Since the first time I read about Little St Simons Island, I longed to visit. Pristine beaches…undeveloped wilderness…privately-owned island…accessible only by boat…For this nature-loving family, it sounds like heaven on earth. Guess what. We finally got there, and it lived up to my every expectation. I implore you to visit, and with our tricks, tips and insight I hope you will also experience this paradise on the Georgia coast.
A little history
Thankfully, wind-tossed and saltwater-battered cedar trees do not make great pencils. Yes, pencils. Since 700 AD the pristine barrier island of Little St Simon’s has been home to Indians, Swiss and English, including the Butler family who sold the land to Eagle Pencil Company for its resources. Turns out the trees were too stressed from wind and salt to be used for pencils, so the land went unused until 1911 when the pencil company’s owner purchased it as a retreat for his family and friends.
The island opened to the public as a guest lodge in 1979, with the intention of preserving the natural state of the island. Today, only 32 guests at a time may stay at Georgia’s only all-inclusive.
Who should go
While you will experience superior personalized service, a serene environment, gourmet organic meals and high-class adventure (or relaxation,) this isn’t the Ritz-Carlton. It’s more like a posh outdoor camp for adults and families. It’s for nature-lovers, adventure-seekers, and those of us who — while we still might enjoy the occasional mani/pedi– prefer the sultry sounds of crickets at night and egrets’ wings against the rush.
If you have no kids, I recommend visiting LSSI October – April when children under 8 yo are not permitted on the island. It becomes a romantic adult haven. May – September young families are welcome with open arms…so May is when we visited, just on the cusp of Summer.
I visited with hubby and our kids (3 yo and 7yo,) as well as my sister and her husband, with their 18 mo. As you can imagine, the older your kids are, the easier it will be to manage an adventure on a remote, private and secluded island. However, if you’re open to going with your young kids like we were, we hope these tricks, tips and tidbits will help and give you the push you need to visit this AMAZING island.
There are five accommodation options at Little St Simons Island.
The first, most affordable option is to stay in a room within the Hunting Lodge. The Hunting Lodge is the main public building, where everyone meets for meals, appetizers, to play games, or just to hang out. There are only two of these rooms so they sell out quickly, but with young kids who need to go to sleep early, this might not be the best option.
For just a tad more, you can stay in a room at the Cedar House or River Lodge. These two buildings are identical and next to each other. Each building includes 4 bedrooms with a main common area. This is a great place to stay unless you are visiting with a large, extended family. If you are a family of four, you would reserve two rooms, and share the common space with those reserving the other two rooms. Have no fear, though. You are rarely inside, and even when you are, the common areas (living room, screened patio, front porch) are large enough to give everyone their own space. And with no TV, no one is fighting over the channels, either!
The Helen House is one of three cottage options available on Little St Simons Island. It is a breathtaking 1928 historic tabby with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, ideal for families. It is furnished with grand antiques, a large fireplace, make-shift kitchen, screen porch and private patio. This is where we stayed, and I highly recommend it, though it is the pricier option.
Michael Cottage also works well for families. It is a 1930s bungalow with a two bedrooms (one with a queen, one with twin beds,) and two bathrooms. There is also a fireplace, a kitchenette, screen patio and rear porch.
Tom House is fun for couples who want a private escape. It’s a one bedroom cottage with a fireplace and screened porch. It’s beautiful restoration makes it the most recent addition on the island.
Each room/building at Little St Simons Island includes:
Alarm Clock/Bathrobes/Hair Dryer/Iron/Ironing Board/Thermostat/ Flashlight/Water Bottles/Makeup Mirror/Washer/Dryer/Coffee Maker/Fridge/Bug Repellent/Sunscreen
You’ll see a few additional cottages on the island; that is where to staff live. In addition to the 32 guests, there are about 30 full- and part-time employees on LSSI and about half of them live on-island. Not a bad gig, right?
So, we said all-inclusive and we meant it! The food prepared each mealtime at Little St Simons Island is not your ordinary “hotel” food – it is DELICIOUS, creative and fresh! Many of the fruits and veggies come from the on-site USDA certified organic garden, which I recommend touring!
Artesian well water (which tastes like heaven in a glass) is always available, along with lemonade, sweet and unsweet tea, ice and Coke-products. Beers are available in coolers throughout the property, too.
Continental Breakfast at 7:30 am is available in the Hunting Lodge. It includes a few cereals, coffee, tea, fruit and yogurt. This is a great option for kids that wake early and are ready to eat before the formal breakfast. It also allows you to grab a cuppa and a small bite before any early morning excursions.
Breakfast at 9:00 am is a sit-down event fit for a king! French toast, bacon, frittata, berries, biscuits, eggs…and it is superb! Even my picky eaters were chowing down like mad-men!
It is during breakfast that the Little St Simons Island naturalist talks with everyone about the activities for the day, where to meet, departure times and more. They always come with a few suggestions, but general consensus of the crowd determines the final itinerary, so don’t leave breakfast early!
Snacks If your little ones are snack-eaters, then you might consider packing some snacks in your luggage. Fruit and homemade trail bars are available in the Lodge during the day, but our crew needed a little more before the 1pm lunch hour.
Lunch is at 1:00 pm in the Lodge, except on Saturdays when there is a beautiful full spread outside. When we visited, we enjoyed a delectable low country boil spread in the main yard, with sausage and seafood, corn, blue cornbread, salad, veggies and brownies. Other lunches included crab cakes and fried chicken spreads, always with plenty of sides and dessert.
This is also a time to re-group with the naturalist about afternoon activities and any possible late-night adventures.
If you are taking an extended excursion and will not make lunch, you can request a picnic lunch the night before!
Cocktail and Social Hour at 6:00 pm is hosted by a naturalist. This gives you the opportunity to meet other people, talk about what you saw that day, ask questions of the naturalist, and relax. The bar is also opened, with wine and more beer (including SweetWater 420 on tap.) Liquor is also available for a small fee. Each night they also served light appetizers such as clams, wontons, and more. All delicious, as usual!
Dinner follows Social Hour in the Lodge at 7:00 pm. Once again, a feast is presented- oh, and more wine! We enjoyed steak and fish, with a plethora of sides and dessert. Words cannot describe how delicious and how thoughtfully the meals – especially dinner – are made. They are delicious! (Have I said that??)
If you need a special dietary meal then just let them know when you book. gluten-free, vegetarian, shellfish allergies, etc can call be taken care of if the chef knows about it up front. If your kiddo needs something special, just pop your head in the kitchen. One day the chef made an extra PB&J for one of our kiddos, and was kind enough to ask about their needs at every meal.
Outdoor fun and adventure
We stayed on Little St Simons Island for three days and two nights and still were not able to do ALL of the activities available. If you can, I recommend staying for at least three nights. I know we will be back (we’re already planning for it!) and will make it a three-night stay. Here’s a little about the activities available.
Beach Time/Biking. The boys ADORED the beach. It is 2 miles from the Lodge to the beach. We took the bikes the first time. Our guys can’t ride bikes yet, though kiddo bikes were available. They sat in a bike trailer as we pulled while riding. The 2-miles is very flat and scenic, so it was easy. You also don’t have to pack a ton – at the beach is a pavilion with everything you need already waiting for you. Towels, beach chairs, umbrellas, water, beach toys, boogie boards…even a cart for hauling things along the boardwalk to the beach.
If the tide is out you can also ride your bikes along the shoreline, which is a ton of fun. We rode to the shipwrecked tug boat, seeing sand dollars and crabs along the way. The boys played in the water for hours. Because of the water depths, the waves are gentle on the island even though you’re on the Atlantic.
On another trip to the beach we lifted a ride from one of the naturalists, taking a seat in the back of his truck with several other guests. We agreed to a pick up time, and he came to get us also. That was fun for the kids, too, because during our ride we saw an alligator cross our path, a GIGANTIC diamond back rattlesnake, and several armadillos.
When Sue visited Little St Simons Island, her family took a trip to the beach via the truck at night. She tells the story of seeing tons of twinkling lights forming a wall just before the beach. Upon closer inspection, they weren’t lights, but fireflies!
Wonder is everywhere on Little St Simons Island. Including helping the naturalists put a baby oyster catcher that had been incubated at the hotel back in her nest, or watching the alligators swim next to the dock. Here are some photos from Sue’s Little St Simons Island visit.
Fishing. On anther trip to the beach, the naturalists outfitted us with poles and bait, and we went shore fishing. It was so great with kiddos because the naturalists took care of everything! We didn’t catch anything on our line, but several other people caught Atlantic Sharp Nose sharks. We all snapped photos of the sharks and then the naturalists let them go, but we loved that the chef was willing to cook up any edible fish that we may have caught.
There were also several creek fishing trips, and the tackle shack is always manned with a naturalist so you can grab a pole and some bait if you want to fish off the dock or from a canoe or skiff. We grabbed a few nets and buckets from the shack and caught grass shrimp off the dock with the boys. If you’re industrious, you can use them for bait, too.
Boating. Hubby took a quick skiff class and then we signed up to take one out a few times. We circled Mosquito Creek and went out into the river as well, keeping an eye out for dolphin. We didn’t see any, but several people we were with caught glimpses of them. The skiff holds four people, and the boys enjoyed sitting on the floor of the boat and learning how to navigate with a nautical chart of the area.
My sister and I also went kayaking with a guide. He pointed out a number of wildlife on our journey, and taught me a few pointers with the kayak. It was my sister’s first time in a kayak, so that was pretty special! There are canoes, as well.
Pool Play. Behind the Lodge is a saltwater pool. Remember, you are on a conservation island in summer so there are bugs (more on this later.) They seemed to congregate at that saltwater pool, so we stayed away for the most part. It would be lovely in the cooler months. We did enjoy spending some down time playing ping pong at the screened in porch by the pool.
Birding. We didn’t have the opportunity to go on any birding adventures. Even if you’re not a “birder” I recommend trying to do it; Little St Simons Island is on the Atlantic Migratory Flyway, and over 330 species have been spotted here.
Spontaneous Trips. While we were there, it was a full moon during mating season for the Horseshoe Crab. The naturalists knew of a soft-sand area of the island where the crabs gather to mate. It was hit or miss as to whether or not the crabs would be congregating in the area right after a full moon, but the probability was high so they put together an early morning excursion for those who wanted to go.
We filled our coffee mugs and loaded the truck. Once we got there, we didn’t see any crabs…but it was still worth the effort. We saw a beautiful view across the river early in the morning. The boys played in the soft sand, and the naturalists gathered a few samples of miniature horseshoe crab eggs which was very exciting. They also set out several field telescope for viewing birds across the river. It was one of my favorite excursions!
Tips and tidbits you need to know
So your ready to go now, right?? Here are a few tips, tricks and tidbits to help you plan.
The boat ride from St Simons Marina to Little St Simons Island is about 15 minutes. When you arrive there will be tags for your luggage. After you put them on, their team will load your bags and take you across the river. You’ll then go to the Lodge for an introduction while they unload your bags and have them waiting in your room. Easy-peasy.
If you need to store bottles, snacks, etc, each room has a fridge. Our Helen House also had a microwave for warming things.
Bug spray and suntan lotion are available at every cottage and at the Lodge. We still brought our own and used every brand imaginable to determine what was best for each kiddo. I am not at all affiliated with these companies, but just wanted to share that we really found the Honest Company bug spray and the Badger sunscreen/bug spray worked the best. These are not brands that LSSI provides; we brought them ourselves and they really saved the day.
We played so many games with the kiddos during down times – it was GREAT! There were tons of games inside Helen House (in the kitchen cabinets,) and even more in the closet at the Hunting Lodge. There are no TVs and Internet is sparse…it’s a great opportunity to reconnect with the family, and board games are great at facilitating that!
In your room you’ll find Little St Simon Island water bottles. They are BPA-free Nalgene bottles. You can fill these with the YUMMY artesian well water for staying hydrated throughout the day. We filled ours at night and kept them in the fridge to stay cold. The best part? They are a gift from LSSI and you get to bring them home! Sue visited Little St. Simons Island about six years ago and those water bottles are still a favorite keepsake.
While LSSI is an all-inclusive, you may find yourself wanting to make a purchase. Maybe a whiskey drink during social hour, or a hat or wind breaker from the small general store…but you don’t want to carry your wallet around. No problem. Everything is on the honor system here. Just make a purchase by filling out a paper with your name and what you purchased and drop it at the front desk. At the end of your trip when you settle your bill, but pay for everything then! So easy!
There is no need to tip the guys on the boat, the staff serving you at lunch, the naturalist setting up your fishing pole…tips are included!
If your little one still naps, you’ll need to study the schedule for meals and activities. If you can’t (or prefer not to) adjust naptime during vacation, you might not be able to head out on the planned excursions, which generally happen about 10:45 until lunch, and 2:45 until social hour. So, that stinks…but you can still ride bikes, play games, take a hike, take out the skiff, catch grass shrimp, play corn hole or Frisbee, visit the small museum, play at the beach….there is still so much to do!
For families with older children, Little St Simons Island is a wonderful place to let them have a little freedom. Sue visited with her boys (6, 11 and 13) and they liked the freedom to grab a fishing rod, crab trap or bike whenever they wanted, and head out without having to watch for cars (although they do need to watch for wildlife)
My nephew is still in a crib, but we didn’t want to haul a pack-n-play. Lucky for us, Little St Simons Island has a lovely pack n play they set up in the room for him. If you have a sheet, bring one with you.
We have to mention the bugs
For my family – Little St Simons was near perfect. The only issue was mosquitoes and horse flies, so I do have to mention them. They are plenty, especially during the months that young kids are allowed on the island.
LSSI’s location of the Altamaha River puts them within range of tens of thousands of acres of mosquito breeding habitat, but because they are a wildlife preservation they do not spray. Sprays don’t just kill mosquitoes; they also kill bees and butterflies, moths and dragonflies, fireflies, shrimp, crabs and other beneficial creatures.
They are using larvicides, mosquito traps, Therma cells, bat houses and several other methods that don’t impact other creatures. If you want to know more about their efforts, please ask one of the naturalists – it’s really really interesting.
For us, the bugs were a pain in the neck (and the leg, and the elbow, and the big toe) that was worth it. For some, it may be something you can’t get past. You have to love nature more than you hate fighting the bugs. Period. I just can’t sugarcoat it. But I will reiterate that our family is returning to the island next year with Grandpop and Grandma, bugs and all.
Little St Simons Island is magical. MAGICAL. From the staff to the meals, from the excursions to the environment…there is just nothing else like it anywhere. Sure, with young kids it can be a little complicated. But it’s going to be worth it. It’s going to be an experience you remember for a lifetime.
Interested in exploring more of Georgia’s remote Islands? Here are a few near Little St Simons Island.
- Cumberland Island – Cumberland is only accessible by boat as well. If you would enjoy a stay at Little St Simons Island, you may want to consider a stay at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland as well.
- Sapelo Island
- St Simons Island – This is a much larger and more populated island and more traditional family beach vacation destination.
- Jekyll Island – Is another barrier island on the Georgia coast. This is also a more traditional family beach destination
- Sea Island – Sea Island is a luxury family vacation resort along Georgia’s coast.