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St Marys – Gateway to Cumberland Island

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Charming small town, Victorian homes, picket fences, friendly neighbors, historic societies, and fried shrimp – that pretty much sums up St Marys, a historic town by St Marys river in southeast Georgia. While St Marys itself has been of much historical significance in the south, it is now best known as the second oldest town in the United States and gateway to Cumberland Island. There are only two ways to get to the protected remote barrier island – take a ferry from St Marys, Georgia or Fernandina Beach, Florida.

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Some interesting history about St Marys – It was site of a large Timucuan Indian Village. In 1562 French Huguenot Jean Ribault named it “River May.” The Santa Maria Mission was located in this area and it was occupied by the Spanish between 1566 -1686. In 1777, the Royal British Government named Camden County after Charles Pratt, Earl of Camden. In 1787 the town of St. Marys was formed when Jacob Weed sold 1,620 acres to twenty founding fathers. This was the beginning of the town of St. Marys.

Since there is nothing commercial on Cumberland Island (except for the Greyfield Inn), St Marys serves as a pit stop for vacationers, campers and day trippers. The town has a few quaint lodging facilities (no national chain hotels or fast foods here) and locally owned restaurants and cafes. Perhaps your best bet is to stay at one of the Bed and Breakfasts that take you back in time 100 years when captains, sailors and plantation owners called it home. The Spencer House Inn is the most upscale accommodation, complete with plasma TV, elegant furniture, cozy patio, a piano room and the most delicious breakfast. Goodbread House is a whimsical B&B where the past takes over every inch of space. Nothing much seems to have changed inside the house since it was first decorated in 1870 and it retains its original charm. If you want a more “hotel like” feel, stay next to the boardwalk at the Riverview Hotel. Built in 1916, the hotel has 18 guestrooms with private baths, which is perfect for large groups. It also house the Seagle’s Restaurant and Saloon, a famous watering hole where locals gather throughout the week.

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Dining at St Marys is all about casual food, friendly service and fresh ingredients. Fried shrimp is the must-have dish and can be found practically at all restaurants. Lang’s is the most popular place for seafood (especially on their “all you can eat fried shrimp” nights), while the Riverside Cafe also makes delicious crab cakes. The Blue Goose is perfect for lounging with a book and a glass of wine or a cup of tea. The sandwiches are globally inspired and made to order, perfect for a more refined palate. For a snack, stop by the Market on the Square and grab a sweet treat or a picnic basket for the way.

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While staying at St Marys for a day or two, there are lots of fun activities to involve the entire family. You can do a Land and Legacies Tour to Cumberland Island, go kayaking on the river with Up The Creek Xpeditions, take a historic trolley tour in downtown or learn more about the southern traditions at the Orange Hall house museum and St. Marys Submarine Museum. Holding hands and taking a walk around the river while watching the sunset is also not a bad way to relax!

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Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 50+ countries across 6 continents. She is also the founder and chief editor of Go Eat Give.