A slice of paradise, just north of the border. St. Simons is a great place to “fall” back on as the seasons change
By Peter Covino
There are about 15,000 year-round residents on St. Simons Island, and probably just as many stories.
Just about everyone you bump into on this playful, yet tranquil resort off the south Georgia coast, has a story to tell, and that might include a story or two that dates back to the island’s plantation days or maybe even its days of European occupation, both Spanish and English.
But whether it’s the history, the scenic wonders or a memorable breakfast as the sun rises above the Atlantic, St. Simons is a little slice of paradise, less than a four-hour drive from Central Florida.
Every long weekend getaway needs a great point of origin, and the historic King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort (kingandprince.com) is probably as good (and that is pretty good indeed) as it gets on the 17-mile long island.
Built in 1935, back when St. Simons must have been really a quiet place, the resort opened as a private seaside dance club. Guest rooms were added in 1945, the first of many other changes through the years including new owners and a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
Recent additions include a new pool complex adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean that is tailored to all generations from a family friendly wading pool; lagoon-style pool that youngsters will enjoy to a formal relaxation pol for adults (with food and beverage service). Note: Despite the changes, and more renovations on the way, the King and Prince retains much of that original Mediterranean style.
While St. Simons has many tempting dining spots, you won’t want to stray too far from the resort, at least for some of your meals. Not only is the Atlantic view spectacular (The King’s Tavern is the island’s only oceanfront restaurant) but executive chef Jason Brumfiel has created some imaginative menus, much of it incorporating the traditional offerings of Southern coastal cuisine.
From olives (yes the kitchen features both olives and olive oil from Georgia) to smoked and cured meats, artisan cheeses, honey and regional wine, not to mention the bounty from the sea, Chef Brumfiel will inspire anyone who likes to cook or just likes to eat.
As enticing as The King and Prince is (you may find it hard just to leave your balcony if you are lucky enough to have a sea view) there is a whole island to explore.
The best place to start is a Lighthouse Trolley tour (www.lighthousetrolleys.com).
If fate is kind, your trolley tour guide will be Cap Fendig (an island native and one of those 15,000 stories). Fendig’s roots go way back on the island to the 1850s. And while he may be commandeering a trolley replica, he really is a sea captain, as in U.S. Coast Guard, and also offers tours of the coastal wasters surrounding St. Simons.
The island tour will include stops such as the Village Pier, where you can meet locals and tourists alike, casting lines and nets, hoping to get the catch of the day. You can try your luck at fishing and net fishing. Several nearby shops sell or rent all your fishing needs.
A short walk from the pier is St. Simons Lighthouse, a 104-foot brick structure, originally constructed in 1810 and rebuilt in 1872. The lighthouse continues to guide ships, one of only three working lighthouses on the Georgia coast. If you have the stamina, you can climb the cast iron spiral stairway (there are 129 steps) for a grand view of the island. You might meet another native and have another story here as well. The ghost of lightkeeper Frederick Osborne (killed in a duel with his assistant in 1880) is said to haunt the place.
Another trolley stop is historic Christ Church. Originally built in 1820 (and burned during Sherman’s March through Georgia) the Episcopal church was rebuilt in 1884, but still has a few of the original pews not destroyed in the fire. The resting place of several famous Georgians, the church is nestled among many Live Oak trees, some hundreds of years old. Prominent visitors include Presidents Calvin Coolidge, Jimmy Carter and George Bush (www.christchurchfrederica.org).
Other tours offered by Lighthouse Trolley includes a dolphin tour along the waters of St. Simons, Brunswick and Jekyll Island; sunset boat tours (you can even bring your own bottle and sandwiches etc.) and half-day or full day fishing trips.
While the trolley tour is a nice introduction to the history of the island and easy way to figure out navigation, you can also travel by car. The island is also very bike friendly with a bike path available along the entire length of the island. If you don’t want to bring your own bike, bike rentals are available at area bike shops.
After you become familiar with the layout of the island, you might want to try some sea exploring, and the favorite option is the Lady Jane (www.shrimpcruise.com).
The Lady Jane is an actual shrimping vessel, but the Lady enjoys a more leisurely lifestyle in retirement, taking tourists on a guided tour of a small part of the nearly 400,000 acres of marshland along the Georgia coast.
It was a rainy outing for the Lady Jane, but the 60-foot steel hull boat is ready for bad weather, with a protective canopy to get in out of the rain. The boat also has a comfy cabin with places to sit as well.
But you miss all the fun in you stay inside during the approximate 90-minute cruise.
Your guides are Capt. Larry Credle and marine biologist Phil Flournay. Flournay loves to talk fish and spending time with him is a lot like watching the Discovery Channel, only it’s live.
The Lady Jane casts its nets at least two or three times during the trip, and then hauls it up before safely dumping the nets contents.
It is a cornucopia from the sea, with everything from stingray, to cutlass fish, to blue crab, horseshoe crab, silver perch and flounder.
And yes, of course, there are shrimp.
Before the trip ends, the guests of the Lady Jane get to sample some fresh shrimp, boiled Low Country style.
Along with boating and fishing activities (and many shopping opportunities), St. Simons also offers golf and, not surprisingly, the best place for a round is at the King and Prince’s golf course, located off-property from the hotel.
Golf Digest Magazine ranked the course No. 5 in its January 2013 issue which featured the 36 Best Buddies-Trips Destinations.
The list was compiled by a survey of 1,100 avid golfers.
Set among more of the island’s famous ancient oaks, a few of the holes also are along the salt marshes. The Hampton Club, at the golf course, is also a nice place for lunch or a cocktail.
It is hard to not to mention food when talking about St. Simons Island.
While seafood has to be the favorite, with all of the shrimp and fish available, there are some 50 restaurants on the island, so even if you stayed for a week, and ate out for every meal, there still would be many missed dining opportunities.
A great place to start the morning (after having that first day’s breakfast at the King and Prince breakfast buffet) is one of the island’s most popular spots, the Sandcastle Café.
Run by husband and wife Tim and Melissa Wellford, the restaurant is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Known for its made from scratch breakfast buffet, there are 20 plus items including everything from waffles and French toast to bacon and cheese grits.
You will probably want to skip lunch after dining at the Sandcastle, but the restaurant is also known for its crab cakes, fresh seafood burgers and open-face sandwiches.
After spending so much time looking at the sea, a change might be in order, and another St. Simons’ native dining favorite is Southern Soul Barbecue (www.southernsoulbbq.com).
The toughest decision during a stay at St. Simons might be what to order, if you are a barbecue fan.
There is pulled pork and ribs, smoked sausage, beef brisket and even a smoked turkey breast.
The choice is made a bit sampler if you order the Southern Soul Sampler, which includes two meats, Brunswick stew and a side order for $15. But you still need to choose between brisket, sausage, turkey, chicken and more.
The good news is, you can’t make a wrong decision and you can always come back the next day for more.
It might be tough being a vegetarian, just inhaling all of those smokehouse aromas, but the restaurant does offer several veggie items ‘Soulful Sides,’ including potato salad, collard greens, fried okra, cornbread, Hoppin’ John (blackeyed peas and rice) and fried green beans.
If you need any help at all during your stay, the staff at King and Prince are friendly and knowledgeable.
And even if you are not staying at the resort, the locals all seem to be proud of their island, so just ask an islander. More than likely, you will also get to hear one of those 15,000 stories.
Fall is a quieter time on St. Simons, so not only will you get to enjoy cooler temperatures, but cheaper prices as well.
Check out the King and Prince website (www.kingandprince.com ) for special fall rates. The resort also has a Golden Age special for guests 50 years. Seniors get a room upgrade (cannot be combined with any other special offer). There also is a golf special rate for seniors as well.
Also ask at the desk if any of the new fun add-on activities have started, such as cooking classes and demos with Chef Brumfiel.
The King and Prince Resort is famous for some of its traditional recipes such as Georgia Low Country Shrimp & Grits and New Orleans Smoky Bacon & Pecan Praline. You will find those complete recipes and more at the News-Gazette website link http://www.aroundosceola.com/?p=2719.
Getting there: St. Simons is pretty much fool-proof most of the way. From Interstate 4 East just merge onto Interstate 95 North through Jacksonville and follow the signs to the first exit for Brunswick, Ga. onto U.S. 17. and stay on U.S. 17 to the Sidney Lanier Bridge (its big, you can’t miss it, it’s the longest spanning bridge in the state, 480 feet tall). Keep going about nine more miles to FJ Torras Causeway, which will put you right on St. Simons.
For complete directions to King and Prince, check out the website or once on St. Simons, just ask a native.