Coasting: Six must-do’s in St. Augustine, Florida

Horse-drawn carriage, St. Augustine, FL

Horse-drawn carriage, St. Augustine, FL

This is the year! America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida, celebrates its 450th anniversary! So this is your year to plan a trip and make a list — a “must-do list” for beautiful St. Augustine.

Not sure what we expected, having waited until our retirement years to see St. Augustine for the first time.  But now we’re wondering what took us so long.  St. Augustine melds the Old World charm of New Orleans with the Bohemian atmosphere and laid-back fun of Key West into one.  For history buffs or party-hardies, St. Augustine comes in just right.  Here are our six must-do’s for when (not if!!) you come down South to the city with the slogan “Beautiful beaches and the rest is history”!

Gonzalez-Alvarez House, "the Oldest House" in St. Augustine

Gonzalez-Alvarez House, known at “The Oldest House” in St. Augustine, dates back to the early 1600s. 271 Charlotte St.

1.  Soak up the beauty

It wasn’t five minutes after we stepped out the door of our B & B on Cedar Street that we took out the cameras and pointed upwards at the impressive architecture of the Flagler Buildings.  An original partner with John D. Rockefeller, Henry M. Flagler arrived in St. Augustine in 1883, had two new hotels built (the Ponce de Leon and the Alcazar), and purchased the Casa Monica (a Moorish Revival building) renaming it the Hotel Cordova.

Courtyard of the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine

Courtyard of the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine

Now, the Hotel Ponce de Leon is the home of Flagler College, and the buildings represent some of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture in America.  The Alcazar has become the Lightner Museum known for its extensive collection of Louis Tiffany stained-glass art. And, if you wish, you can spend a night or a week at the Hotel Cordova!

2.  Walk through time

After you stroll the campus of Flagler College and get a feel for the beauty of the Lightner Museum, you’re primed and ready to explore history on foot.  Be sure to head down Aviles Street, the oldest street in North America dating back to the 1500s.  Charm is the operable word here — a long bricked street frequented by horse-drawn carriages passing diners eating outside.

Dining out on Aviles Street

Dining out on Aviles Street

Here’s where you’ll shop if you love quality goods, art, and antiques.  Drop in at Georgia Nick Gallery and ask to see Georgia’s hand-made note cards sporting her own photos from around the city.  Or find a fashionable long skirt and creatively designed bracelet at Candida’s Closet.  Don’t miss Aviles Gallery where we fell in love with the watercolors of artist Pam Pahl.

Put on your walking shoes for the longer (and possibly more crowded) St. George Street, where shops have become comfortable in some of the most treasured homes of the city.  If you’re a history snob, you’ll have to overlook ice cream parlors, coffee shops, and t-shirts, but don’t let that stop you.  Spanish Colonial-style masonry homes abound, some with coquina structure (rock formed with tiny embedded shells) and original foundations.  Stand by the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse (everyone does!) and remember that it’s the oldest surviving wood frame building (cedar and cypress) in St. Augustine.  Go inside to see rare school books, slates, maps, and such. (Open daily, admission charge.)

3.  Fort-ify your outlook

Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort and the only extant 17th century fort in the continental U. S. Built in 1672-1695 to protect the town and treasure fleets on their way to Spain, Castillo de San Marcos  is the granddaddy of all the forts in our Coasting series.  The fort offers you a view of city buildings and Matanzas Bay from several vantage points as well as a chance to pose for a “selfie” beside the cannons!

Inside Castillo de San Marcos

Inside Castillo de San Marcos

4.  See the light

One of only six lighthouses in Florida open to the public, the 126-year-old St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum offers an authentic look inside and out.  Climb 126 steps to the top.  Or you can stay below, tour the museum, and watch craftsmen at work on the ground.

5. Sleep Inn 

Whether you prefer luxury accommodations, a night in a historic property, or the comfort of a B&B, you’ll find interesting places to spend time in St.

Blue Christmas theme at At Journeys End

A Blue Christmas theme with Elvis on the balcony: At Journeys End, St. Augustine

Augustine!  Use your favorite internet search engine or Florida’s Historic Coast for reservations, but don’t wait too long.  Special events like Rhythm & Ribs Festival (April 10-12, 2015), Celebrate 450! (September 4-15, 2015) and the 7th Annual Pirate Gathering (dates TBD) fill up available accommodations fast.

Our B&B, At Journey’s End, and the other three on Cedar Street were still decorated for the Annual Bed and Breakfast Holiday Tour.  Lucky us.  Elvis greeted us from the balcony, smiled at us from the front yard, and graced us with renditions of “Blue Suede Shoes” from a hidden boom box.  Or some such apparatus!  And we loved it!

Our view from the bar at Cellar 6, Aviles Street, St. Augustine, Florida

Our view from the bar at Cellar 6, Aviles Street, St. Augustine, Florida

6.  Eat out! Drink Up!

Make it a point to search for what makes St. Augustine truly unique — an eclectic mix of restaurants offering everything from Cuban sandwiches at the casual La Herencia Cafe on Aviles Street to the upscale Cellar 6 where we toasted in the New Year at the bar. (Best place to view the action and get to the know the bartender!)

But our one “blown-away” place had to be Ice Plant.  Focused on the art of mixing cocktails such as Florida Mule with vodka from their own St. Augustine Distillery located next door, Ice Plant also serves farm-to-table food (think grass-fed beef and local veggies).  Even if you don’t eat a thing, you should order a drink (even the type of ice is selected) at one of two bars in this renovated 1927 ice plant, smile at the waiters dressed in their 20s working-class attire, and understand just what made Garden & Gun take note.

Shaken not stirred at Ice Plant, St. Augustine

Shaken not stirred at Ice Plant, St. Augustine

Here’s hoping you’ll find lots to put on your must-do list in St. Augustine. We have lots more to explore if we ever return.  And if you’ve been, why not leave us a comment:  What was your favorite must-do in St. Augustine?

Who knows?  Come September, we may all gather to Celebrate 450!

Harbor scene, St. Augustine

Harbor scene, St. Augustine

For more information:

Twitter.com/FlHistoricCoast

Facebook.com/OfficialStAugustine

Instagram.com/FloridasHistoricCoast

Celebrate 450http://staugustine-450.com

Twitter.com/StAugustine450

Facebook.com/450th

For more posts in our Coasting series, click on the pelican on the right-hand side of this blog. And thanks for traveling the coast with us! Bert and Rusha

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Depth

Wooden sluice, Cades Cove TN

One of the joys of driving the 11-mile loop through Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is stopping to watch the old mill wheel spin. Looking down the wooden sluice gives depth to the years-old process of funneling water down to the wheel.

Water turning the wheel in Cades Cove TN

As the outside wooden wheel turns, a heavy stone mill wheel inside grinds yellow corn into meal.  Or at least that’s how it used to be.

Water wheel, Cades Cove, TN

Deep thinking just occurs, I guess, when you stand and reflect on the way it was: Nature and man working hand-in-hand for another fine day of mountain living.

For more entries in the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Depth, click here.

 

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Travel theme: Doorways

Doorway at Fort Clinch State Park

Bert takes a look at a doorway in Fort Clinch.

While roaming through Fort Clinch State Park at Fernandina Beach, Florida, on a weekend when re-enactors were not only in costume but also in character, Bert wandered into a spacious room to take a look at an intriguing doorway.  The “guard” moved in, seizing the moment to talk about the prison cell behind the door.

Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach, Florida

Bert takes a closer look, peering into the darkness.

The authentically clothed guard then asked Bert if he’d like to go inside the cell.  Bert hesitated.  But then compelled by his curiosity and the guard’s insistence, my innocent husband wandered in.

How does it feel in there?  A little small?

How does it feel in there? A little small?

Immediately, the guard closed the door explaining that he wanted Bert to get the “full experience” of being jailed.  Of course, the guard assured him, you do have this little peep hole at the top and a slot where we’ll most assuredly shove your daily ration of bread!

Moral:  Beware of doorways in old prisons.  You never know when it just might be your turn to be on the “other side.”

For more entries into Ailsa’s Travel theme: Doorways at her blog Where’s My Backpack, click here.

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Coasting: That “old money” feel of Jekyll Island

The Jekyll Island Club, Jekyll Island, Georgia

The Jekyll Island Club, Jekyll Island, Georgia

Our Coasting series continues with a short one-day trip to Jekyll Island, one of four barrier islands in Georgia. Although Jekyll can boast of lovely marshes, moss-draped live oaks, and quiet beaches, it was the historically lavish lifestyle of the rich and famous that drew us to the historic district where several of the buildings of the Jekyll Island Club still stand.

Wing of the Jekyll Island Club

One wing of the Jekyll Island Club facing the croquet lawn.

It was Newton Finney (served briefly as captain of engineers on Robert E. Lee’s staff during the Civil War) and his brother-in-law, John Eugene DuBignon, who dreamed of developing a hunt club for wealthy northerners.  Between 1879 and 1885, the men acquired the land and convinced investors to create the exclusive Jekyll Island Club. Finney and DuBignon then sold the newly incorporated club to the 53 member investors among whom were “Men of Means” (as the plaque on the grounds dubbed them) such as J. P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Henry Hyde, and Marshall Field.

The iconic turret of the Jekyll Island Club.

The iconic turret of the Jekyll Island Club.

Officially opened in 1888, the Queen Anne style Clubhouse, designed by Charles Alexander of Chicago, was hailed for its notable details — a signature turret, bay windows, leaded art glass, and sizable rooms with tall ceilings.  Club members and their families engaged in leisure activities that even today sound sumptuous — yachting, hunting, lawn parties, carriage rides, and formal dining in the evenings.  And yes, we were there on a day when white-clad players of croquet took to the front lawn much as we imagine the club members might have done.  Ah, the good ol’ days!

A game of croquet on the lawn of the Jekyll Island Club

A game of croquet on the lawn of the Jekyll Island Club

Some of the cottages are open for tours; some can be rented.  Sans Souci (“without care”) was one of the first condominiums built in America with its original six units, owned in part by J. P. Morgan. Still in tact are the original floors, skylight, and stairway.(jekyllclub.com/accommodations)

Sans Souci, Jekyll Island, Georgia

America’s first condominium? Sans Souci on Jekyll Island

Other cottages are open only for tours.  Like Indian Mound Cottage, home of William and Almira Rockefeller, built in the early 1900s, subject of this video posted on YouTube.

Indian Mound Cottage, Jekyll Island

Indian Mound Cottage, home of William and Almira Rockefeller

It’s a good idea to take a trolley ride complete with talkative driver elaborating on the history, architecture, and social life. Or just sit back and relax to the clop-clop of horses’ hooves as you tour by horse-drawn carriage.

Horse-drawn carriage, Jekyll Island

Touring Jekyll by horse-drawn carriage.

And, if you’re wondering, you can (YES!!!) be a guest yourself at the elegant Jekyll Island Club where the interior is as interesting and luxurious as the exterior.

Sitting room, Jekyll Island Club

Sitting room, Jekyll Island Club

We sauntered out to the Jekyll Island Wharf for a leisure lunch and watched sea birds fly by, all the while pretending that we could be one of the Astors or Rockefellers or Morgans enjoying a picnic beside the sea.

Jekyll Island Wharf

Jekyll Island Wharf

Pulling away from the lap of luxury wasn’t easy, but we were interested in what else the island had to offer.  A lot, as it turned out.  Like Horton House Historic Site located on North Riverview Drive.

Needing a residence for his family still residing in England in the 1730s, Major William Horton (who served as second in command of General James Oglethorpe’s regiment) cleared a tract of land and built the sturdy structure now known as Horton House.

Horton House Historic Site

What remains of Horton House, built by Major William Horton around 1740.

Horton House was built of tabby, a building material introduced to us during our tour of Fort Frederica.  Tabby is created by mixing water, lime, sand, and oyster shells. But Horton had to first burn oyster shells to create lime, then mix the tabby, and finally pour it all into the forms that still remain today.  The house has been burned, rebuilt, and abandoned, but is now preserved as a designated historic site, open daily to the public.

Horton House, Jekyll Island

Horton House, Jekyll Island

No matter what you choose to do on Jekyll Island — from looking at historic markers to roaming the beaches to pretending you, too, are a descendant of the Astors or Vanderbilts — you can’t escape the elegance and history of an “old money” world gone by.

No more cycling

No more cycling. We’re at the beach!

For more information, resources:

Explore Southern History: Horton House: http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/hortonhouse.html

Jekyll Island, Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jekyll_Island

Jekyll Island Club Hotel: A Historic Landmark Experience: http://www.jekyllclub.com

Jekyll Island Club – Haunted Houseshttp://www.hauntedhouses.com/states/ga/jekyll_island.htm

Jekyll Island, Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/JekyllIsland

For more posts in the Coasting series: 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Express Yourself

Whitley as centenarian

A charming little centenarian!

Some lucky elementary students in Knoxville celebrated their 100th day of school this year by dressing as centenarians. Their paths to self-expression varied. Costumed little ones donned beards, wire-rimmed glasses, canes, etc., and paraded around the hallways as only tottering 100-year-olds can do. You could see ‘em bent over, shuffling, and saying “Eh???” whenever their teachers attempted to get the attention of the aging set.

Some seemed destined to stroll fancy gardens or become Downton Abbey socialites with their broad-brimmed hats and fancy fur vests.

Stivers child dressed as 100

Wanna have fun with me today ? Eh?

Others used their recent Tooth Fairy activity to best advantage portraying toothless old ladies and gents.

Whitley's toothless grin

Might wanna stay away from the caramel apples, Granny!

And what about this cute pair of twins?  Reminds us a little of the aging Hollywood set with glamorous specs and a daring chapeau!

Williams' twins at 100

Pretty dapper couple, don’t you think?

Not sure how we’ll be expressing ourselves when (or if) we turn 100.  But sure hope we’re still having the fun these youngsters are!

For more entries in the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Express Yourself, click here.

To read an article about how the students at Pleasant Ridge Elementary School celebrated the 100th day of school, take a look at this article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

 

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Coasting: Three reasons to stroll through Fort Frederica on St. Simons

Fort Frederica National Monument, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Fort Frederica National Monument, St. Simons Island, Georgia

You may think that visiting a fort would be at the bottom of your to-do list when coasting.  After all, beaches beckon.  Or pastimes — shopping, fishing, golfing, and the like — call you to while away your leisure hours.  But on this tour of coastal Georgia and Florida sites, we found three forts — not just for visiting — but for really “getting into”:  Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, Georgia; Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida; and Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island, Florida.

Seeing what remains of Fort Frederica would be awesome in its own right, but thanks to the Park Service, this National Monument (established 1936 under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration) is well maintained and carefully documented so that the visiting experience is rich on many levels.   For the meager entry fee of $3.00 (free if you’re under 15), you’re offered a museum with artifacts and park film well worth 23 minutes of your time.  Exit the Visitor Center and enter Frederica, a fortified town as well as a fort, with at least three good reasons to make this a stopping-off place on any Georgia coastal tour.

Walking from the Visitor Center onto the grounds of  Fort Frederica

Walking from the Visitor Center onto the grounds of Fort Frederica

Reason 1:  Learn a little history

Named for Frederick Louis (Prince of Wales 1702-1754), Fort Frederica was a military outpost established in 1736 by James Oglethorpe to protect the southern boundary of Georgia (a new colony) from the Spanish in Florida. And the fort paid off.  In 1742, Spanish forces invaded St. Simons Island at Fort St. Simons (site of the lighthouse).  But after two battles – Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh — the Spanish retreated, never to return.  Victory fell to the British but also signaled the end of Frederica. In 1749, the government abandoned the garrison, and by 1755, few residents remained.

Remains of Fort Frederica

Remains of Fort Frederica

Well-placed markers lead visitors to an understanding of where and how soldiers lived and fought and why the location in the bend enabled control of ship traffic on the Frederica River.

Well-placed cannon at the bend of the river, Fort Frederica

Well-placed cannon at the bend of the river, Fort Frederica

Reason 2:  Learn about the people and their lifestyles

At its peak, Fort Frederica was a “town” of about 800 to 1,000 people. Notably,  the Reverends Charles and John Wesley ministered to the soldiers and settlers at the fort, one of the many efforts that led to the establishment of the nearby Wesley Memorial on the island.  At the time of the Spanish attack in 1742, about 200 British troops were stationed at Frederica with some of the officers and married men living in their own homes or in town.

The barracks, with walls one foot thick, could accommodate more than 100 men.  Three walls of this tower have been preserved and stabilized by the National Park Service.

The Barracks, Fort Frederica

The Barracks, Fort Frederica

According to one of the markers near an excavated site, Frederica’s residents were literally “butchers, bakers and candlestick makers,” with many of them working more than one trade.  John Caldwell, for example, made candles and fine soaps but also served as “Conservator of the Peace” when he wasn’t a merchant, shopkeeper, and baliff.  His home shows the remains of a baking oven and two fireplaces, indicating that it was one of the finest homes in the area.

Remains of John Calwell's home, one of the finest at Fort Frederica.

Remains of John Calwell’s home, one of the finest at Fort Frederica.

Excavations also revealed the foundation of the home of Mary Musgrove Matthews, General Oglethorpe’s Indian interpreter, the daughter of a white trader and Creek Indian mother.  (According to the Fort Frederica website, Yamacraw Indians, a group of Creeks, lived among the other settlers at Frederica.) Her house was made of tabby, a type of concrete made with water, sand, lime, and oyster shells.

Tabby foundation, Fort Frederica

Close-up of tabby from the home of Mary Musgrove Matthews. Tabby is a type of concrete made with water, sand, lime, and oyster shells.

 

Reason 3:  Appreciate the natural beauty 

Fort Frederica‘s park-like setting still bears street signs indicating how the “town” was laid out.  And today, majestic trees draped heavily with Spanish moss offer a canopy like no other site we’ve seen. From the website’s FAQs came this interesting tidbit:  None of the trees present today were onsite at the time of activity at Fort Frederica.  

We found ourselves looking sideways at the pathways and trees, but also looking up.  Rumor had it that we might see a bald eagle.  We didn’t.  But birds flew over, above, and into nests high up in the trees — as visitors snapped pictures and listened to the sounds overhead.

Bird perched high above, Fort Frederica

Bird perched high above, Fort Frederica

Plan to spend a couple of hours at Fort Frederica National Monument.  With the wealth of information at the Visitor Center and along the outstretched pathways, you’ll be hard pressed to rush through — and you won’t want to.  Whether you’re a history buff or nature lover or both, you’ll be pleased that Fort Frederica is preserved and ready for you to enjoy.

Street markers line the pathways at Fort Frederica

Street markers line the pathways at Fort Frederica

For more information:

Fort Frederica National Monument6515 Frederica Road, Saint Simons Island, GA 31522; (912) 638-3639

Websitehttp://www.nps.gov/fofr/index.htm

Visitor Center:  Open 9:00 to 5:00 seven days a week except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Frederica, Fort and Town: Historical Background: http://www.nps.gov/fofr/historyculture/upload/webhistory.pdf

For more posts in the Coasting series:

 

 

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity

Knoxville’s Dogwood Arts Festival brings entertainment, food, activities and parties during the more than two-week span of time of celebration.  But the Open Gardens event offers visitors a bit of serenity as they quietly roam some of the area’s most stunning gardens.

Formal garden, Knoxville, Tennessee

Formal garden on tour during the Dogwood Arts Festival, Knoxville, Tennessee

Sometimes you just take a look at dogwoods, tulips, and flowering shrubs.  Sometimes you take pictures.  And sometimes you just sit and reflect.

Open Gardens -- Dogwood Arts Festival

Reflecting pool and statuary in one of the Open Gardens, Knoxville, Tennessee

During this cold winter weather, we’re longing for a bit of serenity.  We’d love to sit in someone else’s garden and ponder what it would be like to look out at the view of the moment in a serene setting.

View of Lake Loudon from one of the Open Gardens, Knoxville, Tennessee

View of Lake Loudon from one of the Open Gardens, Knoxville, Tennessee

For more entries in the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity, click here.

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Coasting: The serenity of Christ Church on St. Simons Island

Christ Church, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Christ Church, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Known as one of America’s most beautiful churches, Christ Church offers a serene place of worship on St. Simons Island, Georgia.  Surrounded by trees draped with delicate Spanish moss, Christ Church, an active Episcopalian congregation, is a tribute to the work of brothers Charles and John Wesley, those involved in the initial building in 1820, and those who reconstructed it after Union forces damaged it heavily during the Civil War.

Doorway of Christ Church decorated for Christmas 2014

Doorway of Christ Church decorated for Christmas 2014

Brothers Charles and John Wesley ministered to the early colonists at Fort Frederica. And it is to the memory of those early ministers that the church owes its beginnings in the parish that dates back to 1808. John was later credited with founding the modern Methodist church while Charles is better known for the creation of hymns such as the popular “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” (Information from ExploreSouthernHistory.com)

The church that you can visit today is the 1884 rebuilt structure with beautiful stained glass windows, white facade, and elegant steeple.  Visiting in early January, we were able to see the traditional, natural Christmas decorations on railings and fences as well as on the doorway.

Natural Christmas decorations in cemetery at Christ Church, St. Simons

Natural Christmas decorations in cemetery at Christ Church, St. Simons

The cemetery is one of the oldest in Georgia, and often visitors want to see the grave of Eugenia Price, a noted local author (Beloved Invader, Lighthouse, New Moon Rising) who arrived with the notion she would write for a while in St. Simons but then fell in love with the area and became a permanent resident.

Grave in the cemetery at Christ Church

One of many headstones at Christ Church and Cemetery, St. Simons

Across the road from the church is Wesley Gardens, a two-acre plot filled with over 60 varieties of shrubs and native plants.  The centerpiece of Wesley Gardens — a towering 18-foot Celtic cross of Georgia stone — pays tribute to the work of the Revs. Charles and John Wesley.

Wesley Memorial, St. Simons Island

Wesley Memorial, St. Simons Island

We loved our time at both Wesley Gardens and Christ Church — a time to stroll quietly and almost alone.  A time to reflect among the towering trees and along the peaceful walkways. It was a different feel to a coastal town experience.  You leave the beach behind and just appreciate the almost silent time away from it all — a good thing on anyone’s Things To Do vacation list!

For more information:

Christ Church Tour of Homes (62nd annual event) will be held March 21, 2015.  For information, click here.

Website with information on Wesley Memorial Gardens and Christ Church and Cemetery: ExploreSouthernHistory.com.

Website on Eugenia Pricehttp://www.gacoast.com/navigator/ep2.html

If you’re going there:

Christ Church and Cemetery, 6329 Frederica Road, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Church can be visited Tuesday through Saturday from 2 PM to 5 PM. Cemetery and grounds can be visited sunrise to sunset Tuesday through Sunday.

To view Wesley Memorial Gardens — park at Christ Church on Frederica Road and walk across the street.

Posts in the Coasting series:

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Coasting: Beautiful St. Simons Island

St. Simons Island Pier

St. Simons Island Pier

Although leaving Tybee Island, the subject of our previous post, was a downer, our second island hop on the Georgia and Florida coastal town tour landed us on one of the four barrier islands in the Golden IslesSt. Simons Island.  The Golden Isles, nestled between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, includes Brunswick on the mainland and the islands of St. Simons, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and Jekyll Island. Voted America’s #1 Romantic Town and America’s #1 Favorite Beach Town by Travel and Leisure, St. Simons was a must-see destination on our tour.  But knowing little about what to do and where to stay, we consulted fellow travel bloggers James and Terri Vance, writers of Gallivance.  Good thing we did.  Their suggestions formed the basis of our two-day sightseeing joy.

View of Pier Village from the St. Simons Island Pier

View of Pier Village from the St. Simons Island Pier

Pier Village of St. Simons pulled us in — we thought we’d just take a quick drive around town.  But at the sight of so many people — families mostly — walking out to the pier, we parked immediately.  St. Simons Island Pier is THE place for strolling, fishing, taking pictures and looking back at the mainland at more places you want to see like the lighthouse, Neptune Park, and stately homes along the water.

The family-friendly nature of St. Simons charmed us — pathways, park benches, and play structures provide gathering spots for people of all ages.

Climbing on a whale in Neptune Park

Climb aboard . . .

A short walk from the park took us to St. Simons Lighthouse and Museum (101 Twelfth Street). With 129 steps to the top, St. Simons Lighthouse bests the Tybee Lighthouse by one step. First constructed in 1807 by James Gould, the original St. Simons light was destroyed by Confederate forces.  The current lighthouse, built in 1827, replaced the original one a mere 25 feet away from the first location with a lighthouse keeper’s house erected beside it.  Although Gould had to climb the original lighthouse several times a day to keep the flame lit, no one is needed now since a Fresnel lens and timer were added in 1953. (For the full history, click here.)

St. Simons Island Lighthouse and keeper's house, now the museum.

St. Simons Island Lighthouse and keeper’s house, now converted to a museum.

Perhaps the beauty of St. Simons for us, however, lay in its natural scenery.  Small parks tucked into various areas of town are ideal for wandering about, and, if you did nothing else but note the live oaks and Spanish moss, you would have an excellent feel for the area.

We paused for photographs and reminiscences since we both grew up in South Louisiana, knowing massive trees such as these quite well.

James Vance (Gallivance) encouraged us to set our alarms, head out early to Gould’s Inlet (Fifteenth Street, Bruce Drive), and take in the St. Simons sunrise, a favorite activity for him and wife Terri.  We did.  Sitting in our car in the dark in the public parking area, we watched as others gathered — some with dogs, others alone — all waiting for nature’s show.

Early morning dawn at Gould's Inlet, St. Simons Island

Early morning dawn at Gould’s Inlet, St. Simons Island

But, alas, no sun rose on the two mornings we braved the cold and darkness.  Not to worry, however.  We loved the gray atmosphere, the light misty fog, and our leisurely stroll along this premier beach property.

Walking the beach at Gould's Inlet

Walking the beach at Gould’s Inlet

A conversation we initiated with a local, however, netted us a new term.  Do you live here? we asked.  I do, said the man.  And I come out every morning to walk along the beach near the Johnson rocks.  Johnson rocks? we asked.  Yes. Brought to the beach during the Johnson administration, he chuckled.  And thus the name. So we, too, feeling smug with our new-found local term (accurate or not) walked among and along the “Johnson rocks,” capturing an early-morning glimpse at low tide of the now-visible sand bars and people carrying coffee mugs as they slid into morning calmly.

A climb along the "Johnson rocks," St. Simons Island

A climb along the “Johnson Rocks,” St. Simons Island

St. Simons is more than just a beach town.  It’s a place for year-round living with its natural beauty, city planning that ensures family activities, and a restful, mostly unspoiled view of the Old South — at least along the coast.

If you’re planning a trip to St. Simons:

Check out these informative sites for where to stay, eat, and play:

Village Inn & Pub, St. Simons

View from balcony, Village Inn and Pub, St. Simons

Where we stayed:  Village Inn and Pub (500 Mallery Street; 912-634-6056; http://www.villageinnandpub.com/) Lovely traditional rooms, Continental breakfast, on-site pub.

Where we ate: Barbara Jean’s (214 Mallery Street; 912-634-6500; http://www.barbarajeans.com/) Casual atmosphere, seafood and Southern cooking (excellent crab cakes and shrimp and grits), pleasant service.

In our next post, we’ll show you Fort Frederica and Christ Church, two St. Simons attractions everyone should see.

And there’s plenty more to do on St. Simons, according to the website — golf, fishing, biking, etc.  Check it out here!  You just may have to go Coasting in St. Simons!

Previous posts in the Coasting series:

 

 

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Coasting: The laid-back vibes of Tybee Island

Beach at Tybee Island

Beach at Tybee Island

In this first in a series of posts (See Goin’ Coastal) about our side trips to coastal areas in Georgia and Florida headed to the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, we’re moving straightforward from Knoxville, Tennessee, toward the lovely, laid-back Tybee Island.  What, you say?  You didn’t stop in Savannah?  Beautiful, stately, historic Savannah? Well, we’ve been to Savannah several times and have officially declared it one of our favorite cities in America.  But Tybee?  Don’t know much about Tybee.  So, we made an unplanned stop by searching TripAdvisor while driving, found an available (and affordable) hotel, and booked a one-night stay.  Our only regret — it was almost dark when we arrived in the middle of winter, so not much was “hopnin'”!

Dinner on the porch at Sting Ray's

Dinner on the porch at Sting Ray’s, Tybee Island, Georgia

First order of business — find a seafood restaurant that’s open and doesn’t offer just the usual fried fish/coleslaw/hush puppy fare.  Stingray’s fit the bill with well-seasoned gumbo and lightly battered shrimp a cut above what you normally find at a beachy-themed place.  Didn’t hurt that heat lamps — two, in fact — warmed us up even though we wore jackets on the deck. (Other brave souls defied the 40-degree weather in shorts and flip-flops. Must be the feeling that if you’re at the beach, dress like the beach.)

Feeding the seagulls -- motel at Tybee Island

Feeding the seagulls from a motel balcony along the beach

Early morning revealed what we had heard: Tybee is the land that time forgot.  And that’s a good thing as we see it.  Old tourist courts have been refurbished (well, some at least), colors of turquoise and pink prevail, and a wide, sandy beach and dunes appeal to all — strolling visitors, shell seekers, shore birds, gulls, and sea creatures.  (For more on the creatures, check out the Tybee blog written by Dr. Joseph Richardson who conducts Ecology Tours.)

After a long walk, we literally stumbled upon The Breakfast Club, a smallish, intimate restaurant where we sat at the bar and watched the guys grill anything from French toast to over-easy eggs. Omelettes are a specialty.  Here’s one:  Helen’s Solidarity (AKA The Grill Cleaner’s Special) with “diced potatoes, Polish Sausage, green peppers and onions scrambled with 2 eggs, topped with melted Monterey Jack and American cheese.” Or the Popeye Omelette “You’ll fight to da finitch w/gr bf & spinitch, jack chz, toot-toot,” quoting from the menu.

Chef preparing Florentine Omelette

Seasoning a Florentine Omelette at The Breakfast Club on Tybee Island

We asked our server, Do you guys work out? (Could’t help but notice big guns and svelte waistlines.) Well, yes.  Yes, we do, he replied!  And then they hammed it up for us when we turned the camera on them.

Chefs having fun -- The Breakfast Club

Chefs having fun — The Breakfast Club

A quick drive through town netted us a glimpse of what people collect — like floats hung as tree ornaments . . .

Yard art at Tybee Island

Yard art at Tybee Island

And old shoes found along the beach. Could be that Tybee is where old hippies live or vacation, so we’re not too far removed from the funk, I guess you could say.

So that's where my shoes went?

So that’s where my shoes went?

We made one last stop at the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum and stayed awhile.  After all, this is one of the finest examples of historic preservation on the coast — or anywhere for that matter — and the Tybee Island Historic Society is to thank for that.

Tybee Island Lighthouse

Tybee Island Lighthouse

We’ve written about the minimalist nature of this lighthouse, constructed in 1916, in a previous post, but there’s so much more here on the grounds.  This lighthouse, we came to find out, is not the first beacon on Tybee for seagoing vessels.  The history of previous lighthouses comes to life in a walkabout area on the grounds — clearly outlined by the Historic Society.

Descriptions of previous lighthouses at Tybee

Walkabout area recounting the history of previous lighthouses at Tybee

Several houses with period furnishings and detailed accounts of their former and present use are open for exploring.

Open for tourists -- Tybee Lighthouse

Building open for tourists at Tybee Lighthouse

And you can climb the 178 stairs to the top to see the nine-foot tall First Order Presnel Lens, a reward for all that huffing and puffing.

Stairwell at Tybee Lighthouse

Only 178 steps to go . . .

Across the street lies Battery Garland of Fort Screven constructed around 1898 and 1899. Inside Battery Garland are seven rooms dedicated to the displays of artifacts and exhibits known as the Tybee Museum.  Definitely worth a trip.

Inside the Museum -- Tybee Island

Colorful displays inside the Tybee Island Museum at Battery Garland

With the capstone visit to Tybee Lighthouse, our short tour of Tybee Island came to a close.  But our takeaways remain with us.

What to See at Tybee Island:  

  • Downtown shops offering sea-related items — funky, affordable, and fun
  • A wide natural beach open to the public
  • Restaurants that welcome you in casual dress and feed you the seafood you crave
  • Beachy-comfortable but not lavishly luxurious (or expensive) accommodations
  • Well-preserved lighthouse, battery, and museum — easy for exploring (except for the lighthouse climb)

And there’s more to see if you have more than one day, of course.  Have you been to Tybee Island?  If so, let us know what you enjoyed.  It’s great to go coasting!

Flying the flag over Tybee Island Lighthouse

Flying the flag over Tybee Island Lighthouse

For more information:

Discover Tybee Island (Website)

Tybee Lighthouse and Museum (Website and Facebook)

TripAdvisor Tybee Island (Website)

The Breakfast Club (Website and Facebook)

Stingray’s (Website)

Georgia on my Mind: Official Georgia Tourism and Tourist Site (Website)

Explore Georgia (Facebook and Twitter)

 

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