The morning light began showing through the windows of my circular tower room. Outside the windows the sun was peaking just above the horizon. I threw on clothes and hurried down to the beach not wanting to miss the show. The sand was so dense and firm it felt like I was walking on a Temperpedic mattress. With each step the sun rose more and more cascading hues of orange, pink, and yellow across the sky, until at last that big orange ball of fire rose above the sea in all its glory. It was the most spectacular sunrise I’ve ever witnessed and like most things on St. Simons Island, it simply existed blessing the soul with its profound beauty.
St. Simons Island welcomes you with coastal estuaries filled with an abundance of wildlife, streets lined with mossy oaks, and fiery sunrises that blaze out of the morning sky. Its beauty does not ask for attention, it simply exists in all its natural wonder.
Arriving in St. Simons you can drive the FJ Torres Causeway which takes you across the breathtaking estuaries or you can fly into McKinnon-St. Simons Airport by private plane. In the 1930s, visionaries Howard Coffin and County Commission Chairman Malcolm McKinnon began advocating for an airport on the tiny island as they saw St. Simons Island and Sea Island a future hub for upscale travel and leisure. In 1941 the airport opened, today the airport is one of the busiest private airports in the world frequented by tourists, aviation enthusiasts, business executives, and golf professionals.
Upon arriving in St. Simons Island you quickly realize you are in fact on island time. This barrier island along the Atlantic coast isn’t just a barrier to the sea, it is a barrier to a world caught up in the rat race. While you can still be readily connected to the rest of the world, you can let go of all the things you think you have to do and simply enjoy.
My sandcastle by the sea, The King And Prince Resort, is in fact the color of sand with perfect positioning along a beautiful stretch of beach. A recent renovation reveals a lobby with beautiful wood beams and tiled ceiling, chandeliers dramatically hanging from above, a white stone fireplace majestically structured in the lobby, and the renamed Echo restaurant with floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the beach and pool deck. Further suspicions that this in fact is a sandcastle once inhabited by a king and prince are confirmed as I make my way to my room, the Governor’s Suite, a 2 story suite with a spiral staircase leading to a bedroom in a circular tower.
The King and Prince Resort offers beautiful accommodations at affordable prices, direct access to the beach, an expansive, sophisticated pool area, and delicious fresh food. The food at Echo is incredible. With a mission to provide guests with healthy, fresh food, most ingredients are locally sourced. Every dish experienced during my stay was fit for a king (or queen). The flavors, the impeccable knowledge of the chefs and sommelier, and the presentation come together to create unforgettable meals. The first night we enjoyed shrimp and grits made with wild Georgia shrimp, which I learned is darker in color with a sweeter taste than Gulf Coast shrimp. A breakfast of crabcake benedict with fresh fruit, a lunch with a simple vegetable soup I have actually recreated in my own kitchen, and a 5-course wine dinner filled with oysters, scallops, quail, and steak still linger deliciously in my mind. It was some of the best food I have ever enjoyed. The quality of the ingredients, the combintaion of flavors, and proficiency of the cooking make The King and Prince a culinary destination.
Venturing outside this sandcastle by the sea is a must as well so you can experience the local fare. Other restaurants you should try include:
Gnat’s Landing – An island icon located in Red Fern Village, Gnat’s Landing was once owned by Robert ‘Boz’ Bostock, a local favorite whom tragically passed away in 2013. Since then the Pope family has kept Boz’s dream going by providing great food in a flip-flop atmosphere. I recommend the fried pickles to start followed by the slaw bowl with grilled shrimp.
Sandcastle Cafe – Sandcastle Café and Grill is the local’s favorite. Locally owned and in business for over 25 years, Sandcastle is known for its breakfast buffet and its homemade Bloody Mary mix.
In laid back Red Fern Village you will also get a dose of nature meets high fashion at Gogo Jewelry. Gogo Jewelry transforms nature into wearable art and has been doing so for over 30 years. It begins with a daily walk on the beach finding something uncovered by the tide or on the forest floor on Cumberland Island. This is the routine of Janet ‘Gogo’ Ferguson whose Carnegie family has called Cumberland Island home for seven generations. Each piece is made by a mold of the natural element found by Gogo. It could be a small starfish pendant, an alligator toe bone bracelet, a spiny murex conch cuff, or sea urchin earrings. The jewelry is breathtaking and unique. On a side note, Gogo also custom designed the rings for John F. Kennedy Jr and Carolyn Bessette.
For an adventure in ecology step aboard the Lady Jane, a US Coast Guard shrimping vessel recently retired. You cruise along the estuaries and you get to learn hands on about the baby squid, stingrays, sand shark, horseshoe crab, puffer fish, Amberjack, blue crab, and more, which are caught and released. For more information or to book click here. I got to hold a baby stingray and a baby squid in my hand before releasing them back to the sea.
On St. Simons Island even a day at the beach is an adventure. With the sand so firm you can truly beach cruise on your bike. Bicycle is also a wonderful way to see the island and explore from the lighthouse to causeways. Conveniently located one block from the King and Prince, Ocean Motion has the largest selection of bicycles and you’ll find a bike for everyone in the entire family – including infant seats and Trail-a-bikes. Rent by the 1/2 day, the day or for your entire stay. I love this photo of this woman I saw on the beach, she rode up on her bike then hopped off to lay out her towel and read. You will see people of all ages enjoying the beaches of St. Simons Island.
St. Simons Island is a place of discovery and childlike wonder. Once you visit, it is easy to understand why families like the Carnegies fell so in love with the area that it became their home. After witnessing a spectacular sunrise the first morning, I discovered that each morning sunrise on St. Simons is one of nature’s greatest masterpieces.