Peter Frank Edwards

It all started with pencils—well, sort of. In 1908, Eagle Pencil Company bought Little St. Simons Island, hoping to use its plentiful cedar trees to produce its product. Though the wood ultimately proved unsuitable, it hardly mattered: Having fallen in love with the island, Eagle Pencil owner Philip Berolzheimer purchased the Georgia property from the company and turned it into a family resort that’s still privately owned.

Peter Frank Edwards

First opened to the public in 1979, Little St. Simons Island offers 11,000 acres of secluded land—including a 7-mile beach, a lodge, and six cottages. At any given time, only 32 guests are allowed on the property, which can be reached by a ferry that runs twice a day across the Hampton River. If you are looking for poolside cabanas or pillow menus, this place is certainly not for you. But if your idea of heaven on earth involves sea turtle sightings at sunset, kayaking expeditions, alligator walks, and shark fishing—all facilitated by a team of naturalists—you’ve found your terrestrial paradise.

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Much of Little St. Simons Island is for the birds—literally. More than 330 species, both resident and migratory—including roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, painted buntings, and wood storks—feather their nests here. From the observation tower over Norm’s Pond, for instance, you’ll find a busy rookery of egrets, anhingas, and herons (just to name a few). The avian drama is so varied and dynamic that one of the island’s naturalists compares it to a Shakespearean play.

Peter Frank Edwards

Even if bird-watching isn’t quite “as you like it,” there is so much to do on Little St. Simons that you’d probably lose track of time if it weren’t for the bell that routinely summons guests to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Served family style in the main lodge, the hearty homemade meals are carefully crafted from ingredients sourced from area farms—often incorporating herbs, fruits, vegetables, and edible flowers from the island’s own garden.

Peter Frank Edwards

You’ll feast on the likes of buttered biscuits dipped in potlikker, pasta made with fresh pesto, and crisp fried chicken that may actually be better than your mama’s. After each meal, a naturalist will announce the day’s activities, but if you have something else in mind, the accommodating staff will happily make it happen.

In the end, the highlight of your trip probably won’t be bird-watching or boating but the quality time you spend with your hosts and fellow guests. No matter how shy you are, the strangers you meet at the start of your stay will likely be your friends by the time you say goodbye. In fact, taking the ferry back to the mainland can be quite a melancholy experience—or maybe we should say a “sweet sorrow.”