Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Welcome to Southern Charm: Savannah, the Golden Isles & St. Augustine

Dreaming of tropical isles, but no plans to head to Hawaii anytime soon? Have I got some good news for you. There are several beautiful islands right off the coast of Georgia, happily situated about halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, FL.  The group of islands known collectively as the Golden Isles are clumped together about an hour south of Savannah, at the fattest part of Georgia, where the state gains a coastline. St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, and Little St. Simons Island are near the coastal town of Brunswick. The most exclusive of these and the priciest is Sea Island. Unless you are staying on Sea Island or know someone who lives or is staying there, you are going to be stopped at the gate to the island as you cross over from St. Simons. St. Simons is lovely all on its own and there are plenty of places to stay there, not quite as pricey as Sea Island, but, especially during the height of the tourist season, accommodations can be high. There are several places to stay, including a campground, on Jekyll Island, which is totally owned by the state of Georgia and has more of a back to nature personality. Little St. Simons Island is privately owned and only accommodates 32 overnight guests in its 16 room lodge. There are no permanent residents on Little St. Simons. It is the only one of these four that is only accessible by boat. While the Little St. Simons Lodge is rustic, prices are higher just because they are so limited. If money is no option and you really want to be right on the beach, staying on any of these islands would be lovely. But if you prefer to save a little money on lodging, Brunswick may be your best bet.

Recently, on a trip to visit JD, who spent his summer on St. Simons (I know, poor thing.) we decided to stay in Brunswick for two reasons. First, we waited until the last minute to make our reservations and second, I was traveling with my mom, dad and my mom's cousin, Pat, and I knew hanging out on the beach was not what they would want to be doing during the day. No point in paying for a beach view if you really aren't planning on spending time on the beach.

We were going to be entertaining ourselves during the day while JD was at work and meeting up to spend time with him at night. For that reason we knew we wanted to have our home base near St. Simons. If I were just going to explore the coast, I would probably not stay in one place, but change hotels as I traveled up or down the coast. There are so many options of places to visit on this part of the country. Depending on how much time you have, you could start in St. Augustine, travel north and visit the beaches at Jacksonville, stop off for some sun and relaxation on Amelia Island, take a ferry to Cumberland Island, check out Brunswick and the Golden Isles, stroll through the little shrimping village of Darien, plan a ferry boat ride to Sapelo Island, do a little shopping on Tybee and then take in all that Savannah has to offer. Or you could do the trip in reverse. Then again, you could divide this itinerary into seven different trips because, while the distance isn't that great, each location has many things to offer: 1. Savannah and Tybee, 2. Sapelo, Darien and Brunswick, 3. Golden Isles, 4. Cumberland Island, 5. Amelia Island, 6. Jax Beaches, and 7. St. Augustine.

Here is how our week went.

Monday, Day One, Arrive in Brunswick, Dinner at JinRight's

We got up early and drove to Brunswick, checked in to our hotel and freshened up a bit and rested until JD got off work. It was raining by the time we headed out to dinner (it rained every single day of our trip), so JD suggested a seafood restaurant near our hotel called, Jinright's.

JD and I decided to share a plate called the house platter for two. For two! More like eight! That thing was massive. JD ended up with two large to-go boxes to take home. It included shrimp, oysters, scallops, fish, stuffed crab, clam strips, hushpuppies, green beans, coleslaw, and sweet potato fries. I had never seen anything like it. After dinner, JD headed off to St. Simons and we ended our long day back at the hotel to get ready for Tuesday.

Tuesday, Day Two,  St. Simons, Jekyll Island, Zachry's and Crabdaddy's

 We got up early and headed off to check out St. Simons in the daytime. We found some cute shops near the St. Simons pier, bought some of the most delicious pralines at the St. Simons Sweet Shop and drove over to the St. Simons Lighthouse. Luckily, we had just ducked into the Lighthouse museum and gift shop when the bottom fell out. We hung out there for a while until the storm passed and then drove around a little more before heading over to Jekyll Island.

State owned, Jekyll Island, has a toll bridge, so get ready to pony up a few dollars when you head that way. We asked for suggestions for lunch as we paid the toll and were directed to Zachry's. Once again luck was with us, because buckets started pouring from the sky minutes after we were seated at Zachry's. I had a great oyster po'boy. Not quite sure why I failed to get a picture of any of our food, but not to worry. we ended up at Zachry's again on our last day, so I got a few pics then.

After lunch we drove around the beautiful island, admiring the elegant Clubhouse, as well as the gorgeous scenery. If you're interested in learning more about sea turtles, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is on Jekyll Island.

We left Jekyll Island and headed back to Brunswick to get ready for dinner with JD. He and a couple of his buddies planned to meet us at Crabdaddy's on St. Simons. Crabdaddy's sits on  Ocean Boulevard next door to another seafood restaurant called Crab Shack. We didn't get a chance to visit Crab Shack on this visit, but I can tell you we really enjoyed Crabdaddy's. I had red snapper with roasted red pepper and jalapeƱo cream sauce. Once again, I completely failed on the picture taking front, but, trust me on this. We all loved our food.

 Wednesday, Day Three, Darien, Sapelo Visitor's Center, Tybee, Savannah, Wormsloe, Bonaventure Cemetery, Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House and Zuzu's

We decided to drive north to Savannah, checking out any interesting sights in our path. We passed through Darien, a quaint shrimping village and took a few detours to check out the town.  We needed more time in Darien, but we had so much to do. At one point we saw signs for Sapelo Island and decided to investigate. I already knew a few things about Sapelo. First it is home to a community of saltwater Geechees, descendants of former slaves, who speak a language all their own, which is a mix of English and African. The Geechees retain just three-percent of the island in a community known as Hog Hammock. The remaining 97 percent of Sapelo Island is owned by the state of Georgia.  In an effort to bring some economic stability to the community and attention to one of the Geechees flavorful crops, the Hog Hammock Geechees are partnering with companies to grow and sell Sapelo Island red peas. In addition to the peas, the company will also be selling Sapelo Island purple ribbon sugar cane and Sapelo Island sour oranges.

We pulled up to the Sapelo Island visitors center. The parking lot was full, but as we entered the building, we could not see any signs of the people the cars belonged to. As we looked at the exhibits, we learned that RJ Reynolds, of tobacco fame, had owned the island at one time and had a large mansion built on the island. Sapelo also has its own lighthouse. From talking to the museum staff, we also learned that the only boat to the island had already left for the day and there would not be another until Friday. Traffic to the island is very limited.We were sad that we had missed the ferry and agreed we needed to put Sapelo Island on our trip the next time we visit. As we walked back outside, I stepped onto some soggy, pine straw covered ground only to quickly step back when hundreds of black bug looking things scattered. What I initially thought might have been roaches, turned out to be tiny black crabs. They were everywhere.

We left the Sapelo Island visitors center and continued on toward Savannah. As we neared the city, we made a few detours, first to Tybee Island, and then on to Wormsloe and Bonaventure Cemetery. Those were all places I had been to in March, but I wanted my mom, daddy and Pat to see them. Bonaventure looked quite different than it did in spring when all the azaleas were blooming. It was still beautiful, but it is hard to beat Bonaventure in spring.

We did find the famous statue of little Gracie Watson, the five year old daughter of the former manager of the Pulaski House Hotel. Gracie died of pneumonia in 1889.

We left Bonaventure and headed on into the city. Savannah in summer is lovely and green. The shady trees give the streets and sidewalks welcome relief from the relentless Savannah heat, even on a cloudy day. When we got to Mrs. Wilkes, we found a line of folks leading from the sidewalk to the door of the restaurant. We got in line, wondering if we had waited too late. As it turned out, we were the next to the last group admitted before the doors closed for the day.

Mrs. Wilkes serves visitors family style and small groups are seated with other small groups to fill up the tables, much as Miss Mary Bobo does in Lynchburg. The southern style smorgasbord is also reminiscent of Miss Bobo's. The main difference is, while both menus are bountiful, Miss Bobo has about half the number of dishes served at Mrs. Wilkes. We felt Mrs. Wilkes could cut the menu in half, focus on quality, rather than quantity, and still have a great menu. The food was good, and especially for those unfamiliar with southern cooking, it is certainly an experience. The other main difference between Mrs. Wilkes and Miss Bobo is Miss Bobo is a stickler for rules. All dishes are passed to the left so that no one misses a dish. At Mrs. Wilkes, the dishes are simply placed on the tables and it is up to the diners to make sure they get the dishes they want. With no fewer that 26 dishes on the table, this is difficult. 

Next we headed into the heart of Savannah for lunch. We decided to try Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House because we had heard so much about it and none of us had been before.

Thursday, Day Four, Sea Island, Southern Tide, Colt and Alison


Friday, Day Five, St. Augustine, Oldest House, The Floridian, Cuban Cafe and Bakery, The Porch

Saturday, Day Six, Airboat Ride on Jekyll Island, Zachry's, Beachcomber

Three Friends and a Fork
Three Friends and a Fork

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