries. When I think of St. Simons Island, I think of a laid-back and super chill vibe. This beach town is so unpretentious and the people are so friendly, you can't avoid quickly falling into island time. This island truly follows its' own clock, one with no time.
After our morning beach walks, we made a mad dash to Wake Up Coffee. This is probably one of the best coffee shops I have ever been to in all our travels anywhere in the world. They roast their beans onsite, the entire staff is incredibly friendly and their iced lattes are simply creamy, dreamy, and addictive. My husband was hooked on their cold brew. We will have major withdrawal symptoms for sure.
On the northern tip of East Beach, you will find Gould's Inlet, a protected nature reserve where several species of birds nest their eggs, and sand bars stretch far into the sea. This is a popular spot for bird watching, fishing and just staring into the infinite blue sky and sea.
We also connected with the beautiful wonders of nature through a private beach yoga session with East Beach Yoga. We hoped to have more regular sessions but there was just so much to see and do, and we, unfortunately, were unable to book additional classes. Our instructor, Chrissy, was awesome and flowing through our poses with the wind in our hair, toes in the sand, and waves crashing around us, is unforgettable.
Many locals, and visitors, get around the island on golf carts, adding to its' charming appeal. We rented our cart from Golf Cart Rentals. They deliver the carts to your driveway and pick them up too. It couldn't be an easier transaction and it is the best way to explore the area.
A highlight of the trip was hopping on the golf cart to search for the seven Tree Spirits around the island. These are faces carved into oak trees by artist Keith Jennings who in the '80s connected with the trees, listened to their whispers, and carved out faces representing the trees' souls. The trees spoke to him. How cool is that? There are maps outlining their locations online or at the Pier Village Visiting Center. We really loved searching for them and equally shared our enthusiasm when finding them. Since the Tree Spirits are dispersed throughout the island, this hunt led us to places we would have not seen otherwise, an added bonus!
Pier Village is a popular attraction and has a very well maintained and clean promenade along the coast. Unfortunately, it gets crowded and surprisingly, no one wears a mask. The five of us, always donning our masks, stood out every time we visited, not that we cared. Not only are people unmasked, but they also refuse to give you personal space or follow social distancing guidelines. For this reason, we didn't enjoy this location as much as we normally would have despite its' close proximity to our rental house. Otherwise, we loved Sweet Shop's retro and quirky decor for delicious ice-cream treats. We also got good laughs and giggles from the handwritten anti-liberal signs posted in a local storefront. Whether we agree or not with the rants, coming from NYC we did love hearing a fresh and new perspective. The St. Simon's Lighthouse is a landmark in Pier Village and definitely adds to its' charm. At Pier Village, you can also play miniature golf, sit in a multitude of well-shaded parks, enjoy some delicious food at Barbara Jeans and even spot dolphin pods doing their dainty dance.
Fort Frederica National Monument beautifully preserves a town and fort that protected the southern British colony in Georgia from Spanish invasion between 1736-1748. The ruins are very clearly marked and offer great historic context and explanations. This spacious monument is well shaded and no one was in sight during our visit. We had 284 acres all to ourselves. Perfect for social distancing! I was easily taken back to what life in this bustling town with a population of 1,000 must have been like and where the USA would be today if the Spanish made it to land.
Hofwyl Broadfield Plantation is another great stop to take in some history and learn about life on a plantation that yielded over 1.5 million pounds of rice per year via the labor of almost 360 slaves. Personally, I found it important to come here, and teach our kids the history of slavery and allow them to have a visual experience of what a plantation looked like and how it operated. Important conversations were had during and after this visit. I believe that preserving these types of plantations is crucial to preserving the accuracy of their history.
In terms of food, since we are still a little nervous when dining out, we really limit our visits to restaurants. While on the island over the past two weeks we dined at Coastal Kitchen and Gnats. Coastal Kitchen has an outdoor patio facing the marina and honestly serves the yummiest "dirty oysters", shrimp & grits, and crab cake Egg Benedict ever. The oysters were topped with hot sauce, cream, and caviar. Can you say YUM? This is a must-visit when in the area.
Gnats is located in Fern Village, a more upscale area than Pier Village. Despite its' location, the restaurant is very laid back, with great service and a menu mainly offering fresh seafood options. The menu is simple and so is the presentation- everything is served on disposable plates- which I think works brilliantly with its adorable picnic table lined back yard. I loved my redfish sandwich, perfectly grilled and seasoned.
We also ordered take out a couple of times from Barabara Jean's that we truly enjoyed. The buffalo shrimp and coleslaw have been on my brain since my last bite. The restaurant is always packed, sometimes with patrons spilling on to the sidewalk, again unmasked and unfazed by the virus. The buffalo shrimp is beyond good, but is it good enough to risk my health? Nope. Take out it is! Also, vegetarians beware: although their menu has a whole list of vegetable sides, they put pork or chicken broth in almost all of them. White rice: chicken broth. Beans: pork. Broccoli: bacon. With two vegetarian children, I know what questions to ask when ordering food, but I never expected that green beans and broccoli would not be vegetarian and not specifically noted as such on the menu. Something to keep in mind if this affects you...
A couple of other cute, short explorations we made during our two-week visit that is worth mentioning are Gascoigne Bluff Park, Avenue of the Oaks, and John Gilbert Nature Trails. Gascoigne features twenty-four acres of oaks and the second-largest red cedar tree in Georgia. These trees are massive. It is also the former site of an Indian Settlement. We were so well protected by the trees that kept us impervious to the insanely high afternoon heat. This is a lovely park to have a picnic or stroll along the water under the protection of the vast oaks.
John Gilbert Nature Trail is more rustic and raw. It's a cute, very short walk over a marsh with lots of crab sightings and... lots of mosquitoes! Make sure to pack that repellent!
Avenue of the Oaks is one of those places that are so stunning, no picture can do it justice. We visited this perfectly manicured, endless stretch of gigantic oaks that seemingly reach for each other, creating an ongoing arch that greets you as you drive through. There is no parking here unless you are staying at The Lodge of Sea Island or enjoying the golf courses at the Sea Island Golf Club. You can drive through with your golf cart or your car, but don't expect to get out and have a stroll or a picnic. It is definitely worth a visit and will leave you, once again, speechless by nature's beauty. We loved the romantically southern environment so much, we slowly drove through on three different occasions.
The homes around East Beach each have their own distinct personality but they all share a common beach vibe. We loved driving through the neighborhood, in the golf cart, and seeing the different architecture and lifestyle expressions. I will miss this little island so much!
One of my favorite memories on the island is when we randomly bumped into our NYC neighbors. Literally, the very moment we drove into our driveway in our golf cart, they drove past us in their golf cart and noticed our car with a NY license plate parked in the driveway. We just couldn't believe the chances and the timing of meeting like that! The next day we went for an evening stroll at the beach and chatted non-stop for almost ninety minutes. We have been neighbors for TEN years and never have spoken for more than five minutes in passing. That's the power of St. Simons; its' energy creates beautiful connections. For the first time in months of not having any physical social contact, while on the island, we have magically connected to these neighbors, along with yet another neighbor who is staying on the island too, and my sister-in-law came to visit us for a few nights. St. Simons is magical in that way. It brings people together, opens up a whole new world where time does not exist, and forges new memories and friendships- in a place like this, these all become very easy to do.