As it boasts beautiful beaches, interesting historic sites and all kinds of outdoor activities, St Simons Island makes for a great place to visit and vacation. The largest of Georgia’s famous Golden Isles, it lies along its scenic southeast coast, in between Jacksonville and Savannah.
Despite its smallish size, the isle has an extraordinary history to delve into with everyone from the Spanish, English and French having fought over it. Its centuries-old forts, churches, plantations and lighthouse now provide an invaluable insight into numerous eras that impacted the development of the nation as a whole.
While exploring these important sites are among the best things do in St Simons Island, it is also known for its spectacular nature with around half of it being covered in pristine marshes and woodlands. As such, the seaside resort has some brilliant biking, kayaking and sunbathing to enjoy with plenty of cottages and hotels catering to the thousands of people that visit each year.
12. Wesley Memorial & Gardens
Tucked away between Fort Frederica and Christ Church, two of the isle’s top attractions, is another very pleasant spot: the Wesley Memorial & Gardens. Its winding paths take you past lots of lovely lush scenery and nature with the memorial itself acting as its centerpiece.
Named for John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the adjacent Methodist Church, its gardens and monument were dedicated back in 1988. Its gorgeous green spaces commemorate their evangelical efforts in Georgia in the 1700s which saw them minister both soldiers and settlers at Fort Frederica.
While the 18-foot Celtic cross at its center makes for quite the sight, the old oaks and azaleas about it are just as striking. After strolling about the memorial’s leafy grounds, you can always explore the nearby Christ Church Cemetery which is full of impressive tombs and Civil War graves.
11. Golden Isles Welcome Center
Before heading off to explore the island, it is well worth stopping off at the Golden Isles Welcome Center. Here you can find more information on all the exciting activities, attractions and events the area has to offer with eateries and other establishments also included in the brochures.
Set just north of the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, the shiny modern center lies along Interstate 95 on the way into town. Its light and airy interior is adorned with fantastic paintings of the Golden Isles while its gift shop sells souvenirs specific to the state and St Simons Island.
In addition, friendly information agents are on hand to answer any questions you may have about what to see and do on your holiday with their Tree Spirit Scavenger Hunt being particularly popular.
10. World War II Home Front Museum
An absolutely fascinating place, the World War II Home Front Museum shines a light on Coastal Georgia’s extraordinary contributions to winning the Second World War. On top of artifacts, historic photos and exhibits, its immersive galleries have fun interactive experiences for guests to try out.
Located just inland from East Beach and the Atlantic, its well-done displays occupy the charming St Simons Coast Guard Station which was built in 1936. As you amble around its enthralling exhibits, you’ll learn about everything from building Liberty ships and supplying troops overseas to serving stateside in Navy hospitals and rescuing survivors from sunk American ships.
What’s more, its interactive activities see you scan the skies for enemy aircraft, direct fighter pilots and build boats while on select days veterans share their memories of serving overseas in WWII.
9. Go Kayaking
As St Simons is surrounded by lots of weaving waterways, a wonderful way to see more of the area and its idyllic scenery is to go kayaking. Sure to delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike, excursions take you past fabulous fauna and flora with stunning views guaranteed wherever you go.
Due to Coastal Georgia’s unique ecology, a mesmerizing mishmash of marshes, rivers and inlets can be found amidst all its beautiful barrier islands. This makes the Golden Isles one of the best spots to kayak in the South with numerous tour companies running trips or renting out kayaks, canoes and paddleboards from launch points along the coast.
Among the most popular places to head are the Frederica River, Marshes of Glynn and Brunswick River with the ecosystems around Jekyll Island also appealing to loads of people. As you peacefully paddle about, you can take in superb scenery and views with playful dolphins and sea turtles often spotted below the surface.
8. Visit Jekyll Island
Just across Saint Simons Sound is yet another island that is well worth checking out if you have the chance: the gorgeous Jekyll Island. Due to both its natural beauty and vibrant history, it is protected as a state park with its scenic confines offering all kinds of epic outdoor activities and watersports.
One of only a few Georgia barrier islands that is accessible by car, it is separated from the mainland by the East River with pristine beaches and sandbars lining the coast. Thanks to all its spellbinding scenery, many come to sunbathe, swim and cycle around the island with immaculate golf courses, upmarket resorts and cozy campsites dotted here and there.
Jekyll Island’s other main appeal is its rich history as atmospheric churches, plantations and Gilded Age summer homes lie amidst all its pretty wild spaces. Not to be missed is Driftwood Beach which is regularly ranked among the most romantic in all the States.
7. East Beach
After all the sightseeing and outdoor activities, what better place to relax, unwind and soak up some sun than at the attractive East Beach. Located on the ocean side of the island, its soft sands are ideal for lounging on lazily with swimming, fishing and kite boarding to be enjoyed in the sea.
Facing the open Atlantic, its sun-kissed shores reach right the way from Gould’s Inlet in the north to Pier Village at its southernmost point. Lining the beach, you can find not just the historic St Simons Coast Guard Station and its modern WWII museum but sophisticated King and Prince Resort and picturesque Massengale Park too.
At low tide, you can ride bikes along the packed sand while taking in majestic views over the ocean and coastline stretching away into the distance. East Beach also lies within easy access of the wild and wet Neptune waterpark and lovely St. Simons Lighthouse; one of the isle’s top attractions.
6. Trolley Tours
Another fantastic way to see more of St Simons is to take educational yet entertaining Trolley Tours around the island. These teach you more about the Old South’s fascinating past with the delightful drive-by tours taking you past interesting historic attractions, cultural landmarks and nature spots.
Since 1993, the St Simons Trolley Company has conducted fun, friendly tours with both Bunny the Southern Belle and Kevin the King regaling guests with hilarious stories and anecdotes. Lots of information is packed in with almost 400 years of history being covered on the tour.
As such, visitors learn all about its plantation past, Civil War sites and Native American inhabitants with the quaint old 1930s wooden trolleys trundling past 36 points of interest. These range from the Bloody Marsh battle site and Fort Frederica to the Christ Church churchyard and Retreat Plantation.
5. Fishing Pier
Jutting out into Saint Simons Sound is the Fishing Pier; a pleasant and peaceful place to amble along, fish and take in phenomenal views over the ocean. Set at the end of Mallery Street, it acts as the focal point of Pier Village with it humming with life at almost any time of day.
Dotted along its concrete confines are tray tables and water hoses for fishermen and crabbers to use. Permits, tackle, bait and fishing supplies are available from the St Simons Bait & Tackle shop at the start of it with lights illuminating the pier and surrounding waters late into the evening.
Aside from taking a romantic stroll along the prominent pier, you can also scan the sea for dolphins and sharks with whales migrating down the coast between December and March. Giant cargo ships also pass by from time to time with plenty of other waterfront attractions lying nearby.
4. Go Biking
Besides taking unforgettable kayak and trolley tours around the island, many people bike along the innumerable paths, trails and even beaches that are scattered about St Simons. In addition to being a very convenient way to get around, cycling allows visitors to see all its sights with numerous shops around town renting them out to tourists.
As it has more than thirty miles of biked pathways to discover, cycling around is one of the preferred pastimes of locals and out-of-towners alike. User-friendly online maps and well-signposted paths allow you to explore its pristine marshland, charming neighborhoods and historic sights with ease.
Particularly popular spots to hit up are, of course, the center of Pier Village, East Beach and adjacent attractions of Fort Frederica and Christ Church.
3. Christ Church
One of the most popular and photographed landmarks on the isle, Christ Church can be found right next to Fort Frederica and the Wesley Memorial in the west of St Simons. Surrounded by lush green grounds and a quiet graveyard, it makes for a scenic and serene spot to visit.
While James Oglethorpe established the town and fort of Frederica in 1736, it was only in 1823 that Christ Church was finally built. The current building, however only dates to 1884 as the old one was almost completely destroyed by invading Union troops during the American Civil War.
The old church’s spindly steeple, steep shingle roof and whitewashed walls now make for some fine photos with its interior being equally attractive. After taking in its wonderfully dark wooden rafters, pews and altar, make sure to stroll about amidst the grand oaks and weathered gravestones outside.
2. St. Simons Lighthouse
Right at the southern tip of the island is another of its most important and impressive old buildings: the stunning St. Simons Lighthouse. From atop the beloved landmark, guests can bask in sublime views over the sound and sea with interesting artifacts and exhibits covering its centuries-old past.
As the original 1811 lighthouse was destroyed by retreating Confederate troops during the war, the current one with its 104-foot tower was only completed in 1872. Rising dramatically above the coast, the brilliantly bright white structure makes for a striking sight with the views from its top being unrivaled on the island.
At its foot, you can find the former lighthouse keeper’s cottage which now houses a small museum full of artifacts, historical photos and exhibits on the lighthouse and the keepers who kept it running.
1. Fort Frederica
St Simons’ standout attraction, however, has to be the fabulous Fort Frederica which lies right next to the winding river of the same name. Now preserved as a National Monument, its crumbling remains are captivating to explore with the archaeological site offering an invaluable insight into both the island and America’s past.
As aforementioned, the fort and town surrounding it were established by James Oglethorpe between 1736 and 1742. This was to protect the southern boundary of the British colony – one of the first in the country – against Spanish raids and incursions from Florida.
At its beautiful riverside site, you can wander about the fort and the foundations of barracks, houses and other structures. Scattered about are informative plaques on life in the early colony with others recounting the battles of Bloody Marsh and Gully Hole Creek. Both of these helped determine the future of the States with the garrison being disbanded in 1749 when the Spanish threat subsided.