St Simons Island was voted the number one favorite beach town by Travel and Leisure in 2014. Now the entire country knows what I’ve known for more than 20 years, St. Simons is the perfect mix of seaside fun and small town charm. The hard-packed sand on St. Simons Island is perfect for one of our favorite vacation activities, riding a bike on the beach, or if you prefer, there are miles of bike paths around this coastal Georgia Island.
St. Simons Island: The Ultimate Insiders Guide
My in-laws discovered St. Simons when my father-in-law attended a conference there. It’s my husband’s happy place, and my kids pretty much call it their second home. I think the reason we love it so much is St. Simons isn’t a contrived vacation destination, it’s a small town with a rich history and year round residents who welcome visitors with great dining, good shopping, history, adventure, and oh yeah the beach. Over the years, we’ve discovered a little bit about the island and I thought I’d put what we know into this mega post. So without further ado, here’s my unofficial guide to a vacation on St. Simons Island, Ga., with a lot of input from the family. If I missed your favorite, let me know.
St. Simons Island Weather | St. Simons Island Hotels | St. Simons Island Rentals | Great Resorts Near St. Simons Island | Things to do on St.Simons | St. Simons Island Golf Courses | Best St. Simons Restaurants | More Great St. Simons Restaurants
St. Simon Island is one of a string of Islands in Georgia that make up the Golden Isles. It’s located on the southeast corner of Georgia, with easy Interstate access via I-95. It’s about equal distance to fly commercial into Savannah, Ga., or Jacksonville, Fl. Private planes can fly directly to the Island. St. Simons weather is mild with highs in the 80’s and lows in the 40’s, making it a great year round destination. In fact, we’ve spent many a December day on the beach, sometimes even in the water. Rain peaks in August and September, but there really isn’t a real rainy season.
As Georgia beach resorts go, St. Simons Island has the most to offer in the way of lodging types. St. Simons Island hotels range from budget to luxurious, so there is bound to be a fit for any budget. When looking for hotels or rentals, you may find three different areas mentioned. East Beach is where most St. Simons Island rentals are located. This is a neighborhood community of homes. There are no hotels or condos in this area of the Island. Ocean Blvd./Beachview Drive has the most St. Simons Island vacation rentals that are located on the beach, as well as a few of the hotels on St. Simons Island. Kings Way is closer to Downtown and the St. Simons Island Pier. I’d also add another area I’m calling interior island for hotels that aren’t located within walking distance of the beach or downtown. These are more budget friendly hotels, but since the Island isn’t that big, it’s not a far drive to the beach from these hotels. Here are a few of the better Saint Simons Island hotels, and Saint Simons rentals.
St. Simons Island King and Prince Resort: The Historic King & Prince is my favorite hotel on the island because it’s the only hotel that is right on the beach, plus it has five pools, including a main pool that overlooks the ocean, on site tennis courts, bike rental nearby and you can walk to some of my favorite restaurants. The in-house restaurant, Echo, is fantastic for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as well as adult beverages. In addition to hotel rooms in the historic portion, there are also villas and houses for rent on property. You can read my review of the King and Prince Hotel here, and Five reasons why you should stay there.
The Inn at Sea Island: This hotel is an extension of the Sea Island Resorts, but it’s located on St. Simon Island. The Inn at Sea Island is set up mainly for golfers, but you do have access to many of the amenities at Sea Island Resort like dining, spa, tennis, shooting school, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, hunting and falconry (yes, falconry, how cool is that). There is also complimentary shuttle service, so it’s an inexpensive (relatively speaking) alternative to staying at the luxurious Cloister on Sea Island. There is a pool and work out facility available on-site, but if you’d like access to the Sea Island Beach Club (and if you have kids, you want access to the Sea Island Beach Club), which includes several pools, access to the beach, dining and a candy and ice cream shoppe that makes an amazing gold brick sundae, ask before booking if this amenity is available. The Sea Island Beach Club and Fitness Center are subject to availability and an extra fee applies.
The Lodge at Sea Island: This is another Sea Island property that is actually located on St. Simon’s Island and geared toward golfers. It is located on the ocean, but there really isn’t a beach area. They do have nice restaurants on site and it’s fun to sit on the lawn with a glass of wine and listen to the bagpiper as he walks the course when the sun sets.
Hampton Inn, St. Simons Island: This is a nice Hampton Inn located on Old Demere Road in the St. Simons interior. It’s your standard Hampton Inn rooms, free buffet breakfast and swimming pool. If you stay here, you can drive to the beach and park at the pier, Massengale Park, or the public beach access at the Old Coast Guard station. If you’d rather stay on the beach, the Hampton Inn & Suites on nearby Jekyll Island is fairly new and it’s just a short walk through the maritime forest to the beach.
Island Inn, Saint Simons Island, Ga: This hotel is located in the interior of St. Simons as well. The Island Inn St. Simons has a nice outdoor pool and pool deck area, as well as a free breakfast. A decent place to stay, it’s older than the Hampton Inn. It had some renovations done in 2015, but honestly I have not seen the hotel since the renovations have been done.
Holiday Inn Express, St. Simons: This hotel is located in the interior of St. Simons, down the street from the Hampton Inn. It’s been newly renovated, so if you are an IHG Rewards Club member vs. a Hilton Rewards (Hampton Inn) member, stay here. They offer your standard Holiday Inn extras, a pool, and those amazing cinnamon buns at breakfast.
Sea Palms Resort: Sea Palms is located in the interior of St. Simons and is a great choice for the golf and tennis enthusiast. In addition to standard rooms with balconies, they also have three and four bedroom suites with full kitchens, perfect for families.
Sea Gate Inn: When I first starting coming to St. Simons Island, my in-laws had a condo next to the Sea Gate located on Beachview Drive. I’m sure management would hate to know, but we used to take my oldest when he was a toddler over there to swim in the pool and play shuffleboard, or “shaaa” as he liked to call it. Although they have totally renovated the entire facility, the old Sea Gate Inn holds a special place in my heart because of those memories. Just so you know, when folks came to visit and didn’t fit at the condo, they always stayed at the Sea Gate, so we did patronize the hotel too. Now it’s managed by Sea Palms resort. The rooms are all suites, with a kitchen or kitchenette and the beach is across the street.
St. Simons Island Inn by the lighthouse: I’ve pass this quaint boutique hotel every time I ride a bike through downtown. It’s in a great location across from the lighthouse and beach, within walking distance of downtown and the St. Simons Island pier. There are an intimate 34 rooms, as well as a small saltwater pool. Pets are welcome too.
Ocean Inn and Suites: The Ocean Inn and Suites is also located across from the lighthouse and a superb location for everything you might want to do on St. Simons, including Neptune Park, which has an outdoor pool, mini-golf and a playground. The Ocean Inn and Suites also has their own pool, and parking which can be tough in this area. Be wary though, the parking lot can be tight, so if you’re driving that giant SUV, it may take a little to get into these spots.
Ocean Lodge: This is a Tuscan looking hotel on Beachview Drive, across from the beach. Although I’ve never stayed in the rooms, I have enjoyed the view from the rooftop bar. Access to the beach is this hotel’s strength. They do have a pool, but it’s very small.
Village Inn & Pub: The Village Inn & Pub is located on Mallery Street in the historic downtown village. It’s a perfect location for the shops and dining, as well as the pier. The pub is a favorite night time hang out for visitors, as well as guests of the Inn and has a comfy living room feel.
If you’d like to stay more than a few days, or don’t want to stay at one of the St. Simons Island resorts, you may want to consider one of the many St. Simons Island rental properties. Hodnett Cooper Realty is a local St. Simons Island real estate company that is consistently voted the best vacation rental company by readers of Elegant Island Living Magazine. They represent condo owners at the Beach Club St. Simons which is a large (for St. Simons) condo complex right on the beach. If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, friends of mine found a wonderful condo searching VRBO St. Simons Island called the Floataway.
Little St. Simons Island: The only way to get to this island is by boat, and you can leave all your cares at the dock when you do. The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island is a rustic retreat with only 15 guest rooms and a maximum of 30 guests total. My husband loved the cooler full of Bud Light available anytime. Kids loved going into the shed and just getting some fishing gear to try. I still remember wondering what all those little lights were as we bumped down the sand road in the back of the pick up toward the beach. Those lights…they were fireflies. Every.One.Of.Them.
The Cloister at Sea Island Resort: “Classic elegance” are words that come to mind when I think of the Cloister Sea Island. The rooms are larger than normal hotel rooms and the appointments are pure luxury. My son didn’t want to get out of the tub, perhaps it was the TV hanging above it. I didn’t want to get out of the bed. Truly, this was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. The Sea Island Cloister Beach Club is the place to be in the summer. The club includes multiple pools, splash pad, beach volleyball, playground, restaurants, candy shop and ice cream parlor, all along the beach. If you need a little time without the kids, send them to the movie theatre on property. Whatever you need, the Cloister does it beautifully.
Jekyll Island Rental Properties: Jekyll Island is experiencing a revitalization that is bringing what was once 1950’s era amenities into modern times. My favorite hotel is still the Historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel, which was once the summer residence for the Vanderbilts, Goodyears and the like. The new Westin Jekyll Island is located on the beach, and amid the emerging downtown area that reminds me a lot of San Destin. The Hampton Inn & Suites is another new hotel with pool and firepit nestled in a maritime forest. Take a short walk through the woods to the beach.
Eagle Island: If you really want to get away, or like using a boat as your transportation, try Eagle Island, one of the Private Islands of Georgia. This retreat has a great wrap around porch and hot tub, as well as fishing pier and pond, and kayaks too. It’s the perfect place to get away from everyone, because the only thing on the island is the residence.
As I mentioned, we’ve been coming to St. Simons Island for more than 20 years. Here are some of our favorite activities, as well as a few others that are popular on St. Simons Island, Ga.
Bicycles: Bikes are a must on our St. Simons beach vacation. If you don’t bring your own, rent them from Ocean Motion or MonkeyWrench Bicycles. There are more than 30 miles of bike paths on the Island and it’s a great way explore.
St. Simons Island Beach: The St. Simons beach of course is a favorite activity. We always bring a golf ball to toss back and forth and see if we can make it into a hole we’ve dug in the sand. The St. Simons Island tides make beach access different depending on where you are. In some places like East Beach, you still have beach even at high tide. In others, like around the King and Prince Hotel, high tide can come up to the rocks. If you aren’t staying on the beach, there are many public access points. Parking is available at the pier in the village, as well as at Massengale Park and The Coast Guard Station (in season they have a snack bar here too).
St. Simons lighthouse: The St. Simons Island lighthouse and museum are must see attractions in downtown St. Simons. Climb the 129 stairs to the top for a great view of Saint Simons Island, Ga., as well as Jekyll Island and Brunswick, the mainland town. Save some time for the gift shop, which is more of a local boutique than a museum store. The Georgia Historical Society manages the lighthouse, as well as the Old Coast Guard station, which has been converted into a Maritime Center museum.
Island Trolley: To get the overall history of Saint Simons, take the Island Trolley tour. Pick up the Trolley under the big oaks near the pier. Then visit the St. Simons Island Lighthouse; Fort Frederica, which was once a thriving community in colonial Georgia and has one of the best junior ranger programs I’ve ever seen; then visit Christ Church, Frederica, the second oldest Episcopal Church in Georgia and the third oldest in the nation; and end your tour at Bloody Marsh, the site of a decisive battle that ended forever the threat of Spanish invasion into what was then, a British colony.
Fort King George in Darien: If you like history, or have little ones that like to play army, take a short drive to Darien Georgia and Fort King George. In addition to a small hands on museum, you can walk through the recreated fort, into the blockhouse, or the sentry box. The best part, you can get toy wooden guys in the museum to take into the fort and play. My boys had the.best.time.
Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation: When I think of plantations, I think grand houses with huge pillars holding up the front porch. That’s not quite what the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation house looks like, but it’s probably a little closer to the way noble Southern plantation owners lived. In addition to touring the house, try to find the geocaches located here, or just have fun exploring the grounds and the old dairy barns. The Georgia State Parks run the site and often have special hikes or other programming.
The St. Simons Island Tree Spirits: This is one of my favorite things about St. Simons. I love the treasure hunt to find the tree spirits, and the welcome surprise when you come across one you didn’t know was there. Here’s a bit more about the Tree Spirits of St. Simons Island.
Neptune Park, St. Simon’s Island: This seaside park is perfect for picnics under the giant live oaks. There are picnic tables and grills located just outside the gates to a children’s playground, although most kids end up climbing on the mother whale and her baby sculpture just as much as the climbing wall. Adjacent to the playground is an outdoor pool with zero entry for little ones and a water tower structure that sprays and dumps water on kids, and beyond that is a mini-golf course. Neptune Park is located in the Historic Village downtown very close to the St. Simon’s Island Lighthouse and the St. Simon’s Pier.
Crab or fish off the St. Simons Island Pier: Crabbing has always been on my son’s to do list when we go to St. Simons. We still haven’t figured out the best time to catch the crabs, but the boys love to lower the net and get excited when they catch anything. There are always serious fishermen around and it’s just fun to walk along the pier and see what everyone else has caught. We’ve spied hammerhead sharks, horseshoe crabs, rays and lots of different fish.
Shrimp Aboard the Lady Jane: The Lady Jane Shrimp Boat is probably my favorite, favorite excursion on St. Simons Island. Board an authentic Georgia shrimp boat with an authentic crusty captain and trawl through the marshes to discovered the sea underneath. We’ve pulled up pufferfish, huge sting rays, and even a few shrimp. If you only do one excursion, do this one.
Kayak Tours with Southeast Adventure Outfitters: With three kids, it’s tough to afford to do everything with everyone, so one year I let each child pick a fun excursion that we might not be able to afford for everyone. My middle son picked kayaking through the marshes, and out into the ocean. What a unique way to see St. Simons Island.
St. Simons is a golfer’s paradise, but since I don’t play golf, I asked my husband about the golf courses on St. Simons Island. Here is what he had to say about each course. In addition, he gave this advice – always remember bug spray, DEET preferred.
Sea Island Golf Courses: There are three Sea Island golf courses, as well as a nationally renowned training center that will have your game in shape in no time. In fact, many of the tour pros train in this facility, so you may rub elbows with Davis Love or other pro golfers while you are there. They also do club fittings, as well as lessons. Stay at The Lodge on site to combine training with a golf package. According to my husband, even the driving range has an incredible view.
The Seaside One Course: The Seaside Course is one of the most beautiful courses you’ll ever play. It is challenging for all skill levels because of multiple tee boxes. The greens are large with lots of undulation and always fast. Take some time on the practice green before teeing off here.
The Plantation Course: This is another beautiful course with marsh vistas. The greens are similar to Seaside, large, hilly and fast. The Plantation Course may be little longer than Seaside, but there aren’t as many hazards.
The Islands Club: This Course is farther inland. It’s always in great shape with greens just like Seaside and Plantation. This course has fewer hazards with houses lining some holes. There are lots of tee options for any level.
The Sea Palms Golf Course: The Sea Palms Golf Course is the best value on the island. The course is inland but there are still a number of water hazards. The course is mostly straight and flat with lots of large trees lining it. In my husband’s mind, the straightness of the course makes it more fun. They do have a driving range that is a car ride away from the clubhouse, so stop here first. Sea Palms also has foot golf, a family friendly way to experience the course using a soccer ball and your foot instead of a club and ball.
The King and Prince Golf Course: The King and Prince course is a very nice course cut through the marsh on the Northside of the island. It is not on site at the hotel. The course is not long but there are plenty of ways to get into trouble; lots of hazards on this course. There are also some incredible marsh views and if you are lucky you might see a bald eagle or two. If you don’t hit the ball overly straight bring some extra balls.
Chicken swiss. Popcorn. BBQ. Unlimited bacon at the breakfast buffet. Fried Shrimp. Grilled fish. These are some of the delicious delicacies we look forward to every time we visit St. Simons Island, Ga. Our culinary ‘must dos’ have changed somewhat over the years, but here are five tried and true places we like to visit when we go to the beach. If you visit St. Simons Island, what are your favorites?
Southern Soul BBQ: This restaurant has been on Garden and Gun’s Barbecue Bucket List, named one of golfer Davis Love II’s Greatest BBQ joints, called one of the secrets of the Georgia Coast by Atlanta Magazine and I could go on, and on, and on. We call Southern Soul Barbecue our go-to 4th of July meal, and no matter how many days we are in St. Simons, there’s always a stop here for at least one lunch or dinner, and my husband is a certified BBQ judge, so he knows his stuff. The restaurant itself is located around the traffic circle as you enter the Island. There isn’t much seating inside and outside are a few picnic tables. We usually pick up and take it home. I volunteer to pick up because I like to sit at the bar (if you can get a spot) and have a beer while they get it together. The smell just makes your mouth water from the time you enter, until the time you leave. Call ahead for take out. They are ALWAYS busy.
Sandcastle: Pay your age up until 8-years-old. That’s the deal with the breakfast buffet at the Sand Castle, our favorite morning restaurant. Get to this restaurant located in the historic village downtown early, there is usually a line out the door by 10 am or so. In addition to the breakfast meats, muffins, yogurt, fruit, hash browns, biscuits and gravy and I can’t even remember what else, you also get eggs anyway you like and either French toast, pancake or waffle to order. Wear your stretchy pants to the Sandcastle.
Crab Trap: Three words – batter dipped fries. They give you a lot and you’ll be hard pressed not to eat them all. Although the Crab Trap menu now includes grilled fish and healthier options, they began as a fried seafood only restaurant and that is still their specialty. The shrimp is out of this world. Huge Georgia whites with just a light coating. I used to get the crab cakes, served in a blue crab shell. Each plate comes with a mound of the famous fries and the best hush puppies on the island. The Crab Trap is a great kid-friendly place too. When my son was little we amused him by giving him trash to throw in the hole in the middle of the table. Of course, that got a little out of hand and we had to move everything away from him or it went down the hole. For a slightly more upscale experience, go next door to Crab Daddys. They have wonderful moderately priced grilled fish and a bottomless salad bowl that sounds very Olive Garden, but is actually very good. Children are welcome here, but you also see a lot of couples as well.
Brogens: Brogens St Simons restaurant/bar is located near the pier in the St. Simon’s Island village. There is also a Brogens North location, but go to the Downtown location, it has an upper deck where we like to sit on a nice summer evening and watch the activity below, and the pier is right there which is fun with the kids before or after dinner. The must have dish here according to pretty much my entire family is the Grilled Chicken Swiss. I’m partial to the Philly, or if I’m craving fish, the Blackened Mahi. We also love the free popcorn and shuffleboard, although lately they don’t seem to let you play shuffleboard. We did have a good game of corn hole out front though.
Mullet Bay: Mullet Bay is the grown up Brogens. Although you’ll find people of every age in both places, Brogens is usually the college crowd at night, where as Mullet Bay seems to be a bit older. This restaurant is also located in Downtown Saint Simons and has inside seating, as well as a huge porch. Our family favorite menu item is the grilled fish sandwich. They don’t skimp on fish either, it’s a huge piece. My son has discovered the fried shrimp basket, which is also a keeper. Grab a seat in the bar area and nosh on roasted peanuts while watching the big game on the TVs.
Echo restaurant at The King and Prince: Echo is the hotel restaurant for The King and Prince Hotel, and offers the only beachside dining on the island. For the best views, choose the patio seating, or the dining room has floor to ceiling bay windows for viewing the waves. At breakfast, our fresh fruit included raspberries, blueberries and blackberries in addition to melons and pineapple. We all fought over the bbq chicken flatbread, and the Echo donut that gives Café du Monde in New Orleans a run for the money. My husband and I have also ditched the kids in the evenings to sit in the comfy couches in front of the huge limestone fireplace. In fact, we set out on a tour of rooftop bars one night and ended up at Echo because as cool as a rooftop bar sounds, Echo had better atmosphere.
Barbara Jeans: This restaurant in the Village is a little bit of a chick place, but you’ll see lots of men accompanying the women too because the food is so good. Barbara Jean’s menu is highlight by home style cooking. The website will say they do seafood really well too. I’m sure they do, but it’s the home style that brings people in, that and the chocolate stuff, which I have yet to try and I’m not sure why. I’d like to personally thank Barbara Jean for making most of our annual Thanksgiving dinner side dishes. Cue my favorite scene from The Blindside “kids, thank your mother for picking up Thanksgiving dinner.”
Tara Thai & Sushi: I don’t eat raw fish, but this Thai and sushi restaurant located off Frederica Road in a strip mall area gets fantastic reviews.
The Rooftop Restaurant: Sometimes called the Roof Restaurant, this Tuscan looking Villa is also home to the Ocean Lodge and is located across the street from the beach on Beachview Dr. I have not eaten here, but did sit on the deck for a drink.
Blue Water Cafe: Some people call this Blue Water Bistro, but that restaurant is in Florida. The Blue Water Café is located in the village near the St. Simons Island pier. It has ocean views and a restaurant/bar type menu. Again, haven’t eaten here, but they serve a refreshing Bud Light. Blue Water Café is not to be confused with Blackwater Grill, which is located in Red Fern Village and gets high marks for casual Cajun specialties.
Del Sur: This restaurant intrigues me. DelSur is an Argentinian Italian Bistro. I don’t even know what that means, but the menu sounds good and it gets high marks on TripAdvsior. It’s located at the corner of the St. Simons Island Village at Mallery Ln and Ocean Blvd, so the location is prime.
Halyards: I’ve been hearing how great this restaurant is for more than a decade, but every time we look at the menu, it’s a little foodie for us (although honestly, I just re-looked at the menu and it’s not really foodie at all) If you’d like an adult meal at a reasonable price, this is probably a fine choice, and now I think I’m going to finally go there next time we’re in St. Simons. Halyards restaurant is located in the Shops of Sea Island. Send the kids to the movies at the Island Cinema while you sip good wine at Halyards.
Coastal Kitchen St. Simons: This seafood restaurant is located at the marina, and has live music. I hear good things but have not been there since it was Emmeline and Hessies back in the 90s. Showing my age here.
Mellow Mushroom: The perennial Atlanta favorite pizza parlor is now in St. Simons. We used to go to local pizza joint CJ’s, but Mellow Mushroom is really the better pie. St Simons Island also has lots of other chain restaurants like Outback Steak House, but you can eat there in any city, stay with the local options, there are so many good ones.
Sal’s Pizza: I received a lot of mail to add local favorite Sal’s Pizza to this list, so here it is. According to FTWS reader Anne, Sal’s is a small and quaint Italian restaurant with fire grilled pizzas and other homemade Italian food options. Seating is inside and out, but very limited, so get there early. And if you’re lucky, Sal may be there. The former pro boxer may be singing Italian songs while tossing dough to make pizzas in the open kitchen area behind the bar, just like you’d imagine at an authentic Italian eatery.