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- 1. Reserve a room in a place filled with history
- 2. Take a walking tour and visit historic sites
- 3. Ride the ferry for a day trip to Cumberland Island National Seashore
- 4. Visit St. Marys Submarine Museum
- 5. Claim a swing and a riverview at St. Marys Howard Gilman Memorial Waterfront Park
- 6. Browse the downtown boutiques, book shops, antique stores
- 7. Sample rock shrimp and attend the St. Marys Seafood Festival
- 8. Take advantage of the recreational opportunities at Crooked River State Park
- 9. Receive a warm greeting and plenty of information at St. Marys Welcome Center
- 10. Savor fresh seafood at Seagle’s Restaurant
- 11. Select your favorite flavors of fudge or ice cream at Market on the Square
- 12. Find the oldest graves at Oak Grove Cemetery
- 13. Ride the train between Kingsland and St. Marys
- 14. Cool off in the summer at St. Marys Aquatic Center
Locals and visitors to St. Marys, Georgia often use words such as idyllic, peaceful, picturesque, quiet, relaxing, and historic. It is all of those things, but this small hamlet, an hour north of Jacksonville, Florida, and near Amelia Island, also offers a surprising number of activities to suit many ages and interests. Here are fourteen to consider when planning your trip to this southeastern corner of Georgia on the Atlantic coast.
1. Reserve a room in a place filled with history
There are many hotel choices in nearby Kingsland, but a lodging choice with historical significance is more in tune with the St. Marys vibe.
Riverview Hotel sits at the corner of St. Marys Street and Osborne Street. It has housed several famous guests in the past, such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Roy Crane, a well-known cartoonist of his time. There are eighteen rooms with private baths and wireless internet.
Goodbread House Bed and Breakfast, built in 1870, was bought by Walton Goodbread, a steamboat captain, in 1901. The Brandon sisters – Kate, Ethel, Sallie, and Semora – purchased the home in 1918 to house the overflow of guests at the Riverview Hotel. Today each of the six suites has a romantic theme based on a famous couple from history or culture, such as Rhett and Scarlet or Guinevere and Lancelot.
Spencer House Inn, dating from 1872, has fourteen guest rooms, a buffet breakfast, and peach iced tea waiting. This bed and breakfast also has an elevator, which is rare find for a historic inn. It was originally built as a hotel rather than a house and is named after William T. Spencer who collected customs for the port of St. Marys during the early 1870s.
The Federal Quarters is a vacation rental property owned by Judge Keegan Federal and his wife Rebecca. Built in 1801, it is the oldest residence still in existence in St. Marys. It is said to be the place where Aaron Burr fled after his duel with Alexander Hamilton. It is a deluxe lodging option for a family or for several couples traveling together.
SheBuysTravel Tip: All these properties are on Osborne Street within a couple of blocks of each other. A SureStay Hotel is about three miles from downtown.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Looking to make the most of your summer budget while maximizing the fun? With a wide range of deals on local activities, dining, and experiences, Groupon helps you stretch your budget by offering discounted options near you.
2. Take a walking tour and visit historic sites
Molly Silver is a young, energetic woman brimming with intriguing facts and tales regarding the people and the happenings in and around St. Marys. Molly’s Old South Tours will take you past famous live oak trees, the Riverview Hotel, the Orange House, the Washington Pump & Oak, Oak Grove Cemetery, historic homes, churches, and much more while you hear stories of the Timucuan Indians, the War of 1812, and the movers and shakers who have played significant roles in St. Marys’ history.
SheBuysTravel Tip: St. Marys History Walk is a pleasant place to stroll, stopping to read the interpretive signs which explain the major events in the town’s past. It is adjacent to Oak Grove Cemetery.
3. Ride the ferry for a day trip to Cumberland Island National Seashore
St. Marys is the most popular place for visitors to catch a ferry from the mainland to Cumberland Island, specifically Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia’s largest barrier island. You will enjoy the abundance of shells strewn along the shoreline, try to spot the wild horses that make their home on the island, view ruins of the Dungeness Mansion, tour Plum Orchard Mansion, or step inside the First African Baptist Church where John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Caroline Bessette were married in 1996.
A van tour is offered. Otherwise, you should plan to do a lot of walking. Take plenty of sunscreen, water, and snacks or a sack lunch.
SheBuysTravel Trip: Admission to the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum is free. It gives a great overview of the island’s history going back to Native American days of the 1500s and earlier.
4. Visit St. Marys Submarine Museum
The building housing St. Marys Submarine Museum was once the town’s movie theater. Executive Director Keith Post has a wealth of knowledge about everything in the museum, much of it based on personal experience.
Hear about how submarines are named and the exploits of various ones connected to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay which is located beside St. Marys. Look through the periscope and prepare to be inspired.
5. Claim a swing and a riverview at St. Marys Howard Gilman Memorial Waterfront Park
Several gazebos, swings, and walking paths are interspersed with lush landscaping, public restrooms, and great gathering spaces. The ferry to Cumberland Island leaves from St. Marys Howard Gilman Memorial Waterfront Park, and this is a great place for people-watching, boat-watching, and watching the action along St. Marys River. If you enjoy biking, you’ll love how flat and bikeable St. Marys is.
6. Browse the downtown boutiques, book shops, antique stores
St. Marys Antique House, The Company House, Lucy Gunn, Once Upon a Bookseller, Cottle and Gunn, Salt River Antiques, Southern Saint Boutique, and Market on the Square are just a few of the interesting shops waiting to lure you inside with their wares of clothing, furniture, home décor and much more. You’re sure to discover that one-of-a-kind souvenir of your time in St. Marys.
7. Sample rock shrimp and attend the St. Marys Seafood Festival
Rock shrimp is the type of shrimp most commonly found near St. Marys. It is so named for its shell which is hard like a rock. In looks it is often compared to a miniature lobster tail, and the taste is sweet and similar to that of lobster.
St. Marys Seafood Festival (formerly called St. Marys Rock Shrimp Festival) is held in October. Rock shrimp and fun are headliners, but other seafood items are prepared for those who come for the parade, the vendors, the fun runs, and the live music.
8. Take advantage of the recreational opportunities at Crooked River State Park
Crooked River State Park is a few miles away from downtown St. Marys. There you will find great camping and picnicking spots, and you can book a kayaking or canoeing adventure through Up the Creek Xpeditions.
On your way to the park, stop briefly to see the McIntosh Sugar Mill Tabby Ruins first built in 1825 and the USS Bancroft Sail Exhibit Memorial at the Franklin Gate entrance to Kings Bay Naval Base.
If you are looking for a place to play a round of golf, there are six public golf courses within a twenty-mile radius of St. Marys. Trident Lakes Golf Club and Laurel Island Links are the nearest to downtown St. Marys.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The Club at Osprey Cove is a very nice private course. If you have a friend who is a member, you could play a round of golf there.
9. Receive a warm greeting and plenty of information at St. Marys Welcome Center
Angela Wigger and her staff are eager to greet you and answer all your questions when you visit the St. Marys Welcome Center. They have brochures, maps, and plenty of suggestions and directions. It is conveniently located on Osborne Street and would be a great place to begin your time in the town.
10. Savor fresh seafood at Seagle’s Restaurant
Seagle’s Restaurant is directly across the street from Riverfront Park and is on the first floor of Riverview Hotel. It is proud of its distinction as the oldest continually operating eatery and bar in the town of St. Marys. Seafood is prominent on the menu, but you’ll also find burgers, steaks, pasta dishes, and plenty of kid-friendly options. The bacon jam scallops are exceptional.
Other eateries favored by the locals include Locals Dockside, Southern River Walk, Riverside Café, Yankee Pie Apizza, Cedar Oak Café, and The Bug & Bean.
11. Select your favorite flavors of fudge or ice cream at Market on the Square
Market on the Square is a one-stop shopping location for souvenirs, fun things, gifts, and gear you might want to have before heading to Cumberland Island National Seashore on the ferry. When you return from a day on the island, it is a great place to find a cold drink, a hand-dipped ice cream cone, or a creamy piece of fudge.
12. Find the oldest graves at Oak Grove Cemetery
Stroll among the iron fences and brick walls to find an 1801 date on one of the graves, the Resurrection Angel adorning a family plot, and the final resting places of French Acadians from Canada and American soldiers who fought in various American wars.
Sadly, you’ll also find many unmarked graves from the time in the 1800s when a yellow fever epidemic struck the town and there weren’t enough caskets to meet the needs.
13. Ride the train between Kingsland and St. Marys
Choose a theme – Christmas, Easter, Murder Mystery, Comedy, Superheros, Pirates or more — and spend an hour and a half being entertained as you ride on St. Marys Railroad between Kingsland and St. Marys. This is a great way to appreciate the scenery in air-conditioned comfort while you watch a show with a cast of talented locals.
14. Cool off in the summer at St. Marys Aquatic Center
St. Marys Aquatic Center has a lazy river, a large children’s area, a lap pool, and a two-story twisting slide to cool you and your children and grandchildren in the summer. It opens the first part of May and continues operating through Labor Day. Concessions, lockers, restrooms, and changing areas are on-site to make your day more enjoyable. It is a seven-acre attraction that is great for families and friends.
To be sure, you can go to Saint Marys, likely named for the Santa Maria mission nearby, and soak in the peace and quiet, but food, fun activities, and history await if you want to add them to your trip itinerary.