You’re about to take a “walk on the wild side.” Just a few steps west on the waterfront sits the Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitors Center. This is your launching point for an incredible wilderness adventure. The Cumberland Island ferry departs at 11:45 (there’s a 9:00 a.m. departure for early birds), so you’ve just enough time to explore the fascinating displays upstairs and visit the gift shop as well. Your 45-minute ferry ride over to what the Travel Channel has ordained as “America’s Most Beautiful Wilderness Beach” allows you time to immerse yourself in that euphoric feeling of being one with the great outdoors. Dolphins may dance along the way. Seagulls perform their silly antics. The dock appears before you, and an adventure like no other beckons. Wild horses, armadillos, wild turkeys, fascinating trails canopied by Spanish moss-laden live oaks, Dungeness mansion ruins, sand dunes, and a picnic lunch on a pristine beach of unrivaled beauty will sear your mind with memories to last a lifetime. The ferry ride back is quieter, reflective of all that you’ve seen and surely marked by a promise that you will come back to this island of wonder. Such a full day calls for a pre-dinner nap. Go ahead. Indulge. Cocktail hour at the inimitable Captain Seagle’s Saloon in the Riverview hotel is a must. (Be forewarned, Miss Cindy Deen, the bartender, is a force to be reckoned with. If you enjoy a good sassin’ and some “tender, lovin’ trash talk,” well, she’s your girl.) And for dinner? Day one begs for a steak and the Silver Star Steahouse (on Osborne just 3 blocks from the waterfront) is the perfect setting.
If you’re fortunate enough to be staying at one of St. Marys’ charming bed and breakfasts, this would be a great morning to request breakfast on the veranda. Again, the birds of St. Marys serenade. History is the theme of Day 2, and St. Marys’ grand dame, Orange Hall, is a natural first stop. Your tour through this stately Greek Revival mansion connects you to a way of life enjoyed by upper crust St. Maryians at the turn of the century. Continue your tour of historical homes (you did pick up a “walking tour map” at the Welcome Center yesterday, didn’t you?) with a stroll around the village. You’ll spot the historical home markers in front of some of the town’s most beautiful homes. Your walk will take you through Georgia’s only historical home tour marked in Braille. Today’s lunch is casual on the waterfront upstairs at Trolley’s. Opt for one of their oversized hamburgers. You can walk it off easily. Stroll west through St. Marys’ beautiful waterfront park, and try to name just one other town in the world that has such a wonderful park right on their waterfront. Take a right at Bartlett Street, and go back even further into history as you gaze at the engravings on Oak Grove Cemetery’s oldest tombstones. Soldiers from every major war are buried there as well as many ill-fated Acadians who fled to the South seeking refuge from the oppressive English. After a lively social hour at your B&B, visit the Coastal Camden Art League’s Gallery. Then have yourself an early dinner at the J' British Pub, just a few blocks up Osborne Street. Return to the waterfront, and share a mesmerizing sunset over the marshes as you glide lazily in an old-fashioned porch swing perched right on the river’s edge.
Ask for an early wake-up call.
Tomorrow, the greatswamp—Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
Great adventure lies in wait on Day 3. Make it an early start, and pick up muffins from Market on the Square to enjoy along the way will do just fine. It’s an easy 45-minute ride out 40 through Folkston to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, one of the oldest and most well-preserved fresh water areas in the nation. Upon arrival at the “land of the trembling earth,” make your first stop the Visitor Center where you can view an award-winning—almost reverent—film about the swamp, and enjoy interactive demonstrations of swamp life. Your boat tour is narrated by a guide whose knowledge and passion for the swamp is evident in his fascinating tales of swamp inhabitants and its fragile ecosystem.
The more adventurous can rent their own kayaks or canoes for an up-close encounter with some of the hundreds of alligators that populate the swamp. Afterward, enjoy a sandwich and chips at the Refuge snack bar, and don’t leave without making a clever purchase at the well-stocked gift shop. It’s been a full day, and perhaps a short nap is in order upon your return to St. Marys. Dinner tonight is waterfront at Lang’s Seafood. Try their famous rock shrimp—so unique, St. Marys has a festival named after it. If your energy’s still up, travel a couple of miles back up 40 and knock down a few pins at TNT Lanes. The music’s upbeat and the staff, oh so friendly.
Romance and adventure—this is your theme for today! Sleep late, then get a little shopping done before your early brunch at The Mad Hatter where we suggest their shrimp and bacon salad and Hatter’s bread pudding. Or a “to die for” quiche with one of their delicious soups. After brunch, cross the street to Up the Creek Xpeditions where you’ll rent kayaks for a romantic trip through winding creeks. You’re almost sure to see herons and ibis and wood storks, OH MY! The rest of the afternoon calls for more exploring, and the best way to see St. Marys is from the front seat of a golf cart. You can rent one from The Goodbread House Inn. Follow your “walking map,” then venture beyond. Be sure to enjoy the folks you encounter along the way—they’re a big part of what makes St. Marys so special. Return in time to spiff up a bit. Tonight’s dinner calls for your best St. Marys outfit (which could still be freshly-laundered jeans and a Polo shirt). Just three miles from the waterfront, Borrell Creek Restaurant sits in the center of a panoramic scene of Coastal Georgia’s revered marshlands. Sunsets from your waterside table are almost always breathtaking. You can relax pre-dinner at the full-service bar. When it comes to making your dinner selection, you’re challenged by the extent and variety of offerings. The shrimp and veal dish and the Grouper Augusta come to mind as culinary stars. Listen carefully to their “du jour” dishes as well—epicurean treasures every one. After dinner, you might want to visit the Island Lounge in the Cumberland Island Inn & Suites just across the street. Entertainment ranges from comedy to karaoke to some outstanding regional dance bands. End the night with a moonlit stroll along the waterfront. Sweet dreams are just moments away.
Today’s the day for maritime adventures. St. Marys boasts one of the most prolific submarine museums in the world—right on the waterfront, of course. Countries from across the globe have made contributions to the museum’s exhibits, and an authentic periscope sits center stage where kids of all ages can experience life as a sailor. After playing Popeye, walk just around the corner to the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum. There, you can step back in time to experience the “Forgotten Invasion,” an exhibit depicting the last battle in the War of 1812, fought just a few miles away at Point Peter. Relics of the Carnegie family’s lifestyle grace an adjacent exhibit. Treat yourself to lunch at the Riverside Café, just around the corner—calamari and a Greek salad would be perfect. This afternoon is designed for free time, so take a stroll through the village, and explore the beauty of landmarks like the historic Oak Grove Cemetery. Be sure and stop by Once Upon a Book Seller where proprietor Louise Mancill keeps a good stock of locally written or locally inspired books. You’ll definitely want to continue your St. Marys adventures by immersing yourself in one or two of her suggested selections. Strong Women, Wild Horses, a fascinating history of Cumberland Island, would be high on our list. While there, be sure and seek out other local authors and subject matter. Then visit Read ‘em Again Books where you’ll find a plethora of interesting used and new books plus some great gourmet coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up.Tonight’s dinner? In the Historic Riverview Hotel’s Captain Seagle’s Restaurant. Choosing from their extensive menu will be difficult, but here are a few suggestions. You can’t go wrong with a big, juicy Brandon’s filet mignon. The grouper and the shrimp & grits are both exquisite. And the shrimp scampi is excellent as well. Tonight, it’s early to bed ‘cause tomorrow you may “shop ‘til you drop.”
Shopping is today’s theme! Downtown and MidTown St. Marys has more than its share of cool shops, so get your gift list out and start shopping. At 2015 Osborne Road, you’ll love the gifts, fabrics, and decorator items at Acquisitions and the Cottage Shop. Ten blocks closer to the waterfront, your first downtown stop will be the 16,000 square-foot St. Marys Antique Mall with its quintessential collection of gorgeous antiques. Just steps away, Gray’s Gallery serves up more beautiful artwork. Just a block from the waterfront, pop into The French Quarter. Proprietor Donna Boyett has filled her chi-chi shop with such girly-girl treasures; you’ll want to linger for hours. Antiques fill her back room, and there’s an entire gallery dedicated to the Red Hat Ladies Society as well. (Be sure and peek into Old Towne Art Gallery while in The French Quarter.) Across the street, visit Teddie Lockhart’s Golden Pineapple. Like a page right out of Architectural Digest, there you’ll find everything to make a great home a grand home. Grab a quick lunch at Pauly’s Café, two doors from the waterfront. We especially love their Caesar salads, mussels, and all their pastas. Plus they have great sandwiches. (And wonderful dinners as well.) Don’t linger, because you’re about to head to Florida. Catch Amelia Island River Cruises’ Water Taxi from St. Marys’ waterfront and enjoy a leisure ride across the river to Fernandina Beach. If you’ve opted to wait for a really late lunch, Brett’s right on Fernandina’s waterfront is the perfect place to dine. Strolling the historic streets of Fernandina’s downtown presents you with more fabulous shopping opportunities and a huge slice of history as well. Hang around for some exciting nightlife, then make your return sailing to St. Marys yet another romantic interlude that will forever remain pressed into the memory book of your mind and heart.
Nature and relaxation abound on your 7th day in Historic St. Marys. Rise early, and request a picnic lunch at Market on the Square. Fill a goody bag with their old-fashioned treats that bring back memories of childhood. Today’s the day to play. Your picnic spot? Beneath an ancient shade tree at Crooked River State Park, just four miles from Historic St. Marys. After a little outdoor nap you’ll want to visit the nearby ruins of the famous tabby McIntosh Sugar Works Mill built around 1825. On your way back downtown, stop by the Goodbread House, and have your photo taken with the irresistible Captain Hook. Golfers will want to spend their last afternoon playing one of the area’s beautiful golf courses including Laurel Island Links and Trident Lakes. If the seventh day happens to be on a Friday or Saturday night, a short drive to Woodbine is in order. Here’s where you’ll be enthralled by the music and performers of the Woodbine Opry. Described by travel writers as “the most fun you can have with your overalls on,” the Opry is a toe tappin’, hand clappin’, lip smackin’ cacophony of pure, down home fun with a scrumptious southern “supper” thrown in for good measure.
Seven days is not nearly enough to experience all that makes St. Marys the “Best of the South and the Best of a Small Town.” For fishing aficionados, there are fishing charters easily accessed at the waterfront. For boaters, the water opportunities are endless. The daring will want to take the Ghost Tour narrated by local resident Diana Burgess. Summertime visitors will want to cool off at the St. Marys Aquatic Center. Film fanatics are happy to discover that just 3 miles from the waterfront is the 11-screen Kings Bay Stadium Cinemas, located adjacent to more great shopping. Easy side excursions include Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, Brunswick, and Savannah in Georgia, and Amelia Island, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine in Florida. Amidst all the romance, adventure, and history that St. Marys has to offer, there remains that most magical quality of all—serenity. For it is in this space that after discovering so very much about Coastal Georgia, you may even come to discover yourself. Seven days in St. Marys is not nearly enough, so take an 8th day. And Carpe Diem!
Note: Check with the Welcome Center for the latest info on these places.