St. Simons Island: Eat, Drink and Party Island-Style
St. Simons Islanders like any excuse to gather and have a good time—and this charming getaway offers up some of the finest restaurants, musicians and festivals.
Southern Soul BarbequeThis BBQ joint has put St. Simons on the culinary map, not only earning noteworthy applause from Garden and Gun Magazine and Southern Living, but also landing spots on TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters” and Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Fame hasn’t changed the way owners Giffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp have always made good food: slow, steady, and in full southern style. Their rubs are made from scratch daily, they bottle their own sauces and they cook in an outdoor pit using only wood. Pulled pork and sweet ribs coated in brown sugar and tupelo honey rank among the favorites, but the Brunswick stew, homemade pimento cheese and smoked chicken salad can’t be overlooked. Meat and three? Yes, please.
Halyards Restaurant St Simons Island GeorgiaThis restaurant seamlessly blends laid-back island environment with upscale food. Owner and Executive Chef Dave Snyder consistently impresses guests with creative dishes thoughtfully—and locally—sourced. Chef Snyder recognizes that Georgia is home to some of the best family-owned farms and dairies, and with an entire ocean at his front door, his food brings new meaning to fresh and farm-to-table. The wild Georgia shrimp and grits is a must-have, and there’s a good reason why the recipe for the creamy blue crab bisque has remained the same for decades: if it ain’t broke...
Palmer’s Village Café“The place” for breakfast, this local hot-spot, inconspicuously nestled in the The Village and tucked behind unassuming wooden doors, is home to five-star Chef John “JB” Belechak and his mind-blowing culinary creations. But it’s entirely without pretension. The playful menu features everything from poached eggs over collard greens and house-made tomato jam to what’s known as The Local (aka “The Islander”), an artistically designed egg white tri-fold with avocado, cheese and bacon served with seared tomatoes and arugula topped with cucumber ribbons. Yes, ribbons. Breakfast is so popular here, it’s served all day. But Chef JB—whose resume includes Blackberry Farm and The Cloister at Sea Island—offers an entirely new dinner menu every week based on what’s in season from local and regional farmers. You know, to keep things fresh.
Palm Coast Coffee, Cafe and PubAs the name indicates, this unassuming little yellow house has it all. In addition to being an authentic island coffee house offering homemade sweets and an open mic, Palm Coast transforms every weekend into one of the island’s most popular outdoor music venues for local and regional talent. The outdoor patio and courtyard is pet-friendly and home to a few Palm Coast fur babies itself. An affordable menu (the most expensive being the popular seared Ahi tuna wrap for a mere $13) and an extensive and constantly evolving craft-brew menu keeps customers coming back for more.
4-Hour Music FestFor four years running, Palm Coast Coffee, Cafe and Pub has played host to four hours of non-stop rocking revelry at this intimate musical celebration on Labor Day weekend. From 8 p.m. until midnight, audiences fill the outdoor courtyard and patio, tossing back craft brews and cocktails, and keeping time with the tunes from local and regional talent. Seven bands play everything from Celtic folk to acoustic rock, delighting concert goers with an authentic, grassroots music festival—for nothing more than a cover charge.
A Little Light MusicEach year the Coastal Georgia Historical Society releases the lineup for its summer concert series, A Little Light Music. The season runs May-September, so it’s easy to catch any one of the concerts that fall on select Sundays each month. Taking place on the seaside lawn of the historic St. Simons Lighthouse, musicians from around country entertain crowds from the outdoor gazebo with classic rock, Motown, blues and more, depending on the day. Concert goers are encouraged to bring their own beach chairs and blankets to beat the evening breeze, as well as pack picnics and libations for an easy-going experience for the whole family.
Sounds by the SeaRounding out the calendar of summertime music-going experiences is this summer concert series presented by the Golden Isles Arts & Humanities. On alternate Sundays of A Little Light Music, Sounds by the Sea takes place on the expansive lawn (the “casino”) of St. Simons’ most popular ocean-side park, Neptune Park. Concert goers spread out their beach chairs and coolers under the live oaks to enjoy any one of the five concerts specifically scheduled during high tide for a bug-free evening of music with a welcoming ocean breeze.
Local Talent Phil MorrisonA bevy of skilled musicians continue to breathe life into the Island’s live-music scene. These talents include none other than bassist/songwriter Phil Morrison. Known best as a member of the late ‘60s and ‘70s electric jazz group Stark Reality, Morrison has also played with the great Dizzy Gillespie and Freddy Cole (Nat’s youngest brother). As both a world-class musician and a Golden Isles resident, he and his jazz ensemble are a crowd favorite and often headline the island’s summer concerts. Morrison even wrote the official song of the Golden Isles, “Take me to the coast of Georgia.”
St. Simons Food and Spirits FestivalFor five days during the first week of October, the Food and Spirits Festival transforms the island into a non-stop drinking and dining extravaganza that showcases the area’s top culinary talents. The main event, Tastings Under the Oak, which offers hundreds of food and drink tastings, takes place in the historic—and breathtakingly scenic—Gascoigne Bluff Park. Festival goers enjoy dozens of additional events across the Golden Isles like the Chef Showdown, Farmers and Artisans Market, oyster roast and even a Kids Zone. In its fourth year, the festival is quickly becoming a culinary destination event.
The Cloister at Sea IslandThis Forbes 5-Star relaxing escape on the privately owned Sea Island comes with all the amenities—even the ones you didn’t think of (Fish dissection for the kids! Spice-based exfoliation for Mom!). No wonder The Cloister has seen its share of Rockefellers, Fords and Bushes over the years. The original hotel opened in 1928 and it quickly became a retreat for the rich and famous. Today, the Mediterranean style main building sits on a veritable compound that includes a Beach Club, three 18-hole championship courses, a 65,000 square-foot spa, shooting school, stables and 5 miles of private beach. Throw in six top-rated restaurants and it’s easy to see why U.S. News rated The Cloister one of the best hotels in the U.S. in 2015. 960 1280
The Cloister: Kids’ editionJust as easily as The Cloister can be a quiet escape for overworked business men and women looking to recharge, it can also be a destination vacation for families of theme-park proportions. Families can embark on day adventures like kayak tours, horseback riding and eco tours. Or, kids can enroll in the tennis and golf academies, take archery lessons, etiquette classes, or sign-up for the day camp where staff lead kids in discoveries, games, crafts and other outdoor adventures. And if the young ones get too weary they can always find their way to the kids’ spa. 960 1280
World-Class CoursesWith 180-holes of golf and accommodating year-round weather, the Golden Isles have become a golf Mecca worthy of a pilgrimage. Stunning marsh and ocean views compliment the spectacularly designed and meticulously maintained courses, one of which was designed by PGA TOUR professional and Sea Island resident, Davis Love III (Sea Island’s Retreat Course). The Seaside Scottish-links style course at the Sea Island Golf Club is one of several such courses in the area; it is also the site of the RSM Classic. One of the PGA TOUR’s premier stops, the RSM Classic draws the world’s elite golfers to the Southeast and has raised millions of dollars for charities. 960 1280
The King and Prince ResortAfter six years as a seaside dance club, the space was converted into a modern hotel in 1941. Several additional renovations and updates over the years have transformed The King and Prince Resort into St. Simons Island’s most luxurious resort, and its rich history even earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places. The resort rests directly on the Atlantic coastline and includes guest rooms, beach villas, resort residencies and breathtaking ocean-front pools. The sensationally designed golf course rests on the former site of the Hampton Plantation, an 18th-century antebellum plantation that produced cotton, indigo and rice. Today, in stark contrast, it simply produces play. 960 1280
Jekyll Island ClubWhat has been rated as one of the top 500 resorts in the world by Travel + Leisure, the Jekyll Island Club also had opulent beginnings. The club was developed post-Civil War as a hunting club to draw affluent Northerners. In 1888 the Queen-Anne style club was built, and the wealthy followed. The Rockefellers, Astors, Vanderbilts and Pulitzers were among the illustrious membership that enjoyed lawn parties and stately dinners. At the time, Munsey’s Magazine described the resort as the “richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.” Today, Jekyll Island Club continues to play homage to its exclusive and historic roots; the 4-star resort has earned a place among the Historic Hotels of America. 960 1280
Centennial Olympic ParkVisit Centennial Olympic Park, which was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The 21-acre park hosts fun events such as Music at Noon, where local bands perform midday; Wednesday WindDown, featuring jazz during rush hour; and Fourth Saturday Family Fun Day, a free event with performers and children’s activities. Don’t miss the dancing water show harmonized with pop music, lights and sound effects at the Fountain of Rings. 960 1280
Georgia AquariumDive inside the Georgia Aquarium and discover more than 10 million gallons of water, where tens of thousands of animals — including 500 species from around the world — call home. Get up-close and personal with whale sharks, beluga whales, penguins, dolphins, sea otters and other marine life. 960 1280
College Football Hall of FameHead to Marietta Street in the heart of downtown Atlanta to explore the College Football Hall of Fame. The new 94,256-square-foot facility features the history of college football, a 45-yard indoor football field, the Game Day Theater, football artifacts and interactive multimedia exhibits. 960 1280
Atlantic StationWalk the brick-paved streets around Atlantic Station to shop at more than 50 stores and boutiques, eat at hip restaurants or sit at a sidewalk café. This multipurpose area features a central park and hosts festivals, concerts and Cirque de Soleil. 960 1280
The Wren's NestVisit the Wren’s Nest on Saturdays and see the famous Uncle Remus stories come to life through storytelling at author Joel Chandler Harris’ historic home. Take a guided tour and stand on the front porch where Harris gave life to the Brer Rabbit tales. 960 1280
Turner FieldHave plans to visit Atlanta in the spring? Add a trip to Turner Field to see the Atlanta Braves play ball, or just take a tour of the Braves Museum & Hall of Fame, the broadcast booth and the dugout. Lucky fans may be able to go into the clubhouse if the team is out of town. 960 1280
Zoo AtlantaSee more than 1,500 animals at Zoo Atlanta, home to the largest collections of gorillas and orangutans in the US. This zoo is also one of only 4 in the country to house pandas. We recommend visiting the Giant Panda Conservation Center to see panda twins Mei Lun and Mei Huan. 960 1280
Legoland Discovery CenterEnjoy family fun at Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta, at Phipps Plaza. Kids ages 3-10 will have fun with interactive, hands-on attractions, the 4-D cinema and classes with LEGO Master Model Builders. Check out Atlanta’s famous landmarks in Legos at the Miniland exhibit. 960 1280
Atlanta Botanical GardenExplore more than 30 acres of beauty at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, located next to Piedmont Park in Midtown. Take the Canopy Walk, discover seasonal food in the Edible Garden, take the kids swimming in the Sunflower Fountain, and find out more about honeybees in the observation hive. Stop by the garden during the holidays to see a million lights illuminate one of the city’s popular attractions. 960 1280
Six Flags Over GeorgiaTake a 200-foot free fall on the Acrophobia at Six Flags Over Georgia. Batman: The Ride, Dahlonega Mine Train, Carrot Patch and Convoy Grande are just a few rides featured at the largest regional theme park in the Southeast. It has 11 roller coasters, 3 children’s areas and water rides, including those in Hurricane Harbor, an area full of wave pools and slippery slides. 960 1280
Stone Mountain ParkWelcome to Georgia’s most-visited attraction, Stone Mountain Park. This 3,200-acre park features live shows, shopping, dining and attractions such as the SkyHike, a scenic railroad, the Summit Skyride and Geyser Towers. Look up and gaze at the faces of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis carved into the mountain. Stick around at night to see the Lasershow Spectacular, where lights are choreographed with toe-tapping tunes and amazing pyrotechnics. 960 1280
SkyViewStep into one of 42 climate-controlled gondolas on this 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel, which towers high above Centennial Olympic Park. We recommend SkyView for breathtaking panoramic views of downtown Atlanta, and don’t miss seeing this grand ride light up the sky at night. 960 1280
Atlanta Movie ToursHollywood comes to Atlanta, and visitors to this Southern city can take a tour to see local spots captured on TV shows and in movies including The Walking Dead, Driving Miss Daisy, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, We Are Marshall, Remember the Titans and Anchorman 2. Atlanta Movie Tours also offers Zombie Tours and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind Tour. And frankly, my dear, you will give a damn. 960 1280
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic SiteTake a journey through the struggles of the South, as well as the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. The 35-acre historical site features King’s original gravesite and current tomb, the King Center and an International Civil Rights Walk of Fame that displays authentic shoe prints of civil rights leaders. We recommend taking a tour of King’s childhood home, Ebenezer Baptist Church and historic Fire Station No. 6 — one of the South’s first desegregated firehouses. 960 1280
World of Coca-ColaExplore the history of the pop empire since John S. Pemberton invented the sugary concoction that is now a pop-culture icon. Visit the World of Coca-Cola to see advertisements through the years, pose for a photo with the Coca-Cola polar bear, sample more than 60 Coke products from around the world, and try your hand at mixing your own drink recipe. Visitors also get a closer look behind the fizzy beverage’s secret formula in a new interactive experience, Vault of the Secret Formula. 960 1280
High Museum of ArtArt aficionados can’t leave Atlanta without a trip to the High Museum of Art, which houses American art, European art, African art, folk art, photography and more. The museum hosts visiting exhibitions throughout the year in addition to its main collection, which features Monet, O'Keeffe and other renowned artists. Sip on a glass of wine while listening to live jazz music on Friday nights or visit on a Thursday for family and youth programs. 960 1280
Peachtree TrolleyTake a 90-minute tour on the Peachtree Trolley, which originates near Centennial Olympic Park. CNN Center, the Fox Theatre, Oakland Cemetery, the Georgia Aquarium and the state Capitol are a few city attractions that trolley riders will see during the tour. 960 1280
Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and MuseumThe library and museum dedicated to Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the US, allows visitors the opportunity to peek inside an exact replica of the Oval Office and see what it was like to be the president on an interactive, virtual trip around the world. 960 1280
Sun Dial Restaurant, Bar and ViewSpectacular views, classic American cuisine and live jazz create the perfect ambience at the Sun Dial. Located 723 feet above the city, it is Atlanta’s only tri-level dining complex, featuring a revolving upscale restaurant, a rotating cocktail lounge and an observatory that offers patrons 360-degree panoramic views of the city’s skyline. 960 1280
Margaret Mitchell HouseTake a guided tour of Apartment 1, where the famous author wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gone With the Wind. The 3-story Tudor Revival house, built in 1899, is on the US National Registry of Historic Places. We recommend checking out the “Making of a Film Legend: Gone With the Wind” exhibition to get the scoop on how the best-selling novel was transformed into a film classic. 960 1280
Cassina Garden Club Slave CabinsA significant piece of African-American history resides on a former working plantation at Casciogne Bluff on the western side of the island. There, in the late 18th century, James Hamilton built four slave quarters made of tabby—a mixture of lime, sand, water and oyster shells—as part of a planned community of slave dwellings to work the 500 acres of the antebellum plantation that harvested Sea Island cotton and logged timbers. British troops later raided and looted the Hamilton Plantation during the War of 1812, liberating many of Hamilton’s slaves.
The Cassina Garden Club were deeded the property in 1950 and proudly took on the role of land stewards, restoring the two remaining cabins with as much historic accuracy as possible. Their work earned the cabins a place on the National Register of Historic places in 1988. 960 1280
Fort Frederica National Monument
James Oglethorpe built the fort in 1736 to protect the southern border of Georgia from the encroaching Spanish. Overlooking the Frederica River, the military outpost gave the British an important vantage point from which they could control the inland passage up the coastline and operated as a hub of military operations for more than a decade. Most notably, the fortified walls proved impenetrable by the Spanish during the Battle of Bloody Marsh in 1742. Shortly after that British victory, the fort disbanded.
Today, visitors walk among the fort’s archaeological remnants that include the ruins of the palisade walls, the magazine where gun power was stored and a soldiers’ barrack. The property, which is managed by the National Parks Service, also includes burial grounds from the 1700s, with ancient tombs emerging from layers of natural overgrowth.
Built in 1820, Christ Church is the second oldest Diocese in Georgia and regarded as one of America’s most beautiful churches—and most photographed. The quaint chapel not only serves as a memorial to John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist Church who delivered sermons there under a magnificent oak, but also to a young man’s lost love.
After Union forces nearly destroyed the church during the Civil War, 24-year-old Rev. Anson Dodge, Jr. financed its reconstruction in honor of his wife, Ellen, who died unexpectedly on their honeymoon. Anson had her buried beneath the altar. The peaceful and pristine grounds also bear one of the oldest cemeteries in the state, where a number of well-known Georgians rest, including novelist Eugenia Price.
Avenue of OaksMany a country club boasts a grand entrance, replete with auspicious waterfalls and Roman statues, but few can compare to the natural, breathtaking beauty encountered upon the approach to the Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons. Formerly the entrance to the most prosperous antebellum plantation in the Golden Isles, double rows of majestic 160-year-old live oaks form an expansive canopy. It’s said that at one time the property boasted so many flowers that sailors could smell their alluring fragrance before ever stepping foot on land. 960 1280
St. Simons LighthouseThe white statuesque lighthouse is a signature of St. Simons—as is the ghost rumored to roam its spiral staircase. After the original lighthouse was destroyed by retreating Confederate troops during the Civil War, the U.S. Government built the current 104-foot structure in 1872. Eight years later, the keeper at the time, Frederick Osborn, was killed in a duel on the grounds by his assistant keeper. Reports of hearing mysterious footsteps along the staircase have been made ever since.
The keepers’ brick cottage at the base of the lighthouse has been converted into a popular museum, but the 129-step to the top of the tower is well worth the breathtaking, panoramic view of the Golden Isles. 960 1280
Rooted in the SouthThe South is well-known for its cotton and rice production in the 1800s, but few realize that timber was also a thriving industry. St. Simons began exporting lumber in the late 1700s. The timber harvested from Gasciogne Bluff was sent up north to build the USS Constitution, better known as “Old Ironsides,” as the hardy oak planks helped prevent cannonballs from penetrating the ship. Nearly a century later, lumber from St. Simons was also used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. 960 1280
In 1803, a slave ship made the harrowing trek through the Middle Passage and landed in Savannah, Georgia, to be sold at the slave market. There, some of the African people known as the “Igbo” (also spelled Ebo or Ibo) were purchased and sent by boat to a plantation on St. Simons Island. En route, the Africans united and rebelled, sending their captors overboard. From there, the story of the Igbo’s landing on Dunbar Creek diverges along several paths.
One written account claims that the Africans immediately walked into the creek, proudly singing, “The Water Spirit brought us, the Water Spirit will take us home,” and drowned themselves. Other stories claim only a few drowned, and the survivors were re-enslaved or relocated. But another account, handed down by African American oral tradition, is known as the “Myth of the Flying Africans,” and has been immortalized by notable writers like Toni Morrison, Alex Haley and Jamaica Kincaid, to name a few. According to the legend, the Africans transformed into buzzards and flew back to Africa. While a historical marker does not yet officially designate the private property on which Ebo Landing exists, it will forever be an important piece of African America.
Wesley Memorial and GardensOn the grounds of Christ Church, one can enter the venerate scape of the Wesley Gardens. The 2-acre garden is adorned with 4,000 azaleas and shrubs of 60 varieties, of particular interest to visitors with green thumbs. But the garden’s centerpiece remains the 18-foot Celtic cross made of Georgia stone to honor the early ministries of John and Charles Wesley.
The brothers came to Georgia in 1736. And while Charles was revered as a poet and writer who penned well-known hymns like “Hark the Herald,” and served as Oglethorpe’s secretary of Indian Affairs, John would be remembered as the founder of American Methodism. 960 1280