Life has been topsy-turvy since Hurricane Matthew roared through these parts a little over two weeks ago. Even though we escaped the storm relatively unscathed, we postponed our big 1st anniversary trip to Kauai last weekend because Rick’s hours at work figuratively went through the roof – basically because of all the trees that literally went through all the roofs. Then it was suggested that after working 120 hours a week in town, he might be sent to help out the affected areas in the Carolinas.
By the time we found out he wasn’t heading north, we’d made the call that we should postpone our romantic Hawaiian adventure. It took us every bit of the two weeks in between when the hurricane hit and when we would’ve departed to get back to a normal schedule and clean up the debris anyhow, so we resigned ourselves to staying home and celebrating making it through this utterly whacko year alive and in love.
Right about the time we made the call to postpone Hawaii, the folks at Enterprise Rent-a-Car got in touch about working together to talk about their Enterprise Rent-A-Car weekend rental car special, starting at just $9.99/day. After an insane first year of marriage fraught with peril – like, literal peril, I said, “Ya know what? Let’s do something easy for once! Anniversary road trip!”
It was kismet!
I booked a full-sized car online at the closest neighborhood Enterprise to our house, and Rick & I pondered where to go. Enterprise’s weekend getaway rates cover 100 miles a day, so we had a narrow window to choose from. And frankly, I didn’t want to spend the majority of our time driving anyhow. I wanted to explore somewhere we’d never been and spend time outside.
We settled on two options: Jacksonville to Savannah or Jacksonville to Daytona on A1A. Hurricane Matthew came through and smashed up both routes pretty good, but my research showed the Georgia coastal towns, while walloped, fared better than many sections of the Florida route which were lost to the Atlantic Ocean.
Georgia wins. (Hopefully for the only time this week.)
To be honest, I didn’t plan every moment of this road trip out like I have with others in the past. We decided to take it super easy, drive slowly and play the whole weekend by ear.
And y’all, can I just say how nice it was not to have an agenda? No appointments to keep other than sunrise and sunset. Come along with us on a Southern-style, coastal Georgia road trip…
Day 1: Jacksonville to St. Simons Island
When I arrived at the Enterprise branch to get the car on Friday afternoon, I was in for a surprise. We got an upgrade because they were out of full-sized cars. And even better, I’ve been considering getting a Toyota 4Runner so we got to test drive one all weekend. BONUS!
We arrived in charming St. Simons Island just in time to check in at The King and Prince Resort and head out for a long sunset walk on the beach. What better way to kick off a romantic anniversary weekend? It was a gorgeous evening, too, with the first hint of Fall in the air.
This wasn’t our first visit to the Golden Isles. Rick and I have been out to the Lodge at Little St. Simons Island twice, and I’ve checked out the King and Prince Resort for a story I wrote for Jacksonville Magazine a few years ago. The historic Mediterranean-style hotel opened in 1941, transforming into a naval station during WWII. After the war, the property returned to its glory as a coastal retreat. In 2005, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
As Rick & I settled into our oceanfront cabana room, we asked ourselves why we don’t visit more often!
After the sun dipped under the horizon, we retreated to ECHO, the King & Prince’s restaurant, for our first tasty meal of the weekend. Believe it or not, ECHO is the only oceanfront restaurant on the island, so the place was hopping with guests and live music coming in from the lobby.
The name ECHO pays tribute to the hotel’s wartime history. The spot where the restaurant now stands used to be officers’ quarters, classrooms and communications towers – isn’t that interesting? Now you can get craft cocktails and fresh seafood while overlooking the ocean.
Rick and I tasted a little of everything — the steak & lobster kebabs, seafood paella, pork belly and broiled redfish, to start, followed by desserts that were way too big to finish.
Day 2: St. Simons Island to Savannah
While Rick snored his handsome little head off, I tossed and turned all night thinking about projects and plans and that darn book I keep putting off writing. I grabbed a blanket and snuck out onto our balcony overlooking the Atlantic just as the sun popped up and was surprised to see quite a few of my neighbors and other beach goers had the same plan.
I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the fear and uncertainty from the hurricane, but I’ve appreciated sunrises and sunsets more than ever the past few weeks.
Unfortunately, we checked out of the King & Prince before we had a chance to try out the spa, breakfast and the pool, but we’ll be back. Instead, we drove into the main area of town with a cute lighthouse, fishing pier and shopping for quirky island gifts.
My friend, South Georgia lifestyle expert and celebrity event designer Emily Burton recommended quite a few tasty restaurants for us to try during our road trip, so we made our way to her first recommendation: Certified Burgers.
Holy moly, y’all! Not only were the burgers awesome, locally sourced, fresh and organic, the service was outstanding, too. Rick ordered the Buford Highway with carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeños, Napa cabbage and Korean BBQ sauce, and I got a hamburger with poutine on it, appropriately called The Canuck. Divine.
We also shared a margarita made with an egg white, which at first we were skeptical about, but yup, it was one of the best margs ever.
After stuffing our fat faces with burger deliciousness, we continued the Georgia road trip with a quick 3-mile drive up to Fort Frederica National Monument. Though not much remains today of the fort and the town of Frederica, it used to be a bustling little outpost of 800 people beginning around 1736, when James Oglethorpe built it to protect the colony of Georgia from Spanish raids.
We watched a fascinating informational video in the visitor center about Frederica’s brief history, and I learned that this little outpost played a big role in keeping Georgia safe as one of the original English colonies. Those St. Augustine Spaniards really wanted their piece of the pie, but good old Oglethorpe fended them off.
The original Florida-Georgia face-off, if you will.
There were very few people visiting the fort’s ruins on Saturday afternoon. Whether it’s always like this or if the post-hurricane mosquito explosion had anything to do with it, I have no idea. But it was a picturesque, quiet place to learn a bit about history and stretch our legs before hopping in the car and heading to the next destination – Savannah!
I’d booked us a room overlooking the park at the Mansion on Forsyth to celebrate our big 1-year anniversary. I’d read it was the most romantic hotel in Savannah and figured splurging on a peaceful park-facing room would just be the icing on the cake of our lovey-dovey weekend.
In keeping with our tradition of foiled attempts at romance and celebrating milestones, we pulled in the driveway and heard what sounded like techno music pumping out of Forsyth Park directly across from the hotel. Oh. It was the Savannah Pride Festival, and I realized at that moment that I’d paid extra for the privilege of having bass rattle the windows of our room for the rest of the day.
Ugh. We dropped our stuff off and sussed out the situation. Our room overlooked the festival directly, so there was no escaping the noise and window-shaking. By the time the live medley of Rocky Horror Picture Show tunes started, we’d given up on spending quality time in the room and decided to just walk around for a few hours in the hopes that we’d return to a quieter experience later on.
Savannah itself is magnificent. Rick has never been and I don’t recall visiting, so it was a first for both of us. From Mansion on Forsyth down to River Street, we saw five just-married couples having their wedding photos taken. It made me want to do our wedding over in Savannah!
We stopped for dinner at Jazz’d, a tapas bar, and ate our fill of chorizo sliders with goat cheese, buffalo chicken naan, escargot-stuffed tomatoes and beef brisket tacos. Another solid recommendation from Emily B!
As we criss-crossed the city over the course of many hours, we encountered a few dozen ghost tours in progress (NOT ever doing one of those, no thank you), the hilarious group bicycle drinking tours and one late-night marriage proposal in Ellis Square. Romantic, historic, quirky… yep, I liked Savannah very much.
Day 3: Savannah to Jacksonville
The one downside of our trip: our bummer of a hotel experience continued all night, as our room overlooked the hotel’s front entrance and valet pickup. Slamming car doors took the place of loud music and continued until early the next morning.
Disappointing hotel experience aside, by Day 3 of our road trip, we were totally enamored with Savannah, its historic squares, rapidly flowing river and tasty eats. The weather was stunning, so we spent the morning shopping and wandering, and came dangerously close to purchasing expensive furnishings made from aircraft parts from 24e on Broughton Street. We were able to hold ourselves back, and instead, we just found another delicious place to stuff our faces.
It wouldn’t be a romantic road trip weekend without one solid brunch, so we took Emily’s last suggestion and got in line at the Collins Quarter, home to a famous Madagascar latte and eggs Benedict. Emily nailed it with every food recco – this girl knows her stuff!
The only problem with a weekend getaway? It’s never long enough! I could’ve lazed around St. Simons Island and Savannah for much longer… and I suspect now that we’ve had a taste, we’ll be back much more often.
Many thanks to Enterprise for providing the carriage for our romantic weekend getaway, to The King & Prince and ECHO and to Emily Burton for all the great Savannah restaurant recommendations. All opinions and residual weight gain on this coastal Georgia road trip are my own.