The Golden Isles with Garden & Gun Magazine

The Golden Isles with Garden & Gun Magazine

(Thank you to Garden & Gun Magazine & Golden Isles for Sponsoring this Post)

My Time in Little St. Simons Island & St. Simons Island

To see featured article in Garden & Gun Magazine click here.

This past March I was invited to travel to the Golden Isles, Georgia for an assignment with Garden & Gun Magazine.  I was particularly excited as I had never been to the Georgia coast before.  The coastal south has always been so nostalgic for me. Since childhood, I have been enamored with the natural beauty of the coastal south, stemming from yearly trips spent in low country South Carolina. When the opportunity came to travel and shoot in the Golden Isles on the Georgia coast, it was a dream come true and I jumped at the chance!

The Golden Isles include the four barrier islands that sit between Savannah and Jacksonville, FL:  St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, along with the historic town of Brunswick.  Here you will find some of the most beautiful salt marshes, stretches of sandy white beaches and those pretty old oaks with their dramatic and stunning moss lining the streets.

Getting to the Golden Isles from Connecticut was very easy.   We took a short flight from New York JFK to Jacksonville where we then picked up a rental car.  The Jacksonville airport is super easy to navigate and very clean. The drive from the airport to the Golden Isles is just over an hour. Upon arrival, The Sidney Lanier Bridge welcomes you with its high in the sky views of miles upon miles of picturesque tidal waters.

Little did I know at the time, this would be the last trip before all travel would eventually shut down.  I feel lucky I was able to explore and experience this beautiful place in such a wholesome way before the world would change.

The first couple days, the trip took us to Little St. Simons Island, the smallest of all barrier islands. Little St. Simons Island is a privately-owned island, only accessible by boat, three miles off the coast.  The islands award-winning lodge sits on 11,000 preserved acres with 7 miles of untouched white sandy beach.  The all-inclusive lodge has sixteen rooms and six rustic cottages available.  The resort can  accommodate 32 guests at one time, which allows for a more intimate experience. The island is such a natural beauty.

Little St. Simons Island is one of only two organizations in the United States to receive the top certification for sustainable Travel & Tourism by Green Globe 21. The lodge also ranked 7th in the Top 20 Resorts in the American South by Condé Nast 2019.  Hank Paulson (former Treasury Secretary and ex. CEO of Goldman Sachs) and his wife, Wendy purchased the island and was able to put it under a permanent conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy.

We arrived after a scenic boat ride at the dock of the lodge and were met by the most gracious staff.  I cannot say enough about the staff and hospitality we experienced while visiting. The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the sound of  birds that sing loudly and call the island home.  The cheerful and soothing bird songs were present during the entire stay. Once we checked-in to the historic, rustic lodge (dating back to 1917), we were given a tour of the property and told what to expect from our stay at the Lodge, before being shown to our River Lodge. It was a short and scenic stroll from the main lodge to our accommodations.   The River Lodge was simple and rustic.  There are four bedrooms in. the River Lodge, each with their own private bathroom.  The  four bedrooms are adjoined by a large communal living space.  What a great set-up for a family or a group traveling   I loved enjoying the view from the wrap around porches with the rocking chairs overlooking the marshes and river.

The days are structured as much or as little as you wish for them to be. The island is yours to explore with or without a Naturalist.   Each day begins with the meal bell ringing for a 9:00 am communal breakfast.  Following breakfast, the Naturalists will meet up with the guests for the day’s activities. Depending on the timing of the tides, the weather and the interest from guests, you can really do the activities you prefer to do.

One of the activities I participated in included taking a naturalist-led hike through the dense marine forest to a bald eagle nest. Many other activities are available and include but are not limited to Creek Kayaking, Fishing Excursions, Birding, Amphibian & Reptile Safari, as well as Garden activities.  On given mornings or late evenings, there may also be a sunrise or sunset activity.

Perhaps one of my favorite activities I did was a group bike ride from the lodge down the two-mile wilderness trail to the beach.  The naturalists led us down the trail where we made a stop off at Norm’s Pond (highly recommend) where we were able to see the largest alligator, Norm, who was sunning himself on the grass.  We also stopped to admire another alligator just off the bike trail.  If you were to have told me I would see an alligator (let alone two) on this trip, I would have said ‘no thank you’ but the Naturalists know where they are and it was fun to view them from afar. Safety was never a concern.

Once we arrived down at the beach, I was instantly in awe. It was one of the most breathtaking beaches I have seen, ever.  Completely undeveloped, there are miles and miles of wide white sand and beautiful beach dunes lining the coast. The seven miles of pure heaven are yours to explore by foot, bike or just sit in a beach chair (provided) with a book.  Here we rode our bikes all afternoon in the spring sun and breathed in all that salty sea air.  This beach left its mark on my heart for sure.  All I kept thinking was I cannot wait to bring Pippa back here!

I would also recommend seeing the island by way of water, whether in a kayak or skiff.  The island provides skiff training so guests are free to explore.  The Naturalists will also take you out for a creek kayak excursion.  I always find my favorite views are from the water!

After the morning activities, guests head back to the Lodge to enjoy an outdoor picnic style lunch before heading back out for the afternoon activity.

Nighttime on the island is really neat.  At 6pm, guests will meet at the lodge to enjoy a delightful social hour of hors d’ oeuvres and cocktails.  Guests can mingle inside the lodge, at the bar, outside on the porch rocking chairs or in the tree swing. At 7pm, the dinner bell rings and all guests are invited into the communal dining rooms.  I loved this.  There is nothing I love more than meeting folks from all over and sharing in good conversation over a delicious home cooked meal.

Chef Renée Rigaud Everett serves up a delicious low-country cuisine using ingredients from the on-property gardens and the very local waters.  I love the fact that if you catch a fish that day during your fishing excursion, you can have her cook it up for you for dinner that night!

If you are a nature lover, I cannot recommend this trip enough! I would suggest at least two nights.  That will provide enough time to experience several of the activities and really allow you to embrace the experience.  Little did I know, the whole world would change right after I visited.  I remember posting a photo while there about just how at peace I felt being here. I couldn’t help but feel a touch of sadness as the boat pulled away from the dock towards the mainland. I knew I was going to miss this place.  It is truly a special and unique destination that I cannot wait to share with my whole family.

Next Up!  Off to spend a couple days in the vibrant coastal destination of St. Simons Island.  There is so much to offer visitors experiencing St. Simons Island. The roads are lined with moss-draped oaks and the town is full of southern charm turn after turn. The Golden Isles are steeped in rich history which could be seen and experienced all throughout St. Simons Island.  I could not wait to get checked into the hotel and head back out to explore this fun little island.

Upon arriving, I checked in to island’s iconic The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. The historic, yet freshly renovated property is a delight. The sunny, yellow exterior and terra cotta roofs are such a pretty combination sitting next to the sea.

Each room type offers a classic coastal décor, which is a favorite.   With a variety of room types to choose from, the resort can accommodate couples traveling alone to families.  I was so smitten with my room, the Oceanfront King Cabana room. The French doors open to either a terrace or in my case the beach. One could not get any closer to the water.  I would request this room again without a doubt. For the larger family, there are 2-3 bedroom villas available as well.  The resort comes with three pools, delicious dining and access the beautiful beaches of St. Simons Island. The resort is centrally located making it ideal for either riding or walking around the island.

That first day we enjoyed brunch at Echo, which is located at the King & Prince Hotel. This is the only oceanfront dining restaurant in town, with a gorgeous outdoor patio overlooking the ocean.  I opted for the shrimp chowder and flounder tacos.  The views were splendid! I could see why this was such a popular option.

It was time to head out and explore St. Simons Island, first by bike.  Stop in at Island Bicycle and pick up a touring bike.  The entire island has biking paths which makes it in my opinion, the best way to see the island.  Located right in Pier Village, you can follow Ocean Blvd to the East Beach neighborhood.  I loved exploring the charming streets of Each Beach with all the coastal beachy feels.  Be sure to not miss N Cottage Drive and all of the charming, colorful beach homes.  The World War II Home Front Museum is also located in this picturesque neighborhood.   Another nice route is along Frederica Road or Kings Highway.  Bikes are also allowed on the beaches in St. Simons Island which is oh so fun!

I would also recommend taking in the history of the island. Head over to the iconic St. Simons Island Lighthouse and Museum, a true hallmark.  Climb up to the top of the lighthouse for some great views!

Next, head out north for a drive!  I loved driving to the northern part of the island where every road was draped with hanging moss from the old oaks. See the true grit of the island out in these parts.  Christ Church in Frederica is a must see.  Explore the breathtaking and serene grounds of this old church, which dates back to 1736.  While out on the north end, The Stables at Frederica are something else.  Horses calmly trot the grounds and are such a beautiful site.  Horses are allowed on the beach in St Simons Island, so if you ride, I would recommend!

Dining in the Golden Isles is such a treat especially if you are a seafood lover, which I am! There are quite a few options.  If you are there for two nights, I highly recommend Georgia Sea Grill, located in Pier Village. This casually elegant hotspot sources locally and sustainably whenever possible from their very own farm. I loved the coastal menu and sampling of items. The restaurant is casual yet sophisticated with a lovely atmosphere.  They offer a First Call menu for happy hour, which is wildly popular amongst locals and tourists alike.  I enjoyed the Sapelo Island Clams, with Arugula & Basil Pistou as well as the Crab Beignets.  Guests have the option of sitting in the main dining room, the wine bar or the piano room bar which is more intimate and cozy.

Another great option for dinner is an island favorite, Haylard’s Restaurant.   Haylard’s will also cook what you catch, if you let them know in advance. The Georgia shrimp and grits is a favorite! The vibe is lively and fun!  We opted for a casual high-top table in the bar. The southern service we received during our dining experience at Haylard’s was top notch!

The following morning, I woke before sunrise, which I almost always do, especially when I am at the ocean. The King & Prince Resort offers the best viewing for that first sun in the morning. Whether from one of their green swings on the lawn or down the couple steps to the beach, be prepared to be wowed with all the color coming up off the horizon.  Walk, jog or simply sit with your morning cup of coffee.  This is the best way to start the day! I of course, headed out with my camera for the first light off the ocean.

Breakfast at Palmer’s Village Café in St. Simons Island is A MUST! It is a true and unique southern coastal cuisine. I had the Coastal Delight omelet with sautéed shrimp, mushrooms, house-made Tasso, mustard greens and café herb cheese.  This was heaven first thing in the morning!  I love how local artist’s work are showcased on the walls for purchase.  I wish I could have bought it all.  I took a stroll after breakfast through the shops on Mallery and head out onto the St Simons Pier to take in the views and all the local flair.

Speaking of shopping, there is no shortage of must see shops and boutiques in St. Simons Island.  Perhaps my favorite shop right in the heart of Pier Village is Dutchman’s, home décor and furnishings.  We made a few purchases there and I just adored the style and designs found inside.

Other noteworthy shops are located off Frederica, including the chic boutique, Cloth & Label and Cloth & Label Home at The Vine.  There are also The Shops at Sea Island which include some favorites like J. McLaughlin and Vineyard Vines along with some local boutiques.

If you are looking for your afternoon coffee fix while on island, I recommend a stop at Wake Up Coffee.  Such a fun vibe and delicious aromas!  We also enjoyed an afternoon stop at Palm Coast Café, located right on Mallery. This place is ideal for an afternoon coffee or their signature Bloody Mary (which I had!).  We sat outside on the rocking chairs while people watching.

The rest of the day was a relaxing one before getting ready to head home.  I remember that last beach stroll before heading back to the airport.  I arrived home on a Thursday and the ‘stay at home’ restrictions went into place that Monday.  It was almost as if the calm I felt on that last beach walk was meant to last awhile.

I could not be more thankful nor could have asked for a better few days on the Golden Isles.  The Golden Isles are simply enchanting.  It is the type of place children make vacation memories that will last a lifetime.  I hope to return soon with my entire family.  Once you visit, you will feel the pull to return almost as soon as you cross that bridge to head home.

Thank you again to Garden and Gun Magazine and to the Golden Isles.  The magazine hit newsstands this week!  I am so excited to share it with you all. Enjoy!

XO,

Stephanie

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