We decided at the last minute trip to make a Spring Break trip to coastal Georgia since spring just doesn't seem to want to return to Michigan this year. I did a lot of quick reading on Trip Advisor and other websites to get a sense of what was available to do, but I didn't find many trip reports, which I really like to read in advance of our own trips. Below is our trip report in case anyone else might be interested in reading about where we stayed and what we did with our week (it is long since it is an edited down version of my trip diary).
Day One - Since our rental runs Friday to Friday we needed to make the long drive from our home in Michigan to Darien all in one day. Google told us it would be 14 hours and 20 minutes which was long enough, but there was no way to account for Good Friday traffic and the propensity of certain people to drive 15 mph below the speed limit in the left lane. Crawling through the Carolinas (and often coming to a dead stop for no apparent reason) added a bit more than 2 hours onto our already long drive so we were tired, stiff, and thoroughly annoyed by the time we made it to the Georgia state line. Happily, Georgia welcomed us with sunshine, a third freeway lane, caretakers of our rental house who left the keys under the mat rather than have us drive out of our way to pick them up, and a beautiful house to spend our week of vacation.
Since we decided only a few weeks before break that we wanted to head to a place warmer than Michigan and near the ocean, many rentals were not available. And because we wanted to bring our dog, we had even fewer to choose from. We'd almost given up when we found a wonderful house out on the marshes near Darien. It is this listing:
The house is just as lovely as the photos, extremely clean, and contains everything you could possibly need for your stay. The surrounding area is marshland and trees filled with birds, with ample porches and decks to take it all in. It is a peaceful and quiet location, with Savannah to the north and the beaches of Jekyll and St. Simon’s Island to the south.
Day Two - The weather forecast looks iffy starting Monday, but the weekend is sunny and 70s so we are headed to the beach. Jekyll Island is our first choice since it looks so beautiful in the pictures. But first we must wait for the teen daughter to emerge from her slumber which means a nice morning of coffee and bird watching on the porch. After seeing many birds for the first time ever, we had breakfast on the porch enjoying the sunshine and then packed the car for the 45 minute drive to Jekyll Island.
The drive down is quick and fairly scenic, letting us see more of the marshlands of this area. We didn't realize there was a $6 fee to come onto the island, but it was money well spent.
Jekyll Island is very nice. It doesn't have the tourism development of other areas we've been. It doesn't even have a stoplight. What it does have is several miles of beautiful, easily accessible beach with soft, sugary white sand. And to add to that, dogs are allowed on the beach so our dog boy happily joined us for some frisbee tossing and napping in the sun.
We had the sense that the beach might be crowded during the busiest times of year (because of the size of the parking lot at Great Dunes Park), but we were amazed at how few people there were during Spring Break. The parking lot was maybe 5% full on a sunny, low 70's Saturday! Yeah for us!
After going for a walk and splashing in the ocean we were ready for lunch. Fins on the Beach is at the end of the park so we walked over there to sit outside and enjoy a tasty lunch (Trip Advisor review is here: http://tinyurl.com/ckcxl3j). By the time we were done eating, the tide was very low and we saw people collecting sand dollars so we joined the hunt. You could collect a lot, but we just took one. It'll be on our Christmas tree, joining the ones from other beaches we've visited.
Our pale northern skin was looking pinkish in spite of liberal sunscreen so we took that as our cue to call it a day. We stopped at a Winn-Dixie to stock up for the week and were happily eating pasta as the sun set over the marsh.
The caretakers for this rental house own a bed and breakfast nearby and they invited us over for their Saturday night bonfire. It was mostly their local friends and we enjoyed a glass of wine while hearing their hilarious stories of all the ways you can get on the bad side of an alligator. Their B&B, The Blue Heron Inn, is very cute and cozy. Jan and Bill are wonderful hosts and are avid birders too. We would love to come back to the area to stay with them someday when it is just hubby and I.
Our first full day was wonderful. It chased away all thoughts of the long, tedious drive and makes our long, cold Michigan winter seem a million miles away.
Day Three - We decided we liked Jekyll so much that we'd head back there today as well. Daughter wanted to rent one of those surrey bikes and to work on her tan while hubby and I were looking forward to another long walk on the beach. Good thing we walked first because we all had tired legs after that crazy bike. They are geared so you get very little forward motion for your pedaling effort. It was fun, though a bit expensive at almost $26 for an hour, rented at the mini-golf place right across the street from Great Dunes Park.
Today it was the wind blowing the sand that told us it was time to leave. Happily, the threatened afternoon rain never came. We were back at the house, grilling steaks and ribs by sunset. Taking the trash out I saw a herd of 8-10 deer across the road. They were all surprised to see me since there aren't many people out here, though they didn't run away.
Day two was every bit as lovely as day one. Sometimes a spur of the moment trip can surprise you by how fun it is!
Day Four - Today's forecast was for thunderstorms in the morning so we were thinking our tour of Sapelo Island would be a watery mess, but fortunately the weather forecasters are wrong as often in Georgia as they are in Michigan. Right at the ferry dock we enjoyed watching dolphins (porpoises?--not sure which) while we waited for the ferry to pull away. It turned out to be our warmest day yet and we thoroughly enjoyed learning about the Island's history from Caesar (who was born on Sapelo) and his wife Nancy (who was born on St. Simon's Island). The natural beauty of the island is striking and yet the history of the community is a stark reminder of the slave trade that brought the current residents' forefathers to the area. We would highly recommend Nancy and Caesar's tour to anyone visiting the area (Trip Advisor review is here: http://tinyurl.com/cx25tgn).
We were really hungry after the tour so we headed to Skipper's Fish Camp in Darien for fried shrimp (Trip Advisor review is here: http://tinyurl.com/bp2fgku). The food was outstanding and since our daughter is a turtle lover, she was thrilled to see all the different kinds of turtles in their decorative pond.
Being that it is vacation, we thought an afternoon of napping on the porches would be nice. The lovely breeze cancelled the no-see-ums afternoon plans to seek us out and gnaw on our limbs so two of us worked on tan lines and one of us swayed to the breeze on a swing in the shade.
Evening found us still full from lunch so we skipped dinner, but had our pecan pie bought at Winn-Dixie. It was pretty good, though not the delicious pecan pie that I know is waiting for us somewhere around here!
Day Five - After another relaxing morning we headed to St. Simon's Island for some shopping and beach time. St. Simon's is about 15 minutes closer than Jekyll and we took the surface streets so it was a more interesting drive. For two islands practically right next to each other they sure are different. St. Simon's has more development, more traffic, and it seemed less beach (and way more people on the beach). The retail area was nice and daughter enjoyed browsing. The clothes at Hope's were reasonably priced and suitable for teens. She happily came away with a pair of shorts.
Everyone suggested we go to Coast Guard Beach as it is the less crowded of the two beaches (Massingale Beach Park being the other) so off we went, only to find the parking lot full and cars circling. Beach gear and family dropped off, I commenced circling for a spot. Most of the other cars were filled with college kids on spring break and that was the case on the beach as well.
The beach itself was nice enough, though far more crowded than our days at Jekyll Island's Grand Dunes Park. Dogs were also allowed. We noted that the facilities (bathrooms, trash cans) were more limited at Coast Guard Beach than at Grand Dunes Park. A short walk on the beach had us tippy toeing around dozens of huge jellyfish washed up on the sand, so we headed back to our chairs to enjoy the sunshine.
The college spring breakers were keeping the sheriffs plenty busy enforcing the drinking regulations, complete with driving their SUV, lights flashing, through the people on the beach so it wasn't exactly a peaceful afternoon, though the people watching was entertaining.
While any day spent at the beach is a really good day, we all agreed that at least from our limited experience, we liked our days on Jekyll Island’s Grand Dunes Park beach a lot better. We'd come to St. Simon's to browse the stores or have a meal, but for beach time we'd choose Jekyll.
Day Six - Our daughter woke up with a cold so we decided to keep things low keyed with a visit to Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge (Trip Advisor review here: http://tinyurl.com/cx83xp7). This small refuge makes for an excellent half day trip and with no admission fee it is a great outing for travelers on a budget. The knowledgeable staff can tell you what you'll see on the 4-mile driving loop and the short walking trails that branch off from the road. We were amazed at how close you walk to young alligators and how many different kinds of birds we saw in a short time. Even our daughter, who was definitely under the weather, had fun photographing the alligators.
We spent the rest of the day back at the house, hoping some extra rest would perk up our sick girl. We made good use of the big porches, overlooking the marsh and the woods.
Day Seven - Well, finally the weather forecasters were correct in their predictions for rain. After a morning of reading on the porch and listening to the rain, we headed to Savannah for lunch, shopping, and for some photos of the lovely parks. Savannah is roughly an hour from our rental in Darien, but we've liked the city so much on previous trips that it was worth it to make the drive. The city parking structures are reasonably priced at a dollar an hour.
Lunch was very tasty at Vic's on the River (Trip Advisor review is here: http://tinyurl.com/cmg59z5) and then we set off for some shopping. Daughter had read about a little boutique called Red Clover on Bull Street so we headed there first. It has very tasteful, reasonably priced clothes for teens and young adults. Next we headed to the shops on Broughton Street. We lost hubby to the many TV screens and beer choices at World of Beer (where he learned the owner was planning to open a location in our hometown back in Michigan). The new sugar scrub store was a great place to buy some gifts to take home and daughter was successful in her quest for new shorts, to be worn whenever warmth returns to Michigan. We were impressed with how friendly and helpful the staffs were at the many stores we went to.
Unfortunately, the steady rain meant that we didn't do much photography in the lovely little parks around the city, but we did walk through a couple to enjoy the trees.
We thought we'd tour the Juliette Low home again since daughter was just a Brownie when we went there, but the cold rain and her cold took their toll and she was ready for a nap instead. I'd highly recommend touring the house and learning more about Juliette Low if you have ever had any connection to the Girl Scouts organization. It gives a good sense of how revolutionary her thinking was to want to get girls outdoors.
We returned for our last evening at our house to see that one heck of a storm had hit in our absence. We enjoyed the sounds of the marsh as we had dinner on the porch.
Day Eight - Thunderstorms and wind continued all night so we were awake early to pack up. We appreciated the attached garage so we could load the van without going out in the rain.
We decided to take a different route home, to get out of the East Coast traffic more quickly and avoid toll roads. While we did enjoy the route through the Great Smoky Mountains, an overturned semi-truck meant that the drive home was not any faster than the one coming down. Especially during Spring Break, when traffic is significantly heavier, it seems impractical to assume that you’ll be traveling at posted speeds throughout your drive. In the future, we’d plan to stop for a night in each direction, both to avoid 16+ hour days on the road and to give us a chance to explore a bit on our route.
We thoroughly enjoyed coastal Georgia and found Darien to be an excellent location for our home base. We were well located to head south to the island beaches, north to Savannah, and we very much enjoyed the peaceful stay out on the marsh. We'd been concerned about biting bugs with that location, but the nice ocean breeze kept them at bay almost the entire time we were there.