We’ve enjoyed St Simons Island as a fun, beautiful getaway destination for years. So many people haven’t heard of it, but it’s really wonderful, is a budget friendly destination that offers a ton of activities. This guide to St Simons Island is all you need to plan an easy trip that’s fun and won’t break the bank. St Simons is a wonderful stopover on a Georgia Coast road trip and there are plenty of things to do for a weekend visit.
The southeastern United States is a really fascinating area. It’s got the colonial and Civil War history; it’s full of tidelands, swamps and interesting wildlife; and its own past is a varied collection of maritime lore and people. As you stroll through the village area of St Simons Island, it’s got that lovely Georgia Coast feel with the Spanish moss dripping everywhere and the wrought iron accents on the homes and buildings, but there is a lot of nautical nuance to each area too.
What you'll find...
- Where is Saint Simons Island?
- History of St Simons Island
Best Things to Do on St Simons Island
- Best Beaches on St Simons Island
- Visit the St Simons Island Lighthouse
- Play at the Neptune Fun Zone Park
- Scavenger Hunt for the Spirit Trees
- Parks to Visit on St Simons Island
- Exploring Fort Frederica National Monument
- Biking on St Simons Island
- Golfing on St Simons Island
- Where to stay on St Simons Island
Where is Saint Simons Island?
One of the four Golden Isles, St Simons Island is located in the southeastern-most part of the State of Georgia. It’s practically Florida. Okay, it’s not. It’s actually very much Georgia and has that laid back Georgia feel. It’s very easy to visit if you’re heading to either Savannah or Jacksonville, Florida. It’s also close to Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Saint Simons Island is an easy drive off Interstate 95, about an hour north of JAX. If you just want to fly directly in, Brunswick, Georgia is the regional airport offering flights from NYC, Atlanta, Miami and more. It’s not difficult to get to at all, but if you’re not aware of just how simple a visit is, you might not plan it. Just sayin’, super simple and with so many things to do, it’s an amazing bang for your travel buck.
History of St Simons Island
Dating waaaaay back into the pre-colonial times, St Simons Island was inhabited by several indigenous tribes/nations. The 16th century comes along and the Spanish do their Florida thing, settling in Saint Augustine. The French do their Carolina thing. The British do everything… Basically, St Simons Island becomes the border between everybody and the Spanish.
That’s why Fort Frederica was constructed. This project brought England, France and Germany together because, well you know, those Spanish folk with their armada and soldiers and endless flow of funds… Anyways, the fort served its purpose well, guarding the north and securing Georgia as a British territory. There was a bit of fighting, both on St Simons Island (the Bloody Marsh) and southward, but peace came and the fort faded into the past.
There were several plantation sites on St Simons Island too, but they aren’t open to the general public. You can see long entry paths, like tunnels through the Spanish moss, but that’s it. Digging into the history of the Golden Isles is one of the best things to do on St Simons Island, and it’s easy to find history wherever you go!
Best Things to Do on St Simons Island
When you drive across the intracoastal waterway and marsh, you kind of don’t know what you’ll see next. As you’ve come from either Florida or northern Georgia, the highway isn’t much to look at and doesn’t offer a lot for the imagination. As soon as you’re on St Simons Island though, you can feel the vibe.
There is such a mix of residents, from older, long term folks to transient, seasonal vacationers. There are vacation rentals, timeshares and some really beautiful resorts. Because there are a variety of accommodation styles, you get a wonderful mix of people from all backgrounds. It’s a very welcoming island.
When you are looking for things to do on St Simons Island, you can cover the island from north to south with activities. Relaxing or physical activities abound, so enjoy exploring St Simons!
Best Beaches on St Simons Island
Georgia Beaches are very different from the beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast. Coastal Georgia tends to have very fine sand that at times can even feel a bit like mud, but it comes off your feet nicely. St Simons Island has several easy beach access points that are perfect for enjoying an island weekend on a budget.
Beach access points include both beach parks and beach paths with parking nearby. Beach days are our favorite things to do on St Simons or anywhere, so watch for us hanging out on the sand when you visit the island!
Public Beach Access on St Simons Island with swimmable beach (from South to North):
- 11th Street, 9th, 6th and 5th (limited parking, but walkable from neighborhood)
- Myrtle Street and Cedar Street
- Neptune Road Beach Access (one block walk, near King and Prince)
- Massengale Park (best parking)
- Driftwood Drive or Olive Way (limited parking)
- East Beach aka Dog Beach aka Coast Guard Beach
- 12th Street and 13th Street
- Gould’s Inlet Public Beach Access
Visit the St Simons Island Lighthouse
When life revolves around the sea, a town will take on a certain feel. There’s of course a marina and a pier on St Simons Island, but there are other landmarks that truly tie the town to ocean life. On the island they range from narrow fishing bridges to sand bars the community hangs out on at low tide. And then there are other, more storied sights…
So the lighthouse was built in the early 1800s…and then destroyed during the American Civil War. It wasn’t until 1872 that the current structure was put up. And today it’s the perfect step back in time. It’s funny actually, you can tour the keeper’s quarters and they’re set up just as you’d expect to find them, frozen in time…except for the iPad interactive guides in each room so that you can explore the different aspects of 19th century life. iPads: so yesteryear.
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. I have to 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.
Tip: next to the lighthouse there are two parks, one a playground and the other a water park complete with waterslides. If you’re having a very grown-up trip and you’re with little people, spending some time at either park is a great idea and fantastic way to show kids that you’re thinking of them too.
Play at the Neptune Fun Zone Park
I just mentioned this great small waterpark is right next to the lighthouse. It’s one of the best things to do on St Simons Island that’s budget friendly. At $8 per person (2021 cost) it’s very affordable and is just perfect for splashing and relaxing. Like the awesome city run waterpark in Butte, Montana that we love, Neptune Fun Zone is operated by the county, so is very affordable and well managed.
Scavenger Hunt for the Spirit Trees
When we first heard about the spirit trees we thought it was a reference to a native or Wiccan belief or lore. Nope. It’s in reference to the trees used for building the mighty ships that sailed out of St Simons Island, which were oaks, and now there are many oaks with somber faces carved into them, as symbols of mourning for the many lives lost at sea. The carvings are beautiful and a wonderful memorial. And the trees they’re in are dripping with our favorite, more Spanish moss.
Where to find them: here’s a map showing the many locations of the spirit trees. The map is from the man who carved them, Keith Jennings.
Tip: explain to kids ahead of time what you’re going to see, because for a kid the tree spirits might seem a bit creepy. On our first visit, our oldest wouldn’t go near them, but we thought they were cool.
Parks to Visit on St Simons Island
Since St Simons Island is an active, living town (aka a bedroom community) it has all the public spaces and recreation any small town would. There are lots of public parks, basketball courts, and beach access points on the island. The two parks we most frequently visit, as they are some of the best things to do on St Simons Island, are Neptune Park on the waterfront by the village, Mallery / Butler Field Park (also in the village area) and Gascoigne Bluff Park, which is on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Neptune and Mallery / Butler Parks both have great play structures and benches, while Gascoigne Bluff Park has views and walking trails under gorgeous Spanish moss dripping trees. There are also Spirit Trees at both Gascoigne and Mallery Parks.
Exploring Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Frederica may not seem impressive initially, but visiting is one of the best things to do when you’re in the Golden Isles. A sprawling collection of ruins under towering live oak trees, walking around Fort Frederica is a great way to visualize the history of St Simons.
Ghostly avenues, Spanish moss, cannons, a good visitors center and unobstructed views of the great marsh, Fort Frederica NM is worth an hour and a half of your time. Whether you’re an adult or kid, follow the scavenger hunt path to both learn about the fort and town, as well as win a prize from the park rangers.
Biking on St Simons Island
Because St Simons is a pretty flat island it is perfect for biking. We picked up our bikes at Ocean Motion and got completely outfitted with kid trailers, helmets and bike locks. It was a perfect way to explore St Simons Island.
Biking St Simons Island from end to end is just awesome. Family travel can sometimes limit your activity choices, but then it also opens you up to new things. Without knowing too much about St Simons Island when we arrived for the first time, we weren’t sure how best to see the Island or what activities there were besides the beach.
Bikes and kid-trailers were provided to us through Ocean Motion Surf Co on St Simons Island. They were great at getting us fitted with helmets (required on bikers under 16 years old) and they made sure that our trailers were comfortable enough for the kids.
If you’re not in the best shape, that’s okay. Biking St Simons Island is great for any skill or fitness level due to its flatness. There are only a few moments where you’ll have to show a little skill, and that’s just for swerving pathways. It’s super chill. The thing that elevates the exercise aspect is that the bikes you rent (on St Simons Island or any beach community) are typically 1 gear beach cruisers. That means that you’ll be pumping your legs consistently just to move on flat ground. It’s a surprising workout.
- Wear waterproof sunblock while you’re riding. Even though you’re nice and cool from the wind, the sun will getcha! Kids especially need it, even if they’re until a biking shade of some sort.
- Don’t forget water! Yes, there are places to stop and get something to drink along the way to wherever you’re going, but bring water too. Seriously.
- Ride in the shade OFF the main thoroughfares
Safety for biking St Simons Island
You always need to check the local laws when you’re riding bikes in a new area, but biking St Simons is pretty chill with it. Kids MUST wear helmets if they’re on bikes. Adults don’t have to wear them, but it’s recommended.
Also, it’s worth confirming traffic laws regarding biking. Some communities require bikes to be on the road vs the sidewalks and some suggest using pre-designated biking routes to ensure the safest passage. Ask if you’re unsure or if it seems like a place that has taken the time to construct visitor friendly biking procedures.
REMEMBER: helmets make kids sweat. Keep them well hydrated so they’ll be healthier and happier for the rest of your trip.
Golfing on St Simons Island
We’re big into golfing in our household!!! Miniature golfing, that is. Yeah, we don’t actually hit the links ever, but we do take time out for minigolf. On the St Simons Island waterfront you’ll find the Neptune Park Miniature Golf course. It’s a great budget activity and one of the best things to do on St Simons Island. It’s set between the gorgeous lighthouse and the waterpark.
St Simons Island is also home to fancy golfing. We say fancy because we don’t golf, so any golfing seems fancy. On our first trip to the island we were there while the whole community was prepping for the RSM Classic (PGA Tour) and you could tell it was serious business.
The King and Prince Beach and Golf Club (not the host of the RSM) is a beautiful course nestled among the marshlands, and everybody we met on the island asked if we were going to have a tee time there…so it must be good. Also on St Simons are the Frederica Golf Club, Sea Palms Resort and nearby is the Sea Island Golf Club with three courses.
Where to stay on St Simons Island
We have stayed at the King and Prince which is right on the beach as well at the Best Western Plus St Simons, which is also nice. Both properties have been great for our family of four, with the King and Prince being the more luxurious.
While there are oodles of options for accommodations, we’ve only experienced these two directly ON the island. The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort is a great option because it’s directly on a beautiful beach and has lots of amenities. The BW Plus St Simons is nice because it’s in a very quiet area and is close to off-island access.
Depending on how long you’ll be on the island and how many people you’ll be traveling with, check out the different lodging options, including vacation rentals. What makes St Simons so affordable are the many choices of luxury levels.
Favorite Dining on St Simons Island
There’s also really good food on St Simons Island. There is a bit of a seafood industry on the island and the small restaurants, as well as the more upscale ones, know how to do seafood right. We enjoyed several meals at Echo Restaurant and got to enjoy the best foods we’ve ever eaten (our article is a must read for foodies).
Our other go-to St Simons Island Restaurant is Gnat’s Landing. Great for lunch or dinner, the indoor/outdoor atmosphere and low country style menu (grits, sausage, seafood…) make it a consistent winner. Halyards off Sea Island Road is a great breakfast spot to check out with a good brunch menu.
Tip: planning on a Sunday brunch? Georgia has strict alcohol laws, so if you order a drink before 11:00 am, you can’t be served your tasty beverage until after 11. Also, if you have a vacation rental and you’re hosting your own brunch, you better get your champagne the night before, because you can’t buy retail alcohol before 12:30 pm.
St Simons Island is a great place to head with a family, with friends or for a couples getaway. It’s a really cool destination with tons of options for any mood and level of energy. The nautical feel of the whole island is a great break from city life and so different from a mountain escape. St Simons is amazing and we’ll be back again. And again.
Want to pin it for your own Golden Isles family travel planning? Go for it!!!