For those who love the beach in fall and winter, St. Simons Island, GA, offers top-notch tranquility, interesting excursions, and tempting off-season rates. From November through February, the weather’s perfect for promenading as high temperatures hover from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. On a walk along the sands, watch the sunlight catch in the curl of a wave and listen to the seagulls’ cries. With no crowds, getting a table at a really good restaurant proves easy and the cool weather makes exploring the island’s other major features—marshes and maritime forests—bug-free outings.
Beaches and Lodging
As any beach aficionado knows, fall and winter offer the best times for shore strolls. An island grande dame, the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort is the only oceanfront lodging on St. Simons and a prime place to base yourself.
Exploring St. Simons’ sands requires being mindful of the tides. At low tide, you can walk out onto the sandbars for close encounters with critters in the tide pools. At the King and Prince Resort’s beach as well as at Gould’s Inlet and other East Beach spots, collect shells, fly kites and enjoy the wind in your face as you wander. But be careful to leave the shore well before high tide as the water levels can rise quickly, engulfing the sand.
The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, which began in 1935 as a private dinner and dancing club, first added rooms in 1941. However, the Spanish Colonial style property closed to the public in winter 1942 to house naval personnel and serve as a US Navy radar station. The resort reopened in 1947. A recent multimillion-dollar renovation reconfigured the pool area, updated the lobby and added ECHO, a restaurant worth booking. Chef James Flack calls his fare “Southern coastal cuisine with a twist.” You won’t be disappointed.
Beach lovers should treat themselves to an oceanfront room with a balcony. That way, you can also open the door and listen to soothing sounds of the breaking surf. Fall and winter rates from $129.
The Inn at Sea Island opened in February 2014. The hotel, actually located on St. Simons Island, is the least expensive of the Sea Island properties, a collection that includes the five-star rated Cloister, the Lodge, and the Beach Club. For those without a car, the Inn is conveniently located next to a shopping center that houses Halyards, a noted seafood restaurant. The Inn, a hotel rather than a resort, lacks a restaurant. Rates include a buffet breakfast and start at $185.
Marshes and Maritime Forests
Some say the Golden Isles’ name originated because the Spanish explorers came ashore seeking gold. Others credit the term to the wide stretches of marsh grass that the sun turns to the color of spun gold in fall and winter. You can glimpse these vast expanses laced with water as you drive across the causeway to St. Simons.
Another quintessential natural element on the Golden Isles: Live oaks draped with Spanish moss. The iconic trees, so long a symbol of the South, edge St. Simons’ sidewalks and in places, canopy over the roadways.
An off-the-beaten path place to experience both marshes and maritime forests: Cannon’s Point Preserve on the northern tip of St. Simons. The 608-acres, saved in 2012 from clearing for future homes by the St. Simons Island Land Trust, are thick with centuries-old live oaks. Saw palmetto, cabbage palms, sparkleberry, red bay, and loblolly pines grow also grow well in the woods.
In places you can leave the main trail and follow a path to where the stately live oaks stop at the marsh’s edge, a region known as the marsh-upland. Behind you stand the old oaks. In front, stretch acres of wheat-colored marshes. The brackish waters here nurture osprey, wood storks, and diamondback terrapins.
Other Cannon’s Point paths lead to historical ruins. John Couper purchased Cannon’s Point Plantation around 1793, later enlarging the main house and building dependencies. Couper grew what came to be known as Sea Island cotton, famed for its long staples (fibers), silky texture, and relatively few seeds. Couper and the other plantation owners built their fortunes on the backs of slaves who cultivated and picked the cotton.
You can see remnants of this era in the remains of a slave cabin, an overseer’s house, and in the foundation of the manor house, impressive with its rows of pillars formed from tabby. Workers created the early building mixture by burning oyster shells to get lime and then mixing the lime with more shells, sand, and water. From the top of the three-story, wooden observation tower erected nearby, the mansion’s footprint comes clearly into view.
Just beyond the trees, the kitchen’s multi-oven chimney still stands as do some of the outer walls of the plantation’s hospital, the place where Rebecca Couper, John’s wife, helped birth her slaves’ babies.
Cannon’s Point Preserve opens to the public for hiking, biking and tours at select times. Sea Island also offers a guided ecological tour of Cannon’s Point Preserve.
Have you been to St. Simons? Watch the video above, view a photo slideshow below, and connect with me on Twitter, @familyitrips.
Hover on image to stop scrolling. Photos: Candyce Stapen