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St. Simons Island, GA

A new look at an old favorite

No one would ever say it’s particularly sophisticated to serenade patrons with kazoos at a fine-dining establishment. But that tradition, performed for birthdays at St. Simons’s Blackwater Grill, says a lot about what to expect from a trip to the island: a laid-back beachside experience that’s just shy of upscale and winningly unpretentious.

Consider the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, a yellow-hued cluster of buildings with terra-cotta roofs along a peaceful stretch of hard-packed sand. This historic oceanfront property has long been known as a relaxing retreat, but given that the place could use a few updates—more upscale showers, higher-quality linens, a better-equipped gym—it’s not quite as luxurious a destination as what you’d find on nearby Sea Island.

But the King and Prince, like St. Simons itself, has its special charms. There’s the white-picket walkway above the beach, perfect for a palm-shaded stroll or a breather in one of the porch swings. And there’s the beach itself, private and quiet, despite being surrounded by public areas. A tip: Bring your own beach chair and umbrella. When the tide rises—quickly covering all the sand and splashing the rocks behind—gear is stowed until the water recedes again, making the rentals not worth the daily fee of $28. Head over to the pool at high tide and grab a simple sandwich from the grill, or visit the new Royal Treatment Cottage for a massage (from $95).

Rent a bike to travel the island’s twenty-seven miles of paths, or join spunky guide Bunny Marshall—who introduces herself by handing out peach candy and saying, “First I sweeten you up, and then I take your money”—on the St. Simons Trolley Tour, which will take you past such sites as the St. Simons Island Lighthouse; the 125-plus-year-old Christ Church, Frederica & St. Ignatius Chapel; and Fort Frederica, the ruins of a fort built by English troops in the mid-1730s.

The dining options on St. Simons are mostly variations on the beachside, seafood-shack theme, with fried popcorn shrimp a specialty at Mullet Bay and the Blackwater Sundae—a parfait glass with layers of Brunswick stew, cornbread, and coleslaw—a favorite at the aforementioned Blackwater Grill. The restaurant’s Grouper Daufuskie (a fillet on a bed of caramelized onions and mushrooms, topped with a kicky, mayonnaise-based sauce) was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network. Nearby is the Catch 228 Oyster Bar & Grill, where you can grab a seat on the patio and enjoy cocktails while listening to a funk band. For a more elegant setting, head over to the marina for Coastal Kitchen’s lobster nachos appetizer—a mountain of tortilla chips, onions, avocado, and lumps of lobster—followed by rotating specials such as scallops over cheese grits and garlicky spinach. Despite the white-tablecloth atmosphere, the bar television is visible (and sometimes audible) from the dining room—a detail that’s in keeping with St. Simons’s easygoing personality.

Photograph courtesy of the Golden Isles Convention & Visitors Bureau