5 Reasons to Visit Little St. Simons Island with the Family

Little St. Simons Island. Photo by Lesli Peterson

Little St. Simons Island. Photo by Lesli Peterson

You’ve probably heard of St. Simons Island, but do you know that just across the river is a private, eco-friendly, all-inclusive island just waiting for you? Our family visited Little St. Simons Island and fell madly in love; here’s why we think you should make a reservation today.

The Serenity

Untouched for centuries, Little St. Simons Island is one of the least developed of Georgia’s barrier islands, covering 10,000 acres with 7 miles of shoreline. We didn’t drive our car onto the island. Guests visit by boat, and only 32 at a time may stay overnight (though small guided day trips are periodically available). The untarnished environment, limited population and carefully protected wildlife create a tranquil escape that immediately melted away our stress.

The Food

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are all carefully created and presented on the island. There are no grocery stores or restaurants, and no need for them. Chef Ulfet Ralph hails from Turkey, and her delicious dishes include everything from filet mignon to duck tenderloin. Breakfasts are mammoth with a variety of delights like French toast, berries, eggs, bacon, frittata and more – everything you need to carry you through a day of exciting adventure.

We also love that there is a USDA-certified organic garden on-site providing vegetables and fruits at almost every meal. I’ll note, too, that Chef Ulfet was very thoughtful about the kids, offering hamburgers, PB&Js, mac and cheese, and other kid-friendly fare for our picky eaters.

The Water

Little St. Simons Island’s proximity allows families to swim in the Atlantic, boat on the Atlamaha River and fish in Mosquito Creek. Along the beach we rode the waves, collected shells, biked the shoreline, and caught Atlantic Sharp Nose sharks while shore fishing. We took a skiff and a kayak along the creek to the river and kept an eye out for dolphin and alligators. Low tide offers the best opportunities for kids to catch fish in the creek, including Redfish, Sea Trout and Flounder.

The Adventure

If fishing, swimming, boating and kayaking are not enough, there are even more ways for kids to explore. You can bike around the island (adult bikes, kid bikes and bike trailers are all available), keeping an eye out for more than 300 species of birds. We also saw alligators, a diamondback rattlesnake and a multitude of armadillo. Loggerheads and horseshow crabs were also active on the island.

Two to three excursions each day are led by one of the island’s naturalists, and the crew is amazing – both because of their extensive knowledge and because of their gentle nature with kids. Excursions are discussed after each meal, usually with about two options available during each time slot. I love that a trip to the beach with these guys is so much more – it includes learning about the changing shoreline, finding horseshoe crab eggs, or gaining a closer look through one of their field telescopes.

The Hunting Lodge on Little St. Simons Island. Photo by Lesli Peterson

The Hunting Lodge on Little St. Simons Island. Photo by Lesli Peterson

The Value

Little St. Simons Island guests pay a single flat fee for accommodations, three meals, beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks, every excursion, use of the equipment (boats, kayaks, canoes, bikes, etc.) and so much more. Even the tip is included in the price!

Our family adored Little St. Simons Island, ranking it as one of our all-time favorite adventures. In fact, we are already planning to head back next year. Read our detailed post (with more photos) for more tips and insight on visiting Little St. Simons Island with kids.

LesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

AthFest: Dozens of Bands, With Or Without Wristbands

The 20th annual AthFest begins on Friday, June 24 with a nice piece of symmetry. Atlanta fixture and onetime Athens resident Kevn Kinney — best known as the leader of Drivin’ N Cryin’ — played the music and arts festival’s maiden voyage. This year, Kinney will reprise his role when he opens the proceedings Friday at 5 p.m.

AthFest 2015. Photo by Porter McLeod

AthFest 2015. Photo by Porter McLeod

An event that began as a device to bring foot traffic to downtown Athens during the student-deprived summer months has blossomed into one of the keystones of Georgia’s summer festival calendar. “It’s almost like a football game weekend,” says AthFest board member and booking chair Troy Aubrey. “You see the mass exodus of students around May, but a lot of the kids come back for this.” The free family-friendly fun and frolic draws roughly 10,000 for each of its three days.

AthFest’s musical offerings span two stages (three counting the KidsFest stage) situated a block and a half apart, the larger one directly in front of the iconic 40 Watt Club. Given the town’s well-deserved national reputation as a musical hotbed, it’s no surprise the big dawg’s share of acts are Athens-connected, including two of this year’s headliners: indie darlings Kishi Bashi (Sunday) and the two-drummer “more organic and folkie” Family and Friends (Friday). Meanwhile, Saturday boasts the one-two punch of Atlanta hip hop legends Arrested Development and Jessup-born Americana heavyweight and current Athens resident Randall Bramblett.

AthFest 2015. Photo by Porter McLeod

AthFest 2015. Photo by Porter McLeod

After the free music, AthFest also coordinates the late-night Club Crawl, for which a $30 wristband buys you access to multiple venues and sets over two nights by edgier bands like Athens’ current  high-fliers Mothers and perennial faves Elf Power, and Atlanta’s raucous Coathangers and the Black Lips. “I’ve got kids now. I’m not going out every night anymore, but this is a great way to get a crash course and see what’s really happening,” says Aubrey. “Take the kids to mom and dad’s house and get a wristband!” That wristband also scores you a discount for LaughFest, the 18-and-over comedy event at the Georgia Theatre the preceding Wednesday, as well as other related happenings.

AthFest offers lots of family-friendly fun. Photo by Porter McLeod.

AthFest offers lots of family-friendly fun. Photo by Porter McLeod.

In line with Athens’ grassroots spirit, AthFest also took a unique path to philanthropy. Once it began turning a profit, organizers looked for a way to channel the proceeds for community good. Enter AthFest Educates, the nonprofit created specifically to sustain music and arts education in Clarke County. So, by enjoying the current generation of Athens’ finest, you’ll also be paving the road for the next one.

glen-headshotGlen Sarvady is Georgia’s official Music Explorer. He has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, and has written about music both locally and nationally for at least as long. More recently, he has written regularly for the music/arts publication Stomp & Stammer as well as GeorgiaMusic.org.

Hydrangeas for Every Garden

Hydrangeas in June at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Hydrangeas in June at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Weather conditions this year have been ideal in Georgia, and hydrangeas are blooming with enthusiasm. At Gibbs Gardens, there are more than 1,000 blooms to see, including native and cultivated selections. Reinforcing what we know to be true that “the plants don’t read the books,” hydrangeas are blooming about two weeks ahead of what is considered their normal bloom time.

Bigleaf hydrangeas

Bigleaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars, thrive in high shade, with lots of light but protection from hot afternoon sun. Japanese maples and dogwoods provide the ideal canopy for theses hydrangeas. Shrubs like Anise, Illicium species, make good companions along with ferns and shade-loving perennials.

Lacecap hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

Lacecap hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

There are both mophead and lacecap varieties of bigleaf hydrangeas, and the flowers can range from blue to pink to lavender. In acid soils (low pH), flowers tend to be blue. Pink flowers occur when the pH is higher, often when the plants are grown near limestone. White flowers don’t change colors.

Mophead hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

Mophead hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

I have always been charmed by the old fashioned blue mophead hydrangeas and the many different variations. I especially like them in combination with old fashioned orange daylilies, sometimes called ditch lilies (maybe because they grow along roadsides and don’t require any special care).

Oakleaf hydrangeas

'Snowflake' at Gibbs Gardens

‘Snowflake’ at Gibbs Gardens

A handsome Georgia native that is always popular (and with good reason) is the oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia with oak leaf-shaped leaves. Beginning in June or earlier (depending on the year), large cones of white flowers persist for weeks and then often turn tinges of rose as they age. A real bonus is the cinnamon peeling bark in winter and the colorful autumn foliage in shades of red and burgundy. While oakleaf hydrangea is a predominant species that occurs throughout North Georgia, the cultivar ‘Snowflake,’ a selection with double flowers, was planted in Gibbs Gardens.

Flowers on the oakleaf hydrangea occur on second year growth. You shouldn’t have to worry about pruning, though, unless plants get too large for the area where you have them planted. If space is limited, try one of the dwarf cultivars like ‘Pee Wee’ or ‘Sikes Dwarf.’ Both of them grow more in the range of 2- to 4-feet tall and wide compared to the species that can easily reach 8- to 10-feet tall.

Smooth hydrangeas

'Annabelle' hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens

Another native hydrangea with white flowers that occur on current season’s growth is the smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens, known to many for one of its selections, ‘Annabelle.’ The flowers, anywhere from 4 to 6 inches across and up to 12 inches in diameter, remind me of lace.

Later bloomers

Those are just a few of the hydrangeas blooming now. As summer continues, selections of Hydrangea paniculata, like ‘Limelight’ and ‘Tardiva,’ will take center stage. Both of those thrive in full sun and bloom on current season’s growth, so you don’t have to worry about pruning off potential flower buds.

Tips for Growing Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas and Japanese maples at Gibbs Gardens

Hydrangeas and Japanese maples at Gibbs Gardens

  1. Grow a variety of types so that you have a long season of bloom.
  2. Fertilize once or twice in the summer but not after August. Follow directions on the package for amounts, and don’t over fertilize.
  3. Don’t fertilize sick or unhealthy plants.
  4. Keep plants watered during dry spells.
  5. Prune mophead types as soon as they finish blooming, but don’t overdo it.
  6. Hydrangea paniculata types can be pruned back to about 12 inches tall early in the season (March) before new growth begins. If you prune later, the flowers will be delayed.
  7. Combine hydrangeas with evergreens and perennials for the best effect.
  8. Hydrangeas make great container plants. Adjust the watering and fertilizer as needed.

Visit Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga., June 15 through December 11, Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During June and September, the Gardens stay open for Twilight “Live” Music on Saturday nights. Check the website for more information.

ericaErica Glasener is the marketing manager for Gibbs Gardens. A horticulturist, author and lecturer, Erica was the award-winning host of HGTV’s “A Gardener’s Diary” for 14 years. Erica is the author of “Proven Plants: Southern Gardens.” She is also the co-author with Walter Reeves of “Getting Started with Gardening in Georgia,” and “Month-by-Month Gardening in Georgia,” revised edition.

6 Ways to Rekindle Your Bromance in Georgia’s Lake Country

Cruise around the lake

Boating in Georgia's Lake Country. Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

Boating in Georgia’s Lake Country. Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

Sometimes the best ways to have fun are also the simplest. What more do you really need than a boat or jet ski on one of our twin lakes to have a blast on your day off? There are several places in Georgia’s Lake Country to rent your water vehicle of choice so you can cruise around the lake for hours of fun and relaxation. Check out Oconee Wild Watersports, Young Harris Water Sports, Typhoon Tommy’s, Twin Lakes Jet Ski, Sinclair Marina and more to rent everything you need to take your bro out on the lake.

Learn to wakeboard or hydrofoil

Wakeboarding in Georgia's Lake Country. Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of CommercePhoto courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

Wakeboarding in Georgia’s Lake Country. Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

Impress all your friends with your new skills! Being able to skillfully ride a wakeboard or the more recently popular hydrofoil will give you some bragging rights and guarantee you a new fun activity for many summers to come. Oconee Wild Watersports, located behind That Pizza Place at Lake Oconee, can teach you to ski, wakeboard or hydrofoil. (They also offer paddle boards, kayaks, canoes, pontoon boats and jet skis.) Call them ahead of time, and they’ll take you out on the water for a day of bromance under the sun.

Measure up

Fishing in Georgia's Lake Country. Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

Fishing in Georgia’s Lake Country. Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

Who can catch the biggest bass? Take your bro out for a fun day of fishing on the lake! Georgia Power parks offer public docks and shoreline on both Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair for you to fish at your leisure. Be sure to check out their website for a list of the most common fish in our twin lakes and a PDF of Lake Sinclair fish attractors.

If you’re not comfortable with going it alone, or just want a new experience, Sinclair Marina offers guided fishing tours so you can explore the lake and have a friendly bass fishing competition with your friends.

Hone your poolside manner

The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee

Photo courtesy The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee

If you’re looking for a day of luxury and chilling by the pool, there’s a place for you in each part of Georgia’s Lake Country. Lounge around in style at The Lodge on Lake Oconee in Eatonton or the Ritz-Carlton in Greensboro. Even the Antebellum Inn in Milledgeville, though a smaller establishment than the other two, offers a beautiful saltwater pool to all guests right in the middle of the historic downtown area. You can also rent out the pool cottage adjacent to the main house for a larger gathering or extended stay.

Show your guns

Shooting in Georgia's Lake Country. Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

Shooting in Georgia’s Lake Country. Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

The Cedar Creek Shooting Range is the place to go in Georgia’s Lake Country if you want to perfect your target shooting. The range is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday (excluding some major holidays), so it’s the perfect stop during a weekend getaway with your buddies. The fee is $5 per shooter per day. Make sure you take a look at the website before heading out, though, to ensure your weapons are allowed and you’re equipped to follow the range rules.

Hike through rugged terrain

Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce

The Rock Hawk Park on Lake Oconee is free and open to the public for hiking, biking, boating, camping, swimming, fishing, picnicking and hunting. This park functions as an outdoor classroom and has 15 miles of multi-use trails, plus 20 miles of biking trails. Join them on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. for Trailhead Tuesdays.

Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville has a relaxed trail through the woods on the 500-acre farm that once was home to famed author Flannery O’Connor. This is a must-see for literary buffs and anyone else who enjoys a nice 45 minutes of walking in the shade.

Southern Cross Guest Ranch in Madison has hiking trails as one of its amenities; however, you might also enjoy some horseback riding at this ranch and B&B that has been called “One of America’s best dude ranches” by Travel + Leisure Magazine.

Whether you’re looking for action or relaxin’, Georgia’s Lake Country has plenty to offer you and your bros for the ideal guys’ getaway. See you soon!

kaitlyn-sam-web

Kaitlyn Parham graduated from Valdosta State University with a degree in marketing. A native of Eatonton, Kaitlyn recently moved back to be closer to family. She is the Tourism and Special Events Coordinator for the Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce, and as such, she is on the board of many marketing collaborations, including Georgia’s Antebellum Trail and Georgia’s Lake Country.

Sam Campbell is the summer intern at the Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce. Graduating from Georgia College in August 2016 with a B.A. in Mass Communication, Sam assists the Chamber’s efforts in strategic communication, including graphic designs, blog posts and social media.

5 Must-Try Food Stalls at Ponce City Market’s Central Food Hall

Ponce City Market in Atlanta. Photo: Party on Ponce 2015, Facebook.

Ponce City Market in Atlanta. Photo: Party on Ponce 2015, Facebook.

Atlanta hot spot Ponce City Market features a Central Food Hall with a lively mix of more than two dozen chef-driven, dine-in restaurants and market stalls with a huge range of regional fare, global cuisines and artisanal market goods, like fresh breads, dry aged meats, creamy cheeses and fragrant spices.

What makes this space more than just another food hall with amazing food is the location. The Central Food Hall is located walking distance to adjoining parks, neighborhoods and the ever-expanding Atlanta BeltLine. So, grab your goodies to go and enjoy them al fresco. Use #GeorgiaEats to share your food finds.

Botiwalla

Tamarind glazed spare ribs and tandoori chicken plates at Botiwalla by Mia Yakel Photography. Photo: Facebook

Tamarind glazed spare ribs and tandoori chicken plates at Botiwalla by Mia Yakel Photography. Photo: Facebook

The newest addition to Central Food Hall, Botiwalla, has a menu themed after the savory street foods you’d find after hours in India, like grilled meats, lamb kabobs and Tikka rolls. BONUS: Huge menu of authentic Indian fare.

El Super Pan

Spanish "focaccia," serrano ham, manchego, almond-date spread, arugula & piquillo agridulce at El Super Pan. Photo by Sarah Dodge from Facebook

Spanish “focaccia,” serrano ham, manchego, almond-date spread, arugula & piquillo agridulce at El Super Pan. Photo by Sarah Dodge from Facebook

Puerto Rico meets Atlanta in this Latin-inspired sandwich & cocktail bar featuring small plates and a full cocktail menu. BONUS: All baked goods at El Super Pan are made in house.

Farm to Ladle

Spring greens & grilled apricots, pineapple & peaches at Farm to Ladle. Photo: Facebook

Spring greens & grilled apricots, pineapple & peaches at Farm to Ladle. Photo: Facebook

The European-style café and farmstand Farm to Ladle specializes in using locally grown products to create its soups, sandwiches and fresh salads. BONUS: Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options are available.

The Mercury

Mai Tai at The Mercury. Photo: Facebook

Mai Tai at The Mercury. Photo: Facebook

The 1960’s vibe and full-service bar program makes The Mercury the place to go for cocktails. They also offer full lunch and dinner service — with a 20-ounce Tomahawk pork chop that’s not to be missed. BONUS: Daily cocktail hour.

H. Stiles Fish Camp

Oysters at H. Stiles Fish Camp. Photo: Facebook.

Oysters at H. Stiles Fish Camp. Photo: Facebook.

Affectionately known as “Dubs,” this casual-style fish shack features Southern seafood at its best: FRESH. Sandwich options like shrimp po-boys and lobster rolls makes H. Stiles Fish Camp the perfect grab-and-go place for lunch. BONUS: More than 20 fresh oyster options.

jennifer-hill-booker-1436890751-thumb-230-230-438-151-820-444-90Jennifer is Georgia’s official Culinary Explorer and the author of “Your Resident Gourmet,” full of innovative recipes, cooking trends and fun kitchen gadgets. Click here for more content from Jennifer.