Rich History and Natural Beauty
Don’t let wild horses keep you away from Brunswick and the Golden Isles. The historic mainland port city of Brunswick is experiencing a renaissance, with the restoration of many buildings in its National Historic District. New antique and specialty shops, galleries and restaurants are bringing life to downtown. The Golden Isles—St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Sea and Jekyll Islands—are nothing less than vacation paradises. And just to the south Cumberland Island, a National Seashore famous for its wild horses, is not to be missed. Legend has it that once the sand of the Golden Isles is in your shoes, you’ll forever wish to return.
Brunswick has an appealing nostalgic flavor with rowhouse-style buildings decked out with awnings and cobblestone sidewalks shaded by palm trees. The town was named for Braunsweig, Germany, the birthplace of King George II of England, who granted the land charter for the state that was then named in his honor. Its streets are laid out in a grid pattern, much like Savannah’s, and it’s no coincidence—both cities were designed by James Oglethorpe.
Once known as the capital of “Shrimp Country,” Brunswick still has an active shrimping fleet, and if you visit Mary Ross Waterfront Park on the East River near Brunswick Landing Marina in the late afternoon, you may see fishermen unloading their hauls. The shrimp start their lives in the vast stretches of marshland, called the Marshes of Glynn, that surround the Golden Isles and Brunswick—the same marshes that Georgia poet Sidney Lanier wrote about in his famous poem of the same name.
St. Simons Island is the most developed of the Golden Isles, with a mix of residences and resorts. Visitors come for the beaches, of course, but also to golf, shop and take in some history. During the Revolutionary War and later, St. Simons Island’s prized oak timbers were milled for use in warship construction, including “Old Ironsides,” a.k.a. the USS Constitution, built in 1794 and still afloat in Massachusetts as the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy. After the war large cotton and rice plantations were established where the trees once stood, bringing prosperity to the area—for a time. The Civil War brought the end of the plantation era, and the island struggled economically until steamships started bringing tourists to the island in the late nineteenth-century.
Jekyll Island has been a place for gracious living since the eighteenth-century, and in 1886 it became one of the most exclusive resorts in the U.S., when some of the wealthiest American families—the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Astors and Rockefellers, to name a few—formed the Jekyll Island Club and built enormous “cottages” nearby to spend their winters in. In 1904 Munsey’s Magazine described the Jekyll Island Club as “richest, most exclusive and least accessible club,” in the country. It operated until the days before World War II. The state of Georgia bought the island in 1947 and has done an excellent job combining limited development of hotels and residences while protecting a fascinating historic district and vast natural areas.
Cumberland Island, the largest and southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands, is like no place else in the world. Although people lived on the 18-mile-long island dating back to the Native Americans, its natural areas remain unspoiled. Wild horses cavort on its beaches; live oaks provide a shade canopy over roads and hiking trails; deer roam in maritime forests and shorebirds dance and dive. The ruins of an old mansion, the one-room First African Baptist Church (where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in 1996) and Plum Orchard, the grand 1898-built Georgian Revival Mansion, all have stories to tell. The island was designated a National Seashore in 1972 and protected from further development.
Things to See and Do
If you had a week to spend in Brunswick and the nearby Sea Islands, you still couldn’t see and do everything. For starters, the beaches are incomparable and stretch out along the ocean side of all the islands for miles and miles. They’re great for beachcombing, seeing wildlife and, of course, sunning and swimming. At night, if you are lucky you’ll see loggerhead sea turtles. The females have been laying their eggs along the Golden Isles Beaches for centuries. The new Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island (see below) leads guided evening sea-turtle walks and morning hatchling walks during the mating season in the summer months.
Then, of course, there’s golf and tennis, with many courses and courts to choose from. Among them are: the Jekyll Island Golf Courses (912-635-3636) and Sea Palms Golf & Tennis Resort (912-638-3351) on St. Simons. Other tennis options are the clay courts at Jekyll Island Tennis Center (912-635-3154) or the Jekyll Island Hotel (912-635-2600). And for whole-family fun, try Jekyll Island Miniature Golf (912-635-2648) or the Links, an 18-hole mini-course near the Pier in St. Simons Village. Another family diversion is the Summer Waves Water Park (912-635-2074, www.summerwaves. com) which has tube rides, water slides, a wave pool and kiddie pool.
You’ll need wheels to do any island hopping, and Avis, Enterprise and Hertz all have outlets in the area. Or if you prefer to let someone else do the driving, your marina can help you get a taxi. Customers of Golden Isles Marina can borrow a courtesy car to do errands or go to the grocery store, but loaner-car use is strictly limited to one hour. On Jekyll Island, glorified red golf carts, called Red Bugs, have recently become a favored form of transportation. These small electric cars, which come in two-, four- and six-passenger varieties, can be rented from Red Bug Motors (912-635-9330, www. redbugmotors.com) at the Jekyll Airport.
Alternatively, you can get around on two wheels and take in the scenery at your own pace. The flat island terrain makes pedaling easy. Bike rentals are available on St. Simons at Benji’s Bike Service (912-638-6766), Barry’s Beach Service (912-638-8053), Monkeywrench Bicycles (912-634-5551), Ocean Motion Surf Co. (912-638-5225) and Wheel Fun Rentals (912-634-0606), which also has an outlet on Jekyll Island (912-635-9801). Jekyll Island Bicycle Rental (912- 635-3636) also rents on this island, where there are 20 miles of paved bike paths. Bike rentals are also available on the pier at Cumberland Island.
For a trip through the area’s poetry-inspiring marshes, contact Marsh Tours (912-638-9354, www.marshtours. com) for narrated pontoon boat rides that depart from the Hampton River Club at the north end of St. Simons. For an even closer look at the grasses, birds, fish and dolphin that live in the creeks between the islands, you can take a kayak tour or rent one to explore your own. SouthEast Adventure Outfitters (www.southeastadventures.com) offers tours from two locations: St. Simons Island (912-638-6732) and Spanky’s Marshland on Highway 17 in Brunswick (912-265- 5292). Tidelands Nature Center (912-635-3636) on Jekyll Island offers canoe and paddle boat rentals and leads guided kayak tours. The center also has an aquarium, exhibits and offers guided nature walks.
Lady Jane (912-257-1558, www.credlesadventures.com,)is a working shrimp boat that runs shrimping and dolphin tours from Spanky’s Marshland on Highway 17 in Brunswick. You get to watch (and help) the crew drop and haul in the net. Dolphin in search of a free meal often follow the boat. The St. Simons Transit Co. (912-638-5678, www.saintsimonstransit. com) also runs dolphin tours.
The Village at the southern end of St. Simons is a good place to begin your visit. There you can drop into the visitor center for information or take an antique trolley-tour of the island run by St. Simons Trolley (912-638-8954). Tours depart daily at 11 a.m. at the Trolley Stop at the pier on Mallery Street. This downtown area is filled with shops, galleries and restaurants and is just a stone’s throw from the 104-foot-tall St. Simons Lighthouse and Museum (912-638-4666, www. saintsimonslighthouse.org). If you are up for climbing 129 steps, you’ll get a fabulous view of the surrounding islands, marshes and sea. The same organization also runs the Maritime Center, a museum with interactive displays in the Old Coast Guard Station, which opened in April 2006. Another historic site worth visiting is the Fort Frederica National Monument, which includes the ruins of a fort built in the 1730s. The National Park Service offers tours that highlight the colonial era on the island, and there is a visitor center and film to help you get oriented.
St. Simons has several shopping areas, many with very upscale boutiques and clothing stores, and, as is usually the case, with places rich in natural beauty, the island boasts many art galleries full of high-quality works. “Olde” is big around these parts too, with seemingly endless antiquing opportunities.
While Jekyll Island was once the exclusive playground of the very, very rich, it welcomes everyone today. There is no better way to start a visit than at the Jekyll Island Museum (912-635-4036). The small museum shares space with a horse stable on Stable Road and has exhibits about the island’s past. But the museum is more than a building. Its mission is the preservation of the 11-mile long island’s historic, architectural and archeological resources, most notably the Historic Landmark District, which includes the Jekyll Island Club and several of the nineteenth-century tycoons’ “cottages.” An excellent narrated tram tour includes guided visits to several buildings and wonderful trivia about the customs of the rich and famous. Carriage ride tours (remember those stables), run by Victoria’s Carriage and Beach Trail Rides (912-635-9500), also depart from the museum. The 200-acre Historic District is a fine place to walk around. You can stop by the Jekyll Island Club for a cocktail or cup of coffee and then browse through the shops housed in some of the historic buildings.
The island’s newest attraction is the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (912-635-4444, www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org), which opened in June 2007. The center, in the old power plant in the Historic District, provides state-of-the-art emergency care to sick and injured sea turtles. Its staff does scientific research and runs public education programs. Exhibits tell the story of sea turtle conservation, rehabilitation and their amazing journey from egg to adulthood.
Although guidebooks tell you that Cumberland Island is accessible only by ferry from the National Park Service Visitor Center (912-882-4335, www.nps.gov/cuis) in St. Marys, the truth is that private boats are welcome to call at the island and tie up at one of two public docks (see Navigation and Anchorages), or to anchor off the island and dinghy ashore. In addition to its pristine beaches, the island has 50 miles of hiking trails that meander through maritime forests, wetlands and historic districts. You’re likely to meet up with feral horses (who won’t bother you if you don’t bother them) and see all kinds of seabirds and other wildlife. Rental bicycles are available at the Sea Camp dock and you are free to ride on any of the car-free public roads (but not the hiking trails). Park Rangers lead history and nature walks, during which you can see the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion, built by the Carnegie family; the nearby Ice House Museum, which contains island artifacts; and the Plum Orchard Mansion. There are campsites on the island, as well as the exclusive 16-room Greyfield Inn (904-261-6408, www.greyfieldinn.com), which offers the island’s only accommodations. And that’s all there is! You can get drinking water at the dock, but there are no convenience stores where you can buy snacks, drinks sunscreen or insect repellant, so be sure to bring what you need.
Restaurants & Provisions
Shrimp, Brunswick stew and Lowcountry boil are local specialties that you’ll find on most menus, and they’re well worth trying. Fresh Georgia shrimp are sweet and succulent and far more delicious than any we have eaten up North. Brunswick stew, invented you-know-where, is a blend of meats and vegetables simmered all the livelong day in a peppy tomato-based broth. (You can see the pot in which the original batch of Brunswick stew was made at the visitor center at Route 17 and the St. Simons Island Causeway.) And Lowcountry boil is a hearty combination of shrimp, sausage, potatoes, onions and corn.
You won’t go hungry in Brunswick and the Golden Isles. A local guide book lists 150 restaurants in the area, including some fine local eateries and reliable chain restaurants located along the highway. If you’re tied up at Brunswick Landing in downtown Brunswick, you’ll find character and good food in a few small neighborhood places. Among the noteworthy are Cargo Portside Grill (912-267-7330), which serves coastal fare from many ports, and Pearl (912-265-0111), which specializes in French, Asian and American cuisine.
St. Simons Island has a wide array of choices, starting with the Coastal Kitchen and Raw Bar (912-638-7790), which opened in Spring 2007 at Golden Isles Marina and has great views and memorable shrimp. The Village at the south end of St. Simons Island presents several mealtime options. On Mallery Street you’ll feel comfortable at Barbara Jean’s (912-634-6500), a homey eatery known for its crabcakes, meat loaf and “chocolate stuff.” You can’t beat the location for indoor and outdoor dining at Brogen’s (912-638-1660) near the pier, which has been serving “casual good ol’ Southern food” for 25 years. Also by the pier, try the Oasis Seaside Restaurant & Deck (912-638-2424) for fine meats and fish, or Zuzu’s (912-638-8655), for handheld fare, ice cream, and malts. We also recommend Mullet Bay (912- 638-0703), where you can savor the seafood specialties out on the porch. Just beyond the kiosk shops on Mallery Street you’ll find the Georgia Sea Grill (912-638-1197), a lovely establishment known for its excellent cuisine. Otherwise, you can drive or hop a cab out to Route 341/25 where you’ll find shopping and dining galore.
At Jekyll Harbor Marina, SeaJay’s (912-635-3200) features local seafood, handmade stews, chowders and salads. People line up for its Lowcountry boil, and on weekends, there’s live music. Over at the Jekyll Island Historic Wharf, where J.P. Morgan used to dock his yacht, at Latitude 31 (912-635-3800) the bill of fare includes steak and seafood. The adjacent Rah Bar is a local favorite for casual outdoor dining with an emphasis on oysters, clams, and of course, shrimp.
At the elegant Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Vincent’s Pub (912-635-2600) is a quaint old-English style place with food, wine, beer and spirits. The mealtime experience in the Grand Dining Room is like going back in time The casually-attired can feast on breakfast and lunch, but dinner is more formal with tasteful piano music and a requirement that men wear jackets. Some of the oceanfront hotels feature restaurants. You’ll find Zachry’s Seafood Restaurant (912-635-3128) and a market in the Beachside Shopping Center at Fortson and Beachview.
On Cumberland Island, the choices are plain drinking water at the dock or an elegant dinner (reservations required) Monday through Thursday nights at the Greyfield Inn (904- 261-6408). So unless you are ready for a really big splurge ($118.83 per person, including tax and tip as of August 2007, alcoholic beverages not included), it’s best to pack snacks, lunches and beverages.
Use ChartKit Region 6, page 37, 38 and 65; also Maptech electronic and NOAA paper charts 11489 (1:40,000), 11502 (1:80,000) and 11506 (1:40,000).
Navigation and Anchorages
Atlantic Ocean Entrance to St. Simons Sound The Brunswick/St. Simons Sound Inlet is one of the easiest and most straightforward on the Georgia coast. The shipping channel (controlling depth: 30 feet) begins approximately 10 miles out to sea at RW “STS” Mo(A) WHIS—the Brunswick Harbor-Bar Channel. Be sure to stay in the well-marked channel as you may see depths as low as three feet, just outside the channel some 5 miles from shore. Between G “15” Q G BELL and R “16” Q R the Bar Channel takes more of a westerly turn, passing south of St. Simons Island, and empties into St. Simons Sound. From the channel entrance it is about 12 miles to Golden Isles Marina on the east shore of Lanier Island; 15 miles to Brunswick Landing Marina in downtown Brunswick; and 16 miles to Jekyll Harbor Marina on Jekyll Creek.
Southbound on the ICW South of Sapelo Island, the ICW lazily meanders south along the Mackay River. Just north of Fl G 4s 12ft 4M “241” (SM 673.4) the river splits around Lanier Island. The eastern fork is deep, but you’re confronted with a nine-foot-high fixed bridge. The bridge blocks your access to Golden Isles Marina just to its south. To get there, you’ll have to continue down the ICW, along the western shore of Lanier Island. At SM 674.2 you’ll pass under the 65-foot-high fixed bridge. Continue south along Lanier Island’s western shore, and follow the ICW marks along a dangerously shallow area that extends from the island almost all the way to Fl G 2.5s 12ft 3M “249.” To reach Golden Isles Marina (912- 634-1128), turn north at this mark toward G “1” and R “2,” and follow the channel to the marina. You’ll notice a designated anchorage on Lanier Island’s eastern shore— while the holding ground is OK, currents can rip through here. You’ll be more comfortable at the marina, and it’s an excellent choice.
From Fl G 2.5s 12ft 3M “249” south of Lanier Island, you can head east, out to sea, or continue southeast to R “20” Q R and follow the ICW southbound. From R “20,” keep south of R “22” Fl R 4s as a visible shallow area sits to the north—although it shouldn’t cause problems. From here, continue southwest on the ICW, which jumps into Jekyll Creek. The Brunswick River takes off to the west, leading to Brunswick.
Brunswick The main channel to Brunswick is very wide and simple to navigate. About one mile west-northwest of R “26” Fl R 4s and G “27” Fl G 2.5s, the cable-stayed Sidney Lanier Bridge crosses the Brunswick River with a vertical clearance of 185 feet. West of the bridge, the Turtle River then takes off to the west and the East River departs to the north, between Brunswick and Andrews Island. The full-service, first class Brunswick Landing Marina (912-262-9264) with all of its amenities, sits along the Brunswick waterfront.
Jekyll Creek The creek is narrow with mud flats on both sides. Both Sea Tow and many cruisers cite the creek as one of the trouble spots on the Georgia section of the ICW. Sea Tow Brunswick (912-280-9428) captains suggest avoiding it at low tide and transiting at mid-tide or better when the water is rising, as there are shallow spots even in the channel. In May 2007, we saw depths of less than four feet in the channel near Fl G 4s 12ft 4M “17” north of the Latham River. Running aground will hurt your schedule more than your boat. The bottom is “fluff” mud, said Drew Orr and Jamie Kavanaugh, general mangers of Brunswick Sea Tow. “It’s like running into a bowl of pudding.” Some dredging was going on, with the spoils being deposited on a new, and at that time, uncharted island outside the channel at approximately 31º06.855’ N; 81º26.105’ W. At SM 684.3, you’ll come to a fixed bridge (vertical clearance: 65 feet). Just south of the bridge at SM 684.3 is the very transient-friendly Jekyll Harbor Resort Marina (912-635-3137). Cumberland River The Cumberland River is generally deep, and navigation is easy until you reach R “40” (SM 695.9). Leave it to the west to avoid a bar that juts out from the mainland. To visit the northern end of Cumberland Island bear left into Brickhill River. There is a good anchorage near Abraham Point, from which you can dinghy ashore. Another good spot is near the southern end of Brickhill near the Plum Orchard Mansion. A more straightforward route is to follow the Cumberland River to the southern end of the island and turn into an unmarked channel, known locally as the Dungeness-Greyfield Channel, which runs along the island’s western shore with 9 to 10 feet of water as far north as the Greyfield Inn.
Coming from the north, make your turn toward shore at SM 711.5, just north of R “34.” This channel, which is also used by the ferry, will take you to the Dungeness ruins and two docks run by the National Park Service, where you can tie up for the day, or anchor off and dinghy ashore. There is no overnight docking, but you can spend the night on the hook.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
Airport: Jacksonville International Airport 904-741-4902
Coast Guard: Brunswick 912-267-7999
Police, Fire, Ambulance: 911
Taxi: Yellow Cab 912-265-9985
Train: AMTRAK 800-872-7245
—Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW
—TowBoatU.S. 800-391-4869 F