St. Simons Island is one of the 11 barrier islands situated on the coast of Georgia in Glynn County and the largest of the state’s Golden Isles.
St. Simons Island was originally home to the Creek Nation tribes, and the English, Spanish, and French contested its territory.
After the English secured the Georgia colony, they cultivated the land, and African slaves worked their rice and cotton plantations from the Civil War to the American Revolution.
Tourism arrived at St. Simons Island in the 19th century and continues to this day because of the island’s loveliness and rich history.
Today, St. Simons Island is a resort community of coastal living, natural beauty, historical vitality, and warm weather year-round.
At 18 miles long, the island remains a sight to behold, with its winding streets, moss-lined oaks, stunning beaches, and charming villages.
Here you can find plenty of island activities, tour historic sites, get engaged in outdoor recreation, and soak in the welcoming and sunny vibe of the island community.
Plan your latest vacation escape now with this list of the best things to do in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
Discover Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Frederica was one of the first settlements in Georgia, an important landmark of war, history, and village life.
In the 1700s, Georgia was the center of a conflict between Spain and Britain, and in 1736, James Oglethorpe established Fort Frederica to protect his southern boundary, a fortress on the coast that grew into a thriving village.
The troops at Fort Frederica eventually defeated the Spanish, which sealed Georgia’s fate as a British Colony.
Today, the archeological relics of Fort Frederica remain, still featuring their tabby structures and artifacts from past excavations on excellently maintained and well-preserved grounds.
See eye to eye with this monument of colonial history: walk to the town gates to the strongly-positioned fort; look at the fortifications, barracks, cannons, and moats that were the early settlers’ protection; and spot the building foundations with plaques detailing their histories.
In these remnants, learn the lives of the residents, soldiers, shopkeepers, and artisans and step back into the 1700s.
You will leave the grounds feeling richer with the history and culture that permeate them.
Hang Out at Pier Village
If you want to check out the St. Simons Island social scene, Pier Village is the place to go.
Stroll the pier overlooking St. Simons Sound and Jekyll Island, where you watch vessels go past and see citizens crabbing, fishing, and shrimping.
In the village district, search for handmade clothes at the boutiques, update your beachwear collection or rummage around the specialty shops for trinkets that you can gift back home.
Try the many eateries that line the village, such as Mallery Street Café that serves all-day breakfast, Georgia Sea Grill with its local seafood catches, CJ’s Italian Restaurant for excellent deep dish pizza, and Barbara Jean’s with its Southern fare and famous crab cakes.
Stop by unique places like Frederica Station to pick up fun beach souvenirs, St. Simons Bait and Tackle if you want to replenish your fishing gear, or Island Dog if you need special toys and treats for your pet.
Pier Village is an accessible and family-friendly place where you’ll also encounter community events that promote the pulse and lifestyle of St. Simons Island.
Have a rewarding time connecting to the island community as you explore this bustling village.
Explore St. Simons Lighthouse and Museum
St. Simons Lighthouse is among the oldest working lighthouses in the country, one of the five surviving ones on the entire Georgia coast that still acts as a beacon for ships.
It is an enthralling structure and a highlight of the island featuring 129 steps one can climb for spectacular views of the Atlantic and the surrounding land.
James Gould won the bid to build it in 1807, and President Madison appointed him the first lighthouse keeper.
Confederate soldiers then blew it up in 1861 to keep it from Union hands, and in 1872, others built the structure seen now.
It is also the subject of haunting rumors, owing to the death of lighthouse keeper Fredrick Osbourne, killed in a duel by his assistant, John Stevens.
Today visitors can tour the lighthouse and its museum to find artifacts, period-era exhibits, historical photographs, interactives, and lighthouse technology information in the Keeper’s Dwelling that take you back to 1807 to envision the life of a keeper.
You can also see infographics on naval and island history and an exhibit on Eugenia Price, whose Lighthouse Trilogy tells the story of St. Simons Lighthouse.
Walk on Cannon’s Point Preserve
Cannon’s Point Preserve is 600 acres of forest wilderness and 6 miles of salt marshes, home to wild native species, traced with nature trails, and scattered with ruins.
It has some of the last intact maritime forests on the island and teems with natural and cultural history, and its salt marshes, river shorelines, and tidal creeks serve as the habitat for wildlife such as birds, fish, manatees, and oysters.
On-site, you can find the remains of plantation homes and slave quarters built in the 1800s and shell middens dating back to 2500 BCE.
Along the trails, read interpretive signs pointing out historical and ecological significance sites that enrich the Preserve.
Walk the marshes and the live oak forests, feel the air of nature and wildlife conservation around you, and don’t forget to bring bug protection!
Cannon’s Point Preserve is the site for many recreational escapes such as picnicking, bird watching; nature hiking; bike riding; and canoeing, paddleboarding, or kayaking from the boat launch.
It is a unique area ripe for exploration and a significant section of the natural world on St. Simons Island.
Relax at East Beach
St. Simons Island is among the few beach towns in Georgia where you can enjoy the sun and sand and the constant presence of the ocean all day long.
The sand on the beach is flat and tightly packed, making East Beach the perfect place to bike idyllically by the seaside.
The beach is also pet-friendly, so you can bring your beloved furbabies to trace tracks in the sand and have a splash in the surf.
Spend a day sunning yourself and beachcombing around the shore, or even go surfing, paddle boarding, and kiteboarding, as the waves here are perfect for anyone seeking a milder surf.
Walk and relax with your toes in the soft sand, toss a beach ball or Frisbee to your friends, swim your heart out in the warm and clean water, go looking for teeming tide pools, or just lay out beach chairs and enjoy the horizon view.
Be Amazed by the Avenue of the Oaks
If you’re venturing into the area near Sea Island Golf Course, you’re sure not to miss the magnificent entrance leading up to it.
Centuries-old oak trees draped in moss are all over the sidewalks, parks, and streets of St. Simons Island, and they converge at these magnificent rows that used to be the entrance to Retreat Plantation.
Retreat Plantation was one of the numerous prosperous ice and cotton plantations in St. Simons Island.
People say that Anna Page King, who inherited the plantation in 1826, planted so many flowers that sailors approaching the island could smell their sweet scent before they even saw land.
On the entrance to what used to be Retreat Plantation, King planted this alley of oaks, now over 160 years old.
Walk into this astounding tree tunnel made up of enormous live oaks with dark-green leaves and a vast web of twisting and winding limbs.
The area remains a lovely and well-maintained stretch, with 400 massive live oaks curtained in Spanish moss that feels like they go on forever and their ancient beauty that remains from ages ago.
Follow the avenue, slowly circle back, and remember to take breathtaking photographs of this unparalleled sight.
Seek Out Tree Spirits
Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself looking at a St. Simons Island’s oak tree only to see a weathered face staring back at you.
You have just found one of St. Simons Islands tree spirits!
Here you will see the work of artist, Keith Jennings who sought to leave his mark on the island by carving intricate faces on the ancient oak trees as a symbol of mourning for the many lives lost at sea.
Jennings said he let the wood speak to him, seeking out the tree’s soul and leaving its mark on the viewer’s imagination.
Each face is unique and took the artist days to complete, carefully carved in the wood with their sorrowful faces seeming to reflect the solemn appearance of a moss-covered tree itself.
There are around 20 known tree spirit carvings scattered through St. Simons Island with new faces cropping up all the time, and although some of them are on public property, a popular island custom is to search for tree spirits that everyone can see.
You can acquire a directory to the tree spirits at Golden Isles Welcome Center or embark on your personal scavenger hunt across St. Simons Island for these beautiful carvings.
Visit the Christ Church
Christ Church is an Episcopalian church and among the oldest in the state, founded roughly 70 years after English colonists settled the island.
It is nestled in a sacred area of holly, oak, and cedar trees and is one of the most photographed spots on the island.
Noted ministers John and Charles Wesley made their place here before returning to England, and you can still feel the holy nature of the hallowed grounds where they preached under the live oaks.
The first church structure was built in 1820 but was destroyed during the Civil War by Union troops.
It was rebuilt in 1884 by magnate Anson Dodge into today’s breathtaking structure of stained glass, trussed Gothic roof and a steeple, and cruciform wood.
Attend the services which are open to visitors, pray and contemplate in the holy atmosphere of this historical church, and get transported by the loveliness of the place as you stroll on pathways under mighty moss-draped trees.
Marvel at the plaques that hold information on the church’s past and the old cemetery with the graves of early settlers and well-known Georgians, including author Eugenia Price and state historian Lucien Knight.
You are sure to find serenity and inner peace at this treasured landmark.
Spend Quality Time at Neptune Park
Neptune Park is an oceanfront park where you can sit on picnic tables beneath oak trees, watch the ships and dolphins go by or fish at the pier, and go on a stroll on the grassy pathways by the ocean.
It’s a pleasant place where you can invite your family to wind down after an evening meal or a shopping spree at Pier village.
It’s also an excellent place to spend the day soaking up entertainment, such as their 18-hole mini-golf course, where you can navigate the creative and twisty challenges as you try for a hole in one.
Bring your kids to expend their energy at the large playground where they can slide, cross bridges, climb oak trees, and go on the monkey bars.
Don’t forget to pay a visit to the water park, which has a wading pool for young children, lap lanes if you want to get exercise on the water, water slides so you can make a splash on those hot days, and lifeguards standing watch over it all.
In case your exertions have made you hungry, Neptune Park also has several concession stands, so you will enjoy your refreshments while making up the most of the island sun.
Create Exciting Memories With St. Simons Dolphin and Fishing Tours
St. Simons Dolphin and Fishing tours is a project of lifelong St. Simons Island resident Cap Fendig, a US Marine Coast Guard Captain licensed for 48 years.
He and his wife Catherine take much pleasure in giving people access to the sounds and sights of the wild areas of Georgia through coastal waters and islands.
At their St. Simons Dolphin tours, you can get close and personal with dolphins as you sail in inland waters and marshland rivers and also see birds, manatees, rare wildlife, and other unusual sights.
At the sunset tours, they will bring you into calm waters with twilit and sunset vistas and more dolphins, birds, and wild creatures as a part of the scenic cruise.
During their fishing charter trips, you will have an unforgettable time fishing the widest variety of species on the Georgia coast: flounder, whiting, sea trout, tarpon, drum, and even shark, and fish of various species and sizes are there for the taking.
Their private boat tours will sail you into calm and intimate water trips: looping through Jekyll and St. Simons Island; stopping by the beach to do a bit of shelling; enjoying views of dolphins, shrimp boats, and coastal birds; and traveling the waterways to catch the splendor of nature.
Create vacation memories as you set out on the waters of this matchless side of the Georgia coast.
Discover the World War II Home Front Museum
Discover Georgia’s World War II contributions and extraordinary legacy at this museum, which tells the story of what happened to this coastal region when the United States went to war.
In this landmark chapter of Georgia’s history, learn about the united efforts of home front communities, like St. Simons Island and Brunswick.
Interactive galleries and displays put you in the shoes of plane spotters scouting for enemies, officers directing fighter pilots with radar, and crews of Liberty ships for transportation of critical supplies.
You will be looking through the eyes of Glynn County Americans, who experienced food rationing, blackouts, purchasing war bonds, and sending the sons and daughters of the nation off to war.
On special Tuesdays, listen to Storytellers as they share personal accounts about serving abroad and standing ground on the home front during World War II.
Hear their stories of serving stateside in the Navy hospitals, working aboard Liberty ships, scrapping and making sacrifices for the war effort, and more.
Be deeply humbled by Georgia’s wartime contributions in this remarkable and historical museum.
Spend a Day at Gascoigne Bluff
Gascoigne Bluff holds 24 acres of green space that is there for public use.
Here you can explore picnic pavilions, a pier for fishing, a floating dock, a disc golf course under the oaks, walking trails under waving Spanish moss, and a lot more.
The place takes its name from James Gascoigne, who led Georgia founder James Oglethorpe to safety on St. Simons Island against a Spanish invasion.
Historically, it has been an Indian settlement, military headquarters, a lumber mill, timber shipping headquarters, and a Sea Island cotton plantation, and today it is a site for tourism.
Gascoigne Bluff hosts events such as the Georgia Sea Islands Festival or simple gatherings of food trucks and fishing and picnicking sessions.
Here you can cherish views across the Frederica River and the second largest Southern Red Cedar Tree in Georgia.
The historic tabby slave cabins of the Hamilton plantation are also here, maintained by the Cassina Garden Club, and are a living history example giving tourists a peek at the plantation era and of the artifacts and flora representative of this time in history.
Appreciate Art at Anderson Fine Art Gallery
This elegant and unassuming gallery is a prime destination on the island to see some top-quality original paintings.
It focuses on original American representational art, which celebrates works like still lifes, figure paintings, and landscapes.
You are always guaranteed a beautiful selection of art when you enter the gallery.
At their exhibitions, view the stunningly realistic landscapes and still lifes, strikingly rendered human figures, works of intellectual discovery, post-war and contemporary depictions, sharply realistic oil paintings, dreamy and surreal nature works, and a lot more.
The gallery is known for the excellent artwork, outstanding artists, and exemplary workshops it conducts year long.
At their workshops, professional artists from all over the country with impressive arrays of work tutor small groups of learners at different skill levels, helping them sharpen their art skills.
The gallery is a prime destination for both studio and plein air workshops and nourishes preferences like abstraction or realism in art.
Together these artists enjoy the Georgia hospitality, appreciating the attractive island setting as an artistic muse for their works.
Go to their website to register for class sessions or visit the gallery to appreciate the lovely artwork on display.
Admire Wesley Memorial and Gardens
Tucked between Christ Church and Fort Frederica National Monument is this lovely serene garden.
It was created to commemorate the Georgia dedication of Reverends John and Charles Wesley, key figures of the Christian community in England.
John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist Church, while Charles Wesley wrote a score of hymns and poems, one of which is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
On the Georgia coast, the brothers’ legacy stands firm, but maybe the most affecting memorial to their legacy is this garden dedicated to them, a touching united effort between the Episcopal and Methodist domination.
The garden is a 2-acre bit of earth flowing with native trees and plants and landscaped with more than 4000 azaleas and over 60 varieties of native shrubs.
Gravel paths twist among the plants and the native oaks converging upon the memorial in the middle: a gorgeous 18-foot Celtic cross wrought from Georgia stone.
The azaleas bloom in late March or early April, but the garden remains an attractive spot year-round.
Sit for hours on the benches in the garden, watch butterflies, bring a book to read, compose pretty pictures, or have a solemn meditation as you take in the quiet and wait for the church bells to chime.
Play Golf at King and Prince Golf Course
Do you want to have a tee time on an award-winning golf course during your island vacation?
Look no further than this acclaimed golf course operated by King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort.
Enjoy the challenging layout among marshes, island holes, old-growth forest, and a vast lake, overlooked by a friendly and welcoming clubhouse and staff, and have great coastal playtime.
Check out the place’s signature stretch, a daring design of four holes carved into coastal marsh islands that elevated cart bridges can access at 800 feet.
Renowned architect Joe Lee’s fingerprints are everywhere in the 18-hole course, which winds around stretches of salt marsh, lagoons and lakes, and looming Georgia oaks.
The course also has an exceptional Practice Facility with a 3000 square feet chipping green, a 6500 square feet putting green, and five other target greens.
Make a morning or afternoon of playing at this scenic course and have fun challenging your friends and family to a great golfing session.
St. Simons Island is a great place to get both contemplative and curious about what there is to see.
Take this list along if you’re planning to make the island your next getaway escape.
St. Simons Island beckons any traveler eager to tread on its storied coast with its tranquil attractions and laden history.