72 Hours in St Simons Island, Georgia
Day 1 – 72 Hours in St Simons Island
Annoyed. I’m running late for the welcome reception at the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort on St Simons Island, Georgia, racing the clock to get there at a reasonable time. Traffic, as they say in the South, is moving “slower than molasses.” I’m tempted to honk at the little old lady in front of me but stop myself. She’s only obeying the 25 MPH speed limit signs. I take a deep breath, open my sunroof, and breath in the canopy of live oaks that shade the road.
I arrive at the King and Prince just a few minutes late and sneak into the welcome reception, hoping nobody will notice my tardiness. I wanted to check into my room and freshen up before our scheduled trolley tour, but those plans will have to wait until after the tour. A few welcome cocktails calm my nerves from the four-hour drive and prepare me to embrace island life over the next three days.
I stare up at one of the live oak trees that shade the front lawn of the Christ Church Frederica and experience a Zen like moment. This church is way more than its nineteenth century bones. It was on this spot that John Wesley had his epiphany and wrote the letter outlining the principals that birthed the Methodist Church. I pay a silent homage to the founder of the church both my wife and I grew up in.
The second stop on our trolley tour is Fort Frederica. Little is left of this once massive fort except for the foundations of buildings and outlines of roads. Yet, those stones serve as a chilly reminder of St Simons Island’s pivotal role in the history of our country. Ft Frederica is where the Battle of Bloody Marsh was fought between British and Spanish forces. Through the brave efforts of the Ft Frederica’s troops, Georgia remained a British colony.
I’m back in St Simons’ crawling traffic, headed to the drug store to pick up a few items I forgot at home. Of course, I didn’t realize I forgot those items until the last possible moment. Once again, I’m cutting the clock close as I try to embrace island time while fighting the push of city time. My sunroof is open. A few leaves fall in. I let it go.
I experience another Zen-like moment. This time over the shrimp and grits – a recipe I’ve been attempting to perfect since moving to the South ten years ago. As simple as they sound, my grits never quite turn out right. Chef de Cuisine James Flack of King and Prince’s ECHO restaurant reveals the secret of cooking grits in his live demonstration. I, as his eager student, take thorough notes, ready to replicate the process at home. The secret is to cook them low and slow. The secret is also to use only the freshest shrimp. In the case of ECHO, sweet Macintosh shrimp caught in the waters off St Simons Island.
Day 2 – 72 Hours in St Simons Island
I want to throw my pillow across the room. Why oh why can’t my internal alarm clock allow me to sleep in! I have three baby-free nights of un-interrupted sleep ahead of me, perfect for refilling my sleep deprived tanks, and yet, I’m still up before the sun. I shower, pour a cup of coffee, and open the curtains on my balcony to morning’s first light on the Atlantic Ocean. The colors of the ocean and sky come alive. I forget that moments earlier I’d rather be sleeping.
This very well could be the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten – crab cakes benedict, fresh coffee, and a Bloody Mary made from locally produced Old 4th Distillery Vodka and Savannah Bloody Mary mix. The freshness of the seafood – in this case blue fin crab caught off the coast of St Simons Island – completes the meal. Others on the tour daintily pick at theirs, still full from last night’s Taste of Georgia Feast. I lick my plate clean. Tomorrow, I’ll be enjoying the sunrise with a walk on the beach instead of the perch on my balcony. I have to counter-balance all these calories somehow.
We line up to board the Rudee Explorer, operated by the same company as yesterday’s Lighthouse Trolley, for a dolphin cruise. The waters of St Simons Island are said to be home to the largest population of dolphins, sharks, and whales on the East Coast. I’m guaranteed we’ll spot a dolphin. I stand at the ready the entire time with my camera in hand. I’ve never been on a dolphin cruise nor have I seen one in the wild. Well, there was that time on Sanibel Island when my Dad claimed one was following us on our morning beach walk. Given that I’m legally blind, I couldn’t see far enough to witness them myself.
I finally give up on my quest to spot a dolphin. I pack-up my camera, grab a picnic lunch prepared by the King and Prince, and embrace a relaxing cruise aboard the Rudee Explorer. The weather is idyllic, the sun is sparkling off the water, and plenty of birds keep us company. I learn the next day that the afternoon cruise spotted multiple dolphins. St Simons Island is trying to teach me to let go of control and embrace the island’s agenda and not my own.
We have a little downtime at King and Prince to experience all that the resort has to offer. I begin with a relaxing craft beer at ECHO Bar, impressed with the collection of both regional and national craft beers. Nary is a can of Bud Light in site. The bar has even amassed a robust menu of canned craft beer for customers to enjoy poolside where glass is prohibited. I order a Sweetwater 420 and begin exploring the resort’s Caribbean like grounds and swimming pools, ending my walk with my toes in the water and ass in the sand. I am in Georgia after all.
OMG the Fried Pimiento Cheese Balls! I’m at Georgia Sea Grill, and I know I should be raving about the intoxicatingly sweet Apricot & Black Cherry Savannah 88 Old Fashion from their specialty drink menu or the fresh caught Pan Roasted Snapper with fingerling potatoes, arugula and leeks, but these cheese balls have me like… Reason enough to visit Georgia Sea Grill. Why the hell haven’t I seen these on other menus in the South?
Day 3 – 72 Hours in St Simons Island
I’m not as enraged with my inner alarm clock and eagerly hop out of bed, put on my gym clothes, and head out for my morning beach walk. It’s low tide and a I follow a sandbar out what feels like a mile into the ocean in chase of seagulls and the perfect vantage for the sunrise. The colors do not disappoint, and I already begin to look forward to tomorrow.
Today’s adventures on St Simons Island begin with a breakfast feast at Sand Castle Café. The family owned business’s breakfast buffet – with eggs, waffles, and pancakes made to order – has been a staple on the island for 30 years. My plate piles over with sunny-side-up eggs, corned beef hash, hash browns, kielbasa, breakfast sausage, bacon, and cheese grits. I washed it all down with their house blend Bloody Mary, which may just be better than the Savannah Bloody Mary Mix found at King and Prince. It’s the kind of breakfast you can only get away with on vacation.
The morning is hazy, but still I ascend the 129 narrow steps to the top of St Simons Island Lighthouse in an attempt to work off a fraction of the calories consumed during breakfast. I’m winded by the time I reach the top, wishing there was another Bloody Mary from Sandcastle Café waiting for me. The lighthouse itself has been in operation since 1872, still standing as an important navigational beacon. The museum plus the lighthouse provides a glimpse into the harsh life of the lighthouse keeper – a job I still wished existed today so I can enjoy the view from the top daily.
As a special treat, Ted Dennard, Founder, President, and Head Beekeeper of Savannah Bee Company, introduces us to his store and the process of making honey and the benefits derived from it. While he talks about how he started – a type of story normally intrigues me – I’m distracted by the mead tasting bar in the back of the story. Mead has been grabbing headlines lately as one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverages in the United States, and I want to know why. The only mead I had sampled previously was overly sweet. I am surprised by the variety of meads from sweet to dry, including a few hopped varieties. While I doubt mead would ever be my go to over craft beer, I can think of some good food pairings in place of wine.
Gnat’s Landing is my type of joint. You know, the kind of place where I’m overdressed in my khaki shorts and polo shirt. We sit outside on the patio, and I long for a beer, because that’s what should be drank at Gnat’s. Alas, nobody else indulged so I settle on a Diet Coke. I’m eyeing many of their fried seafood selections like the shrimp or oyster po-boys but still feel like I’m going to burst from breakfast. Instead, I settle on their famous salad entrée, the Slaw Bowl topped with blackened snapper. It’s crunchy and well blended with a dressing that isn’t too creamy, sweet, or vinegary. It’s also way healthier than the fried pickles appetizer I ordered.
Another ray of sunshine of free time in our relatively packed itinerary. I want to waste it poolside with a craft beer and a book but am instead drawn to the 21 miles of biking trails on St Simons Island and the promise of riding bikes on the beach. Apparently, I want to contribute to our medical deductible… Since it’s high tide, the beach biking is a no-go after several failed attempts in the soft sand. As a consolation prize, I head towards town in search of St Simons craft beer scene. My sites are set on Palm Coast but it’s closed for the afternoon. I settle for the open spaces and ample beer taps at Mellow Mushroom.
My mouth just had an orgasm. Grilled A5 Wagyu Filet with a purple sweet potato puree and béarnaise sauce. Chef Flack impressed us throughout the night with his chef’s table wine pairing dinner from the Foie Gras Tarte Tatin to Seared Georgie Black Bass over Geechie Boy Grits. But the Wagyu is foodie ecstasy. A standing ovation goes to Chef Flack and all he’s done with the food at ECHO and the King and Prince Resort.
Day 4 – 72 Hours in St Simons Island
I’m saddened as I wake up for one last sunrise. Who knows when I’ll make it back to my happy place (the beach) again. This morning, I’m surprisingly joined by another travel writer whom I was convinced wouldn’t make breakfast let alone a sunrise after a raucous night of food and drink.
I lingered a little too long during my morning beach walk – perhaps I’m finally learning island time or just don’t want to say farewell to this beautiful place – and arrived late to our final meal at the King and Prince, a seafood breakfast buffet. As I dive into giant prawns, smoked salmon, and smoked muscles, I have to ask myself why we don’t eat more seafood for breakfast.
Packed up and ready to head home to my family, I can’t leave the island without one last stop – Southern Soul Barbeque. Yes, I realize that I ate breakfast less than two hours ago, but I can’t say no to a restaurant that has been featured in Garden and Gun, Pitmasters, and Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives. The staff was friendly and the food was out of this world. In my BBQ journeys across the South, Southern Soul could very well occupy the number one spot.
Happy and full, I head back to Charlotte eager to return to St Simons Island for a food and beach filled adventure with The Wandering Gourmand family.
Want to go on a similar trip? The King and Prince Resort is THE place to stay. Check out the latest reviews on Tripadvisor or check out the latest prices on Expedia or TripAdvisor. Fodor’s the Carolinas & Georgia will help you find all the best spots in St Simons and beyond.
Thank you to the King and Prince Resort for hosting me on this press trip. As always, my opinions remain my own. In this instance, I couldn’t find enough nice things to say about the resort.
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