The Doggone Golden Isles
Load up your pooch pals and head to St. Simons Island, Georgia for a Fido-friendly vacation
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY HEATHER DOWDY
SELECT PHOTOS COURTESY GOLDEN ISLES.COM AS INDICATED
This travel feature is reprinted from our June 2016 issue of Nashville Paw magazine
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved the ocean. The jagged rocks along the coastline, the waves rolling against soft sand, the palm trees swaying in the breeze. Fortunately, my mother-in-law, Carolyn (or my mother-in-love, as I call her) lives in a beautiful condo along the beach of St. Simons Island, Georgia.
Chris and I always enjoyed our trips to visit her with our beloved Shelboo, who passed in February at age 14. Our last trip was over Christmas, and we have fond memories of Shelby running down the beach, playing with the local pups, rolling in the sand and wading in the ocean.
As spring break and summer vacation plans gear up, I wanted to once again share this beautiful destination with other pet parents. Just a nine-hour drive from Nashville, St. Simons makes a perfect summer vacation, and is ready to roll out the welcome mat for your furry friends.
The Golden Isles
Located on the southeast Georgia coast, midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, St. Simons Island (SSI) is the largest of the state’s beloved Golden Isles, which also include Sea Island, Jekyll Island and Little St. Simons Island. Visitors have long been drawn to the area for its warm climate, charming villages, historical sites and beaches. While SSI is a favorite among resort visitors, nearly 13,000 residents call the island home. A scenic causeway connects the island to the city of Brunswick.
Where to Stay
If you’re not as lucky as we are and don’t have family on the island, there are a plethora of accommodations that welcome your pet. One of our favorites is the The King & Prince, a historic resort that opened first as a seaside dance club in 1935, then opened as a hotel six years later. The resort welcomes dogs up to 50 pounds in select rooms in the Oleander Building as well as in their Wynn Cottage and Familia Meadows House. The resort features ocean front pools and beach access, as well as on-site dining options. All pet stays must be booked by phone, and the resort’s full pet policy is available on their website. Meanwhile, St. Simons Inn by the Lighthouse welcomes either one dog up to 40 pounds or two dogs up to 15 pounds each. The pretty yellow inn offers 34 uniquely decorated rooms and a pool to boot.
If you have larger dogs, I suggest checking out the many pet-friendly rental homes and condos listed on airbnb.com, vrbo.com and homeaway.com—all of which are also available as phone apps and feature privately listed properties. You can easily search using the “pet-friendly” criteria, and a quick search turned up many wonderful options, such as “The Beautiful Georgia Peach”, a 2,000 square-foot home listed on AirBNB that features three bedrooms and a back yard for Fido.
Pet-friendly rentals can also be found through Purple Dog Vacation Rentals, which offers a variety of cozy condos and East Beach homes.
Where to Play
There is so much to enjoy on St Simons Island, but the beach—of course—is the main attraction. Dogs are welcome year-round at all times on Beach Access Points 1-6, which are located west of the island’s village, pier and lighthouse. Well-mannered, friendly dogs are welcome to run free as long as they are within your immediate voice command and control; otherwise, they must be on leash. Of course, you are always responsible for picking up any waste your pet leaves behind.
Along all other beach access points, including East Beach and Gould’s Inlet, dogs are welcome at various times during various seasons. During high travel season (between Memorial Day and Labor Day), dogs are only allowed on Beach Access Points 7-41 before 9am and after 6pm. During the off-season, dogs are welcome at any time. I highly recommend taking your pup to East Beach to watch the sun come up! One of my most memorable moments with our Shelboo was watching him quietly wade out into the golden ocean as the sun came up over the horizon—a beautiful moment that warms my heart in his absence.
Dogs are also welcome on Driftwood Beach, located on the north end of nearby Jekyll Island. Calm, quiet and visually stunning, the beach is home to massive driftwood and trees that are hauntingly beautiful. Jekyll Island also offers Great Dunes Park and Jekyll Island Beach, both of which are dog friendly as long as dogs are kept under immediate voice control or on leash.
Of course, if your pup has a high prey drive or is not trained to listen to you off leash, please do keep him on leash for the sake of other beachgoers as well as the local wildlife, which includes harmless cannonball jellyfish, sea turtles, crabs, shore birds and more.
The area is also home to Frederica Dog Park, a fully fenced park where pups can play off leash. The park features separate areas for large and small dogs, shaded areas and watering and waste removal stations. The Alice Richards Botanical Trail is also located within Frederica Park and features a gazebo, woodland labyrinth and more.
There are also many public parks to enjoy with your dog on leash. Demere Park feature a butterfly garden, skate park and facilities, while Massengale Park offers beach access and a playground for kids. Meanwhile, Neptune Park and the adjacent Pier Village (or, The Village, as locals call it) serve as the downtown social hub. It’s the perfect place to take a walk along the pier, lighthouse and local shops, as well as to admire the abundant live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. The park is also home to a public library, theatre, picnic area, playground, miniature golf course and oceanside swimming pool.
If you and your pup enjoy a little outdoor exercise, schedule a session with St. Simons Island Paddleboard. This is one of my personal favorite activities on the island, and the crew is extremely dog friendly. Lessons are included if you’re new to Stand Up Paddling (SUP), and they offer daytime excursions as well as Night Glow tours, which allow you to enjoy a beautiful sunset and followed by paddling to the glow of colored lights from under your board.
Where to Eat
The Golden Isles offer a wide variety of dining options, from incredibly casual cafes to upscale fine dining. And while not every restaurant we love there has the capacity to host pooch pals, there are several pet-friendly options in the area. Latitude 31º Restaurant & Rah Bar is located on the historic wharf in the Jekyll Island Historic Landmark District, and has been serving up fresh seafood for more than two decades. The restaurant features live music on the weekends, hosts a Sunday Sunset Party and welcomes your canine companion on the seaside deck.
For a seafood fix on St. Simons Island, try the pet-friendly patio at Iguana’s, a colorfully decorated dining option located in Pier Village. They also have a kid’s menu and vegetarian-friendly and gluten-free options to boot. Another Pier Village option is Mullet Bay, which serves seafood, sandwiches, salads and more on their dog-friendly open-air deck or covered patio.
And when you need a dose of caffeine, head over to dog-friendly Palm Coast Coffee, Cafe & Pub, housed in the Village in a 1920’s style bungalow. It’s the perfect spot for sipping an espresso or coffee on the front porch with your furry best friend, or enjoying a beer in the courtyard. A casual menu of Mediterranean dishes, sandwiches and desserts rounds out the options. A nice option for vegetarian eating as well!
But my favorite local pet-friendly spot has to be Bubba Garcia’s Mexican Cantina, a funky and fabulous restaurant in St. Simons Island’s Redfern Village. Every time we’re in town, I have to stop for the BBQ Burrito with tofu and the delicious creamed corn nuggets! Plus, when the restaurant posts doggie guest photos on their Instagram account with the caption “Fridays are better on the patio with puppies!” you know you’re in the right place!
Where to Shop
St. Simons Island is a shopper’s paradise, with a vast array of art galleries, local boutiques and gift shops lining the streets of Pier Village and Redfern Village. But paws down, your pup’s favorite stop is going to be Island Dog Pet Store, a fun boutique in the Village that offers everything from food, treats and bowls to leashes, toys, souvenirs and gifts. Shelboo always enjoyed stopping in to roll around on the dog couch, grab a free munchies and a drink of water, and I always managed to walk out with a fun few things, too! The owner, Lynn Klimp, is also the area’s expert dog trainer and is always incredibly friendly and helpful.
I also adore the Savannah Bee Company store, which sells Oliver Bentleys Dog Biscuit Bites, Doggie & Me paw balm and other gifts for pup pals. I also love the selection of dog-themed notecards, mugs, bags and gifts at One of a Kind, and you’ll usually see a pup or two while you’re shopping. Both boutiques are located in The Village and are really fun to browse.
Or… Do Nothing at All
Of course, one of the best things about any vacation is simply doing nothing much at all. While there is so much to keep you and your canine companion busy on the Golden Isles, don’t forget to bring a beach blanket and just lie back together as you watch the sun sink down or rise up beyond the water. There’s nothing quite like it, and I can almost guarantee that the moment will stay with you as much as it has with me.
Note: Pet policies can always change at any time. While the information in this article was accurate as of printing, it’s always a good idea to double check on pet-friendly policies ahead of time. Safe and happy travels!