A Getaway to the Beaches of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia
Wedding planning is a stressful time in your life so it's only right to give yourself a little reward for planning an event for 100+ people. My perfect reward? A mini getaway. An even more perfect reward? A getaway to the sunny beaches of Florida and Georgia. I don't know if it qualified as a "little" reward but it was absolutely perfect and helped me calm down (and get a bit more tan) to prepare for our big day.
Travel is in my blood and I was so excited to get to take this trip with my mom, the only person who is better at planning adventures than me. Plus she was by my side through the whole year of wedding planning and deserved a little time away too. If you and your mom get along, I highly recommend a mother/daughter trip. You will double the time you get to go shopping, triple the amount of wine you consume, and talk and gossip without the other person's eyes glazing over.
When we first set out to plan our mini vacation there were only a few stipulations: we only wanted to be away for 4-5 days max and, if we were going to fly, it had to be around $200...round trip. When I say my mom is good, I mean she's really good. She narrowed it down to several places in Florida and then passed those recommendations on to me. When I realized how close some of those places were to southern Georgia, specifically the Golden Isles, I convinced her we should try to stay on Saint Simon's Island.
Now Nick and I went on a vacation to Georgia before but I take every opportunity to visit that section of the Georgia coast. Blame it on one idyllic summer internship on Jekyll Island. So my mom and I did a little more research and planned the perfect mini getaway to northern Florida's beaches and Saint Simon's Island.
Our adventures started in Florida, specifically Amelia Island. When we landed late on Sunday night, we didn't feel comfortable driving all the way to Georgia (about a two and a half hour drive). Someone suggested we visit Amelia Island and we found a pretty inexpensive Days Inn about a half block from the beach.
We didn't spend much time on Amelia Island so I can't tell you much about it. It was pretty typical for Florida beaches: a nice, wide beach, lots of seashells, and warm waters. The night we got in we ate at Sliders Seaside Grill, right on the beach with live music some nights. It was pretty basic food-wise but I can imagine it would be a lot of fun not on a Sunday night when you're pretty exhausted. After dipping our toes in the water, we drove around and explored the mostly residential and golf-oriented island. I like Florida but my heart will always belong to Georgia so it was a no-brainer to head up the coast and on to Saint Simon's.
When I was living on Jekyll Island, I didn't know much about St. Simons. That's because I never took the time to explore and there is a lot to explore. St. Simons has lots of cozy seaside hotels, inns, and resorts and amazing restaurants of every type. There are also historic sites like Fort Frederica and Christ Church and historic slave quarters. Plus the beach is free (a novelty for us Jersey girls) and the water is the perfect temperature.
We stayed at the Village Inn and Pub which is officially my favorite hotel in America. A refurbished apartment building with a historic past, it's pretty much the most beautiful accommodation on the whole island. Plus it's a two minute walk to Pier Village, a set of shops and restaurants that end with the fishing pier. Also, if you are obsessed with Spanish moss like I am, this is your dream spot.
Our top priority was beach time but we did a little exploring and shopping too. Oh and eating. Because I cannot go on vacation without trying to find the best food possible. Our two favorite finds on the trip: CJ's Italian Restaurant and Southern Soul BBQ. Both were serendipitous finds and that's what I love about this island. You will stumble upon the greatest things without even trying. CJ's was caddy corner from our hotel and is a shoebox size restaurant with pretty much the best pizza I've ever had south of the Mason-Dixon line. It's also got a whole eclectic design thng going on which makes it feel like a total secret treasure.
I nearly missed Southern Soul since it's right on a traffic circle in the middle of the island. Traffic circles should be banned down South because, I'm sorry to say this, nobody there knows how to drive through one. Yield and stop are not the same thing, okay? Thankfully I was able to navigate my way through the circle and eat some super delicious barbecue. Apparently Southern Soul has been featured plenty of places, including on Diners. Drive-ins, and Dives. It's easy to see why: the meat and sides are delicious. And just like with pizza, I know what I'm talking about. Mom and I decided we could probably have eaten there the whole trip but I would not have been able to fit in my wedding dress.
Like I said, we were mostly focused on getting in beach time but we did manage to check out some historic sites. Taking a drive a little farther north on the island we visited Christ Church, a historic Episcopalian church with beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows. The visiting hours were later in the day but we did get to wander the grounds and take a quick peek inside when they were getting ready for morning prayers.
I could not have visited the area without returning to Jekyll Island. There's a saying that once your feet have touched the sands of Jekyll, you'll always come back. So far this seems to be true and I wish I could visit more! Jekyll Island used to be the playground of the millionaires and billionaires during the Gilded Age, the late 1800s to early 1900s. Industry tycoons like William Rockfeller and J.P. Morgan built beautiful "cottages" that look more like mansions and networked with one another at the Jekyll Island Club. Now the club is a hotel and the cottages have been restored and are part of a museum. It is truly an amazing place to visit. A good comparison would be Newport, Rhode Island but this definitely has some heavy southern charm. In recent years the island has been completely redeveloped on its eastern side (opposite from the museum) and it's becoming more like Saint Simons with restaurants and hotels while still maintaining its historic roots. Plus they've kept the Rah Bar on the dock so I can't complain.
Besides the historic sites, there is Driftwood Beach. I didn't think anything of it when I lived there except that it was very unique but apparently it's one of the most romantic spots in the U.S. Which is probably why we saw two different weddings being set up on the sand while we were exploring.
The airport we were flying home from was in Saint Augustine so, since we'd never been and had heard it was a good spot to explore, our next stop was historic Saint Augustine city and Saint Augustine Beach.
Like I said, I'm not a big Florida fan but a beach is a beach. The historic part of Saint Augustine turned out to be filled with tourists (it's summer, duh) and it was really, really hot (again, it's summer, duh). But we made the most out of our short day and a half stay.
Probably our greatest find was, once again, serendipitous. Because it was so hot, we decided to skip walking and hopped back into our rental car. I had the brilliant idea of tailing on of those multi-car trolley tours. This led us through the Freedom trail and part of the historic African American neighborhood and then quite perfectly to the doorstep of St. Augustine Distillery.
St. Augustine Distillery is pretty much the coolest. You know I'm a big craft beer fan and don't generally delve much into cocktails. But seriously this distillery founded only a few years ago is amazing. The distillery is located in Florida's oldest ice plant in the nation's oldest city and is producing delicious spirits. I believe they'd like their main focus to be bourbon but for right now (since bourbon has to chill for two years before it's ready) they're producing vodka and gin. I am NOT a vodka or gin person but I'm going to hope and pray that they start distributing their spirits up here. Our tour guide made us a Florida mule and I pretty much fell in love. The other thing I loved? The distillery shares its warehouse space with a speakeasy-style restaurant called Ice Plant.
Ice Plant is probably the coolest restaurant/bar I've been to this year so far. The whole concept is Prohibition era decor and really, really excellent cocktails. Because the bar is located in an old ice plant they are committed to using pure ice in blocks that the bartenders actually cut pieces from when they're making your drink. We weren't super hungry but I had pretzel bread and I'm pretty sure I died and went to heaven while I was there.
I've found that no matter how well you think you know a place or how many times you've already been there, there is always something new to discover. I would love to commit to taking more trips and having more new experiences, even if they are in the same old place. Having this mother/daughter getaway in Georgia and Florida was absolutely perfect and I'm sure I'll be back there soon.
Places I loved on St. Simons:
Bubba Garcia's (a MUST on St. Simons)
Gnat's Landing (so Southern and so good)
Moo Cow Cream (great ice cream with fun mix-ins in a converted garage)
Places I loved in Florida:
Saint Augustine Distillery, Saint Augustine
Ice Plant Bar, Saint Augustine
Salt Life Food Shack (seafood restaurant and bar created by the famous beach brand) Saint Augustine Beach
Mango Mangos (Caribbean food with a beach town twist) Saint Augustine Beach