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Oct. 17, 2019
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Dose of the Coast: Take a beach trip this fall

By Pamela A. Keene
 
Now that the summer season on Lake Lanier is winding down, there’s no better time to head to the Atlantic Coast’s two popular destinations – St. Simons and St. Augustine. With myriad restaurants, premier hotels and new attractions to visit, a long weekend or a week’s vacation can help you extend your summer without all the crowds or the blistering heat.
 
St. Simons Island and Georgia’s Golden Isles, with its laid-back lifestyle (except for the Georgia-Florida football game this year on November 2), is second to none for fall vacationing. My favorite is The King & Prince Hotel, offering elegant oceanfront suites, cabana rooms with patios or balconies, and beach villas. The property’s residences can accommodate families or several couples who want to enjoy the convenience of their own kitchens and a bit more privacy than staying in a hotel.
 
You can stay in the historic hotel’s main building or choose accommodations in the newly renovated Oglethorpe Building. Some rooms are even pet friendly. Weeknight stays are less expensive than weekends, so add a couple of weekdays to your trip. Check out special seasonal promotions at www.kingandprince.com.
 
St. Simons Island factored into the security of America’s coast during World War II. In fact, for a time, the U.S. Military used the historic hotel as a base for operations. With the hotel’s makeover that was completed in 2013, the main restaurant was renamed “Echo” in recognition of its role. American cuisine created by the hotel’s chefs is excellent, combining farm-to-table and ocean-to-table local ingredients.
 
Several months ago, the Coastal Georgia Historical Society opened a new museum in the old Coast Guard Station on the northeast side of the island. The World War II Home Front Museum showcases the area’s role in the war when shipbuilding was king here and residents dutifully kept their homes dark after sunset. The lights from the shore created silhouettes of the cargo and military ships leaving the port.
 
In 1942, the station’s Coast Guard crew rescued survivors of two American ships torpedoed by a German U-boat 13 miles offshore. That account and many others tell of Georgia’s Coast and its residents during the conflict. Interactive exhibits, volunteer docents and high-tech displays bring stories of the people of St. Simons who rallied to do their part.
 
Visit the Island Pier and Village, and the historic St. Simons Lighthouse and Museum, where locally owned shops and restaurants offer fine dining to burgers and fresh seafood. Take a ghost tour on St. Simons or Jekyll Island with Lighthouse Trolleys, www.lighthousetrolleys.com, after dusk to learn about the hauntings of this coastal region.
 
And for something else new, drive over the causeway to Jekyll to the new Mosaic experience, a museum built in the island’s refurbished stables. Tracing five distinct eras in the history of the area, the museum is also a tribute to the survivors of the Wanderer slave ship, with an interactive audio exhibit featuring excerpts from letters of those survivors.
 
For more information about visiting Georgia’s Golden Isles, visit www.goldenisles.com.

Oldest city, new experiences
Less than three hours south of the Golden Isles on I-95, visit the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, which celebrated its 450th anniversary in 2015. The celebration continues to this day.
 
For extra special accommodations, check out St. Francis Inn or Casa de Suenos, two historic bed-and-breakfasts just steps away from the city’s historic district. Owned by long-time residents Joe and Margaret Finnegan, both properties offer well-appointed rooms with private baths, many with jetted tubs. They also operate the two-apartment 1894 house, a beach bungalow and access to St. Augustine beach. Lodging includes free admission to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. For information and promotional packages, visit stfrancisinn.com.
 
On-staff cook Janice Leary creates tasty and hearty breakfasts, afternoon snacks and luscious desserts for guests to enjoy as part of their stay. There’s an onsite pool at St. Francis Inn, plus lush gardens and evening marshmallow roasts in the courtyard.
 
Both properties provide easy access to St. Augustine’s attractions, waterfront, museums and restaurants. If you’re there multiple days, consider purchasing a two-day pass on Old Town Trolley, (www.trolleytours.com//st-augustine) first to take the 90-minute, 23-stop familiarization tour of the town, then to use the unlimited hop-on, hop-off services to visit places of interest, such as the Fountain of Youth, the Old Jail, Potter’s Wax Museum, historic churches or Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.
 
Culinary treats
St. Augustine’s mainland has become a true culinary destination. Anchored by such popular long-time restaurants including Raintree on San Marco, Meehan’s Irish Pub on the waterfront and The Floridian on Spanish Street, you can’t go wrong, no matter what your budget. A great way to sample what’s new on the dining scene is to book a three-hour outing through The Tasting Tours (www.thetastingtours.com), created by a pair of entrepreneurs to showcase the city. Book a lunch at the Café Alcazar in the Lightner Museum.

Situated on the site of what was once the world’s largest indoor swimming pool, the Alcazar offers seasonal fresh selections and international cuisine in a casual setting. Check out Smoked Southern Barbecue, Odd Birds Bar with specialty cocktails, the St. Augustine Distillery, Peace Pies specialty ice-cream sandwiches and ChocoLatte’s desserts.
 
For outdoor adventure, book a tour with St. Augustine Eco Tours, (www.staugustineecotours.com). From boating expeditions to see dolphins and wildlife to sailing excursions and kayaking, guests have a chance to experience coastal northeast Florida up close in the Matanzas River, the salt-water marshes and the ocean.
 
And speaking of the ocean, take time to visit St. Augustine Beach, historic Butler Beach and Crescent Beach. Driving on some of the beaches is seasonal and requires a pass, but for the ultimate beach experience, choose the uncrowded beaches at Anastasia State Park. It offers camping, but bring your bug spray. There’s ample parking for spending the day there, and you’ll feel like you’ve got the ocean to yourself.
 
Fall is indeed a great time for a beach vacation. Within six or seven hours, you can be at the coast, experience reduced crowds, and get your beach fix before winter sets in. For information about what to do in St. Augustine, visit www.floridashistoriccoast.com.

Posted online 9.27.19
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