Best-selling antebellum novelist Eugenia Price often spoke of the "special light" on her beloved St. Simon's Island. Turning a beautiful golden color in autumn, the expansive salt marsh grasses are especially dramatic when lit by the setting sun.
The Golden Isles in southern Georgia have long attracted travelers with their astonishing beauty, abundant wildlife, and historic gems. About midway between Jacksonville and Savannah, the unspoiled barrier islands comprise St. Simons, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, and Little St. Simons Island, just off the mainland city of Brunswick.
The salt marshes here are a fragile yet an enormously productive ecosystem, considered as some of the most extensive and productive marshlands in the world. The incoming tide nourishes and feeds the grasses of the marsh. The outgoing tide harvests its products and, through the tidal energy, breaks down the grasses and feeds the resources to the sea. A nursery for commercial seafood, the decomposing plant material are a superb source of food for blue crabs, shrimp, oysters, clams and all manner of small fish.
Majestic ancient oaks line the Pier Village district located at the end of Mallery Street on the southern end. Overlooking St. Simons Sound, the pier provides benches along each side allowing visitors a place to watch fishermen and crabbers haul up their day’s catch or simply enjoy the views of Jekyll Island in the distance.
The waters are visited annually by North Atlantic right whales, usually seen during the winter months as they migrate south from the northeastern United States. Most months of the year you can spy dolphin feeding along the coast. Pier Village serves as the downtown social hub and offers a charming and unique selection of shops, a variety of restaurants including Iguana's, the perennial award winner for the best fried shrimp on the island.
A short stroll takes you to the lighthouse, rebuilt in 1872 after Confederates destroyed the original. Climb the 129 circular steps of the lighthouse a 360-degree observation deck for a panoramic view of the island. The operational lighthouse still casts a beam 23 miles out to sea, guiding ships and freighters into St. Simons Sound. One sight you can easily pick out is the sprawling King & Prince Resort.
Its story begins with Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn launching their own private club in 1935 after being tossed out of the Sea Island club for bad behavior. Horn was a tall, heavy man, and Wynn was a short, skinny fellow, so they were fondly dubbed “The King and Prince.”
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the resort served as a naval post during WWII for coast watchers looking for German submarines. Today, the King & Price's lobby is an elegant and welcoming space with the skylight bar, cozy banquettes, tables looking out at the ocean, and an expansive fireplace that burns brightly during cooler weather. A dog-friendly resort, early mornings bring a stream of canines romping up and down the beach.
Upon arrival, here's your first dilemma: take a stroll along the white sand beach or lounge by the striking pool pavilion. Or better yet get pampered with a Swedish massage in the Royal Treatment Cottage. Echo is the King & Prince's oceanfront dining experience. The resort also offers outdoor and poolside dining as well as a firepit surrounded by comfy sofas. Try the grouper tacos at lunch which pairs wonderfully with the Creature Comforts (Athens, GA) Rye Ale while the citrus and pomegranate salad and jerk shrimp flatbread showcase Echo's wide wine selection.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, as my wife and I drove over a six-mile causeway that leads to Jekyll Island flanked by tidal marshes that are home to waterfowl and spectacular migrating birds.
From the Gilded Age through the Roaring '20s part-time residents named Vanderbilt or Rockefeller, Morgan or Astor, Macy or Pulitzer retreated to elegant "cottages" on their wild coastal island. It is said that when all of the distinguished winter residents arrived, one sixth of the world's wealth was represented. However, their descendents departed for Florida to search for new adventures in the early 1940s. The state of Georgia purchased the island for the bargain price of $675,000 in 1947.
We enjoyed a fine lunch at the Courtyard at Crane. The most lavish cottage built on the island during the heyday of the island, the 22-room residence was inspired by an Italian Renaissance villa admired by Richard T. Crane Jr., a Chicago "plumbing tycoon." The cottage's period floors are made from oak and tile that team with cypress ceiling beams and huge fireplaces.
The kitchen turns out impressive homemade soups, sauces, dressings and warm herbed breads. We opted for artichokes and shrimp with spinach, fresh herbs and garlic from Sapelo Farms over capellini and the mahi tacos with sweet chili and kimchi. The flavor of both dishes was spot-on. In the evening you can view crimson sunsets on the water.
Back on St. Simons, Christ Church Frederica is set in tall, mossy grass under towering oak trees, holly and cedar trees. Worship has been continuous since 1736 in Christ Church Parish, established by English colonists under General James Oglethorpe. It's a gothic style structure with a tall belfry and narrow stained glass windows given in memory of loved ones. Still home to an active Episcopal congregation of 600, the grounds contain a cemetery with graves of early settlers and many famous Georgians that date back to 1803.
Eugenia Price is buried here. Perhaps more than any other modern writer, in her 14 novels Price has defined the stories of the old South in the 18oos. She took the headstones of actual people buried in the cemetery and brought them back to life as fictional characters in her books.
Nature and wildlife are all around. More than 300 bird species can be found along the colonial coast bird trails. Pelicans glide on the wind, great blue herons wade along in the marsh grasses in search of their next meal. Explore the maze of marshes by kayak, or bike trails that with through the tranquil island. Check out the guided dolphin or birding tours, or climb aboard the "Lady Jane" for a hands-on shrimper experience, on a former working shrimp boat. It all adds up to an absolutely unique and gorgeous setting you won't soon forget.