The Ultimate First Timer's Guide to St. Simons Island, Georgia
The largest of the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island, Georgia is one of the most popular destinations in the southeastern United States. Like a lot of coastal communities, life moves at a gentler pace and most days revolve around getting outdoors, eating some seafood, and having drinks on the beach. Hard to argue with a vacation like that. My family moved to St. Simons when I was a young child and even after going off to college and other adventures, I always returned for visits each year.
Ryan and I married on the north end at the Frederica Boathouse and created a guide for our out of town wedding guests. After receiving lots of questions from readers and my Instagram fam over the years about St. Simons Island so I thought it was time to share a guide to help first timers plan a trip to SSI. You'll find everything you need to know about St. Simons Island: where to stay, what to do, and where to eat. If there is something I didn’t cover that you want to know, leave a comment or shoot me an email.
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Before you Go
Summer - This is kind of a no brainer but just wanted to mention. SSI does the bulk of their tourism business in the summer. So if you're hoping for a quiet beach getaway, Summer is not the best time.
Georgia Florida Week(end) - It should come as no surprise that football is big down south but the Georgia Florida game draws thousands of students and fans to our little island because the game is always held in nearby Jacksonville, Florida on Halloween. It is a really fun weekend if you're into football and don't mind a lot of waiting at restaurants but if you're not steer clear on that particular weekend. Get my local’s guide to Georgia Florida Weekend here.
Winter - In the winter (excluding the holidays) St. Simons is a lot quieter, the beaches are practically empty, and virtually no waits at restaurants. You're likely to also score a price break on hotels/rental houses during the colder months too. Being so far south though it is still possible to have really nice weather. I have gone to the beach on New Years Eve on several occasions.
September - With kids going back to school this month is basically dead around town so it would be a great time for a quick getaway.
How to get there
Brunswick, Georgia (BQK) - approximately 20 minutes away on the mainland, serviced by Delta
Savannah, Georgia (SAV) - 1 hour north
Jacksonville, Florida (JAX) - 1 hour south. I have often scored really cheap flights with Southwest and Allegiant here.
Just five hours from Atlanta, Georgia St. Simons Island is an easy driving destination from cities around the South. It’s nice to have a car in case you want to do a day trip to one of the neighboring islands.
Where to Stay in St. Simons Island
Being a major vacation destination there are a variety of hotels and vacation rental homes available, some even on the beach. Depending on your budget and group size here are a few of my favorite places.
The Fig House - Cool and comfortable, this is the most beautiful mid-mod beach house. With 3 bedrooms, heated pool, and massive kitchen, Bryce Brock of The Vine has transformed this house into a cozy hideaway is perfect for a family or girls trip to the beach. The house is centrally located near the site of the Battle of Bloody Marsh and a short cruise to the beach, restaurants, and shopping. Avg price per night $329. More info and booking here.
The Village Inn & Pub | 500 Mallery St - Underneath the massive oak trees draped with Spanish moss, this boutique hotel built around a historic 1930s beach cottage and is the ideal location for a romantic getaway. Rooms feature cozy beds, leather armchairs and many of the rooms open onto the courtyard and pool. Enjoy classic cocktails in the lobby bar & lounge and check out historic photographs of the Golden Isles. The Village Inn is in the heart of the south end Village area and walking distance to the pier and a number of restaurants and shops. Rate range: $172-$200. More info and booking information here.
King and Prince Beach Resort | 201 Arnold Rd - The King and Prince has been an island institution for 80 years starting out as a beachside dance club, turned hotel with a brief stint as a naval coast-watching and training facility during World War II. While there are plenty of condos beachside, this historic hotel is the only hotel on St. Simons actually on the beach. With access to the beach, heated pools, tennis courts, a golf course, and several restaurants on site, no one will get bored staying here. Avg price per night $189. Find more photos and booking info here.
Where to eat and drink in SSI
Great vacations revolve around food and drink (at least for me) and Southerners never let you go hungry. With plenty of fresh seafood, BBQ, Tex Mex and more, there’s no shortage of local flavor in St. Simons Island. Be aware if you’re traveling in the high season be prepared to wait a little bit.
Sandy Bottom Bagels | 242 Retreat Village: Monster sized bagel sandwiches perfect to take with you for a beach picnic.
Cafe Frederica | 110 Sylvan Blvd - HUGE cinnamon rolls, omelettes, breakfast sandwiches, and more. This place is packed on Sundays from the local church crowd so go early (7-8:30 am) or late (they close at 2pm).
Palmers | 223 Mallery St - They serve breakfast all day so it’s one of my favorite spots for brunch. They’ve got all the classics like bennies and pancakes but my go to order is Green Eggs & Ham, Scrambled Eggs with Café Herbed Mixture & Vermont White Cheddar, Sliced Serrano Ham & Biscuit garnished with our Tomato Jam.
Lunch (or casual dinner)
Bubba Garcias | 200 Redfern Village - Laid back local spot in Redfern Village serving up classic Mexican dishes like tostadas, street tacos, and a few dishes with a Southern twist (think fried chicken tacos).
Gnat’s Landing | 310 Redfern Village - casual bar and grill with lots of outdoor seating. Great burgers, sandwiches, seafood platters, and excellent drink selection.
Southern Soul BBQ | 2020 Demere Rd - Uber casual joint housed in an old gas station in the center of SSI. They have award winning BBQ and sauces but my favorite thing is the smoked chicken salad.
The Half Shell | 504 Beachview Dr - I love this spot for when I’m craving straight up seafood. They have a full menu, but I typically go for raw oysters, peel and eat shrimp, maybe an order of hushpuppies, and a beer. So simple but so good.
CJ’s | 405 Mallery St - It’s been around for decades and still a classic. I go with pizza and a Greek salad every time but they have plenty of pastas to choose from as well. Go deep dish for sure. Best I’ve ever had.
Georgia Sea Grill | 407 Mallery St - Fine dining sea to table restaurant located in the heart of The Village. Head here for locally caught fish, oysters, and more.
Delaney’s Bistro & Bar | 3415 Frederica Rd - This is my favorite place to celebrate, no occasion necessary. Owned by husband and wife duo Chef Tom & Leslie, Delaney’s specializes in wild game, seafood, and steaks. The whole menu is incredible but I often order off the tapas menu (changes daily) to sample a smorgasbord of dishes. They also have one of the best wine lists on the island.
Looks good right? Photo was taken by fab local photographer Ben Galland.
Murphy’s Tavern | 415 Mallery St - Dark and smokey with pool tables, dart boards, and cold beer.
Palm Coast | 318 Mallery St - Popular spot for live music with a good craft beer and wine selection. The bar is tiny but there’s lots of seating underneath the oaks on their patio.
Bubba’s Up | 200 Redfern Village - Decked out like a 70s basement, this bar is above Bubba Garcias and serves some of the best drinks in town. My go to is the Paloma or whatever craft beer is on tap.
Gnat’s Landing | 310 Redfern Village - Gnat’s is a favorite for live music and late night drinks. Best seat is outside on the front patio and enjoy the people watching, and when it’s busy they open up the outside bar so you don’t even have to go inside.
Want more restaurant recommendations? Check out my local’s guide to St Simons Island’s best restaurants.
St. Simons Island Activities
Get a History Lesson
The island itself is believed to date back to 25,000 B.C. and remnants from the Guale and Mocama tribes can still be seen in shell middens in undeveloped areas of the island. There are several sites still standing that help educate and interpret the colonial and antebellum past of St. Simons Island. *Note this is not an exhaustive list of the Golden Isles area, just a few highlights from St. Simons Island.
St. Simons Lighthouse | 610 Beachview Dr - climb over 100 steps for a beautiful view of the Atlantic coast from this nineteenth century historic lighthouse. Check out the Keeper’s Dwelling which is a museum with exhibits and artifacts that interpret 19th century life on the island and the life of a lighthouse keeper.
Christ Church | 6329 Frederica Rd - One of the oldest churches in Georgia, Christ Church is one of the most popular historic sites on the island. The church is a beautiful gothic style tucked away in the monumental oak trees. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Christ Church is on the far north end of the island making it a great bike ride from the south/central parts of the island.
Fort Frederica National Monument | 6515 Frederica Rd, - Established in 1733 to defend the colony from the Spanish, Fort Frederica is now a national monument. Visitors can explore the archeological site and museum that features artifacts found at the site. Fort Frederica is also located on the north end of the island so it would be easy to visit before or after Christ Church.
Cannon’s Point Preserve | Cannon Point Rd - Technically this is a nature preserve but it is on the site of the former Cannon’s Point Plantation. This 608- acre wilderness is home to the last intact maritime forest in St. Simons Island, 6 miles of coastal habitat for wildlife, shell middens dating back to 2500 BCE, and the remains of the large plantation home and slave quarters built by John Couper in the 1800s. Go on a hike, bike ride, launch a canoe, or explore the ruins and experience a different side of St. Simons *Note - there is no access to potable water and limited access to restroom facilities.
Explore St. Simons Island by bike
There are over 30 miles of bike paths on St. Simons Island so you can totally ditch your car at the hotel and cruise underneath the oaks without having to worry about traffic. Start on one end of the island and work your way to the other but don’t forget to stop for a snack and keep your eyes peeled for the famous tree spirits. Check out this map. If you need to rent a bike while you’re in town, check out these two locally owned shops. Monkeywrench Bikes (912 634-5551) or Benjy’s Bikes (912-638-6766).
Charter a boat
You’re on an island so you’ve got to head out on the water at least once. Last summer my mom organized a cruise with Cap Fendig and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on the coast. Cap Fendig is from one of the oldest families in St. Simons and one of the most knowledgeable guides in the area. He’s also a 47 year licensed US Coast Guard Master Captain and taken thousands of locals and visitors out on the water. He has a variety of tour options but we opted for the lunch cruise which is about 4 hours. We left from the SSI marina and traveled to Jekyll to have lunch on the water before heading back. Along the way, Cap pointed out dolphins, rare birds like the roseate spoonbill and other creatures. I can’t recommend his trips enough!
Shopping in St. Simons Island
When you need to take a break from the beach, there are plenty of shops to keep you busy and shielded from the sun. These are a few of the shops I visit every trip home.
Nancy | 26 Market St #110 - High Fashion + Bistro + Vintage Home Decor. Pick up some gourmet goodies while your here or have lunch after you shop.
Shackelford Shoes | 28 Market St Suite 122 - Everything from cute kicks to comfortable wedges, this is THE shoe store on the island. They have a great selection of jewelry and handbags too.
Two Friends | 295 Redfern Village - Cute gifts and contemporary clothing that you can wear from day to night
The Vine | 12 Market Street - The coolest garden market. Shop for funky containers, succulents, books, and more.
Golden Isles Gourmet Market & Wine Bar | 306 Redfern Village - Sample olive oils and vinegars from all over the world. And they just recently opened a wine bar!
Tibi | 28 Market St Suite 120 - Sleek contemporary women’s wear founded by SSI native Amy Smilovic. St. Simons Island is the home base of the line’s warehouse so the St. Simons shop is actually an outlet that hosts sample sales and major discounts. If you’re into high fashion this shop is a must.
St. Simons Island Beaches
No trip to an island is complete without a day at the beach (or two). Unlike the soft white sands of the Gulf and rocky West Coast, the beaches here have big dune ridges and wide beaches (at low tide) making them perfect for beach games with a group or a sunset beach walk. These dunes are brimming with fragile coastal plants and critters. Be mindful of this no matter which beach you decide to check out and stick to the obvious path and don’t go climbing around on the delicate dunes so that ecosystem can stay safe. Here are a couple of beaches to check out in St. Simons Island.
Gould’s Inlet | At the end of Bruce Drive - This is one of the quieter beach spots on the island, mainly due to the limited parking spots. It’s a great place to go for a long walk down East Beach, take out a Stand Up Paddle, or just hang out on the shore to catch glimpses of coastal shore birds.
Coast Guard Station Beach | 4202 1st St - Named for the historic coast guard station that still stands, this is the most popular spot on the island. It is the widest section of beach on the island and has the largest parking area as well so prepare for crowds in the peak season. There is a convenient concession stand (only open in the summer), but if you want to save cash and bring your own BYO snacks and drinks pack your own cooler. There is a drop off area by the boardwalk so you can unload your car before parking. Don’t forget chairs and towels. This historic Coast Guard Station is now home to the World War II Home Front Museum opening in December of 2018.
St. Simons Island is small but there’s so much to do and see that I’d recommend staying a week, especially if you’ve never been. That way you can see some of the sites and still have a few days to chill out because what’s the point of going on an island vacation if you’re not going to relax?