St Simons Island Lighthouse: nautical family fun
And our lighthouse obsession continues… On St Simons Island, the largest of Georgia’s Golden Isles, there stands a picturesque beacon just off the boardwalk. It’s surrounded by palm trees, oaks and green grass. It’s not too tall, but clearly breaks the skyline: the St Simons Island Lighthouse. You know we love to visit lighthouses for many reasons, but the attraction of this one came from a few aspects. The St Simons Island Lighthouse is an ideal example of 19th century maritime architecture AND it’s family friendly!!!! Previously we tried to visit another lighthouse and only I (Rob) could climb it. Not so here! Keep reading to see what we enjoyed about this beacon.
Visiting – when you arrive, you’ll want to pop into the Historical Society building and pay your entrance fee. And then buy really cool lighthouse Christmas ornaments (don’t have to I guess). Then you’ll head over to the keeper’s quarters. It’s set up with loads of photos and information about St Simons Island, the lighthouse and nautical history of the area. Once you’ve had your fill of photographic nostalgia, head upstairs to the actual sleeping/living areas. They’re made up like the residents have just stepped out for a moment. Each room is a perfect snapshot of the time…except the iPad displays that provide information about the rooms’ contents and stories. They add educational value, just not any aesthetic value.
Tip: as no-fun as this might sound, historically accurate museum/room displays are a great way to show kids that life existed before technology. It may be difficult to get them to look at the actual museum quality collection in front of them if they’ve already seen the iPad, but it’s an opportunity to explain the world like they’ll never know it.
The Tower – climbing the lighthouse on St Simons Island is a lot easier than the one in St Augustine. While the St Augustine light has 219 steps, the St Simons light is only a 129 step journey. Gotta say, the 90 step difference is noticeable. And you know, when you get to the top, the view is just as spectacular: the sea, the town. It’s all beautiful. You can even spy dolphins playing just off shore if you’re lucky (which we totally were!!).
Tip: as easy as the tower might seem, bring some water if it’s a hot day. Parched kids aren’t happy campers…and neither are thirsty adults.
You know what else is cool? There’s not a height restriction for climbing. When we were turned away at the St Augustine Lighthouse because the kids were both too small, it was a bit disheartening. Their reasoning was around the open grating and ironwork, so safety was key to not allowing the kids up the tower. At the St Simons Island Lighthouse, there is a tight spiral staircase vs the open well in the middle. At the top, the bars were closer…but still scary. Overall, not terribly different, but now it makes sense why the kids couldn’t do the taller one.
Tip: feel out kids ahead of time as to if they’re scared of going to the top. We’re not saying to plant the seed of fear, but you can prep them for the heights and prep yourself to have a very short visit at the top potentially.
What you see today though is quite different than what was originally built. Initially put up in 1810, the first lighthouse was octagonal. Today, it’s a round tower with keeper’s quarters attached. Where’d the original tower go? Glad you asked: the Confederate Army destroyed it proactively during the American Civil War so the Union Army wouldn’t be able to use it or benefit from have the island as a stronghold. The South still lost (thank goodness) and then just had to rebuild the St Simons Island Lighthouse because it was still so badly needed.
Tip: if you’re with kids or international visitors who’ve not been taught about the American Civil War, sites like this are a great doorway to that conversation. You don’t have to get into the details, but its a good conversation starter.
The Lamp – the lantern still functions, but off electricity. It makes a full rotation every 60 seconds and can be seen for miles. The lens is a Fresnel lens, which is a fancy way of saying that the cut glass aims the beam into a much stronger light than just having a turning lantern. Like we said: fancy. Unfortunately you can’t get as close to or as good of a view of the St Simons Island lens as other lanterns in the Southeast, but if you’re not too scared of heights, you can get against the rail and lean carefully to watch it turn.
Kind of Unrelated Tip: if you want to experience a lighthouse lens up close, next time you happen into San Diego, California, Cabrillo National Monument has an awesome lens that you can actually get right up to and experience the cool distortion that makes the light so bright.
Today The St Simons Island Lighthouse is worth a visit and definitely worth the climb to the top. Plan for an hour, just in case you really get sucked into the Historical Society’s displays (they’re well done). When you’re finished, you can just head along the boardwalk and enjoy the dock, pier, park and even water park (weather permitting). The area is very family friendly and spending all morning at the lighthouse and parks is a really stellar idea that kids, young and old, will appreciate.