Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States and he just happened to be from our home state of Georgia. President Carter rose from simple beginnings in the small, South Georgia town of Plains. Our family is always looking for an excuse to get out and explore so we thought we’d look into it.

Ride the Sam Shortline Train!

On our drive to go camping at Kolomoki Mounds State Park, we added a visit to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site and Boyhood Home. To get there we rode the Sam Shortline Train from Cordele, Georgia to Plains. The SAM Shortline Train is operated by the Georgia State Parks, who do a wonderful job making the trip a fun family experience.

Full disclosure. We were given tickets to the train by a friend, and as such we did not pay to ride. It is a great experience but it is not the cheapest thing we have ever recommended. With that said, I think your money would be well spent. The unique travel, the money saved on gas and not having to endure a car ride were all positives.The train does have a snack car that serves hot dogs, candy bars, chips, ice cream, nachos, and more. You ride a rail bridge across Lake Blackshear. It is quite the experience.

Plains, Georgia

President Jimmy Carter is our only Georgia born president, and a respectable man. We learned more about the former President and how his young life was shaped by this small town in the Georgia countryside. President Carter still lives in Plains after all these years! What a commitment to your roots! What a very humble man he is. Plains is where President Carter staged his presidential campaign in the 70’s. There are several shops along the store fronts in Plains and they are within an easy walk of the train. There is a layover of an hour and a half for the train. These shops cater to the tourists like us, coming to experience the historic site. One shop we visited specialized in political merchandise. The kids bought a ruler. Some of the memorabilia was pretty neat. Another shop sold Peanut Butter Ice Cream, which was delicious! Many other treats and souvenirs were available.

Plains High School Visitor Center and Museum

The high school that President Carter attended is now used as the National Park Service’s visitor center for the site and his boyhood home. It is within easy walking of the train depot, directly across the tracks from the store fronts. The visitor center still looks like an old school but does have many unique displays featuring the President’s career in politics before becoming president, his Nobel Prize, and a replica of his desk. The kids completed the Junior Ranger activity and were awarded with their Junior Ranger badges. Dad bought a book.

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site and Boyhood Farm

From Plains, the SAM Shortline Train moves down the tracks to the next stop in Archery, Georgia. Here you arrive at the countryside farm that President Carter grew up on. You can see a working windmill water pump, the simple home his family lived in, and the old country store his father operated. You really can find a sense of what simplicity and values President Carter started with and what he forged himself to become. I loved that my children could see how a person can grow from humble beginnings.

Visit Georgia Veterans State Park

Once this layover is complete, the train simply is pulled back along the way you came, allowing for a restful ride back towards the depot at Georgia Veterans State Park. Georgia Veteran’s State Park is a great place to camp and explore. There are several military vehicles on display at the park and worth at least a brief look. The kids were less than enthused but we made an effort.

Things to know

  • The SAM Shortline Railroad is operated by the Georgia State Parks. They operated the train on a regular basis but offer several different trips and schedules. Check here for scheduling and prices.
  • Georgia Veterans State Park is where we hopped on board the train. This state park is a resort with a huge lake, a hotel, a golf course and campsites.
  • Cordele is very easily accesible from Interstate 75 in South Georgia and would make a fine day trip from anywhere in Georgia.
  • Plains, Georgia and the surrounding communities is an agricultural area that grows peanuts and cotton. This why all the shops sell peanut snacks, peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter fudge, and well, you get the idea.
  • All the museums that we mentioned close by 5 p.m.
  • You can access all these destinations by car. It would make for a great road trip. There was plenty of parking at every stop.
  • Try the peanut butter ice cream in downtown Plains!
  • The SAM Shortline Train features several special events seasonally such as Thomas The Train and The Polar Express. Be sure to check plan your dates to coincide.
  • Camp at nearby Kolomoki Mounds State Park like us! Highly recommended.
  • There are several Georgia State Parks to camp at in Southeast Georgia if you want more excellent choices.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Our family had been hearing how great St. Augustine was to visit from several friends for months. Since it was only a few hours drive from where we live in South Georgia, we made a day trip to the Old Town. St. Augustine was well worth the drive! We had a really fun day checking out the fort, walking around St. George Street, and eating some amazing food.

St. Augustine-A great weekend getaway for families!

When planning this trip, three awesome destinations were recommended to us. The first stop was the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. We really wanted to make the trip as educational as possible for the kids and soak up all the history that St. Augustine has to offer. Of course, my kids love watching the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and so we had to include this stop. The second spot was the Colonial Quarter just next to the pirate museum. Lastly, we made the short walk across the street to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the main attraction.

Viewing the Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

The monument was a really enjoyable experience. The kids did a scavenger hunt here, took some really unique pictures, and even got to see the live cannon firing demonstration. The volunteer reenactors dress in Spanish colonial uniforms and give all the firing commands in Spanish, giving the experience a unique authenticity. Upon completing the scavenger hunt the kids earned their Junior Ranger Badges from the National Park Service park rangers. Over the years my children have done several junior ranger programs but the staff here were great about talking to the kids and helping them through the workbook. Exploring the fort was pretty cool. To walk on stonework that was several hundreds of year old was an experience. We really got a great sense of this piece of history. The pictures we took were pretty cool too.

St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum

This museum was full of great artifacts from the age of the pirate. There were marvelous flags, gold doubloons, swords, hats, and lots of interactive exhibits for the kids. The staff dress in costume and walk around offering information and such. There are tours available if you are interested. We just wandered as a family. Inside there were replica cannons that the kids can “fire”. A small room off the back of the museum has a short movie you can watch about the time period. The sword Johnny Depp used as a prop during the Pirates of the Caribbean movie was on display too. The museum has an excellent gift shop with every pirate novelty you can imagine. Dad walked away with a great book he found called, Blackbeard and Other Pirates of the Atlantic Coast. Two of the boys pooled some allowance money to buy a pirate gun and sword set. This completed their complete uniform they said. As you can see in the picture above, they already had the hat and coat. Outside, there is a cannon and old stocks to pose in. The pirate museum was really a lot of fun for the kids.

The Colonial Quarter

After leaving the pirate museum, we walked next door to The Colonial Quarter. This attraction is basically a living history village, complete with a blacksmith’s shop, woodworkers studio, and several other historical buildings. Staff dress in period clothing and give tours of the village. The tour guides really take their history seriously and know it very well. We were so enthralled with the historical information presented that we forgot to take pictures during the entire tour. There is an observation tower at the property that overlooks the fort. That is how we got such great views from across the street. As I said, once up in the tower, we snapped out of it and began taking pictures. In the parade ground of the village, the kids were given wooden toy guns and invited to take soldier training. It was playful and the tour guide gave gentle commands and the kids had some fun participating. Here are a couple pictures from The Colonial Quarter.

Things to know about the Castillo and St. Augustine.

  • It can be be very warm in Florida. No, really. We went in May and it was hot. Fill a couple of Nalgene bottles and carry plenty of water.
  • You can have a great time in a single day in St. Augustine but there is so much to do that we are already planning a visit lasting several days in the very near future.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Walking around the city shopping and exploring is a big part of any visit to St. Augustine. You could easily become foot sore.
  • Trolley tours are running through the city all day long. It is possible to park outside of town and take the trolley tour into St. Augustine. Hop on/Hop off is allowed by the trolley companies. We did not do this but it seemed like a great idea for our next visit. It may save some tired legs.
  • We bought a combination ticket package that gave us access to both the Pirate and Treasure Museum as well as the Colonial Quarter for a discounted price. Call directly to either attraction for this deal as I have not seen it online.
  • Visiting the Castillo de San Marcos can be FREE! The Every Kid in a Park Initiative is awesome! 4th graders can get themselves and their families into the park for FREE! The pass admits all family children under 16 and up to three adults for FREE!
  • There is an amazing playground called the Project SWING playground, within walking distance of the Castillo and downtown St. Augustine. Parking space is limited so you may have to park in a parking garage.
  • Walking around St. George Street is a lot of fun. There are great ice cream shops, boutiques, chocolatiers, and art galleries! The kids stood watching a taffy puller for several minutes, mesmerized.
  • Food! We ate at two great places: O.C. White’s for lunch and Pizzalley’s for Dinner. O.C. White’s had great outdoor dining and Pizzalley’s was a great respite from the heat. Both had delicious food and we recommend them both for lunch or dinner.
  • We stayed outside of town, near the World of Golf, to save a little money. St. Augustine lodging downtown can be a little pricey. Our hotel for the night was the Holiday Inn-St. Augustine.
  • Anastasia State Park in a popular spot in St. Augustine for camping. It is very popular and your visit here does need to be planned well in advance.

Fort Frederica National Monument

South Georgia’s Coastal National Park

On this trip we visited Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simon’s Island, near Brunswick, Georgia. Fort Frederica is one of Georgia’s 11 National Park Service operated sites. It is here that the Spanish and English armies clashed in 1742 at the Battle of Bloody Marsh. Thus settling all disputes over the ownership of the colony of Georgia in favor of the English. The monument is representative of the old fortifications and remains of the colonial settlement along the Frederica River marsh.

Our family had a great visit! We made the rounds in just a couple short hours as the monument is expansive but easy to navigate on foot. The kids participated in the Junior Ranger scavenger hunt which was pretty neat. The staff gives each kid a hat, a haversack, which included a telescope, a compass, and a colonial era toy. This gave the kids a sense of adventure and as such we went around the site reading placards and gathering the clues. We made the most of this and gained some valuable historical knowledge.

The Gift Shop

Fort Frederica’s gift shop was actually pretty cool. It had several books on the Fort and the early colonial period in Georgia. There are crafts, antique games, stickers, magnets, and even toys. There is a dress up bin that allows kids to get in the costume of the era. I was impressed by the interaction this site allowed children to have. Being given the uniforms and haversacks really allowed the kids a fun way to immerse themselves in the history. As I said, this was a quick stop and admission wasn’t bad because it was all FREE! You know we love free stuff! Our family of six literally spent nothing but gas to have this experience. We did spend money on a great lunch at Barbara Jean’s Seafood after so go there when you work up an appetite. Remember, Free Admission!

Things to know about Fort Frederica NM

  • St. Simon’s Island is a popular place during the Summer. Get there early before traffic builds.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. There are sticks and acorns on the ground so tread lightly. Not ideal for sandals.
  • Fort Frederica National Monument is dog friendly! You may bring your pet if it remains on a leash and you bring equipment to pick up after them.
  • Several great restaurants are nearby. We recommend Barbara Jean’s of course and Southern Soul Barbeque.