An Isle All its Own

Written By: Julie Hostetter

AFTER THE PAST YEAR, we think everyone deserves a vacation to a peaceful, beautiful island with white soft sands, emerald green waters and a retreat into Mother Nature. That’s why we recommend planning an upcoming visit to St. George Island for your next family beach trip. At just around 6 hours from Metro Atlanta, this nearby beach location offers a rare Florida respite, where nature takes center stage, and nightlife is happily traded in for sea life.

NATURAL BEAUTY

St. George Island may be a bit less lively, compared to its bustling panhandle cousins in Panama City, Destin and Seaside on the Gulf of Mexico, but offers the ideal respite for those looking for utter relaxation and less crowds. With no high-rises to flood the beach (or block the views), the long and narrow island is 22 miles long and just one mile across at its widest point and boasts a full-time population of just 730. The pristine island offers everything from luxurious oceanfront properties, private villas as well as affordable camping at its Dr. Julian G. Bruce State Park, both overlooking sugar soft sand beaches with a treasure trove for shell hunters and nature lovers. There are only a handful of “hotels” on the island, including St. George Inn and beachfront Buccaneer Inn, but the majority of island guests choose to hang their sunhat in a private villa or beach house. On calm beach days the water is light green and you can actually see down to your feet with gentle lapping waves. On others, when the wind kicks up or a storm blows through, the sea can whip up some body boarding waves for some fun in the sun.

The island boasts miles of bike riding adventures, kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking trails to get you out and about in nature, as well as the best shelling adventure we’ve enjoyed as a family. Animal watching on the beach is truly something to marvel; as the sun starts to set, regal blue herons seem fairly unconcerned with the families that have yet to pack up for the day as they perch on the beach to enjoy the view and perhaps a light evening snack.

In fact, the island is rife with animal life, which you can tell by the pods of dolphins that happily journey along the shores each day or the brown pelicans that create quite an aerial performance as they swoop and dive with a splash, hoping to fill their bellies with a hearty fish meal. Bird watching is another activity that doesn’t require much effort for a newbie. Just walk the beach and environs to find pelicans, egrets, herons, Oystercatchers, Sandpipers and perhaps even some hawks and owls. Even migrating raptors like peregrine falcons and bald eagles call St. George home on a seasonal basis. And feel free to bring your fur baby, as St. George is one of the few pet-friendly beaches in Florida.

And even the little birdies can tell you that fishing is king on Saint George! You can easily rent gear to fish right off the beach or hire a private fishing charter for a half- or full-day excursion. Here you can expect to reel in monsters like King Mackerel, red snapper, black grouper, cobia and mangrove snapper. Are you a “reel rookie? ” No worries, there are many fishing charters that can make you into an angling pro, such as Bay View Charters of Saint George Island where Georgia ex-pat Captain Wes McCall provides all the rods, reels, tackle, bait and fishing licenses you need for a fun day at sea. In fact, my own 10-year-old daughter reeled in her first fish in just minutes of casting her line! Don’t want to deal with the mess for dinner? Just take your fresh fish to local restaurants that will happily cut, filet, fry, sauté or grill to perfection for your evening meal. And for the kids, Bay View Charters will take you to the shore of Little Saint George Island, an uninhabited nature preserve for a picnic and some amazing shelling with complimentary buckets in hand, and a “must explore” on your visit.

EXPLORING SEASIDE WONDERS

In the evening, spectacular sunsets draw wonder on the west side of the island, but then something magical takes center stage—a starry night sky that rivals a planetarium for star gazing. Due to its small population and island-mandated, sea turtle-friendly red porch lights, the night sky is as vivid as it is wondrous, so be sure to bring a telescope and star gazing guide.

That’s not to say there is nothing but nature to do on the island. At the center of town, the St. George Lighthouse is not only a historical marvel, but a testament to the character of the people who call the island home. As the tallest structure on the island, a trip inside its new museum and refurbished lighthouse is a real treat, as is the winding staircase to the top for a 360-degree panoramic view of the island. You truly stand atop a marvel of the human spirit, as the brick Cape St. George Lighthouse stood proudly for 153 years on the island until toppling into the Gulf of Mexico in 2005. Saddened by the loss of neglected lighthouse, the community came together to rebuild using the original plans and much of the original materials they could reclaim from the tumbled wreckage.

As for shopping local, check out the charming gift shop at the Saint George Island Lighthouse, Island Dog Beach and Surf Shop and the St. George Island Trading Co. for all your beach and souvenir needs. Better yet, check out Art of Glass Gallery, for their unique Bits & Pieces Drop in 1-hour art classes where you can create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece to remind you of your travels.

There are several restaurants that offer some scrumptious seafood and snacks for some inside and open-air dining, food trucks or take out, including two small grocery stores to pick up the essentials for cooking at home. The island also boasts several annual events throughout the year, such as the Chili Charity Cook-Off in March and the Rock By the Sea music festival in summer and fall.

And you simply must visit the nearby historic oyster town of Apalachicola, with its trendy restaurants and quirky shops as well as the highly rated Apalachicola National Estuarine Research and Reserve Nature Center for some family fun.

But truly, a stay on St. George Island is about reconnecting, not just with your family, but with the wonders of nature and all the rejuvenation it brings.

PLANNING YOUR STAY

RESORT VACATION PROPERTIES OF ST. GEORGE ISLAND

877-272-8206

resortvacationproperties.com

COLLINS VACATION RENTALS

877-875-9062

collinsvacationrentals.com

FICKLING & COMPANY VACATION RENTALS

850-927-2218

ficklingvacationrentals.com

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