This relaxed coastal island is boater-friendly all year round.
With spring cruising on the horizon, boaters up and down the East Coast are looking to dust off their float plans and venture out to somewhere new. St. Simons Island, the largest of Georgia’s Golden Isles, offers respite from the slow-to-thaw temperatures of the north, without the excessive traffic that typically inundates tropical locales. Situated halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, it promises agreeable weather almost year-round.
St. Simons is about the size of Manhattan, but is slightly, ahem, less populated, with 18,000 permanent residents. Island life necessitates a prominent boating culture and marinas are well-equipped to handle transient boaters, but the town’s small size keeps traffic to a minimum. “We are the least densely populated coastline on the East Coast, so it’s not very crowded,” says Cap Fendig, a licensed captain and island guide. “It’s very possible to go out boating or fishing for a day and never see another boat.”
Fendig is a member of one of the island’s oldest families, who have lived on St. Simons since 1861. As a lifelong resident, Fendig knows the coastline well, which has afforded him the opportunity to assist major film crews shooting on the island (Roots, X-Men: First Class and Live By Night have all been shot here). “When films come to town they want to capture the beauty of the coast but they need local guidance and advice,” says Fendig.
Hollywood travels to St. Simons for good reason. The island’s winding streets are lined with moss-draped oaks which give the impression that one has stepped into a Gothic novel. And perhaps most importantly, St. Simons offers miles of moderately developed coastline: Visitors have full access to the island’s famous beaches without the disturbance of a major urban backdrop to spoil them. East Beach spans the eastern, ocean-facing side of the island and is free to access. Low tide delivers extensive sandbars and tide pools, and it’s not unusual to spot dolphins and sea turtles from the beach.
The island is also a gold mine for anglers. Speckled sea trout, redfish and flounder populate the inshore waters. Three to five miles offshore you’ll find large shark migrations and a more fierce fish fight. “The fishing is very diverse and because there’s not a lot of population pressure and we have all the marshlands, it’s very abundant,” says Fendig. “Georgia has always been protective of its marshlands, so there’s really no commercial harvesting or nets in the inland marshlands at all.”
There are a number of ways to keep busy onshore. Extensive bicycle paths allow visitors to traverse the entire island by bike. The island offers two public and three private golf courses, while historical sites give context to some of its most charming elements. The St. Simons Island Lighthouse and Museum is the island’s oldest brick structure, reconstructed in 1872 after the original was destroyed by Confederate forces. Its 104-foot tower still functions as a working lighthouse while simultaneously giving visitors the chance to tour the structure and, in doing so, step back in time.
While there are a few bars and nightclubs, nightlife is not the island’s main attraction. People usually come here for the laid-back atmosphere and natural landscape that can be explored by foot, bike, boat or horseback. However, visitors can still go out on the town: Of the 67-odd restaurants on the island, most are locally owned and operated and serve a variety of fresh seafood.
Fendig and his family have stayed in St. Simons for so long because it offers such an agreeable quality of life. While others pack onto I-95 and head to Florida, he enjoys spending time in this little oasis. “It’s been an incredible life to live here and I’ve had incredible opportunities to be a part of anything in the maritime form,” he says. “It’s a wonderful place.” ρ
St. Simons is a laid-back and historic retreat wrapped up in a small coastal community. Visitors can enjoy some of Georgia’s best coastline without the traffic of more crowded destinations.
Things To Do
Cruise the diverse waterways around the island, fish in abundant waters or relax on expansive beaches. Biking, golfing and watersports are available for visitors who seek action, and restaurants are aplenty for those who want more of a laid-back vacation.