Off The Beaten Path: Georgia/Florida Weekend, Athens to St. Simons Island
Many people believe that October is the perfect month. The leaves are turning, the weather is cooling, and the autumn-flavored drinks are flowing. These are all great reasons to believe October is a month to relish. However, we have a better reason to look forward to this month all year: The annual football matchup between the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators held in Jacksonville, FL. Or as locals call it, "Georgia/Florida."
This weekend has been referred to as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" and coincidentally is held during UGA's fall break. What does that mean for students and alumni alike? Roadtrip. In recent years many Georgia fans opt to stay on the island of St. Simons as opposed to heading straight to Jacksonville for the long weekend. While some folks may choose to have a restful, laid-back weekend on St. Simons, GA/FL weekend can also be one of the most fun, exhausting, crazy weekends of the year. The key to a flawless weekend is planning. Between the members of our family we have more years of GA/FL experience than we'd care to add up. That's why we had the idea to write a behind-the-scenes guide for all you brave fans making your way down to the Georgia coast for the last weekend in October. This is not just a travel guide, this is a compilation of our combined wisdom. We made mistakes so you won't have to (we'll just omit those mistakes from this post). Because many folks will leave from Athens to St. Simons Island, we have created a step-by-step guide of your travel route, including where to stop, eat, park, and how to avoid a disaster.
It's go-time, people. Get out of Athens as quickly as you can and grab some Jittery Joe's on your way out through downtown Watkinsville.
Take Georgia State Route 15 towards Sandersville. You'll get some great country views and this is generally the fastest route. Prepare for your phone to go in and out of service throughout this time. You'll also have terrible radio frequency. Plan ahead if you're in a caravan with a group and come armed with a sweet playlist to pass the time.
The Coleman store in White Plains, Georgia off of 15 is your last clean(ish) restroom stop for awhile. Again, plan accordingly.
As you go through Wrightsville, GA pay homage to Herschel Walker as it's his hometown.
Stop in Sandersville, GA at Dairy Lane for a milkshake and a greasy burger. This is not optional. You will likely hate yourself afterwards, but the milkshakes are delicious and it's tradition. Sandersville is also a great place to gas up or stop for the bathrooms as it's one of the larger cities you'll go through in Georgia.
Dairy Lane in Sandersville, GA
You'll now get on I-16 E towards Savannah (actually voted the most boring highway in the world, get ready). If you need to stop while you're on this highway, stop at the Metter exit for food/gas/restroom. There is literally nothing else (except a random petting zoo at a Chevron gas station right before the Metter exit).
Now it's time to get off on I-95 S towards Jacksonville. You're almost there! You'll get off at the Golden Isles exit, and you'll likely start having traffic before this no matter the time. Everyone is excited about this weekend, so don't get stressed and just enjoy the excitement.
If you get there early enough and the weather is nice, stroll around the Villages (downtown area) or go out on the beach. Head to the nearby Winn Dixie to stock up for the weekend.
As far as restaurants go, there's plenty of cute local places to go. But the obvious choice? Southern Soul BBQ. The best BBQ in Georgia, some of the best in America. Check out their instagram page to get a preview of their classic BBQ and innovative specials.
If you're getting there late in the evening. Head straight to Brogen's. It's where everyone hangs out. It will be crowded, people may or may not be in Hawlloween costumes, but it's a blast. However, don't get too excited...you've got a long day ahead of you tomorrow.
Brogen's on St. Simons Island, GA. Picture courtesty of Trip Advisor
Frat beach (unknown as to what vibe it will be this year, but our bet is it's still pretty crowded) - avoid liquor and don't go too hard too early. Plan transportation or a walking plan accordingly to and from the beach. No one likes a stranded drunk person wandering around looking for their friends, especially the Glynn county police.
This is frat beach. It is crazy, crowded, and full of kids. If you're young enough, go into the thick of it all and enjoy (responsibly). If you're older, skip this for the golf course or sit on the outskirts and prepare to be entertained by today's youth.
After frat beach prepare for a zombie apocalypse of drunk people seeking food. Plan ahead or wait in line for 2+ hours (we know from experience, the island Barberito's becomes a mad house). Our recommendation is to plan a low country boil if you have access to a kitchen. This is a great way to avoid crowds and get that coastal feel.
Go out once again if you can nap/rally, but remember you've got a game to go to in the morning.
Leave no later than 8 am or else you'll get serious traffic. Grab a Chick-Fil-A biscuit on the island (again, long wait so be prepared) or cut some time down and grab McDonald's right off the island. Make sure to bring cash for parking in Jacksonville.
So far we've given you general directions because we assume you can navigate the main trip on your own. However, the drive to Jacksonville can be riddled with traffic so we'll give you a step-by-step guide on where to exit and park.
Exit 354A to MLK, Jr. Blvd ( US 1). Exit at 8th St, turn left on 8th, then right on Talleyrand Ave. Starting at Marshall St. on your right, find a yard to park in. The farther you're willing to walk (meaning the sooner you park), the better, because the closer you get the worse your drive out will be. Even if you park on Marshall, you're looking at a walk to the stadium of less than 3/4 of a mile. Talleyrand will take you straight to the East side of the stadium and right by RV city, where fans come on Sunday and get in line to wait for the lot to open on Wednesday morning.
NOTE: It is very easy to get lost in Jacksonville. Everything looks the same, there are multiple bridges and gravel parking lots. Your phone will probably die. Plan ahead if your group separates.
Tickets are easy to scalp, but if you don't want to spend the money there is a large screen outside of the stadium for fans to watch. If you've never been to the game before we suggest going. The stadium is divided in half down the middle by team. It's usually a hostile environment as the two teams really hate each other (certain members of our family may or may not have gotten into a scuffle with the UF band in the early 2000s), but it's still something every football fan should experience.
Georgia fans on the left, Florida fans on the right. Even the sunset reflected the divide back in 2012.
On the drive out, just turn left on Talleyrand and stay straight for approximately 5 miles as Talleyrand turns into Wigmore St. and then Buffalo Ave. Turn left on 50th St., right on US 17, cross the bridge over the trout river and take the onramp at Zoo Parkway to get back on I-95 North. This will seem out of the way, but will probably save you at least an hour on the drive home.
If you took a shuttle or bus, they will wait to leave an hour after the game. They aren't messing around with this. It's an expensive, lonely cab ride back from Jacksonville to St. Simons if you miss your bus. Leave the game ASAP and head to your area and don't forget our tip about easily getting lost. Really remember how you came into the stadium.
Depending on win or loss, you may want to go celebrate that night. Since this year's game falls on Halloween there will no doubt be some festivites happening. Every year that our team wins, we have some champagne and Johnnie Walker Blue to celebrate. We suggest starting your own winning tradition to make those years a little more special.
Try to muster the energy to drive home. You will be miserable. Stop in Tennille and take a picture with the UGA Barn sign. Slightly cheesy, but especially fun when you have a group and UGA wins. They always have the score up after the game.
When you get home, reflect on how awesome the South is. What a tradition to have and to share with friends and family.
Start planning for next year.
Any other tips we missed? If you have questions, feel free to shoot them our way in the "Contact Us" section.