Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Every destination has a story, no matter how small

Located on the easternmost fringes of the Florida-Georgia line, the city of St. Marys is perhaps best-known as the launching point for those visiting Cumberland Island, the largest of Georgia’s idyllic seaside isles. Though Cumberland’s sprawling sandy beaches and centuries-old ruins are truly a sight to behold, St. Marys is fully capable of holding its own as a fascinating destination packed full of historic landmarks, museums, wild horses, and dining venues.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to recreation, the bulk of activities are centered around the city’s namesake: the St. Marys River. Measuring 126 miles long, this waterway stretches from the depths of Okefenokee Swamp into the Atlantic Ocean serving as a prominent recreation site for those who live along its banks. Upon arrival, visitors should take a leisurely stroll along the St. Marys Waterfront, a charming promenade complete with a gazebo offering a spectacular view of the river.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Waterfront Park

Also called Howard Gilman Memorial Park, it’s the ideal spot to watch the shrimp boats come in, take a stroll along the boardwalks and piers, have a picnic, or witness a stunning sunset. Community activities take place throughout the year in the park.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys History Walk

The city of St. Marys was officially founded in 1787. Due to its strategic location, St. Marys has played a prominent role in Georgia’s development over the centuries making it a fascinating destination for history buffs. For some insight into the city’s storied past visit the St. Marys History Walk, a 600-foot walking trail where 24 interpretive panels outline the history of the area. The History Walk highlights a wealth of bygone eras ranging from the development of St. Marys’ shipbuilding industry to its role in the War of 1812. The History Walk is located at the corner of Bartlett Street and West St. Marys Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Self-Guided History Tour

Pick up a Self-Guided Tour brochure at the welcome center and experience the St. Marys Historic District through fun and historical facts about its various locations. It’s a great way to soak in the small-town atmosphere.  

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Submarine Museum

For those interested in the city’s maritime history the St. Marys Submarine Museum is home to a plethora of educational exhibits related to the US Navy. It is the largest museum of its kind in the south and the fifth largest in the country with nearly 5,000 square feet of space with exhibits and displays on two floors. Use the working periscope, view uniforms, and models, and watch a movie on submarines. The Submarine Museum is located on the waterfront at 102 St. Marys Street West. Adult admission is $5 and seniors $4.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum (Mainland)

The nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum (Mainland) houses a collection of artifacts from Cumberland Island including remembrances of the famed Carnegie lifestyle and remnants of the Timucuan Indians who once inhabited the island. A moving exhibit of the “Forgotten Battle” demonstrates the dramatic events from one of the last battles of the War of 1812 that was fought at St. Marys’ Point Peter area.   

Ferry to Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island Visitor Center (Mainland)

The Cumberland Island Visitor Center (Mainland) is the primary information point for the National Seashore and where visitors come to check-in for their ferry reservations. It is a replica of Miller’s Dock, an old St. Marys Landmark. The center features an exhibit depicting glimpses back in time to the Carnegie family life at the turn of the century. Other exhibits tell a story of the Timucuan Indians, the life of saltwater marshes, the primary and secondary dune systems, and the barrier ecosystem of the island. 

The return ferry ride to St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island is home to pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes. Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island offers a rustic getaway with over 50 miles of trails and roads and 18 miles of undeveloped beaches. You may find yourself hiking, biking, tent camping, and beachcombing after disembarking from the ferry.

Preserved and protected for future generations, Cumberland Island National Seashore includes a designated wilderness area, historic sites, cultural ruins, undeveloped beaches, critical habitat, and nesting areas as well as numerous plant and animal communities.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island Ferry

Cumberland Island is only accessible by boat and is located seven miles east of St. Marys. The 45-minute ferry ride makes for a scenic and pleasant form of transportation to the island. The concession-operated passenger ferry departs from downtown St. Marys throughout the day and provides round-trip transportation services to Cumberland Island year-round. 

Note: Construction is completed on the ferry dock adjacent to the Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitor Center in Saint Marys. Ferry operation to and from the dock has resumed. The ferry will no longer be located two blocks east of the visitor center at the end of St. Marys Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia Coastal Railway

Depart from Historic St. Marys and ride the rails through scenic woodlands and marshlands. The 1 hour and 15-minute excursion bring you face to face with yesteryear, nature, and some great entertainment. Grab the opportunity to sit in the locomotive or try your hand at running it with special ticket options. Ride on the open-air rail cars or back in the caboose. You never know what you’ll discover along the way. Special themes also available include Murder Mystery Express, Great Gatsby Getaway, Pizza Express, and Halloween Train. The depot is located at 1000 Osborne Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys Tabby Trail (Bike & Multi-use Path)

An 11-mile bike and multi-use path from St. Marys Waterfront Park to Crooked River State Park. Comfort stations are located at Sweetwater Park on Pt. Peter Road and at the McIntosh Sugar Mill Ruins on Georgia Spur 40 (across from the Stimson Gate of NSB Kings Bay). Restrooms and a Bike Repair Station are located at St. Marys Waterfront Park. 

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crooked River State Park

Located 7 miles north of St. Marys, Crooked River State Park is the perfect spot for enjoying the Intracoastal Waterway and maritime forest. The park offers cozy facilities in a beautiful setting. Campsites are surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oaks while most cottages overlook the river. 63 camping sites with water and 30/50 amp electric hookups are available for RV camping. Hikers can explore the nature trails which wind through maritime forests and salt marsh. A boat ramp is popular with anglers who often take to the water before sunrise. 

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Culinary Scene

St. Marys’ seaside location has fostered a booming seafood scene though that’s far from the only cuisine available around town. For a waterfront restaurant head to 401 West, a venue that offers an amazing view of the downtown waterfront and a menu that focuses on fresh ingredients and seasonal flavors with some staple favorites. If your craving seafood served in a casual setting, nearby Lang’s Marina Restaurant is an ideal destination for shrimp and grits, crab cakes, calamari, and other shellfish dishes.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adorned with license plates from across the nation, Brackish Beer Company’s cozy microbrewery is a must-visit for any beer enthusiasts visiting coastal Georgia. While the Brackyard Ale is a local favorite, Brackish Beer’s draft menu rotates throughout the year offering visitors brews that range from pecan porter to pineapple sour ale. This endearing venue is roughly one mile north of the riverfront in an unassuming abode on the edge of Dilworth Street.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though small in stature, what St. Marys lacks in size it makes up for in rustic charm and beautiful riverside views. Planning a trip along the South Atlantic coast? Be sure to save a spot on the itinerary for St. Marys and neighboring Cumberland Island. Whether you’re heading south or driving north, this underrated gem of the Georgia coast should not be missed.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael