St Simons Island was voted the number one favorite beach town by Travel and Leisure in 2014. Now the entire country knows what I’ve known for more than 20 years, St. Simons is the perfect mix of seaside fun and small town charm. The hard-packed sand on St. Simons Island is perfect for one of our favorite vacation activities, riding a bike on the beach, or if you prefer, there are miles of bike paths around this coastal Georgia Island.
St. Simons Island: The Ultimate Insiders Guide
My in-laws discovered St. Simons when my father-in-law attended a conference there. It’s my husband’s happy place, and my kids pretty much call it their second home. I think the reason we love it so much is St. Simons isn’t a contrived vacation destination, it’s a small town with a rich history and year round residents who welcome visitors with great dining, good shopping, history, adventure, and oh yeah the beach.
Over the years, we’ve discovered a little bit about the island and I thought I’d put what we know into this mega post. So without further ado, here’s my unofficial guide to a vacation on St. Simons Island, Ga., with a lot of input from the family. If I missed your favorite, let me know.
St. Simons Island Weather | St. Simons Island Hotels | St. Simons Island Rentals | Great Resorts Near St. Simons Island | Things to do on St.Simons | Foot Golf at Sea Palms | St. Simons Island Golf Courses | Best St. Simons Restaurants | More Great St. Simons Restaurants
St. Simon Island is one of a string of Islands in Georgia that make up the Golden Isles. It’s located on the southeast corner of Georgia, with easy Interstate access via I-95. It’s about equal distance to fly commercial into Savannah, Ga., or Jacksonville, Fl. Nearby Brunswick also has daily direct flights via Delta Air Lines to and from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Private planes can fly directly to the Island.
St. Simons weather is mild with highs in the 80’s and lows in the 40’s, making it a great year round destination. In fact, we’ve spent many a December day on the beach, sometimes even in the water. Rain peaks in August and September, but there really isn’t a real rainy season.
Where to Stay: St. Simons Island Hotels
As Georgia beach resorts go, St. Simons Island has the most to offer in the way of lodging types. St. Simons Island hotels range from budget to luxurious, so there is bound to be a fit for any budget. When looking for hotels or rentals, you may find three different areas mentioned.
East Beach is where most St. Simons Island rentals are located. This is a neighborhood community of homes. There are no hotels or condos in this area of the Island.
Ocean Blvd./Beachview Drive has the most St. Simons Island vacation rentals that are located on the beach, as well as a few of the hotels on St. Simons Island.
Kings Way is closer to Downtown and the St. Simons Island Pier.
I’d also add another area I’m calling interior island for hotels that aren’t located within walking distance of the beach or downtown. These are more budget friendly hotels, but since the Island isn’t that big, it’s not a far drive to the beach from these hotels.
Here are a few of the better Saint Simons Island hotels, and Saint Simons rentals.
St. Simons Island King and Prince Resort: The Historic King & Prince is my favorite hotel on the island because it’s the only hotel that is right on the beach, plus it has five pools, including a main pool that overlooks the ocean, on site tennis courts, bike rental nearby and you can walk to some of my favorite restaurants. The in-house restaurant, Echo, is fantastic for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as well as adult beverages. In addition to hotel rooms in the historic portion, there are also villas and houses for rent on property. You can read my review of the King and Prince Hotel here, and Five reasons why you should stay there.
The Inn at Sea Island: This hotel is an extension of the Sea Island Resorts, but it’s located on St. Simon Island. The Inn at Sea Island is set up mainly for golfers, but you do have access to many of the amenities at Sea Island Resort like dining, spa, tennis, shooting school, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, hunting and falconry (yes, falconry, how cool is that).
There is also complimentary shuttle service, so it’s an inexpensive (relatively speaking) alternative to staying at the luxurious Cloister on Sea Island. There is a pool and work out facility available on-site, but if you’d like access to the Sea Island Beach Club (and if you have kids, you want access to the Sea Island Beach Club), which includes several pools, access to the beach, dining and a candy and ice cream shoppe that makes an amazing gold brick sundae, ask before booking if this amenity is available. The Sea Island Beach Club and Fitness Center are subject to availability and an extra fee applies.
The Lodge at Sea Island: This is another Sea Island property that is actually located on St. Simon’s Island and geared toward golfers. It is located on the ocean, but there really isn’t a beach area. They do have nice restaurants on site and it’s fun to sit on the lawn with a glass of wine and listen to the bagpiper as he walks the course when the sun sets.
Hampton Inn, St. Simons Island: This is a nice Hampton Inn located on Old Demere Road in the St. Simons interior. It’s your standard Hampton Inn rooms, free buffet breakfast and swimming pool. If you stay here, you can drive to the beach and park at the pier, Massengale Park, or the public beach access at the Old Coast Guard station. If you’d rather stay on the beach, the Hampton Inn & Suites on nearby Jekyll Island is fairly new and it’s just a short walk through the maritime forest to the beach.
Island Inn, Saint Simons Island, Ga: This hotel is located in the interior of St. Simons and recently came under the Best Western flag as a Best Western Plus. In 2015, the hotel was renovated. Reader Jen stayed in the hotel after the renovations and said the rooms are quite nice. You can see her comment below. The Best Western (or The Island Inn St. Simons for old timers) has a nice outdoor pool and pool deck area, as well as a free breakfast.
Holiday Inn Express, St. Simons: This hotel is located in the interior of St. Simons, down the street from the Hampton Inn. It’s been newly renovated, so if you are an IHG Rewards Club member vs. a Hilton Rewards (Hampton Inn) member, stay here. They offer your standard Holiday Inn extras, a pool, and those amazing cinnamon buns at breakfast.
Sea Palms Resort: Sea Palms is located in the interior of St. Simons and is a great choice for the golf and tennis enthusiast. In addition to standard rooms with balconies, they also have three and four bedroom suites with full kitchens, perfect for families. Keep reading for information on a cool family friendly activity at Sea Palms called Foot Golf.
Sea Gate Inn: When I first starting coming to St. Simons Island, my in-laws had a condo next to the Sea Gate located on Beachview Drive. I’m sure management would hate to know, but we used to take my oldest when he was a toddler over there to swim in the pool and play shuffleboard, or “shaaa” as he liked to call it.
Although they have totally renovated the entire facility, the old Sea Gate Inn holds a special place in my heart because of those memories. Just so you know, when folks came to visit and didn’t fit at the condo, they always stayed at the Sea Gate, so we did patronize the hotel too. Now it’s managed by Sea Palms resort. The rooms are all suites, with a kitchen or kitchenette and the beach is across the street.
St. Simons Island Inn by the lighthouse: I’ve pass this quaint boutique hotel every time I ride a bike through downtown. It’s in a great location across from the lighthouse and beach, within walking distance of downtown and the St. Simons Island pier. There are an intimate 34 rooms, as well as a small saltwater pool. Pets are welcome too.
Ocean Inn and Suites: The Ocean Inn and Suites is also located across from the lighthouse and a superb location for everything you might want to do on St. Simons, including Neptune Park, which has an outdoor pool, mini-golf and a playground. The Ocean Inn and Suites also has their own pool, and parking which can be tough in this area. Be wary though, the parking lot can be tight, so if you’re driving that giant SUV, it may take a little to get into these spots.
Ocean Lodge: This is a Tuscan looking hotel on Beachview Drive, across from the beach. Although I’ve never stayed in the rooms, I have enjoyed the view from the rooftop bar. Access to the beach is this hotel’s strength. They do have a pool, but it’s very small.
Village Inn & Pub: The Village Inn & Pub is located on Mallery Street in the historic downtown village. It’s a perfect location for the shops and dining, as well as the pier. The pub is a favorite night time hang out for visitors, as well as guests of the Inn and has a comfy living room feel.
Where to Stay: St. Simons Island Rentals
If you’d like to stay more than a few days, or don’t want to stay at one of the St. Simons Island resorts, you may want to consider one of the many St. Simons Island rental properties. Hodnett Cooper Realty is a local St. Simons Island real estate company that is consistently voted the best vacation rental company by readers of Elegant Island Living Magazine. They represent condo owners at the Beach Club St. Simons which is a large (for St. Simons) condo complex right on the beach. If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, friends of mine found a wonderful condo searching VRBO St. Simons Island called the Floataway.
Where to Stay: Resorts Near St. Simons Island Georgia Worth Mentioning
Little St. Simons Island: The only way to get to this island is by boat, and you can leave all your cares at the dock when you do. The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island is a rustic retreat with only 15 guest rooms and a maximum of 30 guests total. My husband loved the cooler full of Bud Light available anytime. Kids loved going into the shed and just getting some fishing gear to try. I still remember wondering what all those little lights were as we bumped down the sand road in the back of the pick up toward the beach. Those lights…they were fireflies. Every.One.Of.Them.
The Cloister at Sea Island Resort: “Classic elegance” are words that come to mind when I think of the Cloister Sea Island. The rooms are larger than normal hotel rooms and the appointments are pure luxury. My son didn’t want to get out of the tub, perhaps it was the TV hanging above it. I didn’t want to get out of the bed. Truly, this was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. The Sea Island Cloister Beach Club is the place to be in the summer. The club includes multiple pools, splash pad, beach volleyball, playground, restaurants, candy shop and ice cream parlor, all along the beach. If you need a little time without the kids, send them to the movie theatre on property. Whatever you need, the Cloister does it beautifully.
Jekyll Island Rental Properties: Jekyll Island is experiencing a revitalization that is bringing what was once 1950’s era amenities into modern times. My favorite hotel is still the Historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel, which was once the summer residence for the Vanderbilts, Goodyears and the like. The new Westin Jekyll Island is located on the beach, and amid the emerging downtown area that reminds me a lot of San Destin. The Hampton Inn & Suites is another new hotel with pool and firepit nestled in a maritime forest. Take a short walk through the woods to the beach.
Eagle Island: If you really want to get away, or like using a boat as your transportation, try Eagle Island, one of the Private Islands of Georgia. This retreat has a great wrap around porch and hot tub, as well as fishing pier and pond, and kayaks too. It’s the perfect place to get away from everyone, because the only thing on the island is the residence.
As I mentioned, we’ve been coming to St. Simons Island for more than 20 years. Here are some of our favorite activities, as well as a few others that are popular on St. Simons Island, Ga.
Bicycles: Bikes are a must on our St. Simons beach vacation. If you don’t bring your own, rent them from Ocean Motion or MonkeyWrench Bicycles. There are more than 30 miles of bike paths on the Island and it’s a great way explore.
St. Simons Island Beach: The St. Simons beach of course is a favorite activity. We always bring a golf ball to toss back and forth and see if we can make it into a hole we’ve dug in the sand. The St. Simons Island tides make beach access different depending on where you are. In some places like East Beach, you still have beach even at high tide. In others, like around the King and Prince Hotel, high tide can come up to the rocks. If you aren’t staying on the beach, there are many public access points. Parking is available at the pier in the village, as well as at Massengale Park and The Coast Guard Station (in season they have a snack bar here too).
St. Simons lighthouse: The St. Simons Island lighthouse and museum are must see attractions in downtown St. Simons. Climb the 129 stairs to the top for a great view of Saint Simons Island, Ga., as well as Jekyll Island and Brunswick, the mainland town. Save some time for the gift shop, which is more of a local boutique than a museum store. The Coastal Georgia Historical Society manages the lighthouse, as well as the Old Coast Guard station, which has been converted into a Maritime Center museum.
Island Trolley: To get the overall history of Saint Simons, take the Island Trolley tour. Pick up the Trolley under the big oaks near the pier. Then visit the St. Simons Island Lighthouse; Fort Frederica, which was once a thriving community in colonial Georgia and has one of the best junior ranger programs I’ve ever seen; then visit Christ Church, Frederica, the second oldest Episcopal Church in Georgia and the third oldest in the nation; and end your tour at Bloody Marsh, the site of a decisive battle that ended forever the threat of Spanish invasion into what was then, a British colony.
Fort King George in Darien: If you like history, or have little ones that like to play army, take a short drive to Darien Georgia and Fort King George. In addition to a small hands on museum, you can walk through the recreated fort, into the blockhouse, or the sentry box. The best part, you can get toy wooden guys in the museum to take into the fort and play. My boys had the.best.time.
Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation: When I think of plantations, I think grand houses with huge pillars holding up the front porch. That’s not quite what the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation house looks like, but it’s probably a little closer to the way noble Southern plantation owners lived. In addition to touring the house, try to find the geocaches located here, or just have fun exploring the grounds and the old dairy barns. The Georgia State Parks run the site and often have special hikes or other programming.
The St. Simons Island Tree Spirits: This is one of my favorite things about St. Simons. I love the treasure hunt to find the tree spirits, and the welcome surprise when you come across one you didn’t know was there. Here’s a bit more about the Tree Spirits of St. Simons Island.
Neptune Park, St. Simon’s Island: This seaside park is perfect for picnics under the giant live oaks. There are picnic tables and grills located just outside the gates to a children’s playground, although most kids end up climbing on the mother whale and her baby sculpture just as much as the climbing wall. Adjacent to the playground is an outdoor pool with zero entry for little ones and a water tower structure that sprays and dumps water on kids, and beyond that is a mini-golf course. Neptune Park is located in the Historic Village downtown very close to the St. Simon’s Island Lighthouse and the St. Simon’s Pier.
Crab or fish off the St. Simons Island Pier: Crabbing has always been on my son’s to do list when we go to St. Simons. We still haven’t figured out the best time to catch the crabs, but the boys love to lower the net and get excited when they catch anything. There are always serious fishermen around and it’s just fun to walk along the pier and see what everyone else has caught. We’ve spied hammerhead sharks, horseshoe crabs, rays and lots of different fish.
Shrimp Aboard the Lady Jane: The Lady Jane Shrimp Boat is probably my favorite, favorite excursion on St. Simons Island. Board an authentic Georgia shrimp boat with an authentic crusty captain and trawl through the marshes to discovered the sea underneath. We’ve pulled up pufferfish, huge sting rays, and even a few shrimp. If you only do one excursion, do this one.
Kayak Tours with Southeast Adventure Outfitters: With three kids, it’s tough to afford to do everything with everyone, so one year I let each child pick a fun excursion that we might not be able to afford for everyone. My middle son picked kayaking through the marshes, and out into the ocean. What a unique way to see St. Simons Island.
Island Cinema: For a rainy day, there is no better place than the Island Cinema for a first run movie.
Foot Golf: The Spanish moss draped trees lined the course for foot golf. Georgia has several courses, but we played Sea Palms in St. Simons Island. One boy heading his soccer ball, one kicking it along, the other carrying it, running to catch up to play the next hole. The boys were all about the competition. I enjoyed taking in the beauty of a manicured golf course. This activity was so much fun, I’ve included an entire post in itself on the history, the game, what you’ll need and some tips.
The first tournament was played in the Netherlands in 2008 for foot golf. Georgia has a few courses, but the sport is still relatively new. So what is foot golf? It’s a combination of soccer and golf (soccer golf), played on a foot golf course.
Instead of hitting a ball with a club, you hit the soccer ball with your feet to see who can reach the hole in the least amount of kicks.
Foot Golf courses can be shorter holes on a regular golf course, or a special section of the course.
At Sea Palms, we played a regular nine-hole course, plus a practice hole, that was part of the regular course with everything from a Par 3 to a Par 5 hole. We kicked from special tee boxes separate from the regular golf tees, and had a separate green with a large hole for the soccer ball.
Foot Golf Rules
Sea Palms foot golf starts with a video in the clubhouse where they show you the foot golf rules, which I looked up on the internet afterward as well. Apparently we violated the first rule in Foot Golf, wear the appropriate attire. We played in shorts and t-shirts. The appropriate attire is golf cap, collared shirt and argyle socks. However, according to the PGA, It’s really just golf attire. I guess the argyle is for the serious player.
As for the other nine rules, if you know the rules of golf, you pretty much know how to play foot golf. In addition to these rules, also adhere to the conduct code of golf. Let other golfers play through. Replace divots. Rack the sand trap when you leave. In addition to attire, this is the list of foot golf rules from the Professional Golfer’s Association.
- Your ball must be easy to identify.
- Review the score card and wait for your turn. Make sure you kick won’t interfere with other players
- The ball must be played in a single movement.
- Wait to play until the ball has completely come to rest. (You can’t stop it from rolling with the wind – unless of course it’s going into the water. We weren’t sure if soccer balls floated, but were pretty sure Sea Palms would want their ball back.)
- Kick off your ball from a position up to two meters behind the round markers (tee markers)
- Play the ball from where it lies; It’s not allowed to move the ball or removed jammed objects. (Oops, guess pulling it out of the puddle was a no-no. We did however kick it out of the palm fronds)
- The player farthest from the hole is the first to kick the ball.
- If the ball lands in a water hazard, retrieve or replace it within two steps from the closest land point from where the ball entered the water, receiving one penalty point, or you can place the ball at the position of the previous kick and receive one penalty point. (ok, so we can consider the puddle a water hazard)
- Only on the greens may the balls be picked up to be cleared.